Thursday, May 19, 2022

Meet the haves of stuffy 'Downton' and have-nots of warm-hearted 'Valet'

Just about all of the usual suspects return in the sequel, "Downton Abbey: A New Era," with silent movies and a villa on the French Riviera chief among the show-and-tell talking points, not to mention a plot as crowded as the poster at right would indicate.

It's no, uh, "Masterpiece," but legitimate fans of the long-running PBS-TV series surely will enjoy how the film gives everyone a chance to contribute in their own special if predictable ways.

"Downton" creator/screenwriter Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") and director Simon Curtis ("My Week With Marilyn") bookend these proceedings with a wedding and a funeral. In between, those richly famous Crawley Family dynamics -- still overseen by Countess/matriarch Violet (as always, so smartly portrayed by truly Grand Dame Maggie Smith) -- include a few period-piece swoons and some inevitable redemption to smooth over any potential cracks.

Violet herself is inheriting the aforementioned and fabulously picturesqe villa, which has been willed to her by a wealthy former suitor. That means tongues start wagging, too, when part of the clan heads to France to discuss closing arrengments. Meanwhile, the rest stay home to deal with a film crew using their estate for a location shoot beset with numerous problems.

Perhaps worst among them is a pretty, petty actress (the fine Laura Haddock), whose difficulties with the spoken word seem borrowed from the memorable struggles of Jean Hagen in the '50s "Singin' in the Rain." Don't worry, though, it's the formidable Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and two wait-staff cuties (Joanne Frogatt and Sophie McSharra) who might come up with solutions. Otherwise, Dominic West, as the star of the movie within the movie, also contributes mightily.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: suggestive references, language and thematic elements; 2:05; $ $ $ out of $5

Ironically, it's truly seeing how the other half lives in a generally Hollywood-neglected part of Los Angeles that becomes one of the movie charms of "The Valet" (starting Friday only on Hulu).

The mild-mannered Antonio (lovingly played by Eugenio Derbez, the choir director in the Oscar-winning "CODA") unassumingly rides his wobbly old bike to park cars at a swanky Beverly Hills hotel each morning and back to his Hispanic neighborhood off Pico Boulevard, near fabled MacArthur Park, every night. But who knew an accident on the way home would get the guy involved with paparazzi ("Hey, I don't even like to be in family photos," he says) and, more significantly, one of the world's most glamorous movie stars (the terrific Samara Weaving).

The silly story comes from a 2006 French film ("La Doublure"), re-imagined here for American audiences by a couple of writers, Bob Fisher ("Wedding Crashers") and Rob Greenberg (TV's "Frasier"), with some classic successes on their busy resumes. Still, it's the way they let Antonio and Weaving's Olivia spark a friendship and deal with the valet's loving, immigrant family that often makes their screenplay shine. 

The engaging ensemble includes scene-stealing Carmen Salinas (in the last role before her December passing), as Antonio's outspoken live-in mother. Naturally, she doesn't speak English but nevertheless enjoys a full-on fling with the Korean landlord (Ji Yong Lee). Since neither undertands what the other is saying, Mom explains (through subtitles), "we speak a deeper language."

So does their movie, which at times is as meaningful about good things happening to decent people as it is funny. Kudos, Hulu, for picking it up. 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: sexual content, some strong language and brief drug material; 1:57; $ $ $ 1/2 out of $5

(Also opening in theaters Friday is the Sundance hit "Emergency,," which will start streaming, too, May 27 on Prime Video; the horror-laden "Men," and the political documentary "2000 Mules." The animated "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" streams exclusively on Disney+).

Friday, May 6, 2022

'Strange' goings-on take backseat to playful 'Duke' and tiny French charmer

So, if "summer" blockbuster season is really upon us, why does Marvel's latest unspool so unsteadily compared to a couple of much smaller (read: better) films on the all-important opening weekend?

I mean, there's nothing particularly awful about "Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," but the title really says it all, and so does a warning from a pivotal character who quips, "Rule number one of multiversal travel is you don't know anything." 

And, oh by the way, the plot -- helped immensely since the last multi-billion-dollar "Spider-Man" smash kinda spurred on the idea of multiverses -- gives the extremely wealthy Marvel Universe license to dismiss anything and everything fans think they know about other stories and movies they paid to read and watch previously. (According to a count provided by the same super-traveling heroine mentioned above, the number of multiverses she has visited already stands at 72. Geez!) 

The multi-dimensional result thus becomes a mix of the same superheroes turning from good gals and guys in one world to bad ones in another, with even a very distinct possibility of changing back and forth again in the same film. Without giving much away, such a convoluted notion leads to perhaps the loveliest segment in this "Madness," when two sides of Dr. Stephen Strange, both portrayed again by the influential Benedict Cumberbatch, brawl mightily while accompanied by a cacophony of music nicely orchestrated by Danny Elfman.

Not as successful in the department of the ol' switcheroo, though, is Disney+ "WandaVision" star Elizabeth Olsen, helping as much as hindering in the dual role of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, with the latter playing like a soccer mom's answer to Maleficent.

Now, that's a Disney villain you'll probably never see in a Marvel movie, but the odd assortment of old and new players, either brought back or introduced anew, should keep genuine fans of crossover franchising happy. If anyone cares, it says here that returning "Strange" love interest Rachel McAdams and a cameo from Bruce Campbell (legendary friend to director Sam Raimi) weave their way through such messy madness as two of the legitimate standouts.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language; 2:12; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Adults in the room may have more luck embracing "The Duke," based on the true story of a devilish Brit accused of stealing a Goya painting from the National Gallery "for the greater good."

The notoriously fine Jim Broadbent, an Oscar winner from way back for "Iris," plays the rascal seriously named Kempton Bumpton with a charming singularity galore and enough working-class wit to keep bewildered UK authorities guessing in all the wrong places. 

And, if amusing courtroom sequences down the classic stretch and some moving moments of family torment somehow can't keep you involved, then a famous actress named Helen Mirren surely will. The Dame is spot-on perfect as Bumpton's wife, a cleaning lady with ample common sense to match her hubby's wild-eyed idealism.

Among other things, "The Duke" is the final film for prolific stage/screen/TV director Roger Michell, a man who gave jobs to Daniel Craig long before the actor did his 007 thing. Naturally, then, the final shot might leave you nicely stirred while probably not shaken.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language and brief sexuality; 1:36; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Finally this week, there's the festval and art house favorite "Petite Maman," a wee fantasy from writer/director Celine Sciamma, the same auteur who gave us 2019's powerful "Portrait of a Lady on Fire."

Her latest is as subtle as the last one was rousing with its intricate explorations of death, mother-daughter connections and childhood friendship all sneaking up on us through the brilliant camera work of Claire Mahon.

Identical twins (Josephine and Gabriel Sanz) star as unrelated 8-year-olds, who meet sweetly in the woods after one's grandmother dies, then become fast pals. Before we realize it and the quickly arriving end, Sciamma's smartly titled work (translating to "Little Mom") turns into a bit of a lark that still flies away with our hearts.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: thematic elements and brief smoking; 1:12; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("The Duke" and "Petite Maman" have been making their rounds at select theaters for a few weeks. They both open today in northeast Ohio, with the latter showing exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theater.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Shatner, 'Jay & Silent Bob' among top celeb guests at FAN EXPO Cleveland

A "Clerks" reunion presents Jason Mewes & Kevin Smith. 
Three days of "unlimited fandom" in an "ultimate playground" for movies, comics, gaming and more hits the North Coast on Friday when FAN EXPO Cleveland arrives at the Huntington Convention Center.

A slew of celebrity guests -- headed by legendary "Star Trek" sci-fi maestro William Shatner, not to mention a "Clerks" film reunion featuring writer/director Kevin "Silent Bob" Smith with pal Jason "Jay" Mewes, Brian O'Halloran and others -- will be on hand for autographs, photos and just sittin around talkin'.

For a complete list of activities, times and guests, including numerous voiceover artists, visit FAN EXPO Cleveland.

(As for movies, an unusually large assortment of smaller films arrives in time for the weekend. Among them: "Anais in Love," "Charlotte," "Hatching," and "Memory" are all new at local theaters; "The Survivor" (HBO Max), "Crush" (Hulu), "I Love America" (Amazon Prime) and "Polar Bear" (Disney+) debut exclusively on listed streaming services; "The Aviary" may be found in theaters or VOD and, finally, "Marvelous and the Black Hole" is only On Demand.)

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Eggers swings for the fences with 'Northman' but falls short of real power

One of the early strengths of young filmmaker Robert Eggers has been his uncanny ability to entertain us with low-key scares, as he did mostly in "The Witch" and, perhaps, less successfully if more creepily in "The Lighthouse."

Now, though. the director (and co-writer) really goes straight for the jugular with a big budget blood and mud bath, "The Northman," which takes a mythic tale that apparently inspired "Hamlet" and dresses it up for the big screen with "Game of Thrones"-like mayhem. (Hence, the creepy stuff is saved this time for Nicole Kidman's "maternal" character. Get it?)

Eggers brings along a couple of stalwarts from his aformentioned movies, too, with "Lighthouse"-keeper Willem Dafoe here portraying a combo jester/advisor to a murdered Nordic king (Ethan Hawke), and Anya Taylor-Joy, now an A-lister after playing "The Witch" and a chess whiz on "The Queen's Gambit," nicely still settling for supporting love interest to the dead monarch's muscular and revenge-happy son (Alexander Skarsgard).

Of course, none of the players should be blamed for the uneven historical canvas or the unnecessary length of some scenes. One, in fact, the great Dane named Claes Bang, who was so good in little movies such as "The Square" and "The Burnt Orange Heresy," even mightily impresses with his own kingly clout. 

Regardless, if anyone really is looking to be entertained by stories of this ilk, may I suggest a 1958 spectacle simply called "The Vikings"? Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles -- full-fledged movie stars all -- carried the film to a resounding $13 million international box office and spawned a TV series in which none of them worked. By the way, if you can't locate the movie on a streaming service, a place called your local library might find a copy somewhere.

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong bloody violence, some sexual content and nudity; 2:20; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening only in theaters Friday: "The Bad Guys" (animated) and "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" (with Nicolas Cage actually playing himself).

Thursday, April 14, 2022

'Father Stu' and newest 'Beasts' each tries hard to convert the masses

Wahlberg's "Stu" at church.
Mark Wahlberg has changed body type for various movie roles throughout a nearly three-decade Hollywood career. Now, he gets to show off a spiritual side to shape "Father Stu," the real life-priest he portrays in a faith-based film arriving just in time for the holy Easter holiday.

For what might be the actor's best performance since his Oscar-nominated turn in 2006 Best Picture "The Departed," he again goes through a plot-induced transformation that takes him body and soul from bruising boxer to aspiring, if somewhat delusional actor and, finally, to inspirational man of God.

There's another unexpected physical twist down the emotional stretch, but it's Wahlberg's ability to have us believe his foul-mouthed crusader actually might relate to the stained masses that makes a pivotal difference in Stu's very Catholic conversion. 

The church-going Wahlberg's personal passion project gets strong help from worthy parental turns by Jackie Weaver and Mel Gibson, whose often angry roles finally earn some softer moments, too. Still, the story's most positive presence comes from Teresa Ruiz, as the religious young woman who instigated Stu's reclamation in the first place. 

By the way, producer Wahlberg might have received a real blessing with the casting of ever-grand Malcolm McDowell, on hand here as Stu's pastor. The British star played perhaps filmdom's most sadistic bad boy in Stanley Kubrick's now 50-year-old classic, "A Clockwork Orange."  

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language throughout; 2:04; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

While on the subject of the dark side, the special-effects witchcraft in "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" truly is the reason to see this third franchise effort to convert "Harry Potter" fans to watch more wizardry from author-turned screenwriter J.K. Rowling.

As for story, rate it somewhere between Rowling's superior and original "Beasts" of 2016 and her disappointing "Grindelwald" sequel of 2018. Certainly the fun of the former does not seriously return in this latest, though the daunting presence of Mads Mikkelsen, chosen to replace the limply weird Johnny Depp as the latter's powerful and unquestionable villain of the piece, just about really does move mountains.  

Here, Grindelwald's genuine evil shows up early in a lunch meeting with the kind Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Presumably so does the first of the titled "Secrets," and then maybe this film's most engaging character, Professor of Charm Eulalie Hicks (Jessica Williams), nicely recruited to help the series' mainstays keep things right. Most notably, those would be creature keeper Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and funny Muggle sidekick/baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).

Meanwhile, most "Fantastic Beasts" in this third installment of same remain vital and deserving of such billing. If you haven't viewed the first two, though, catching up on them probably will make getting through this one less, uh . . . tricky. 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some fantasy/action violence; 2:22; $ $ $ out of $5

Thursday, April 7, 2022

All-star cast helps nurture book-based, war-tinged 'Mothering Sunday'

Way back in September, "Mothering Sunday" was the first movie I watched on the second day of the 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival. Now, finally, it's making some overdue theatrical rounds and premieres Friday at a half-dozen theaters in northeastern Ohio.

The opening credits of this very British, class-conscious period piece simply and understatedly claim it's "with" some actors whose names you just might recognize. In fact, Olivia Colman ("The Favourite"), Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") and Glenda Jackson (both "Women in Love" and "A Touch of Class") all have won Academy Awards, but this post-WWI story centers around a very determined leading lady (Odessa Young), as the lovely young handmaiden who always offers an eyeful -- and plenty more.

Young easily dominates the novel-based proceedings, despite working for the rich and grieving Nivens' family (headed by Firth and Colman) and regularly dallying with their equally wealthy neighbor (Josh O'Connor, himself the Emmy-winning co-star of Colman's on "The Crown"). 

We'll stop here before spilling the beans on where and how the legendary Jackson comes into the engaging picture. Just know that the gorgeous-looking melodrama arrives from director Eva Husson ("Gang Bang") and playwright/screenwriter Alice Birch ("Lady Macbeth"), a formidable combination obviously destined for similarly flashy cinema ahead.

Rated "R" by MPAA: sexual content, graphic nudity and some language; 1:51; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Among other films opening only in theaters on Friday: "Ambulance," "Everything Everywhere All at Once," and "Sonic The Hedgehog 2." Meanwhile, "All the Old Knives" debuts both in theaters and on Prime Video, with "Cow," a BAFTA-nominated documentary, apparently available in even fewer theaters and On Demand. Finally, "Minamata," one of the features voted among the year's top five Oscar fan favorites of 2021 in a Twitter poll, launches on VOD and digital outlets just about everywhere. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Theaters get 'Morbius,' while youthful 'Apollo' and 'Nate' stream for views

A brief excursion to a bat cave, the moon and Broadway:

The former scary domain comes at the opening of "Morbius," where the title character, played by Oscar-winner Jared Leto, gets off a helicopter in the middle of Costa Rica and calmly cuts his hand to draw the blood that attracts hundreds of vampire bats he apparently needs for medical research.

At least we can assume so, since the segment comes just before a "25 years earlier" caption appears on screen to take us to the beginning of a not-so-Marvelous origin story about a brilliant handicapped kid whose eventual experiments to cure his rare DNA disease give him powers that don't necessarily turn him into a superhero. 

Along the way, Morbius rejects a Nobel Prize (for inventing artificial blood), works closely with a lovely female doctor (Adria Arjona) and constantly feels guilty about his Jekyll-and-Hyde tendencies aboard a cargo tanker filled with unholy mercenaries he himself hired.

Occasionally, it's not as ghastly as it might sound, mostly thanks to Leto's general gravitas and a supervillain (Matt Smith from "The Crown") thoroughly enjoying his own personal discoveries. Best of all, the film's running time is just about bloody perfect for this kind of dreck (which includes the requisite closing-credit teasers). 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: intense sequences of violence; some frightening images, and brief strong language; 1:44; $ $ out of $5

This first April weekend's most entertaining entry -- perhaps at least if you're old enough to remember the times, places, and reams of resulting nostalgia surrounding the historic, 1969 moon landing -- is playing on Netflix in Richard Linklater 's "Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood." 

The initial 60 minutes become an animated delight, filled with apparent recollections from the life of the now 61-year-old writer and director, who grew up "right down the road" from NASA's Space Center Houston. With Jack Black, as the now-adult kid (named Stan) remembering it all with his steady narration, the Texas metropolis was a beehive of activity, from JFK's famous space speech at Rice University, to the unveiling of the giant Astrodome, and pioneer astronauts galore making names for themselves while "the rest of the world was going to hell."

Much of suburban America certainly could relate to such overwhelming memories, all playing to a soundtrack of some of the '60s biggest instrumental hits and guided through the decade by an assortment of classic TV shows, most of which seemingly earn mention here among many other fun topics.

Naturally, so does award-winning coverage of the moon flight and landing itself, with legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite coming back to life and still soaring as high as Apollo 11. Fortunately, it takes precedence over the film's most intrusive element, the shaky and title-producing plot about young Stan actually piloting the first real manned flight to our most reachable celestial body. Somehow, it should have remained on the lauching pad instead of interrupting an otherwise wistful ride.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some suggestive material, injury images and smoking; 1:37; $ $ $ out of $5

The similarly sweet, Disney+ streaming "Better Nate Than Ever" probably takes its cues from "High School Musical" but, in a critics' screener intro by director/writer and paperback author Tim Federle, he prefers comparisons to superior films such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Billy Elliott."

Uh, I don't think so, sir. What you have here is an energetic coming-of-age tale, carried by a couple of truly capable middle-school finds, Rueby Wood, as talented if far-reaching dreamer Nate, and smartly stylish Aria Brooks, as savvy best gal-pal Libby, who's hoping for a little more than a platonic relationship.

It all means Nate truly comes out in more ways than a grand, Times Square TikToc session that just might send him onto the Great White Way. Certainly he gets good-natured support, too, from struggling actress/Aunt Heidi (a nice-to-see Lisa Kudrow), whose own frictions with Nate's mom (Michelle Federer) play more frivolous than real.

Still -- and even with the movie's lack of any angst aside -- there's enough imagination evident to give my regards to such a perky, just-off-Broadway production.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: thematic elements, a suggestive reference, and mild language; 1:31; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Always quirky Rylance entertains again in equally unconventional 'Outfit'

Have you seen the performance of Mark Rylance in the Best Picture-nominated "Don't Look Up"? Or his own Oscar-winning role in 2015's "Bridge of Spies"? Or just about anything in between, from his title giant in "The BFG" to a dazzling portrayal of controversial lawyer/activist William Kunstler in another multi-nominee, 2020's "The Trial of the Chicago 7"?

Well, speaking of Chicago, here's one more gem for you, with the diminutive Brit dominating the big screen again in "The Outfit," a Windy City-set little thriller that mostly rewards patient -- and observant -- viewers.

Of course, Rylance becomes the main reason to see it, as a smartly eccentric clothes "cutter," who allows mobsters to use his upscale tailor shop for regular money drops and other crime-inspired chores. What they do there gets increasingly evident, both through the character's narration about his unique job skills and a close-to-the-vest telling from co-writer and first-time director Graham Moore, who won his own Academy Award as the screenwriter of 2014's "The Imitation Game."  

Naturally, veteran stage trouper Rylance always acts right at home with the film's meager production designs, most likely the result of shooting the film during a pandemic. Capable supporting players Zoe Deutch, Simon Russell Beale, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Johnny Flynn do as well.

By the end, "The Outfit," which opens Friday only in theaters, likely won't wear well with everyone, but fanciers of the sinister should not be disappointed. 

Rated "R": some bloody violence and language; 1:45; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

 (A number of movies also debut Friday on an assortment of streaming outlets. They include "Deep Water" (Hulu),"Windfall" (Netflix), and another remake of "Cheaper by the Dozen" (Disney+). Meanwhile, "Master" shows up in theaters and on Prime Video.

Friday, March 11, 2022

'Red' and 'Adam': Dealing (and streaming) with young growing pains

A girl and boy meet significantly different versions of themselves in a pair of so-so vehicles likely most perfectly geared to young adults.

In the animated "Turning Red," now streaming exclusively on Disney+, 13-year-old Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) has an amazing discovery while learning the ins and outs of becoming a woman, including a few things that may bring questions from younger viewers.

Regardless, except for a monstrously silly climax in Toronto's SkyDome (today called the Rogers Centre), the story of Mei's relationship with a caring if uptight mom (the ever-fab Sandra Oh) almost brings more pivotal dismay than the fact that the daughter turns into a giant red panda when feeling stressed (read: angry). Naturally, mighty Mei's trio of best friends help their girl get through it all, and so does a boy-band named "4*Town," whose hugely popular style of music back in the day apparently is why the film plays best in 2002.

As always, Pixar animation keeps us nicely intrigued, mostly with images and neighorborhoods from Canada's largest city precisely captured throughout. Truth be told, though, a dearth of real gotcha moments might be why "Red" hasn't been chosen to color any theater screens or, most importantly, attempt to fill their seats.  

Rated "PG" by MPAA: thematic material, suggestive material and language; 1:39; $ $ $ out of $5

Speaking of creative ways to show off anger management, the kid in "The Adam Project" (a sci-fi adventure now playing on Netflix) risks life and limb tooling around with his older self. 

That's because young newcomer Walker Scobell, as the tough and irritating little middle-schooler already suspended three times for fighting, grows up to become Ryan Reynolds, whose "44-year-old" persona revisits from the future and just happens to sorta crash-land in the woods behind where Young Adam lives with his widowed and worried Mom (Jennifer Garner).

Now, according to Big Adam, Earth 2050 looks something like "The Terminator" movies on a bad day, so he's not really returning to help his younger self. Uh-uh.

He claims to be searching for his "late" wife (Zoe Saldana) for some reason in the year 2018. And, so what if he misses by four years. Hey, it all gets explained -- I think -- with Adam's also dead Dad (Mark Ruffalo), a physicist whose special expertise is in time travel, getting involved, too.

So do Catherine Keener, references to Guy Lombardo (look him up), one "magnetic" scene right out of the original "Journey to the Center of the Earth," and a "Field of Dreams" moment tweaked just in time for settlement of the MLB strike.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: violence/action, language and suggestive references; 1:46; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5  

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Kimmel, Williams sisters among presenters for Sunday night's CCA awards

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced today the star-studded lineup of presenters who will take the stage Sunday night at the 27th annual Critics Choice Awards, including Issa Rae, who will present the SeeHer Award to Halle Berry, and Jimmy Kimmel, who will help honor Billy Crystal with the group's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Additional presenters include Ava DuVernay, Carey Mulligan, Jamie Dornan, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Kristen Wiig, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mandy Moore, Zoey Deutch, Joel McHale, Michaela JaĆ© Rodriguez, J.K. Simmons, Ray Romano, Ken Jeong, Alan Kim, Angelica Ross, Annie Mumolo, Dominique Jackson, Dylan O’Brien, Hailie Sahar, Indya Moore, Jacob Bertrand, Jung Ho-yeon, Kaci Walfall, Lee Jung-jae, Maria Bakalova, Mayim Bialik, Nasim Pedrad, Park Hae-soo, Ralph Macchio, Robin Thede, LA Rams Coach Sean McVay, Shawn Hatosy, and Sonequa Martin-Green, to name just a few. 

The 27th annual Critics Choice Awards will be an international affair, with celebrations taking place in both Los Angeles and in London. Hosted by Taye Diggs and Nicole Byer, the awards gala will broadcast LIVE in the U.S. on The CW and TBS on Sunday (March 13) from 7–10 p.m. ET (and delayed PT and in many countries around the globe) Check local listings. 

The Los Angeles awards ceremony will be held at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel, while stars in London will gather at the Savoy Hotel for a late-night soiree that will be an integral part of the live telecast. If you haven't heard, “Belfast” and “West Side Story” lead this year’s Critics Choice Awards film contenders, having earned 11 nominations each. On the TV side, “Succession” leads the way with eight nominations. 

The Critics Choice Awards are bestowed annually to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement. Historically, they are the most accurate predictor of Academy Award nominations. The final round of voting for the Critics Choice Awards is taking place right now (through Friday night). For a complete list of nominees, visit film awards and television awards.

Friday, March 4, 2022

'The Batman' flies anew with different faces in gloomy and familiar places

Except for a new cauldron of actors, "The Batman," a lengthy and exceptionally grim load of PG-13 (huh?) cinema, gives the franchise that keeps trying to reinvent the wheel little to distinguish itself from the previous rest. 

Sure, "Twilight"-born Robert Pattinson not only keeps the brooding going as the latest young Caped Crusader, but also now as alter ego Bruce Wayne, with both his vigilante sensibilities and Gotham-sized wealth apparently eating him up inside. Poor pup!

Seriously, Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" and Christopher Nolan's decades later "Dark Knight" movies played with similarly joyless artistry, although the combination of co-writer/director Matt Reeves (his underappreciated "Let Me In" still haunts me) and cinematographer Greig Fraser (Oscar-nominated now for "Dune") do bring new levels of intensity to these sinister proceedings.

Of course, there is a creepy, gas mask-wearing serial killer on the scary loose, knocking off politically connected citizens, and maybe leaving clues about upcoming victims as well. 

So, will our squeaky clean title hero figure it all out in a measly three hours? Might he fall in love along the way with dastardly Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz)? Can he recognize Colin Farrell as The Penguin? And does the great comic/impressionist Frank Gorshin really come back from the grave to appear as The Riddler? Find out now at just about any Bat-time and every Bat-theater near you.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: strong, violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material; 2:56; $ $ $ out of $5

Friday, February 25, 2022

Dinklage and director Wright lift latest 'Cyrano' to new musical heights

Bennett enjoys hearing sweet-somethings from Dinklage.
How many times has the poetic wordsmith and swordsman named Cyrano de Bergerac appeared on the big screen?

Well, you might not believe it, but there have been almost a dozen with that name alone, now including Director Joe Wright's dazzling 2021 "Cyrano," opening in theaters today with a studio release likely timed for a slew of Academy Award nominations that never came. (Incredibly, it says here, such an exceptional film has received just one, for Best Achievement in Costume Design.)

As based on the 2018 European stage musical (adapted by screenwriter Erica Schmidt), this version features a towering perfomance from Peter Dinklage, whose short stature stands in for the insecure, long-nosed title character in most other productions. Of course, Cyrano still remains steadfastly smitten with Roxanne (a lovely, if overtly flirty Haley Bennett), who calls our lovesick hero "my oldest friend." Once more, such a perceived slight leads to dashing soldier Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) being permitted to use his little commanding officer's immense words to woo the lady in this classic and ever-sad love triangle. 

Speaking of heartbreak, another showstopping moment arrives when scared infantrymen sing that heaven is "Wherever I Fall" while in the middle of another needless battle. Believe it, the talented Wright ("Atonement," "Darkest Hour") again delivers a special movie-going experience, no matter what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might have you believe. (By the way, Dinklage did receive a Best Actor nomination from the Critics Choice Assocation, with winners announced March 13.) 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some strong violence, thematic and suggestive material, and brief language; 2:04; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Two other films also debut today. A critic's screening was not offered for "Studio 666" (only in theaters), but an intriguing kind of whodunnit called "No Exit" begins as a serviceable thriller, keeps our attention for about 45 minutes, then takes a quick turn into gratuitously dark and unexected places.

For a while, in fact, you might think at least you're in good hands with Dennis Haysbert, the trusted All-State Insurance spokesman and formidable U.S. President during six seasons of TV's long-running "24." 

Haysbert's is probably the most recognizable name in a cast that also includes Dale Dickey ("Winter's Bone"), Danny Ramirez (Disney+ and Marvel's "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier") and model Havana Rose Liu, here showing off some screen intensity as a recovering drug addict on the run. You can see why she's at large -- and where she might be going -- only on Hulu.

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong violence, language and some drug content; 1:28; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5