Thursday, November 24, 2022

A full bounty of movies for a big, busy and blessed Thanksgiving holiday

Get a taste of a huge holiday movie banquet with a few thoughts and ratings below, today even including some tempting leftovers from last weekend. (Thank goodness, too, we could watch six of these films when they premiered during September's crowded, 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival.)

"She Said" ($ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5): A year ago, German director Maria Schneider had some fun with romance in a clever A.I. comedy ("I'm Your Man"). Now, there's nothing funny about her follow-up about the real newspaper folks (seriously played by the likes of Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson and more), In fact, their dedication in helping to send movie mogul and conceivable monster Harvey Weinstein to prison not only becomes a brilliant case study of how investigative journalism is supposed to work, but a tribute to his countless victims as well. Two of them, as so grandly portrayed by Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle, further enhance the remarkable ensemble involved. (Rated "R," in theaters everywhere)

"The Wonder" ($ $ $ $): Director Sebastian Leilio ("A Fantastic Woman") lets the voice of his well-chosen star (Florence Pugh) ask us to "believe in this story" to begin a hypnotic journey into 1862 Ireland. Methinks you will, with Pugh thoroughly convincing as an English nurse paid to watch -- not treat -- a young girl (Kila Lord Cassidy) showing nary a sign of starvation, despite not having eaten for at least four months. Is she a "wee faker," as doubters and agnostics suggest, or the "miracle child" that devout Catholics in her spare village believe she is? Screenwriter Alice Birch, who brought Pugh to films in "Lady Macbeth," co-pens with Leilio, as based on a book by Emma Donoghue of psychologically moving "Room" fame. (Rated "R," on Netflix now.)

"The Menu" ($ $ and 1/2): If you love watching difficult people dish and dine, then you might swallow the intriguing premise here. I did not, although a scary chef (Ralph Fiennes) catering only to the filthy rich leaves room for a lot of explaining to do about how he treats his regulars. Of course, they are a mostly unlikable mix anyway, even if their faces belong to Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, and the good-to-see Judith Light. Back-of-the-house chores get properly stolen, though, by an assistant chef in the on-the-rise guise of Hong Chau, also soon to be seen in "The Whale." (Rated "R," in theaters everywhere)

"Spirited" ($ $ and 1/2): Firmly established song-and dance-men Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, both of whom seem to enjoy a genuine screen talent for pushing buttons that can turn them from obnoxious to agreeable and back again, get together to urge, "Hey, gang, let's put on a show!" Ok, ok, I'm jesting. Besides, even if nobody needs another twist on "A Christmas Carol," especially one with run-of-the-mill tunes and production numbers usually stopping the show in the wrong kind of way, the dynamic duo does produce -- and share -- a few humorous moments. The best ones, though, feature scenes with the always-giving Octavia Spencer and the amusing, ghostly presence of Sunita Mani. (Rated "PG-13," now on AppleTV+)

"Devotion" ($ $ $ and 1/2): Quickly overcoming a few clunky moments at the start, the stirring story of groundbreaking Black aviator Jesse Brown reaches for the stars, features enough emotional moments to dampen a few handkerchiefs, and stands tall behind the romance between the stoic Brown (Jonathan Majors) and his lovely wife (Christina Jackson). Both offer solidly credible turns and so does Glen Powell, as Brown's best friend before and during America's "forgotten" war in Korea. Whether true or not, a shore-leave encounter with actress Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swann) finds a way to interject some fun into an otherwise strong and serious telling. (Rated "PG-13," in theaters only)

"The Fabelmans" ($ $ $ and 1/2): Ever since winning its notable TIFF People's Choice Award, Steven Spielberg's latest and most personal film has been pegged as the one to beat for the 2022 Best Picture Oscar. Uh, not so fast my friends. This is simply an accomplished coming-of-age story, and so what if it borrows a few real moments from the life of a guy who became a legendary filmmaker? The youngster here is the film-obsessed "Sammy," nicely captured by a pair of kids both showing signs of actually growing up to look like Spielberg. The first (a long-named Mateo Zoryon Frances-Deford, honest) finds huge influences while watching "The Greatest Show on Earth," and the older one (Gabriel LaBelle) deals with family drama, mostly involving his spirited mother (an overtly showy Michelle Williams). Otherwise, Judd Hirsch almost runs away with it all during just 10 wonderful minutes as the fascinating Uncle Boris. (Rated "PG-13," only in theaters)

"The Swimmers" ($ $ $): The actual TIFF Opening-Nighter, written and directed by the festival's "Emerging Talent" winner Sally El Hosaini, is based on two sisters who ran away from war-torn Syria with dreams of becoming Olympic athletes. The real "swimmers" attended the world premiere of their story, as did the pair of acting newcomers (Manal and Nathalie Issa) giving them life on the big screen.  All four earned loud, long ovations from Toronto crowds, the same ones which for years have been called "the best movie audiences in the world." They might have been a bit kind to this one, though, especially after a superfluous ending truly pales in comparison to El Hosaini's powerful presentation of the girls' dangerous trek. (Rated "PG-13," streaming on Netflix)

"Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" ($ $): I still can hear the positive chants and whistles from yet another sold-out TIFF audience, which so obviously enjoyed Rian Johnson's star-studded sequel at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning, no less. Meanwhile, color me disappointed by the murderously convoluted plot points that had to be repeated to prove the tacky cleverness of things. Add the silly reminders of the Covid-19 pandemic too few of us actually managed to survive, and even an over-the-top Daniel Craig, back again as super sleuth Benoit Blanc, could not save my day. By the way, of all the players assembled for this latest and extremely long cat-and-mouse activity, it says here that Janelle Monae fares best. Regardless, what really killed me is that I hardly laughed at all. (Rated "PG-13," in theaters until Nov. 29, before it debuts for good Dec. 23 on Netflix)

"The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special": ($ $ $ $) A genuinely happy ending to this special day features the release of a terrific offering from writer/director James Gunn and his Marvel(ously) outrageous team of superheroes. I mean, absolutely all the goons and gals from my favorite MCU extension show up for an ever-funny attempt to figure out what this magical and distinctively Earthly thing called Christmas really is all about. A few also believe that their melancholy leader, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), could use some legitimate cheer, so why not bring him the special gift of the "heroic" Kevin Bacon? That means pairing mind mischief from Mantis (the sparkling Pam Klementieff) with the mighty humor of Drax (Dave Bautista) for one hoot of an intergalactic mission to kidnap the actor. Without giving away too much of this crowded, 45-minute treat, talented Bacon gets to sing, a new franchise reveal becomes a memorably charming moment, and a laugh with the trademark end-of-credits segment ties a big red bow around it all. Happy holidays indeed! (Rated "TV-14" and showing only on Disney+) 

Other new viewing possibilities: "Bones and All (only in theaters)," "Disenchanted (exclusively on Disney+)," "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" (in a few select theaters before its Dec. 9 Netflix debut), and "Strange World" (for now just in theaters).

Friday, November 11, 2022

'Wakanda' might play forever; 'Oppy' and fellow robot keep on ticking, too

At a tad more than 160 minutes, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" delivers much for diehard fans of the action-packed Marvel Universe and, of course, a few sleep-mode moments for the rest of us. Those latter ones arrive during lengthy water, water everywhere sequences, when the magical if powerful villain of the piece (portrayed by Indigenous-Mexican star Tenoch Huerta) shows off the world from whence he came by sporting wings on his ankles, of all things.

To these old eyes, though, the brilliance of the piece comes in how co-writer and director Ryan Coogler, back from 2018's epic (in every way imaginable) screen original, manages to fill in the somber blanks left by the sad absence of his legitimate bright light, Chadwick Boseman.

There are nice tributes galore to the young "Black Panther" actor, whose quiet and shocking death from cancer two years ago left Coogler to come up with special sequel plot possibilities -- from the lavish funeral for Boseman's King T'jalla dominating the first act to a sweetly touching segment during the end credits, virtually assuring how Wakanda seriously and truly just might live forever. 

That last moment shares time with a worthy closing ballad, "Lift Me Up," sung by Rihanna and already 2022's frontrunner for a Best Original Song Oscar.

Speaking of awards, don't be surprised if Angela Bassett, who kinda goes all Shakespearian on us as the dazzling Queen Ramonda, earns some acting mentions for her energetic work here. Meanwhile, even if lithe and lovely Letitia Wright doesn't yet project the heft of her motherly co-star, her own moments of both sadness and strength, as T'jalla's sister Shuri, certainly promise to serve the future of the franchise well.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: sequences of strong violence, action and some language; 2:41; $ $ $ out of $5

("Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is playing at theaters everywhere -- and then some.)

Angela Bassett, once again showing off more of her singular versatility, narrates another new movie today, "Good Night Oppy," an offering about rover robots on Mars that's scintillating enough to have been among the pacesetters for Sunday night's Critics Choice (Association) Documentary Awards. 

In fact, Bassett's vocal delivery earned her one of the film's six nominations, which include Best Feature and possible Best Director honors for Ryan White. (Find the complete list of CCA nominees (then victors) here. Winners will be announced during a New York ceremony, which will stream live on Facebook and Instagram.) 

If "Oppy" does drag home a big haul Sunday, it will be because of its warmth, spirit and seeming humanity, an odd combination for an inspiring bucket of bolts that roamed the Red Planet for 15 years after expectations "to live" just 90 days.  

That makes for often fascinating and unexpectedly touching stuff, even if some of the affection looks a bit long in the tooth by the time "Opportunity," the real name of the title gizmo, has paid its geological dues.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: some mild language; 1:45; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("Good Night Oppy" is now in select theaters, including northeast Ohio's Cedar Lee, before its Nov. 23 streaming debut, exclusively on Prime Video.)

Friday, November 4, 2022

Exceptional 'Banshees,' 'Tanya' returns, and a little something 'Weird'

Even with one of the year's most tongue-twisting titles, "The Banshees of Inisherin" still easily becomes one of 2022's most bloody good films, too. Certainly the reasons are numerous, starting with writer/director Martin McDonagh, who never has made a bad movie in his life.

The darkly comic, Irish storytelller's "In Bruges" remains one of my all-time favorites, and his "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (2017) and "Seven Psychopaths"(2012) each made my personal Top 10 lists in their respective years. Right now, it looks as if "The Banshees" will be on one, as well.

In fact, another reason to see it arrives with those credible stars of the aforementioned "Bruges" returning here in ever-fine form. Colin Farrell (Pádraic) and Brendan Gleeson (Colm) this time portray longstanding besties on the island of Inisherin, which McDonagh gorgeously places just off Ireland's Civil War-torn coast. Trouble is, the boys just aren't getting along from the get-go, since Colm suddenly and inexplicably disses Pádraic's happy-go-lucky aimlessness, and the sadder, not wiser pal just refuses to understand.
 
On the go-between sideline are the latter's appealing, single sister (Kerry Condon) and maybe the isle's oddest inhabitant (King of Quirkiness Barry Keoghan), a rowdy young man with plenty of tragic troubles to call his own. All four in the movie's main acting quartet should be in line for awards-season mention, and a win or two would not be a surprise. They're all that watchable -- and eminently deserving.

Of course, Inisherin itself does not really exist, but McDonagh gives it some distinctive, 1920s character, anyway. The acceptance of farm animals living with families in cottage houses, hard-drinking residents mostly taking long, scenic walks to wherever they want to go, and a general hard-to-shake vibe of discovering a place you'd love to examine yourself might certainly encourage a visit.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language throughout, some violent content, and brief graphic nudity; 1:54; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("The Banshees of Inisherin" opens today in theaters just about everywhere.)

"The Return of Tanya Tucker (Featuring Brandi Carlile)" comes four years in the making and 17 more before that, when the former country sensation gave up a career upon the death of her parents and, just maybe, during some very hard livin' herself.

Besides, her tough-as-nails Dad directed Tanya's career from Day One at age 13. "So, I didn't have a manager," Tucker tells new friend and comeback partner Brandi Carlile in one of the many privately engaging onscreen conversations for all of us to hear.

If you don't know, Carlile herself is one of the current singing/writing stars of the country-music scene, already owning 19 Grammy Award nominations and six wins in the past seven years alone, including a few as a major crossover artist. Oh, yeah, she also looked for a way to get the career of  the Tequila-lovin' Tucker, a major influence on Brandi growing up, goin' mightily again. 

One of the results becomes this bliss-and-vinegar documentary (from "Indigo Girls" director Kathlyn Horan), which chronicles a Carlile-produced album, tour and some surprising details on the way to a unique rebound story that still might have a few more chapters to tell.

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language; 1:48; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("The Return of Tanya Tucker -- Featuring Brandi Carlile" is singin' and playin' in theaters right now.)

The "Tanya Tucker" doc world-premiered at September's 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival, and "Banshees" made its North American debut there, but "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" is the only member of this week's TIFF trio of new releases to have walked away with a coveted "People's Choice Award." 

That came in the festival's lively, wacky and always-lotsa-fun "Midnight Madness" program, which offered the universe's first complete look at "Weird" on Opening Night, when it also was rewarded with thunderous applause from a packed house. (A second, daytime festival screening sold-out as well.)

No concidence, naturally, but co-writer Yankovic himself (with director Eric Appel) made his mock-bio aptly wacky and fun, too, especially in a first 45 minutes that's downright rollicking. I mean, a terrific Daniel Radcliffe somehow magically turns into the title player, particularly during a monumental celebrity pool party, where he meets the likes of Wolfman Jack (Jack Black), Pee-Wee Herman (Jorma Toccone), Alice Cooper (Akiva Schaffer), and Andy Warhol (Conan O'Brien) to name only a hilarious few. 

Alas, the rest turns lame quickly, especially once Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) gets her fingers into our hero, reaching for a career jolt of her own from the accordion-playing Al's famously infamous song parodies. Not so interesting -- and stupid.

Not rated by MPAA: (but filled with typically naughty things); 1:48; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

(You can watch "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" now, streaming exclusively as the Roku Channel's first major movie release.)

Also debuting in northeast Ohio theaters today: "Armageddon Time" (see mini-review at left), "The Estate," "On the Line," and "One Piece Film Red." Streaming only: Still another TIFF world premiere, "Causeway," and "Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me" (both on AppleTV+), and "Enola Holmes 2" (Netflix).

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Dance on screen with 'Everybody' and 'Me,' just not on 'Retaliators' toes

One of 2022's most underseen documentaries, "Everybody Dance" undoubtedly must be among the year's most uplifting ones, too. 

This small-budget gem from first-time director Dan Watt highlights a brief -- and invaluably moving -- story of an equally tiny studio/school smartly called "Ballet for All Kids," as founded by a remarkable woman, who gets volunteer help from a group of secondary and college students all deserving of medals or more, too. 

Many of their dancers, you see, are special needs kids, whose own lives keep getting enriched and, perhaps, a little bit nicely frazzled, in preparing for the school's annual recital. So do some parents, whose words and faces reveal a wealth of emotions in watching their boy or girl earning his or her own unique moments under a spotlight on stage with similar dance mates. Talk about exhibiting legitimate pride, one young miss compares the moment to "like being in heaven"!

Leading up to the those deeply felt displays down the stretch, the heroic Barbara Schlachte tells us why she created her school, introduces us to this year's aspiring and uniquely inspiring talents, and discusses the well-documented benefits of teaching ballet.

"Learning a classical art supports a student in so many ways," she says. "It improves self-esteem, self-confidence, focus, motor skills. The list just goes on and on." 

So does the poignancy. Be sure to watch with a very large handkerchief ready.

Not rated by MPAA (but filled only with moments of joy and love); 1:25; $ $ $ $ out of $5

("Everybody Dance" debuted at the 47th annual Cleveland International Film Festival and is now available on VOD outlets everywhere.)

If you want to keep those feet moving, "Ask Me to Dance" just may be your ticket, not to mention a source for providing a bunch of loud and unexpected laughs.

Of course, who doesn't think that Mario Cantone is funny? I mean, the guy is always a riot, whether making a TV talk-show host fall on the floor or introducing his favorite horror movies on the TCM Network.

Cantone happily jumps in and out throughout, but also just happens to open the proceedings here on the dance floor, as a fun-loving matchmaker type, with his BFF Jill (lovely and likable Briana Evigan) somehow still single while the world around her keeps pairing up.

Well, wouldn't you know that someone named Jack (Tom Malloy) will within moments find himself up on that same floor in a souped-up dance contest, then leave quickly before meeting the potential Jill of his dreams -- at least for right now. (And wait'll you see the gypsy Jack and Jill each runs into on their way home.)

Actually, Malloy also writes, directs and co-produces the fun-loving feature that's never afraid to mix adult friskiness with the downright weird. Celebrities such as "Three's Company" legend Joyce DeWitt, as a shoot-from-the-lip Nana, and WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle, playing his smiling self, enter the fray out of nowhere and help get the mostly fast-moving rom-com to where everyone knows it's going.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: crude sexual material and language; 1:35; $ $ $ out of $5

("Ask Me to Dance" is finding its way into select theaters around the country before a Nov. 8 release on VOD.)

And now for something completely different: It's "The Retaliators," just about perfect for hardcore-Halloweeners and with a Christmas-time message of its own, no less.

Michael Lombardi (from TV's "Rescue Me") genuinely portrays a Christian pastor named Bishop and a single dad with two daughters. What happens to the oldest one, though, becomes too much for even the most "other-cheek"-oriented man among us, no matter what faith he practices or preaches.

Getting Bishop into real retaliation mode even might mean putting him in touch with a tough homicide detective played by Marc Menchaca. If you don't recognize the name, you might know him from two memorable roles: Russ Langmore in Netflix's "Ozark" or Klansman Joe on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Then look rather quickly or you'll miss cameos from Brian O'Halloran (from the "Clerks" movies, among others), the real Tommy Lee, and probably a few more rockers, whose music screams so loudly along the way.

In fact, Lee's Motley Crue bandmate, Nikki Sixx, is credited with co-writing the movie's spiritually heavy theme song. Some might even give a big Amen to that!

Not rated by MPAA (but brimming with blood and gore, violence, language and all the rest); 1:37; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("The Retaliators" is now available on VOD outlets everywhere.)

Friday, October 21, 2022

Some standard stuff: A couple TIFF premieres and a Clooney/Roberts romp

Poster boy Harry Styles set more than a few Canadian hearts aflutter early last month outside and inside the city's venerable Princess of Wales Theater, where the 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival hosted the world premiere of "My Policeman," featuring the rock star-turned actor's work as the title character.

A few hours after raucous Styles' fans stampeded down King Street for a glimpse at their idol, he, his director (Michael Grandage), a couple of co-stars (Emma Corrin and David Dawson), and their lovingly made movie received a standing ovation.

I definitely wouldn't go that far, but the kind fans at TIFF almost always do. Regardless, the book-based, '50s-era story of "forbidden" love and some fine performances, especially from Dawson and the heartbreaking Gina McKee (playing a decades-older version of the same gentle teacher initiated by Corrin), make it all easy to embrace.

By the way, TIFF gave one of its very special Tribute Awards to the soapy film's six-person, lead ensemble, which also includes British veterans Linus Roache and Rupert Everett.

Rated "R" by MPAA: for sexual content; 1:53; $ $ $ out of $5

("My Policeman" opens today in select theaters before streaming exclusively Nov. 4 on Prime Video.)

Young Styles had more than a little celebrity company of all ages earning cheers and whistles at a variety of TIFF venues and red carpets. In fact, fiftysomethings Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor were among many on hand, too, though perhaps enjoying more polite applause for another world premiere showing, "Raymond & Ray."

The plot in the dramedy from writer/director Rodrigo Garcia ("Nine Lives") finds our ever-swell duo easily becoming half-brothers and reluctantly reuniting for the funeral of their derelict ol' man.

Of course, their father is the guy responsible for giving them the same first names, just one of a few purposeful acts of cruelty they discuss when getting together again. None of it is really much fun, but their inevitable homecoming allows each to discover things about their sibling, themselves, and the not-so-dearly departed's last wish for both of them: He actually wants his boys to dig his grave. 

A couple of strong women (portrayed by Maribel Verdu and Sophie Okonedo) pop in often enough, as well, to energize the proceedings and let us and the kids know that maybe the man they called Harris really wasn't such a bad persom down the stretch after all. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: language and some sexual material; 1:46; $ $ $ out of $5

("Raymond & Ray" opens today in a few theaters, including the Cedar Lee in northeast Ohio, and streams only on AppleTV+.)

Maybe the latest from Hollywood superstars Julia Roberts and George Clooney, another big-screen coupling with tons of red-carpet experience, didn't make the final cut for TIFF this year, but their fifth film pairing in "Ticket to Paradise" once again finds them as a divorced twosome with a problematic past.

Honestly, though, it's really as pleasant of a rom-com partnership as it sounds, especially since good-looking Julia and George just might now hold the all-time record for number of combined smiles in a movie. Despite their over-the-top bickering early on, playing the parents of a smart and pretty daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) finding first-sight romance in beautiful Bali, of all places, obviously pays dividends (apparently even with a gorgeously appealing part of Australia standing in for paradise).

Uh, on the other hand, all-the-way-at-the-end-credits begin with some insufferable outtakes, whose presence alone usually signals a production team's lack of confidence in much of what precedes them. Screenwriting certainly is not always the sharpest here, and predictability surfaces almost immediately. Ah, just go to see the stars (only at your local cineplex), and you'll smile along, too.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some strong language and brief suggestive material; 1:45; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

(Also new in theaters now: "Black Adam," "Detective Knight: Rogue," and "Till." Streaming just on Netflix: "The School for Good and Evil.")

Friday, October 14, 2022

Blanchett soars in 'TÁR,' 'Rosaline' charms, and 'Halloween' (gulp!) ends?

"TÁR" -- all caps, please -- seriously becomes the perfect title for a film about a self-possessed "Maestra" such as Lydia Tár, even if that isn't her real name (and we're never told if it really is or not).

I mean, so-called "diacritical mark" expertly placed over the rather conspicuous Á and all, "TÁR" just rings of pretentiousness and, depending on one's point of view, so does everything about the character, who neither wears the cape or ever carries the resulting humor of the so-called "Maestro" on that classically funny "Seinfeld" episode.

No, the only classic arrangements in a mostly terrific film directed by the long-absent Todd Field, arrive with the glorious music from the Berlin Philharmonic that this world-famous Lydia conducts, AND a legitimate world-class performance, delivered by an outrageously brilliant Cate Blanchett in giving such memorable life to a fictional character for the ages.

Of course, her writer/director has a little something to do with it, too. After all, Field screenplays earned Oscar nods for his only other films, Best Picture contender "In the Bedroom" and the startling "Little Children." 

Certainly "TÁR" will receive at least a few nominations this year as well, all possible because of this richly complicated genius and some other smart and devoted women in her life. They include the violinist/wife (Nina Hoss, herself significantly memorable from Showtime's "Homeland" a few seasons ago) and the "aspiring" assistant/protege (Noémie Merlant, who was equally fine in "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," itself a 2019 BAFTA nominee).

Rated "R" by MPAA: some language and brief nudity; 2:38; $ $ $ $ out of $5 (and only in theaters)

Another smart gal both helps and disrupts the relationship of fabled lovers Romeo and Juliet in the sarcastically charming "Rosaline," ready for streaming today exclusively on Hulu. 

In fact, the titled player, nicely portrayed by a brightly mischievous Kaitlyn Dever, is not only a modern girl, dressed and set in Shakespeare-inspired medieval times but, in fact, also the first woman in the young life of poetically inclined Romeo (Kyle Allen, also now in "The Greatest Beer Run Ever"). 

Actually, Rosaline adores the lovely way Romeo spews sweet somethings on her balcony more than she does him. Still, when he goes ga-ga over Juliet at the same masquerade ball where he expected a "secret" rendezvous with Rosaline, our heroine uncorks a plot to win him back.

Along the way to fruition, though, it goes more than a bit awry, thanks to an assortment of witty contrivances, not the least of which becomes a meeting with the handsome suitor (big-screen newcomer Sean Teale) Rosaline meets through a dad (Bradley Whitford) eager to marry her off to the highest bidder.

Credit debut feature director Karen Maine with niftily managing more clever writing from the team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ("The Disaster Artist," "500 Days of Summer"), adapting here from the Rebecca Servel novel, "When You Were Mine."

By the way, Maine's nimble supporting cast includes sparkling work from Cleveland's own Isabela Merced, as a cute and bubbly Juliet, and the good-to-see Minnie Driver, as Rosaline's medically trained -- and very funny -- "Nurse."

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some suggestive material and brief strong language; 1:36; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Finally today still two more strong women help pull down the curtain on a 44-year-old slasher franchise in the appropriately titled "Halloween Ends," that is, if it really does happens that way. Naturally, everyone knows leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis, back once more time as rough-and-tumble Laurie Strode, and ever-prepared to dispose of lifelong nemesis and knife-wielding maniac, Michael Myers.

Also returning (at least from the last two "Halloween" chillers) is Andi Matichak, again as Laurie's formidable granddaughter, now also finding a potential main squeeze (Rohan Campbell from Hulu's "Hardy Boys") with plenty of nightmarish dreams to call his own. 

Those come from an intriguingly creepy, babysitting beginning to "Ends," which also gives the good if mentally tortured citizenry of Haddonfield, Ill., more to stew and/or gossip about (as if five decades of bloody butchery isn't enough). Looks likes director David Gordon Greene and a trio of co-writers, including comic-actor Danny McBride, have found some vengefully imaginative and gruesome ways to get into the minds of many of them. 

But will their cinematic tricks, as silly as some are, remain enough of a "Halloween" treat for serious fans? Maybe decide for yourself at your local theater or via streaming on Peacock.

Rated "R" by MPAA: bloody horror violence and gore, language throughout, and some sexual references; 1:49; $ $ $ out of $5 

(Also opening in theaters: "Old Man" and "Terrifier 2." Streaming: "The Curse of Bridge Hollow," on Netfllix)

Friday, October 7, 2022

'Amsterdam' stumbles; 'Sadness' scores; and 3 more stream for scares

Five paragraphs for as many new films opening wide and/or streaming this week (in alphabetical order):

Amsterdam: Beware the jinxes associated with a big cast in this long-awaited latest from the usually reliable David O. Russell, whose first-rate ensemble occasionally seems as totally confused as viewers likely will become. All of their big names define the poster at left, but even top dog Christian Bale appears to be channeling "Columbo" legend Peter Falk -- glass eye and all -- instead of leading the pack as a war hero-turned doctor and drug-addled best friend to John David Washington's gentlemanly lawyer. Racism, antisemitism, fascism, a seriously stern Robert De Niro, as an angry Marine General, and the very good Margot Robbie, as nurse, confidante and more to the attorney and their doc pal, also play key roles in a crowded screenplay that misses more than it hits. Rated "R"; ($ $ and 1/2 out of $5); in theaters everywhere.

Hellraiser: Just what we need more than three weeks before Halloween is a tepid and redundant "reimagining" of what started Clive Barker's horror franchise a legitimately startling 35 years ago. Of course, way too many sequels followed (in fact, there were nine, if anyone's really counting, including a 2018 quickie that went straight to DVD). Regardless, here comes another round of Pinhead and Friends, now with the infamous "Hell Priest" portrayed by trans actress Jamie Clayton ("Sense8" and "The L Word") in a continuation story and predominately Serbian production co-starring a pair of recognizable actors. They would be Hiam Abbass (from "Ramy," "Succession" and a host of fine foreign films) and Croatian superstar Goran Visnjic, both helping reintroduce the puzzle box that brings forth those ever-popular, sado-masochistic Cenobites to wreak havoc on dull young folks who simply don't know better. And, oh yeah, this goes on for two whole hours, thanks to the same directing/writing team that actually gifted us with "The Night House" only a year ago. Rated "R"; ($ $ out of $5); streaming on Hulu. 

Mr. Harrigan's Phone: The performance of 87-year-old Donald Sutherland, as a lovably creepy billionaire (which will make no sense until you see it), coupled with some thought-provoking incidents down the stretch, help make this latest screen adaptation of a Stephen King short story worth a look. Sutherland's crusty old title character hires young Craig (Colin O'Brien) to read books to him three times a week for $5 an hour and a wealth of life lessons -- filled as much with pessimism as common sense -- that come with the experience. First on the agenda is "Lady Chatterley's Lover," but please don't read anything into that except the literary excellence and, perhaps, King (here via always-competent writer/director John Lee Hancock) making a statement about schools still banning books. Another early task, Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," then offers a back-handed introduction to what Craig -- now played by Jaeden Martell from the King-inspired "It" movies -- gets to face as a high schooler. Ah, "the horror! The horror!" Rated "PG-13"; ($ $ $ out of $5); streaming on Netflix.

Triangle of Sadness: This week's best of the bunch already scored big at Cannes in winning that festival's Palme d'Or, but the pointed class satire from Ruben Óstlund ("Force Majeure" and "The Square") could give some a tart taste between laughs and unintended drama. For the sake of brevity, Óstlund's three-part tale features attractive models named Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson), carrying their rocky romance from a bickering meeting, through to a final relationship that's not the only thing that gets stranded on a faraway island. Óstlund's main course, though, arrives during a lengthy, memorable, and often laugh-out-loud second act. That's when it simply, uh, overflows with dishing on wealthy guests aboard a luxury yacht, including a "Captain's Dinner" sequence that may even astound (or something comparable). By the way, though the title comes from a snide comment about Carl using Botox between his eyebrows, real-life sadness occurred in late August when 32-year-old actress and model Dean died after what has been called "a sudden, unexpected illness." Rated "R"; ($ $ $ $ out of $5); in only a few select theaters.

Werewolf by Night: More like a Disney special than a full-blown film, this nifty, black-and-white offering from award-winning composer-turned director Michael Giacchino tackles a new realm in the Marvel Universe. In fact, it looks a lot like those ancient Universal horror movies, circa 1930s and beyond. You know the ones, features such as "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" and most noteworthy here, "The Wolf Man," which certainly inspired Marvel to take a flyer on the grand Gael Garcia Bernal to personify Jack, a ghoulish-looking nice guy who just might get a little nasty every full moon or so. The dark and moody opening sets the tone at the funeral of the former patriarch for the famous Bloodstone Family of world-class monster killers. One huge "Man-Thing" beast not-so-thrilled with the goings-on there is simply named Ted, and Jack even may find a friend in Elsa, a rough-and-tumble beauty in the Blackstone clan (played by Laura Donnelly). Naturally, with Giacchino in charge, his score fills the room, too, including a colorful musical surprise at the end. It all adds up to some promising stuff. Rated "TV-14"; ($ $ $ and 1/2); streaming on Disney+.

(Also opening only in theaters, but not seen is the kid-friendly "Lyle, Lyle Crocodile," Rated "PG," with a mix of live action and animation.)

Friday, September 30, 2022

Two more TIFF movies compete: A recent 'Beer Run' and an older 'House'

Having covered the venerable, 47-year-old Toronto International Film Festival for more than three decades, I often have repeated that, no matter where or when I see a TIFF film in person, it's almost certain to show up somewhere to watch again.

Such is the case with a world premiere I attended there just about a year ago, but let's begin with another debut from the latest TIFF in mid-September. That would be "The Greatest Beer Run Ever," a film whose title actually may be among the worst ever.

Fortunately, get past the frat-boy sound of it all and there's some depth in this based-on-truth story from director Peter Farrelly, whose last reality tale, "Green Book," also premiered at TIFF (in 2018), collected the coveted "People's Choice Award," then won the Best Picture Oscar. 

No awards will be handed out for this one, but as that title promises, there is plenty of lager -- particularly Pabst Blue Ribbon -- to be passed around from merchant mariner "Chickie" Donohue (a likable lug personified by Zac Efron) to New York neighborhood buddies serving in the ever-controversial Vietnam War, circa 1967. 

Donohue's idea comes at the local beer joint (where else?) during a bull session presided over by a patriotic bar keep (who else but Bill Murray?), and the rest results in a legendary stunt filled with equal parts risk, history, and heart. The requisite photos during the end credits tie it all into a nice bow, too.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language and some war violence; 2:07; $ $ $ out of $5

("The Greatest Beer Run Ever" opens today in a few theaters AND starts streaming on AppleTV+.)

Now to that aforementioned film from last year's Toronto fest. It's called "The Good House," nicely geared to take advantage of the lead character's name, Hildy Good, and profession, a realtor. (Narrator Hildy also tells us, "I need a good year," and perhaps she's not simply talking about selling more homes.) 

Most importantly and certainly the best thing about "Good" is the woman who plays her, Sigourney Weaver. Always a wise performer, Weaver gets the most out of Hildy's particular flaws, memories, and distinct connections to a community with the "best damn views on the north shore of Boston." 

Why her grand performance took so long to earn release is anyone's guess, but we'll try to provide one: As based on a novel by Ann Leary, the decidedly grown-up telling from mature co-directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky overflows with real life, while even including an easy-listening soundtrack and equally easy-going support from Kevin Kline. If you're a genuine adult who's been avoiding going out to the movies like, uh . . . well the plague, then you might want to look for it now only in theaters.

Rated "R" by MPAA: brief sexuality and language; 1:43; $ $ $ out of $5

(Also new in theaters today is Bros, still another TIFF world premiere but one that I somehow actually missed; Devil's Workshop, which is also available On Demand, and Smile. New streamers include "Hocus Pocus 2" on Disney+ and "My Best Friend's Exorcism" on Prime Video).

Friday, September 23, 2022

'Blonde' and 'Sidney' stream; 'Darling' and 'Woman King' try to rule theaters

Still unreeling and catching up from 10 days at TIFF. (If you missed them, on-site reports can be read at left):

A special Netflix press screening of the tragically vivid "Blonde" in Toronto, with no connection to the 47th annual film festival there, still has me feeling that if Ana de Armas doesn't run away with a Best Actress Oscar, then the award simply should be abolished.

The demure Cuban beauty simply dazzles in her monumental portrayal of 20th Century America's No. 1 sex symbol, actress/icon/orphan/waif Marilyn Monroe, by looking, singing, speaking, walking and generally wearing pain just like the wounded superstar (real name Norma Jeane Baker) did in her maddeningly brief 36 years.

The latter assumption carries through an assortment of Norma Jeane's woes, including the memory of being raised by an unhinged mother (Julianne Nicholson), short-lived marriages to famous, unnamed  "Daddy" figures we now know as the abusive Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Carnevale) and more patient Arthur Miller (Adrian Brody), unimaginably brutal and warped relationships with anonymous/obvious men who ran a major studio (David Warshofsy) and the United States (Caspar Phillipson), respectively, and so much endlessly more.

Though the story is based on a fictionalized novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, there's no mistaking the reality of everything we've heard, read, and seen about Monroe's apparent drug-shortened life, which director/screenwriter Andrew Dominik offers up with both brilliantly orchestrated and peepshow glimpses.

Rated "NC-17" by MPAA: for some sexual content; 2:47; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("Blonde" is now playing in select cities -- though none in Ohio -- and debuts Sept. 28 on Netflix.)

Another late screen legend more legitimately fills the screen in "Sidney," a documentary of requisite talking heads and clips from Sidney Poitier movies that remind us how elegant, eloquent and classy the man truly was. (A quick aside: The Oscar-winning actor was so genuine in taming a group of English hooligans in his 1967 hit, "To Sir with Love," that I often wished he could be one of my teachers.)

Poitier died just last January at age 94, itself an ironic achievement for someone so tiny when born two months prematurely, he tells us in his own words, that his Bahamian father brought home a shoebox to "discard" him. Later, he revisits the story and, with tears in his eyes, adds how his mother talked to a soothsayer who told her not to worry about the ailing son that would live a remarkable life.

Longtime filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, directing here, gets some especially touching help, too, from producer Oprah Winfrey and Civil Rights leader Willie Blue in describing the importance of Poitier's activism off the screen, while his two wives, six daughters, and a Who's Who of Hollywood Royalty nicely fill in a few necessary blanks.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: adult themes and racial slurs; 1:51; $ $ $ out of $5

("Sidney" made its world premiere Sept. 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival and is now streaming on Apple TV+.)

Now only in theaters everywhere, "Don't Worry Darling" includes a memorable '50s soundtrack for those of us who have been around long enough to appreciate it, good-looking cinematography (from two-time Oscar nominee Matthew Libatique), and Florence Pugh in the lead role.

The latter, who has been nothing short of sensational as sexy "Lady Macbeth," a WWE wrestler (in "Fighting with My Family"), oft-played Amy March ("Little Women") and even the sister of "Black Widow," might meet her match here, though, as a scared woman with nowhere to go.

Of course, we don't know that until a head-scratching last act leaves us yearning for the possibilities promised by an experimental society of swaggering swingers (led by a cocky visionary played by the strong Chris Pine). He heads the kind of creepy-sounding Victory Development that demands loyalty from all its young-buck male employees and their pretty wives, who may or may not be from Stepford (spoiler alert: OK, they're not).

Pugh's character and hubby (Harry Styles) can't keep their hands off each other, that is, until the Missus starts experiencing a few oddities, breaks a key Victory rule, and starts remembering stuff. Uh-oh. Can't wait to see what happens next. (Just let me know if you figure it out.) 

Rated "R" by MPAA: sexuality, violent content, and language; 2:02; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Finally, "The Woman King," another world premiere movie from Toronto, has Viola Davis portraying a title character based on a real warrior and ruling her historically accurate, all-female army of Dahomey the same way she dominated the recent opening weekend of the film festival.

Seriously, she and director Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose year 2000 "Love & Basketball" remains one of the finest debut features ever produced, received before-and-after ovations for making "King," and then accepted a few more when the dynamic duo participated in TIFF's popular "In Conversation With . . ." program the day after their sold-out premiere.

At that last event, they talked about key career moments and why the director and Davis' own JuVee Productions came together to make a movie that's part epic, part action film and all actually set on the Africa continent.

Prince-Bythewood shared a few stories about the process, including one in which she feared that continuous rains would delay shooting enough to miss an important deadline. "I just had put my head in my hands, when I heard these wonderful sounds of singing and laughing," she said. "It was the 300 extras just spontaneously having a good time, and the spirit of it all became so infectious."

"The drummers were there and joined in, too," Davis added. "It was wonderfully moving, and I asked one of the dancers what they were singing about. She told me it was to stop the rain. And it did!"

The rest is history, with "The Women King" leading all others at the box offfice last weekend with a $19-million haul. It remains in theaters everywhere.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: strong violence, partial nudity, brief language, some disturbing and thematic content; 2:06; $ $ $ out of $5

(New in theaters: Three more TIFF flicks, Lena Dunham's "Catherine Called Birdy," the David Bowie doc "Moonage Daydream," and Sanaa Lathan's "On the Come Up," also on Paramount+; the re-release of "Avatar"; "Control," and "The Infernal Machine," also On Demand. Tyler Perry's "A Jazzman's Blues," still another TIFF world premiere, is streaming on Netflix.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

'Take the Night,' 'Forbearance' manage powerful stories on small budgets

As Hollywood moves over, under, and through the final dog days of summer (not to mention scouring for quality product to feed starving movie-goers), two small indies now making the pay-to-watch rounds display enough chutzpah, energy and smarts to earn recommendations right here.

First comes "Take the Night," a debut feature from writer, director and star Seth McTigue, whose tricky shuffling of brotherly love with envy-rich rivalry presents similar dynamics in two families on different ends of New York City's socio-economic spectrum.

McTigue himself does nice work on the blue-collar front, as a PTSD-suffering vet, leading "my last job" and a combination of clever and inefficient thieves. Certainly, it won't take long, though, to deduce where his goofy, tag-along brother (the scene-stealing Brennan Keel Cook) falls in this gang. 

Meanwhile, the pair of siblings on the extravagantly wealthy side of the city own the long-successful Chang Export Co., but there's apparently leadership jealousy at the top there, too. 

Why else would the big brother (Roy Huang), surely not the level-headed one in this clan, give their late dad's favorite son (Sam Song Li) the scare of his life by "surprising" him with an extremely disturbing birthday stunt? Kidnapping almost becomes the least of it all, as McTigue mixes some serious twists with a few outrageous turns while not really taking up even half your own night with his quick-moving crime drama.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some violence; 1:22; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("Take the Night" can be found on Vudo, Prime Video, AppleTV+ and other places to watch movies.)

Speaking of serious, writer Cedric Gegel opts for a smaller role in his first big screen writing job. The often melancholy "Forbearance" has him as a kind of alienated son finding his way through mostly unspoken woes with his dad (Travis Hancock) and a solid kinship with his mom (Juli Tapken).

In fact, the minimal dialogue between Gegel's plot-prominent parents becomes one of the strengths in a script that features a woman ready to file divorce papers, then finds out her husband has three months to live -- at most! 

Such is life -- and death -- as the particularly strong Tapken, who might remind some of Edie Falco facially and even with disposition to match, carries the past, present and future on her visage throughout. Naturally, her character is juggling still-existing reasons for considering a permanent separation in the first place with profound feelings for her stricken husband of at least two decades.

For his part, Hancock carries a brave countenance, though his persistent and consistently blood-inducing cough, a result of the terminal illness, likely will be harder to watch for some than the prognosis delivered by his stern doctor (Vernon Welles, of "Mad Max 2" fame, among others).

Credit director Lana Read for keeping her cast -- and the story from Gegel, himself a cancer survivor -- together in all their primary and pivotal moments.

("Forbearance" is currently available on a number of VOD platforms.)

Not rated by MPAA; 1:48; $ $ $ out of $5

(Opening Sept. 2 in theaters: "Gigi & Nate," The Good Boss," and "Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul."

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Look for big-screen 'Love' all around in gentle 'Song' and funny 'Kilnerry'

Maybe there's not one particularly soothing ditty -- if any at all -- in "A Love Song" to justify the title, but combine the good feeling of the whole with another straight away performance from world-class character actor Dale Dickey and it all makes glorious sense. 

In fact, most of the film's heavily country-influenced music comes from the big old transistor radio that Dickey's widow (named Faye) often carries around a remote Colorado campsite while killing time waiting for an old friend (the strong Wes Studi) to show up, as promised.

Dale Dickey excels once more.
When he finally does arrive, sparks of romance might not exactly ignite the cool night air, either. There's mostly just meaningful moments of memories, minimal conversation and the couple's oddly moving rendition of the folksy "Be Kind to Me." 
 
This nice and hopeful little film comes from first-time feature director/writer Max Walker-Silverman, who certainly won't mind another shout out for cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo somehow situating western landscapes and gorgeous skies to become perfect co-stars for the always memorable Dickey.

Of course, the talented woman really needs nothing more to entice fans to see her performance as it slowly rolls into wide release Friday (and exclusively in northeast Ohio at the Cedar Lee Theater).

Rated PG by MPAA: mild thematic elements; 1:21; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

There are some similarly lovely and scenic vistas dotting "Love in Kilnerry," along with the tiny fictional town's mayor and parish priest sharing a huge grudge, the longtime mailman hitting on the resident old maid, and just about everybody except the lonely shopkeeper finding a particular reason to despise the sheriff.

Regardless, love really does remain in the air when the EPA orders Kilnerry's dog shampoo-producing chemical plant to release a new drug called "P172." Turns out, though, that the Feds' mandate not only keeps the water safe but features a scintillating side effect that might increase everyone's -- oh my! -- sex drive.

If the premise sounds silly, just know the result becomes a sometimes laugh-aloud and ever-charming situation that could put director, writer and star Daniel Keith on the entertainment map. The actor-turned filmmaker, who plays the sheriff having trouble dealing with all the personality changes afoot, originally authored the story for the stage before workshopping (with many from the film's likable cast) in the real and extremely picturesque city of Portsmouth, N.H.

The rest became indie film history during a lengthy festival run that earned "Kilnerry" almost 50 awards in various cities along the way. Now Keith, also acting as his own distributor, has brokered a deal with Regal Cinemas to put the rib-tickling tale Friday in 75 theaters across the U.S.

The mail carrier (Roger Hendricks Simon), spinster (Sybil Lines), mayor (Tony Triano), priest (James Patrick Nelson), shopkeeper (Kathy Searle) and a few more of their friends likely can't wait to show anyone and everyone a good time. Find them if you can.

Not rated by MPAA: (but with a bit more than innuendo and some brief nudity); 1:40; $ $ $ and 1/2 out $5

(Also opening Aug. 19 in theaters: "Beast," "Delia's Gone," "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero," "The Immaculate Room," and "The Legend of Molly Johnson." In addition, "Orphan: First Kill" will be available in theaters, on digital, and streaming only on Paramount+, while "Look Both Ways" plays exclusively on Netflix.)

Friday, August 12, 2022

Plaza plays 'Criminal' like a pro; 'BodiesBodies' may find Gen Z fans, fans

If you think "Emily the Criminal" sounds like a raucous comedy with former "Parks and Recreation" TV star Aubrey Plaza in the all-important lead, well guess again. 

The funny stand-up girl has grown up to become the woman in little-seen films such as "Black Bear" and "Best Sellers." Now, as a struggling artist-turned expert in credit card fraud, Plaza offers one of the year's most versatile performances in the role of her career.

Just steal yourself away and watch her Emily go from getting warned in the first scene about a one-time indiscretion being on her "permanent record" to hustling desperately to make an illegal mark in a contemporary world that rarely even offers the proverbial sucker a legitimate break.

By the way, Greater Clevelanders might want to know that "Emily" becomes the latest from Low Spark Films, the indie production company headed by Chagrin Falls native Tyler Davidson. "Take Shelter," "The Kings of Summer" and "The Signal," among others, have come previously. It's also a first-time feature writing/directing gig for a 40-year-old AFI graduate named John Patton Ford. Please remember the name; you'll certainly see it again. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: language, some violence and brief drug use; 1:34; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Some rich and totally full of themselves Zoomers get to stir in their own juices a little while in the darkly comic "BodiesBodiesBodies." Thankfully, a boffo ending saves the day for anyone still hangin' around and, uh, perhaps that includes some viewers, too.

Before then, Dutch-born director Halein Reijn and screenwriter Sarah DeLappe take off on similar films of this ilk and occasionally poke dead-on fun at these young Floridians (maybe?), who so easily toss a so-called Hurricane Party Cocktail of alcohol, drugs, sex, snarky comments and a full assortment of weapons.

Playing the alleged title game spurs on the proceedings, but most folks might do some serious maturing when all that you'd expect to occur in a dark mansion on a stormy night does just that here. The only gals coming close to wising up, though, make up the movie couple portrayed by distaff headliners Maria Bakalova ("Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"), naturally the lone non-American in the group, and Amandla Stenberg ("The Hate U Give").

Among the "boys" -- surprise, surprise -- now ex-"SNL" funnyman Pete Davidson looks like a skinny, young Uncle Fester and acts like the total jerk as the host of it all. Also along for the quick ride is Lee Pace, nicely cast as an aging "vet" and apparent pick-up pal of a much younger vixen (Rachel Sennott of "Shiva Baby" fame). Anybody for a sequel? Nobody?

Rated "R" by MPAA: violence, bloody images, drug use, sexual references and pervasive language; 1:35; $ $ $ out of $5