Friday, August 18, 2023

A little 'Strays' OK but too much doggy style just gets ruff and ruffer

Even screenwriter Dan Perrault's funniest bit -- the ongoing obsession a pack of dogs display over a sexual kind of bone -- eventually grows, uh, long in the tooth during "Strays," whose mutts look much cuter than their celebrity voices often sound.

Yep, if somehow you did not know, these are mostly dirty dogs, although the one newly named Reggie (Will Ferrell) starts off eagerly playful enough until his owner (Will Forte) -- nasty in every conceivable manner -- leaves him stranded way far away from home.

The telling of how, why, and where Reggie got his new identity is both humorous and sad in the very early going. After all, a tough little terrier (Jamie Foxx) saves him from a pair of canine street bullies, and a primary friendship is born, complete with what the MPAA calls "pervasive language" (read: gratuitous "F-bombs" galore).

Everything else that dogs do -- and doo-doo -- earns plenty of screen time, too, before a crescendo sequence, accompanied by Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball," seriously hits the fan. 

I mean, even legitimate pet lovers should find "Strays" at their own risk, despite such competent names as Randall Park, Isla Fisher, and Sofia Vergara joining the vocal nonsense.

Rated "R" by MPAA: for pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and drug use; 1:33; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

Also new today in theaters: "The Adults," "Back on the Strip," and "Blue Beetle." 

Thursday, August 10, 2023

'Demeter' yarn gives more than anticipated in summer dog days

As advertised, the legend of "Dracula" is born and then some in "The Last Voyage of the Demeter," a good-looking sailor's tale that fares better than many movies set loose in the middle of August rarely ever manage to do. 

No yo-ho-ho's here, though, or bottles of rum, either, as told from just one chapter of the late-19th century, Bram Stoker novel that introduced the "Prince of Darkness" and, eventually, bloodsucking as a spectator sport.

Of course, gobs of the latter get mixed among some legitimate fire and brimstone, too, as the crew of the Demeter, a Russian merchant vessel carrying a strange load, scatters to and fro while looking for -- and running from -- that thing going bump, bump, bump every night after night on their way from Romania to England. Even the many animals on board, including creepy-crawly rodents, might find it hard to escape such foreboding darkness.

Certainly, neither director André Øvredol nor a trio of credited writers leave any room for laughs in their serious-minded thriller, that is, unless we count the early excuse a few land-lubbing Bulgarians give the Demeter captain (a no-nonsense Liam Cunningham) when he asks for their help in loading an ominous cargo of 24 unmarked crates.

Their refusal sounds something like a broken-English version of, "Gee thanks, but we really have to get out of this place before sunset." Yes, most of us will understand their hurry to depart, and ultimately, uh, just get to feed on watching players such as the heroic ship doctor (a solid Corey Hawkins) slowly discover what any vampire fanatic already knows. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: for bloody violence; 1:58; $ $ $ out of $5.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Nicely named 'Shortcomings' briskly overcomes a very few of its own

Who among us does not admit to at least a few "Shortcomings," perhaps in more than a couple of ways similar to the guy leading the parade in actor-turned first-time director Randall Park's spirited movie of the same name.

In this case, formerly hopeful screenwriter Ben Tanaka goes one better -- or worse -- by not copping to any of his imperfections. Now his "Flaws" -- the first of too many chapter labels that Park uses to introduce episodes in the often-irritable Ben's life -- certainly threaten a relationship with longtime girlfriend Miko (the superbly fed-up Ally Maki) and maybe his manager's job at a Berkeley art theater as well. 

Though the above paragraph generally sums up Park's talky film, please know that it eagerly overflows with intelligence and funny quips from its fine assortment of actors.

Justin H. Min ("After Yang") somehow even makes the squirrelly Ben a little lovable at times. Come to think of it, maybe that is because many of his most absorbingly humorous conversations arrive opposite the marvelous Sherry Cola, as his lesbian BFF, a give-and-take confidante with plenty of her own issues, hook-up and otherwise.

The quick-moving tale comes courtesy of the graphic novel from Adrian Tomine, whose own, all-encompassing screenplay not only might help improve the depiction of Asians in Hollywood, but also includes a few noticeably cool pop-culture references. Hey, "Spider-Man" best friend Jacob Batalon plays an arthouse employee engrossed by anything Marvel, while Timothy Simons, whose idiotic Jonah on "Veep" became one of the cable-TV's all-time distasteful dudes, briefly comes out of nowhere as a genuinely witty New York fashion designer.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language throughout, sexual material and brief nudity; 1:32; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Comedy hit 'n 2 misses: 'Theater Camp,' 'Mansion,' & busted 'Bubble'

Three alleged movie comedies debut at least somewhere today, and it says here that the often rib-tickling "Theater Camp" comes closest to matching the description.

The collaboration of friends and stage enthusiasts unmistakably shows off a wild, "let's put on a show" mentality that comes with the territory. After all, as helmed by first-time feature directors Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, and based on a short film they made with co-writers Ben Platt and Noah Galvin during the early days of the Covid pandemic, only "Camp" nerds may need apply.

In fact, Lieberman is the lone member of the creative quartet missing from a large and likable ensemble, with Gordon (this year's darling on Hulu/FX's terrific "The Bear") and Platt (a Tony winner and movie star as the lead in "Dear Evan Hansen") carrying much of it as best friends and popular returning counselors.

Meanwhile, stage regular Galvin (from TV's "The Good Doctor") personifies the camp's do-everything technical director with a definitive accent on "versatile."

Also contributing mightily: Ohio's Patti Harrison, as a rival official trying to pull the rug out from under leaky old Camp AdironACTS; comic Jimmy Tatro, not so handily attempting to hold summer programs and expectations together as the son of his ailing director/mom (Amy Sedaris); "The Bear" Emmy-nominee Ayo Edibiri, as a new teacher specializing in combative acting; and a host of eager and talented campers/staffers.

"People here are weird but really wonderful," one character admits during a moment of profound observation that says it all. 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some strong language and suggestive/drug references; 1:34; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

An equally sizable cast, filled with even more recognizable celebs, tries to pump comparable life into the so-so "Haunted Mansion," a remake of the dreadful 2003 film that didn't scare or humor anyone.

At the very least, the latest attempt to cash in on one of the most popular rides in a few Disney theme parks does impress with special effects that actually resemble the ones playing smartly on the same-named attractions in Anaheim, Orlando, Paris, and Tokyo. 

Otherwise, director and former Disney employee Justin Simien ("Dear White People") utilizes all-star names such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, and the now you see him, maybe you really do not Jared Leto, to bring or look for life in all the proper paranormal places.

Of course, leading players LaKeith Stansfield, Rosario Dawson and child actor Chase W. Dillon have their own hands filled with absorbing their film's remarkably clunky beginning and somehow making it a moving, meaningful exploration of grief. Unlike the fun-filled ride, a load of laughs it is not.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some thematic elements and scary action; 2:02; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

Finally this weekend, "The Beanie Bubble" bounces back and forth between fiction and reality, with the former likely winning in a landslide as a book-based look at making and selling stuffed toys by the planet full in the 1990s.

Right away, first-time directors Damian Kulash and (former "SNL" writer) Kristin Gore let us know: "There are parts of the truth we can't make up. The rest of it we did."

Then they proceed to turn toy manufacturer Ty Warner, owner of "Ty Inc." and creator behind the lunacy associated with the tiny stuffed animals that became the Beanie Baby collecting craze for a couple of years, into a complete and total buffoon.

Not so surprisingly, usually reliable Zach Galifianakis portrays the apparently self-possessed Warner in the same creepy way that scored in two legitimate career high points: his famously immature Alan from "The Hangover" trilogy, and infamously despicable twin brother Dale on the cable comedy, "Baskets."

Through no fault of their own, Elizabeth Banks and HBO's "Succession" star Sarah Snook -- as a pair of love interests evidently based on an assortment of composite characters from Warner's life -- get mostly lost during a constant barrage of story shifts between the toy titan's successes in the '80s and '90s.

Thus, Geraldine Viswanathan becomes a distaff best as the brainy and cute employee given short shrift by the conniving Warner, at least in how it is all told here. By the way, real details about the craze that made some collectors rich may be easier to discover in the 2021 documentary, "Beanie Mania."

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language; 1:50; $ $ and out of $5.

"Theater Camp" and "Haunted Mansion" are now in theaters everywhere. "The Beanie Bubble," playing exclusively in northeast Ohio at the Cedar Lee Theater, is also streaming on Apple TV+.

Other films new in theaters today: "The Baker" and "Talk to Me." Streaming only: "Paradise" (Netflix).

Friday, July 21, 2023

'Oppenheimer' speaks loud volumes; Initially sharp 'Barbie' goes flat

Color Christopher Nolan's often astonishing "Oppenheimer" long, loud, and a living -- though not exactly loving -- tribute to "the father of the atomic bomb."

The entire project rocks with great actors and recognizable faces, portraying famously brilliant scientists, spouting magnitudes of historical perspective, and playing a last act that mixes vile McCarthyism with America's overwhelming fixations on heroism and winning.

Director Nolan shares writing credits with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, as based on their "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer," whose 800 pages often fit on the big screen like a riveting thriller.

Key to it all, though, might be the king-sized performance by diminutive, Nolan-film regular Cillian Murphy, whose intense magnetism in the title role allows fellow players to orbit around his Oppy planet like mere satellites.

Important (read: well-known) names include Gary Oldman (Harry Truman), Tom Conti (Albert Einstein), Kenneth Branagh (engaging physicist Niels Bohr), and Matt Damon (Leslie Groves, the Pentagon builder who chose Oppenheimer to head the top-secret Manhattan Project in now-fabled Los Alamos). We certainly cannot and will not neglect Emily Blunt (the tough and troubled Mrs. O.), Florence Pugh (full-fledged Communist mistress Jean Tatlock), or a nicely provocative Robert Downey Jr., whose companion story as Cabinet-hopeful Lewis Strauss adds more intriguing surprises to the rich mix.

See it, believe it, then await the end-of-year awards mentions for Nolan, his energetic ensemble, and killer creative team.

Rated "R" by MPAA: some sexuality, nudity, language; 3:00; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

My biggest complaint about "Barbie," the other alleged blockbuster on this weekend's movie menu, mostly surrounds the lack of legitimately playful substance for girls and boys still young enough to toy with the Mattel doll that has been alive now for 65 years.

I mean, a screenplay that so easily throws around words such as patriarchy, cellulite, and existential does not a kids' movie make, even if a "PG-13" stamp probably should provide enough encouragement to keep anyone but mature children under age 12 or so away from theaters showing it.

Alas, with promotion dollars making every child in the free world aware of the movie's existence, that certainly will not be the case. As a result, many parents who cannot resist the wishes of their darling 5-, 7-, or 10-year-olds, might be shocked -- or worse -- by what "stereotypical" Barbie (a fine Margot Robbie) discovers about the real world (at least according to director Greta Gerwig, who co-writes with partner Noah Baumbach).

In short, after an acceptably sweet and funny first 20 minutes, the performance of Ryan Gosling (as the ever-clueless Ken) and a grandly overstated, feminist soliloquy by America Ferrera, as a former Barbie mom now currently disenchanted as a real mother, become hip highlights of this more silly than clever movie.

And, if anyone cares, 9-year-old grandgirl Vivian, who still plays with every Barbie product just about ever made, ONLY gives thumbs up to those swell opening minutes.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: suggestive references and brief language; 1:54; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Actors and faith steer 'The Miracle Club' toward a few uplifting places

Not necessarily because of anything otherworldly, "The Miracle Club" may slowly grow on viewers simply by being blessed with a sparkling cast and a large Irish heart that eventually overflows in all the properly spiritual ways.

Those raised as Catholics and learning to embrace all the tales we heard and read about the sanctity and healing powers of Lourdes even might help a few of us through some spotty early moments in this typically small, Sony Pictures Classics-distributed indie. 

Mostly, though, it becomes Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith and radiant newcomer Agnes O'Casey, all making us believe that such plot peculiarities actually could have occurred near Dublin, circa 1967. Naturally, it is a rampantly religious community, where everything revolves around the local church and its kindly priest (Mark O'Halloran).

In this case, a talent show offering a first prize of a bus trip to Lourdes, France, becomes the parish's latest big event. And somehow -- miraculously perhaps? -- neighborhood pals portrayed by Bates, Smith, and O'Casey wind up with the winnings after precariously warbling the Chiffons classic, "He's So Fine," of all things.

Fourth wheel Linney, as an estranged daughter returning for her beloved mom's funeral, joins in early, too, to fill in the necessary historical blanks and perhaps deliver the pivotal performance essential to igniting much of the heart-tugging healing process. 

By the way, though not so relevant to story here, the grand Stephen Rea, still likely best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in 1993's "The Crying Game," provides bits of husbandly humor as the dizzy mate of Bates' high-strung lassie.  

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: thematic elements and some language; 1:31; $ $ $ out of $5

Also new in theaters today: "Psycho-Pass: Providence" and "They Cloned Tyrone (debuts July 21 on Netflix as well). 

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Impressive quartet of women helps put latest 'M:I' into Cruise control

See Tom. See Tom run. See Tom jump. Simply see Tom Cruise, back for a seventh time as very secret agent Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible -- Dead Reckoning Part One," get the summer blockbuster job done -- again -- but truly not without the mighty contributions of four sensationally smart, strong, and swift females.

Their characters all steal scenes with stunning regularity, whether playing with or against Cruise's master of manipulation in trying to outwit a brilliantly mysterious threat to the world or joining him in an assortment of entertaining, if occasionally inane action hijinks.

Franchise fans will recognize Impossible Missions Force collaborator Ilsa Foust (Rebecca Ferguson), here opening proceedings with a cool $50-million bounty on her lovely head and, arriving much later, the wily White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), back from 2018's "M:I -- Fallout" and still scheming as effectively as ever. 

It is a pair of "Mission" newcomers, though, who become even more watchable in the personas of a thief extraordinaire named Grace (Hayley Atwell) and the chief villain's henchwoman, Paris (always-fab Pom Klementieff from Marvel's "Galaxy" gang). Certainly, you will agree, especially during a couple of kick-ass moments down the stretch.

Hunt's often humorous sidekicks, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), show up regularly, too, nicely doing justice to the classic, old TV show that started it all, even if this whole lengthy shebang actually begins with a chilling, pre-credits sequence involving none of the specialist regulars.

That intrigue occurs on a supposedly invisible and invincible Russian submarine, whose captain describes it as "the most fearsome killing machine ever devised by man." Regardless, and despite a few moments of long-winded, bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo interrupting various other thrills from there, perhaps neither he nor we seriously have seen anything yet. 

Believe it, returning director/co-writer/producer Christopher McQuarrie has much more "Reckoning" in store here -- and likely then some in "Part Two," already set to debut on June 28, 2024.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: intense violence/action sequences, some language, and suggestive material; 2:43; $ $ $ $ out of $5

("Mission: Impossible -- Dead Reckoning Part One" opens in theaters on July 12, with "Fan Access" screenings also slated earlier.)

Already new in theaters this weekend: "Insidious: The Red Door," "Joy Ride," "The Lesson," and "Sound of Freedom." Streaming only: "The Out-Laws" (on Netflix).

Friday, June 30, 2023

Along comes final 'Jones' with its mystical stuff and a comfortable end

If the first two hours of "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" were as appealing as the often outlandish tale's last 15 minutes, then the reported final outing for Harrison Ford, his fabled fedora, and that constant quest for supernatural-slanted relics might have whipped up a little something as memorable as the film that started it all way back in 1981.

Of course, if you don't know that we are talking about "Raiders of the Lost Ark," then this fourth sequel, which borrows so heavily from the original, might be something special for you, too. Certainly, it begins with the kind of serial-induced excitement that inspired co-creator/writer George Lucas and pal, Steven Spielberg, by then already a superstar director, to bring a non-stop, old-fashioned action hero to the big screen in the first place.

The latest one not only dials up an opening train chase to turn back time but has the digitalized face of the ever-worthy, 80-year-old Ford again looking young and dashing, still fighting '40s-era Nazis, AND stealing the plot-pivotal archaeological gizmo that good ol' Archimedes, everyone's favorite third century genius, apparently invented to -- you guessed it -- travel back and forth in history. 

Unfortunately, and too often, time does not fly swiftly enough through much of "Destiny," especially a lengthy trick-cave sequence that pales in comparison to those legendary scenes quick-starting the always breathtaking "Raiders." In fact, Jones and feisty goddaughter (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) struggle endlessly to get to a place where the dastardly villains somehow manage to show up almost immediately.

Speaking of the latter group, picture-of-evil Mads Mikkelsen leads the way as a brilliantly ambitious Nazi scientist and, once her character gets good-bad priorities in order, Waller-Bridge might even show enough to return for a franchise starter of her own.

Archimedes could tell us anything is possible after the nicely orchestrated departure for Jones/Ford at the end of this one.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: language, action, sequence of violence, and smoking; 2:34; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening today in theaters: "Every Body," "The Man from Rome," and "Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken." New to streaming: "Nimona" and "Run Rabbit Run" (both on Netflix).

Thursday, June 22, 2023

'Asteroid City' does look cool; 'No Hard Feelings,' though, if it's a mess

"Asteroid City," the latest from director, co-writer, producer and certified oddball movie god Wes Anderson becomes his usual visual delight right from the start. And, even without much of an intriguing story, it is always a hoot to watch the parade of stars (see list on poster at left) waltzing in and out of a crowded project that still leans on creative crafts people to keep eyes dancing.

In this case, names such as Fernando Contreras Diaz (art director), Adam Stackhouse (production design), and four-time Oscar winner Milena Canonero (costume designer) deserve as much credit as anyone for keeping us watching this "imaginary" tale -- complete with "behind-the-scenes" machinations -- being shown on TV within the film. 

Of course, Anderson's most faithful enthusiasts likely will buy in immediately, and Bryan Cranston, as an Edwin R. Murrow, "See It Now" type, certainly helps by introducing the particulars in all their small-screen, black-and-white glory.

The fictional title location itself then arrives via train, automobile, and an assortment of peachy-pastel, desert-minded hues that work fabulously. Various and many human connections follow, even well before a more silly than scary sci-fi intruder enters the mostly wry -- and dry -- proceedings.

And if one of Anderson's messages somehow emphasizes the importance of communication by forcing us to realize how meager and meaningless special effects just had to be on '50s-era television, then so be it. By the way, when's that next blockbuster?

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: brief graphic nudity, smoking, and some suggestive material; 1:45; $ $ $ out of $5

Surprisingly, perhaps, the less written about Jennifer Lawrence's latest, the ironically titled "No Hard Feelings," definitely would be for the better.

I mean, a gratuitous F-bomb is the first word we hear from the mouth of the "Silver Linings Playbook" Best Actress, and we only come to despise her maddening Maddie Barker increasingly from there. Regardless, the cringe-worthy bimbo/bully/"Maneater" with severe daddy and money issues would seem like a perfect match for a raunchy comedy heroine.

The trouble is, neither Lawrence nor the lightweight premise -- about wealthy parents who basically hire Maddie to schtup their shy son (an OK Andrew Barth Feldman) before he goes to college -- hardly ever get funny at all, or daringly raunchy enough. 

Some of the smartest dialogue occurs early, such as when Maddie promises her new bosses (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) that "I will date your kid's brains out." Alas, the work of director Gene Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips soon turns into a salvage job for editors, since characters, discussions and events keep showing up out of nowhere, a sign that much of it must remain on the cutting-room floor.

Golden Raspberry Awards, here we come, assuming that hallowed group still even responds to "entertainment" such as this.

Rated "R" by MPAA: sexual conduct, language, some graphic nudity, and brief drug use; 1:43; $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also new Friday in theaters is "Past Lives." Streaming only: "The Stroll" (Max), "iNumber Number: Jozi Gold" (Netflix), and "Through My Window: Across the Sea" (Netflix).

Friday, June 16, 2023

'Flash' flashes; 'Elemental' burns out welcome; Yogi still hits in 'Over'

So, here comes another superhero film in the not-so-familiar form of "The Flash," just what many of us might need to keep the summer movie season always trying to hit its expected stride. Yeah, right, you say? 

Well, just know that this latest Justice League entry soars from the start with a literal "baby shower" event before ultimately slowing a bit down a lengthy final stretch that enjoys one last -- of many -- surprise cameos.

Troubled actor Ezra Miller (off screen at least) plays the title character, aka Barry Allen, with speed, laughs and even some gravitas while time-traveling through an assortment of now-necessary multiverses to keep the comic-book crowd happy. The flashbang experience also allows Allen to meet a younger version of himself, thus adding a little emotional heft to proceedings that include a fine turn from Michael Keaton, as a wiser, older version of his original movie "Batman" and wealthy alter ego Bruce Wayne.

Other familiar forms of superheroes hop through the crowded fray, too, though perhaps not all as successfully as a few of Barry's Caped Crusader friends do. Regardless, this popcorn film seriously belongs to Miller who, with director Andy Muschietti (of "It" films fame), proves again that speed really can kill.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: sequences of violence and action; some strong language, and partial nudity; 2:35; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Considering the extraordinary achievements of Pixar in the field of animated movie entertainment even before being bought out by Disney, the rather lame "Elemental" plays like the trailblazing company's weakest warm-weather entry in years.

Quite simply, a tough girl made of fire (voiced by TV actress Leah Lewis) somehow falls for a nerdy water inspector (Mamoudou Athie, most notably from the last "Jurassic World" film), and we're expected to buy her Cinder Lumen and his Wade Ripple as the latest reincarnation of Romeo and Juliet for the big screen.

The family names and an assortment of other word plays from a trio of sitcom scribes-turned first-time screenwriters actually might keep adults entertained. Meanwhile, if kids do not really enjoy the colorful sights and sounds of Element City, where a lot of hot air resides, they likely will resort to much twisting, turning and trips to the rest room.

At least the Pixar cartoon short that precedes the main feature should keep everyone happy with a sweet kind of dog-walks-man story. It's called "Carl's Date" and features characters from the 14-year-old, Oscar-winning feature, "Up." Those would be good ol' Carl Fredricksen (the ever-recognizable tones of the late Ed Asner) and his talking canine, Dug (voiced by writer/director Bob Petersen). Now that's Pixar at its charming best.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: with some peril, thematic elements, and very brief language; 1:42; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Last but definitely not least today, all-time baseball great Yogi Berra lights up the screen in "It Ain't Over," by simply being a nice guy and, believe it or not, one of the most quoted personalities in "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations."

In fact, the mostly funny "Yogi-isms" made extraordinarily famous by the New York Yankees' Hall of Fame catcher and hitter, are why the three-time American League Most Valuable Player and 10-time World Series champion is not always considered one of the best major leaguers of all time.

Certainly, those of us old enough to remember Berra clobbering oh-so-many bad pitches for home runs, especially against our beloved Cleveland Indians back in the day, might argue solidly on the late, great, and gentle Yogi's behalf, no matter how much we hated those other damn Yankees.

In the documentary about his teeming life and family and career, so too do an assortment of celebrities -- from Lindsey Berra, the narrator/executive producer of the film and the oldest of his 11 grandchildren, to comic/actor Billy Crystal to loads of teammates, fellow all-stars, and baseball-related talking heads.

Fans of America's favorite pastime will find director/writer Sean Mullin's doc to be a legitimate, fast-moving treat. Everyone else might call it eye-opening. Ater all, as wiseman Yogi apparently once said, "You can see a lot by watching."

Rated "PG" by MPAA: smoking, some drug references, language, and brief war images; 1:38; $ $ $ $ out of $5

("It Ain't Over" opens today, exclusively in northeast Ohio, at the Cedar Lee Theater. It is also available on various VOD outlets.)

Also new today in theaters: "The Blackening" and "Maggie Moore(s). Streaming only: "Extraction 2"  (Netflix), "Jagged Mind," (Hulu), "Stan Lee" (Disney+), and "Midnight Black Midnight Blue" (VOD).

Thursday, June 8, 2023

'Daliland' takes infamous painter to different and strange places

Former punk journo-turned gifted director Mary Harron once again goes off on the wacky eccentricities of the art world in the occasionally beguiling "Daliland," a film fully carried by a wonderfully wild performance from Ben Kingsley.

"Sir Ben" simply inhabits the persona -- and garish celebrity -- of Surrealist genius Salvador Dali and, if the movie itself might not be quite as totally fab as Harron's 25-year-old "I Shot Andy Warhol," she again creates her own sparkling canvas, complete with competent supporting players and landscapes from Spain to New York and beyond. 

The eventful screenplay, written by John Walsh, Harron's husband, itself neatly paints an '80s opening that mixes a key character watching an old clip of Dali's fun '50s guest bit on the then-popular "What's My Line" game show. 

Hit-and-miss glimpses into the artist's rich-and-infamous life then span decades both before and after, with Ezra Miller, whose resemblance to Kingsley seems uncanny, playing the younger Dali in a few nice flashback moments. (Nifty release coincidence or not, Miller returns to the big screen next week as "The Flash.")

Not rated by MPAA (but Dali did dally in drugs, sex, etc.): 1:37; $ $ $ out of $5

("Daliland," the closing night film at last September's 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival, opens Friday in select theaters, including the Cedar Lee in northeast Ohio.)

Also new Friday in theaters: "The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster" and "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. Streaming only: "Flamin' Hot" (Disney+ and Hulu) and "You Do You" (exclusively on Netflix).   

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Anyone for a new 'Spider-Man' or, perhaps, dazzling dozens of 'em?

Worlds collide all over the screen -- continuously for two-plus hours -- in the breakneck "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse," the rare "better" sequel, believe it or not, even if it arrives half a decade beyond the deserving 2018 Best Animated Feature Oscar-winner, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."

Of course, if that's too many Spiders in one sentence, then please know you ain't seen nothin' yet! I mean, brilliant high-schooler Miles Morales (again with the committed voice of Shameik Moore) might be "the only Spider-Man in Brooklyn" but . . . uh, you'll catch the drift when you see it -- from an instantaneous visit to Legoland, to a nice chat with a pregnant Spider-Woman, and a full assortment of look quick or you might miss a few under, over and all around.

Glimpses of real faces spot the cool landscape, and a few voices might be recognized, too, in a creatively artistic -- and occasionally draining -- mix. (The biggest blotch likely will arrive only for those of us who may get bummed by cliffhanger endings.)

Meanwhile, the evolving stories of the gifted Morales, quibbling with sparkling parents (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez), and courageous friend/soulmate/heroine Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld), ever dealing with her solid cop father (Shea Whigham), among other issues, nicely help shake off any and all of the action cobwebs. 

One warning: Only the deepest kids under 10 or so might understand much of it. But better news, the villain of the piece (Jason Schwartzman) never really goes batspit evil.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: animated action violence, some language, and thematic elements: 2:20; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also new Friday in theaters: "The Bogeyman," "Sanctuary, and "The Starling Girl." Streaming: "Shooting Stars" (only on Peacock).