Thursday, January 13, 2022

'Scream': A quarter century later, it remains Craven's same ol' stabalot

"For Wes."

Those two simple words appear in the end credits of the latest "Scream" as unobtrusively as the man they salute often did. That would be the one and only Wes Craven, director of the first four films in this newly resumed, 25-year-old series and a late, great Cleveland product who became one of the famously tough Collinwood neighborhood's favorite sons.

Maybe not so ironically, horror-maven Craven took screenwriter Kevin Williamson's dumb-ass suburban kids in the original "Scream" and orchestrated them into murderers, comics and even stars, with countless who-dunnit twists of a sharp dagger, some uncomfortable laughs and an assortment of nifty cast turns during the franchise's first two decades, all while standing behind his bloodthirsty camera. 

And, if that sounds a lot like what you might be hearing about this latest "requel" -- a combination of reboot and sequel discussed along with all things slasher in this extended Episode No 5 -- then so be it. I mean, besides its new "killer" technology, the same dim gallows humor from fresh party-hardy teens remains to mingle with the gravitas (HA!) of Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley, enticed back to figure out who's really slaying it this time around.

Surely you might know the latter trio more easily as Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette, the most iconic players from all of the previous Screamers. FYI: Campbell and Cox even reached out on screen before this week's showing for critics to ask us not to reveal any spoilers. Certainly we never do that here. Just know Craven is probably somewhere enjoying it all again.

(2022's "Scream" is playing right now at movie theaters everywhere.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong blood violence, language throughout and some sexual references; 1:53; $ $ $ out of $5

Saturday, December 25, 2021

'Tender Bar' feels like a welcoming stop for Movie Christmas 2021

Our "12 Days of Movie Christmas" concludes with a final review for the crowded and busy holiday season. Do enjoy a Very Merry one today and always, and please stay safe until joining us here again in early 2022, perhaps with "Macbeth" and "A Hero" tagging along.

No surprise that "The Tender Bar" starts to bend -- a lot!--  with the disappearance of a youngster (the bright little Daniel Ranieri), who grows up too quickly as protagonist JR (without the periods) during the first 45 minutes of this intended charmer.

He's the son of  a supportive single mom (Lily Rabe), and a dee-jay Dad (Max Martini) he barely knows. Nevertheless, JR enjoys the heck out of going back "home" to live with a dysfuntional extended family to call his own.

His congested Manhasset madhouse is headed by constantly mumblin' and grumblin' Grandpa (Christopher Lloyd, with one delightful segment concerning his grandson's elementary school), and Uncle Charlie, the smarter-than-he occasionally acts barroom philosopher, who really does own the beer joint where JR learns just about anything he'll "ever need to know."

The latter talks and sounds like Sonny Corleone (from "The Godfather" movies) and looks just like Ben Affleck, giving a wonderfully special turn as surrogate father to Ranieri's JR and intermittent mentor to the college-age writer (Tye Sheridan) this mostly true tale forces him to become.

The mixed-bag telling is based on the same-name memoir by J.R. Moerhinger, written by Oscar-winner William Monahan, and directed by George Clooney, always staying behind the camera here.

(The Tender Bar" is now playing at a few select theaters, including an exclusive Northeast Ohio run at the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights, until it streams Jan. 7 on Amazon Prime.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: language thoughout and some sexual content; 1:46; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

And, if you missed our first 11 offerings: "Nightmare Alley (Day 1)," "Spider-Man: No Way Home, "Swan Song," "The Lost Daughter," "Mother/Android," "The Novice, "Sing 2," "Licorice Pizza," "Beanie Mania," "The Matrix Resurrections" and "A Journal for Jordan")

Friday, December 24, 2021

Denzel-directed 'Journal for Jordan' offers some emotion for Christmas

Our "12 Days of Movie Christmas" concludes today and tomorrow with the last two reviews from a crowded and busy holiday season and, as the fates would have it, each is directed by a famous, Oscar-winning actor with the focus of their cameras on holiday warmth. Today's Christmas Eve review begins here right now. 

Despite its title, "A Journal for Jordan" has nothing to with basketball. Even the Michael Jordan who carries the ball in this story of love and loss -- obviously a much different kind of winning and losing -- is not the guy considered the greatest basketball player of all time.

Of course, the Main Man here is Michael B. Jordan, the popular actor from "Fruitvale Station," "The Black Panther," and the "Creed" movies, now playing the miltary-lifer father of the youngster mentioned on the marquee. As based on the true story -- and the essay-inspired book of the same name (only with the tagline: "A Story of Love and Honor") -- Dad starts writing this moving "Journal" of living, breathing advice for his infant son while serving in Iraq. 

Honestly, the whole sad tale is just about given away in the movie's first 30 seconds, when an assortment of fast-reel war images don't leave much doubt about the future of First Sgt. Charles M. King. Still, as directed by superstar Denzel Washington, featuring flashbacks and jump-aheads and mention of the beauty of Christmas in New York without even capturing one bit of proof on film, there are two hours to fill here and, thus, eye-rolling romance becomes the way to go.

That means a blow-by-blow account of King's gentlemanly meeting and courting of New York Times reporter Dana Canedy (Chante Adams of "The Photograph" fame), her reluctance to believe that love might happen with this patriot/stud, and the most memorable affecting climax, lifted by the titled Jordan (teen actor Jalon Christian) getting to keep the tear ducts flowing.

Note to Ohio readers: Canedy, who penned the NY Times piece on which her book is based, previously worked as a reporter at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, where Sgt. King lived. The city is not credited in the film, but Canedy's character does mention some apparent work-related business in Akron. Stay for the movie's end credits which actually do note King's final resting place.    

("A Journal for Jordan" opens tomorrow, Christmas Day, at theaters everywhere.)

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some sexual content, partial nudity, drug use and language; 2:10; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Coming tomorrow: Christmas and "The Tender Bar"

And, if you missed our first 10 offerings: "Nightmare Alley (Day 1)," "Spider-Man: No Way Home, "Swan Song," "The Lost Daughter," "Mother/Android," "The Novice, "Sing 2," "Licorice Pizza," "Beanie Mania" and "The Matrix Resurrections")

Thursday, December 23, 2021

'The Matrix' resurrects itself in time for 12 days of Movie Christmas 2021

Visit here for the next three afternoons -- Dec. 23-25 -- and (hopefully) find a little something about a film currently playing in or close to surfacing at a theater (or streaming service) near you. We're calling it our "12 Days of Movie Christmas," and the holiday countdown continues right here right now.

Action speaks louder than words in "The Matrix Resurrections," a betwixt and between sequel that arrives 18 years after the spookily successful franchise's "Trilogy" ended.

Naturally, now pop culture icon Keanu Reeves returns as the mysteriously heroic Neo/Thomas Anderson and, if some viewers don't have a clue why he has two character names, they won't get much help from the dialogue offered the first time they hear Reeves speak here.

In fact, the actor sounds more like his persona in the "Bill and Ted" movies when, as master video-game designer Anderson, he quizzically spots some strange computer-code jibberish and responds with "What the . . . ?" 

We're off and running, though, seconds later, when he completes the thought with "What the hell?" I kid you not.

Regardless, the legitimate Hades of the film's many plot complications -- highlighted by way of visits to Anderson's pill-prescribing shrink (Neil Patrick Harris) and flashbacks to all three previous "Matrix" films -- do instigate Neo's return to a few kick-ass sequences that genuine franchise fanatics likely will leap through mirors to duplicate. 

A solid homecoming for Carrie-Anne Moss, as Trinity, and the presence of a few intense cast first-timers, led by Yayha Abdul-Mateen II and Jessica Henwick, generally keep things hopping, too.

 ("The Matrix Resurrections" is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: Violence and some language; 2:37; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Coming tomorrow (Day 11 of Movie Christmas 2021) 

And, if you missed our first nine offerings: "Nightmare Alley (Day 1)," "Spider-Man: No Way Home, "Swan Song," "The Lost Daughter," "Mother/Android," "The Novice, "Sing 2," "Licorice Pizza" and "Beanie Mania")

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Beanies return with a new documentary for Movie Christmas 2021

Visit here for the next four afternoons -- Dec. 22-25 -- and (hopefully) find a little something about a film currently playing in or close to surfacing at a theater (or streaming service) near you. We're calling it our "12 Days of Movie Christmas," and the holiday countdown continues right here right now.

If you never heard about those hand-sized and mass-produced stuffed animals so many people went ga-ga for during the "frivolous" '90s, then "Beanie Mania," a new documentary seemingly filled with more connected talking heads than actual toys, might serve as an object lesson in greed.

The light and quick-watch way director Vermisi Brookes shows and tells it also might cause split feelings of nostalgia and bitterness for avid buyers, and that probably means just about the rest of the country taking at least a small shot at collecting for dollars.

"(The Beanie Babies craze) was bigger than Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Elvis Presley combined," says one of the film's many expert quotemeisters.

Adds another, a profiteer who calls herself "Queenie Beanie": "I went more crazy for the money in my bank account than the actual toys." 

Surprisingly, with a few days of shopping left in 2021, Brookes' stuffed doc even might reveal how a few Babies could find a permanent home for Christmas.

("Beanie Mania" debuts Thursday, Dec. 23, only on HBO Max.)

Not rated by MPAA; 1:20; $ $ $ out of $5 

Coming tomorrow (Day 10 of Movie Christmas 2021) 

And, if you missed our first eight offerings: "Nightmare Alley (Day 1)," "Spider-Man: No Way Home, "Swan Song," "The Lost Daughter," "Mother/Android," "The Novice, "Sing 2" and "Licorice Pizza")

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Some tasty 'Licorice Pizza' heats up eighth day of Movie Christmas 2021

Visit here for each of the next five afternoons -- Dec. 21-25 -- and (hopefully) find a little something about a film currently playing in or close to surfacing at a theater (or streaming service) near you in time for the holidays. We're calling it our "12 Days of Movie Christmas," and it continues here today right now. 

"Licorice Pizza," which takes its name from a '70s-era record store that's never mentioned and stars two actors making their first appearance on the big screen, might nevertheless still be the year's best film.

Certainly it's another freshly baked L.A. story from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, who has spent his entire life in the sunny San Fernando Valley and likely inherited some of his new film's joy and infectious spirit from late father Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson, himself a funny and outlandish TV pioneer.  

We old northeast Ohioans knew Dad very well as the hilarious horror-movie-host legend who decided to follow his pal, another Cleveland comic -- this one named Tim Conway -- to Hollywood, where both made it big. The former's major gig, of course, was as the playful voice of ABC-TV (probably most memorably in shilling "The Lo-o-o-ve Boat") and later on rival CBS, as the guy introducing that network's nightly "Bicentennial Minutes" for what seemed like an eternity. 

But back to his boy's movie, folks, in which just about everyone has a role, from the dulcet tones of Dodgers' icon Vin Scully, to a lightning quick cameo from Anderson regular John C. Reilly (as Herman Munster), to a more lengthy stint from "SNL" mainstay Maya Rudolph (Mrs. P.T. Anderson in real life). And, if ya really wanna absorb the term, "what goes around, comes around," know that Rudolph, as a talent agent, shares a scene with a director portrayed by Tim Conway Jr., of all people!

We can go on and on and on about so many other key players, including two memorably downright wacky turns from Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper. However, the only two names anyone needs to remember in this wonderfully cast kit and caboodle become Alana Haim (as in the rock band "Haim") and Cooper Hoffman, another talented son of a dearly departed legend (Philip Seyour Hoffman).

As aforementioned first-time movie stars, they mesh magnetically. Young Hoffman plays an extremely likable child actor and an always-on-the-go impresario to boot. Haim is a job-hopping, truly electric persona, trying to find herself while pretending not to fall for this confident kid at least 10 years younger than she is. Go out and savor such a deluxe "Pizza" when you can.   

("Licorice Pizza," now playing in select cities, opens Christmas Day, Dec, 25, only in theaters everywhere.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: language, sexual material and some drug use; 2:23; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5 

Coming tomorrow (Day 9 of Movie Christmas 2021) 

And, if you missed our first seven offerings: "Nightmare Alley (Day 1)," "Spider-Man: No Way Home, "Swan Song," "The Lost Daughter," "Mother/Android," "The Novice, and "Sing 2"

Monday, December 20, 2021

Grandgirls stand up and cheer 'Sing 2' on Day 7 of Movie Christmas 2021

Visit here for each of the next six afternoons -- Dec. 20-25 -- and (hopefully) find a little something about a film currently playing in or close to surfacing at a theater (or streaming service) near you in time for the holidays. We're calling it our "12 Days of Movie Christmas," and it continues here today right now. 

Meet the colorful characters and creative vocal cast of 'Sing 2.'
So there aren't many movies that the granddaughters have expressed much interest in watching these days with a review-crazy "Bach." It's what they call me, as coined by their big brother, who couldn't pronounce Grampa when he started talking oh so long ago. (Of course, I fantasize that it came from some genius musical talents all three recognized at an incredibly early age.)

Anyway, the girls, 7 and 10, currently prefer spending their time with various "apps" and friends and dance. Hearing about "Sing 2," though, piqued some renewed film interest, especially when they discovered it features the same funny and talented crew of animated showanimals that warbled their way to a suprisingly joyous original.

The verdict? 

The younger Vivian, who rarely has much to say, "really loved it." As always, sis Tessa was more loquacious: "Great movie (much better than I thought it would be)! Better music and parts than the first one. I predict 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Also the cast is good."

Bach, who actually got bowled over by the first "Sing" at the 41st Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, will go along with the crowd and the composite rating below. Naturally, however, in his tendency to mostly go wild only over music he can sing along with, this follow-up's ensemble production number to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" became the easy highlight.

Otherwise and unlike his more hip grandgirls, he still rates the original more affectionately, does not care much for the sequel's wealthy and newly introduced thug (Bobby Cannavale), and still thinks that the legitimately funny Gunter (Nick Kroll) and hilariously befuddled Miss Crawly (voiced by director/writer Garth Jennings) deserve their own separate projects. 

("Sing 2" opens Wednesday only at theaters everywhere.)

Rated "PG" by MPAA: some rude material and mild peril/violence; 1:50; $ $ $ out of $5 

Coming tomorrow (Day 8 of Movie Christmas 2021): Undecided 

And, if you missed our first six offerings: "Nightmare Alley (Day 1)," "Spider-Man: No Way Home, "Swan Song," "The Lost Daughter," "Mother/Android" and "The Novice" (Day 6)