Thursday, June 8, 2023

'Daliland' takes infamous painter to different and strange places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 1, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 25, 2023

'The Little Mermaid' sings, swims away with Disney live-action honors

There's a lot to admire about Disney's latest take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, "The Little Mermaid," even if, like me, you might believe that Uncle Walt's animated movie machine should not be toyed with.

In fact, led by big-screen newcomer Halle Bailey, as the nicely "little" Ariel with a magically huge voice, and the expert villainy of Melissa McCarthy, a water witch-worthy successor to the vocal antics of the late, great Pat Carroll from the 1989 original, this swimmingly new version just might be the best of Disney's live-action do overs so far.

It also says here that mighty McCarthy's dazzling replay of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" could be counted as the real musical showstopper, despite the top-notch array of other standard "Mermaid" tunes updated for the remake, including Oscar-winning Best Song "Under the Sea," Ariel's ever-yearning "Part of Your World," and the fun-loving "Kiss the Girl."

Note, too, how the latter ditty becomes a sparkling vehicle to show off some serious chemistry between Mermaid Bailey and hunky landlubber Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) while once again warbled by Sebastian the Crab. The loyal crustacean gets voiced this time by Daveed Diggs but remains a frazzled spy for Ariel's dad (King Triton, regally and professionally portrayed -- what else would we expect? -- by Javier Bardem).

Standout moments surrounding new vocals, co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda with Disney wunderkind Alan Menken, feature the fitting "Wild Uncharted Waters" (strongly performed by Hauer-King) and a uniquely wacky "Scuttlebutt" (rap-voiced by the busy Awkwafina, on board here as Scuttle Seagull).

No surprise really, then, that the such a merry mix of cool choreography, music and a little movie magic comes along with helming by dancer-turned director Rob Marshall ("Chicago," a 2013 Best Picture winner). Looks like a summer hit.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: action/peril and some scary images; 2:15; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Also new in theaters Friday: "About My Father," "Kandahar," "The Machine," and "You Hurt My Feelings." Streaming: "Being Mary Tyler Moore" (Max), "Blood & Gold" (Netflix), and "Wild Life" (Hulu and Disney+).

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Not much truly deep in 'The Next Chapter,' but Fox doc 'Still' reveals

Can anyone guess what those famously mischievous girls from "Book Club" have been up to since their unexpected hit of 2018? 

Well, apparently simply much of the same stuff many of us did to get ourselves through the scary world pandemic, that is, before this not-so-quiet film quartet decided to trade Zoom chats for Italian wines and the latest zany adventures now documented in their new "Book Club: The Next Chapter."  

You see, one of the four golden-age besties has decided to get married -- and if you can't guess the actual bride in the first 30 minutes, you simply haven't seen enough mediocre movies -- so let's do the bachelorette party in Tuscany. (By the way, book readers may care that "The Alchemist" becomes the sequel's minimally discussed tome of choice in replacing the original's "Fifty Shades of Grey.")

And what better way for fate to intervene in dream-chasing than to let hotel magnate Vivian (Jane Fonda, still perhaps the cast knockout at 85), restaurateur Carol (Mary Steenburgen), federal judge Sharon (Candice Bergen), and widowed fashion plate Diane (Diane Keaton) enjoy lifelong pursuits in Rome and Venice while wearing designer clothing and dropping naughty, eye-rolling jokes.

As in the first "Club," Bergen's tart-tongued jurist steals the show in the laughs department by, among other things, forming a mutual admonition society with a police chief marvelously portrayed by Giancarlo Giannini. The legal-authority horseplay also allows the legendary latter to walk away with interesting old-man acting honors over Don Johnson, Andy Garcia and Craig T. Nelson, the American trio back again in their same nice-guy roles. Antonioni or Fellini, though, are nowhere in sight.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some strong language and suggestive material; 1:47; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5 (Opening Friday in theaters just about everywhere.)

Despite the clever title, "Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie" is actually a damn good documentary from director Davis Guggenheim ("Waiting for Superman" and the Oscar-worthy "An Inconvenient Truth").

Uh, still, the film does offer an array of clips from Fox's many cinematic ventures and a pair of Emmy Award-winning TV sitcoms. It's the way, though, that Guggenheim sorts them all into such meaningful and memorable companion pieces to the popular actor's own moving words that shows off the humanity of a courageous man whose small physical stature belies a massive heart still beating strong.

Of course, for more than 25 years now, Fox has become the beloved public face leading the war against Parkinson's disease. The falls and significant breaks/bruises that come with it are all part of a great personal story based on Fox's four books and filled with more hope and humor than sadness and suffering. Blessings and good thoughts all around.

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language; 1:35; $ $ $ $ out of $5 (Streaming on AppleTV+ and in select theaters.)

Other films opening Friday theatrically: "Blackberry," "Fool's Paradise," "Hypnotic," and "Knights of the Zodiac"; Streaming only: "Crater" (on Disney+) and "The Mother" (Netflix).

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Raucous 'Guardians' get to go out warmly; 'Discontinued' lives in AI

Despite some overkill and all that the word entails down the lengthy stretch, "Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3" relies on its trusty assemblage of unique characters to get their jobs done for what looks like one last memorable ride.

For starters, a sinister force with ray-gun-like hands invades the space-happy gang's new headquarters in a place called Knowhere. The clever location name probably has nothing to do with "GotG" trilogy director/writer James Gunn leaving the Marvel Universe to co-head the rival DC Studios responsible for Justice League action heroics, but it certainly might fit.

Regardless, the real plot here quickly turns toward key member Rocket (voiced again by Bradley Cooper), with all his loyal comrades -- Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and comic rock Drax (Dave Bautista) chiefly among them -- sharing nifty moments in trying to save the life of the gritty, smart-aleck raccoon.

Naturally, the little fellow in jeopardy finally offers up a tender back story to boot, complete with some cuddly former animal friends hounded by a power-hungry High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji from Gunn's "Peacemaker"). 

More highlights include another matching oldies soundtrack, the return of other familiar faces to the ever-crowded "Galaxy," and contributions of humor from Cosmo the Russian Space Dog, as vocally personified by Maria Bakalova. 

As always, franchise loyalists should remember to stick around for the affectionate mid-credits salute to all the departing players, not to mention a giant clue at the very end about future endeavors for "Star-Lord" Quill.

"Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3" officially opens Friday in theaters all over the Planet Earth.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive drug references and thematic elements; 2:30; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

In a much smaller sci-fi movie realm, "Discontinued" mostly manages to go around in order to come around to some possible AI-induced solutions for a life "buried by anxiety and depression 24 hours a day."

That is how young and sadly suicidal Sarah (the terrific Ashley Hutchinson) eventually describes what she's going through in her daily circumstances, which include unemployment, a best friend (Michelle Yazvac) she can't really relate to, and odd-couple parents (Risa Benson and Bill Sorice) mostly questioning every move she makes.

Oh, yeah, there's also a shrink who never really helps her, either, as portrayed by the only name actor in the tiny-budget cast keenly assembled by first-time feature director Trevor Peckham. It belongs to Robert Picardo (Dr. Zimmerman from "Star Trek: Voyager"), who gets to chew up the scenery in a couple of somewhat zany appearances. Just about after the first one, an artificial intelligence guide (Langston Fishburne, eldest son of Laurence) enters Sarah's troubled life, perhaps during an ill-fated attempt to end it. Or not.

Hey, maybe this AI stuff that so many people are seriously worrying about will not turn out so horrendously bad after all. Hmmm.

("Discontinued" is now available on Apple, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, and various other Video-on-Demand outlets.)

Not rated by MPAA (but definitely would be an "R" for language); 1:31; $ $ $ out of $5

Also slated Friday for opening theatrical runs: "Johnny & Clyde" and "Love Again."

Friday, April 28, 2023

'Margaret' grows up sweetly; 'Peter Pan & Wendy' not so memorably

"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" arrives today based on the "classic" bestseller by iconic author Judy Blume, and how can we ever forget? That is, at least according to the opening barrage of women -- some of them recognizable -- who offer what seems like a never-ending tribute to the book and how much it meant to them back in the early '70s.

Thank goodness the close-to-cringe-inducing salute finally ends, and a movie begins that almost lives up to their hype. Just remember, though, that they were talking about the written word, and maybe the different media twains actually might not meet.

That they do mostly becomes the result of another tender telling from Kelly Fremon Craig, the then-first-time filmmaker who gave us the smartly terrific, yet still likely underseen "The Edge of Seventeen" in 2016.

Just as that coming-of-age comedy delivered a perfectly pitched, lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld, Fremon Craig's sweet, 11-year-old "Margaret" earns the same treatment here from Abby Ryder Fortson. Already a longtime child star, the teen simply shines as the kind of genuine sixth grader anyone might want to emulate or call a friend, although our heroine's own typical insecurities find her looking for significant help from above during a charming assortment of one-way conversations.

An equally adorable if put-upon Mom (the radiant Rachel McAdams) and lovable (uh, to a pushy point) Grandma (Kathy Bates) lead an ensemble that sparkles along with the standalone, era-heavy screenplay. Who knows? Perhaps a few men actually even might relate to the universal anxieties and surprises discovered on the edges of becoming a teen. Well, at least some of 'em.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: thematic matter involving sexual ed and some suggestive material; 1:45; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening today -- but only on Disney+ -- is the good-looking "Peter Pan & Wendy," with director/co-writer David Lowery seeking to find something new to tell about the boy who refuses to grow up. (I mean, it's not like most of us haven't seen or heard the story what seems like a hundred times before, anyway.)

Well, then, how 'bout if we give the girl in the title a similar challenge by starting the story with her reluctance to leave a comfortable home and properly British family for boarding school? Yes, sure, Wendy Darling (the capable Ever Anderson in this live-action piece) always has been a solid young lady in previous versions, so let's beef up her role and let Peter (alarmingly low-key newcomer Alexander Molony) just worry about Captain Hook (the not-so-threatening Jude Law).

By the way, we might as well write a back story for the villainous Hook, create a bigger role for ever-helpful Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), too, and probably tinker with the Lost Boys in a way that will not be disclosed right now.

Truthfully, when all is said and done, I miss the magic from J.M. Barrie's original story, not to mention Disney's 1953 animated feature, and many others, including TV's oft-shown 1960 classic with the fab Mary Martin as Peter. A little more pixie dust, please.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: violence, peril and thematic elements; 1:46; $ $ and/ 1/2 

Also opening today in theaters: "Big George Foreman," "Lucky Louie," "Polite Society," "Showing Up," And "Sisu." Streaming: "AKA" (Netflix) and "Clock" (Hulu).

Friday, April 21, 2023

'The Covenant' soars, 'Quasi' backs into laughs, 'Ghosted' disappears

So what the heck is really going on with the title, "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant"?

Has the notable caper-film writer/director (and ex-husband of Madonna) finally made a deal with the devil? Was his name really placed in the title to avoid confusion with a similarly named release? Or does Ritchie simply want everyone to know that he just might have engineered the finest movie of his career?

Hey, any answer is good with me since the tough Brit's latest seriously puts his best foot forward with a powerful Afghanistan war story, headed by ever-intense Jake Gyllenhaal and featuring a star-in-the-making performance from 46-year-old Dar Salim.

The latter plays smart, clear-minded interpreter to Gyllenhaal's equally strong and engagingly silent Special Forces Sergeant, leading the grunt unit charged with scouring the country's treacherously rugged terrain for Taliban weapons sites.

Obviously, harmful stuff comes with such nasty work, but so does the loyalty, friendship, and mutual respect that filmmaker Ritchie dramatizes just about perfectly after collecting these apparently true incidents for the big screen. 

By the way, he even finds room for a strong woman (Emily Beacham, as an Army wife) expressing both disappointment and love during a separation-scene speech that easily becomes the film's away-from-the-action highlight. 

Finally, when it comes to deciphering the film's timely politics, you are on your own. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: for violence, language throughout, and brief drug content; 2:03; $ $ $ $ out of $5

At the risk of going from sublime to ridiculous, here comes "Quasi," also opening today (though streaming only on Hulu) and filled with possibilities for potential laughs.

Alas, most of the barbs miss more often than hit when the famously titled hunchback (played eagerly by Steve Lemme) finds himself caught between the feuding fictional powers of Pope Cornelius (Paul Souter) and French King Guy (Jay Chandrasekhar). 

Each wants the other one assassinated. Thus, you might say that Quasi keeps running between the sacrilegious and the Sacre bleu! of it all in this sixth movie go-round for the comedy troupe known collectively as Broken Lizard. All five participants in that hard-working acting/writing/directing team play dual roles here, so it is no surprise that Toledo-reared Adrianne Palicki (as the somewhat bawdy Queen Catherine) turns in the film's juiciest moments.

Also of positive note, the voice of Emmy-winner Brian Cox, who hilariously headed the Vermont cops in Lizard's famous "Super Troopers" movies, opens proceedings with a humorously profane intro that certainly would make the great Logan Roy proud.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language, some crude/sexual content, and violence; 1:39; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Finally today there's "Ghosted," streaming only on AppleTV+ as a mostly disappointing effort, even if starring Ana de Armas and Chris Evans, with a handful of notable cameos tossed into the irregular mix.

Director Dexter Fletcher ("Rocket Man") gives himself a quick appearance, too, in a final scene that actually may let us know how he feels about blending an action story that shows off nothing new with a rom-com-like pairing that simply does not produce the kind of charisma everyone might have expected.

I mean, it all becomes even more bewildering when the tepid screenplay has supporting players endlessly mention the sexual tension between Evans, as a lovesick farmer, and the lovely de Armas, who seemed much more comfortable in a similar if lesser role opposite Daniel "James Bond" Craig in 2021's "No Time to Die." It simply does not work.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: 
sequences of strong violence/action, brief strong language, and some sexual content; 1:56; $ $ out of $5

Among films opening Friday in theaters: "Beau is Afraid," "Chevalier," "Evil Dead Rise," "How to Blow Up a Pipeline," and "Somewhere in Queens." Streaming only: Judy Blume Forever (exclusively on Prime Video).

Thursday, April 13, 2023

A pair of talented Nics gives goofy and violent screen life to 'Renfield'

Nicolas Cage is back as Drac, and Nicholas Hoult tries to turn away from devoted servant duty as the co-dependent title character in the bloody enchanting and silly "Renfield." 

Cage, always a hoot in the midst of comedy, thrilled us as another over-the-top bloodsucker in "Vampire's Kiss" (1989), but here his ever-ancient Dracula gives him more to talk about, including one magnificent soliloquy that just about evokes every emotion available to feel.

After all, he is trying to convince his long-lasting "familiar" (the nicely mixed-up Hoult) to stick with him so they can dominate the world together. Now in the modern times of present-day New Orleans, though, Renfield has other plans, stemming from his attendance at group-help sessions AND being smitten with a no-nonsense cop (Awkwafina).

Of course, the latter has enough on her hands in trying to stop the bloodthirsty mob run by a tough mother (always terrific Shohreh Aghdashloo) and generally annoying son (Ben Schwartz) that killed her lawman dad and controls the notoriously corrupt Big Easy.

The swiftly moving blend of very old and new comes courtesy of director Chris McKay ("The Lego Movie") and first-time screenwriter Ryan Ridley, filmmakers who keep exploits feeling like fun even when showing off uncommonly wild ways to off mostly bad guys. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: bloody violence, some gore, language throughout and some drug use; 1:33: $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

(Also opening Friday in theaters: "Nefarious," "Mafia Mamma," "The Pope's Exorcist," "Suzume," and "Sweetwater." Meanwhile, "The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die" can be found streaming on Netflix.)

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Fresh 'AIR' the best of '23 so far; Colorful 'Mario Bros.' plumbs for plot

Sorry, all-time NBA scoring leader Lebron James, but not only does Ben Affleck's enjoyable "AIR" prove the impact of Michael Jordan on and off the basketball court, it also soars as the best movie 2023 has to offer so far.

Any hoops aficionado certainly might agree when it becomes obvious, almost from the get-go, how easily director Affleck and first-time feature screenwriter Alex Convery get it all so very right in telling the marvelous tale of running-shoe company Nike chasing down superstar-to-be Jordan just so he can wear their sneakers way back in 1984. 

Everyone else, of course, simply will get knocked out by the mostly A-List talent that nails each and every performance -- from Matt Damon's likable cager guru to Jason Bateman's marketing wiz to Viola Davis, as Jordan's decision-maker Mom. (Still, such a fabulous trio barely skims the surface of acting talent on display, thanks to key cast contributions from Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker, Affleck himself and, oh, so many more.)

Even with an ending that perhaps could use a little more, uh, well . . . game, "AIR" rises so consistently behind members of the thoroughly engaging ensemble, they already have put themselves in early position as real players for an awards season that remains a good eight months away. Watch them now and expect nothing but three-pointers all around.

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language throughout: 1:52; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Speaking of games, "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" acceptably puts the world's most famous Italian plumbers through their animated paces with an array of capable salutes to the siblings' longtime antics on Nintendo's ever-popular video systems.

Whether Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) walk to their first job assignment in Brooklyn, prove their mettle to Mushroom Kingdom Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), try to assemble an army by battling fellow gamer Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), or get chased by Dark Land's big bad Bowser (an amplified Jack Black), anyone who ever handled a joystick might find reason to relate.

There are also enough "Easter eggs" to discover just in time for Sunday's joyous spring holiday, and assorted snippets of the game's now familiar theme music, all mixed in with rock hits such as a-ha's "Take on Me" or ELO's "Big Blue Sky."

Now, all we need is a legitimate story to flesh out among the colors. Maybe next time? 

Rated "PG" by MPAA: Action and mild violence; 1:32: $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("AIR" and "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" both open Wednesday in theaters everywhere. Opening Friday (April 7): "How to Blow Up a Pipeline" and "Paint. Streaming: Chupa (Netflix); "Gangs of Lagos" and "On a Wing and a Prayer" (Prime Video), all also debut on April 7.)

Thursday, March 30, 2023

You'll 'Like Movies' on CIFF closing night; 'Spinning Gold' turns oddly

"I Like Movies" rather easily won over 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival audiences when it world-premiered there last September, and now the Canadian coming-of-age charmer might turn the same tricks Sunday night when it closes the 47th annual Cleveland International Film Festival.

The film reeks of independent flair -- in a good way -- from early, current-millennium vibes to a committed cast of unknown players, headed by young Isaiah Lehtinen, as a high-schooler so obsessed with films (and all which such geeky fandom entails) that he's rarely easy to embrace.

Hey, some of us might even relate, at least until first-time feature writer/director Chandler Levack overwhelms us with moments enough to root the kid into NYU Film School. Give a hand, too, to ever-capable mom (Krista Bridges) and a radiant video-store boss (real find Romina D'Ugo).

Not rated by MPAA: 1:39; $ $ $ $ out of $5 (CIFF ticket info here.) 

I guess we might as well at least mention the small Cleveland connection to "Spinning Gold," too, which would be the special screening taking place tonight (March 30) at our city's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Otherwise, this oddly told story about how Casablanca Records became the biggest independent record company in the world, opens in limited release Friday in major markets across the country. 

Rock Hall of Famers The Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight, KISS, Parliament-Funkadelic (with funkmaster George Clinton), Donna Summer, and Bill Withers are among the music legends connected to the label, though actors take their personas and sing their most recognizable hits in the movie. 

In fact, casting becomes part of the strange production brew since no one seriously resembles the performer he or she is portraying. As a result, R&B artist Pink Sweat$, as Withers; rapper Wiz Khalifa, as Clinton; and singer-songwriter Tayla Parx, trying hard as Summer, come across more clunky than capable. The one legitimate highlight, though, involves Knight, played by Grammy winner Ledisi, who still knocks us out with "Midnight Train to Georgia" in one of the film's most engaging segments. 

Of course, the majority of plot moments follow the highs and lows in the career of Casablanca founder Neil Bogart (Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan), a unique character and man who lived for the moment, that is, assuming most of it is true. As told by one of Neil's sons, writer/director Timothy Scott Bogart, the tale pokes fun at veracity early on, then much later claims an orgy interlude, simply coming out of nowhere, helped rescue his old man from financial disaster. Would just love to love it, baby.

Rated "R" by MPAA: pervasive language, drug use, some sexual material and nudity; 2:17; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

(Also opening Friday only in theaters: "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," "His Only Son," and "A Thousand and One." Streaming exclusive debuts: "Murder Mystery 2" (on Netflix). "Rye Lane(Hulu), and "Tetris" (AppleTV+).

Thursday, March 23, 2023

'Lost King' tries to rule, but even Flo Pugh can't carry 'Good Person'

It happens every year, and still remains quite incredible to me: Many of the movies I see each September at the annual Toronto International Film Festival keep debuting what seems like forever on local screens.

Just last week, in fact, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin brought "Moving On" to theaters in northeast Ohio (and everywhere else, too). Now the brilliantly spot-on Sally Hawkins co-stars with co-writer Steve Coogan in a rather British kind of serious comedy, which -- go figure -- also made its world premiere at TIFF47 and, on Friday, finally begins a theatrical run for U.S. audiences.

"The Lost King" tells some real-life tales of historian Philippa Langley (Hawkins), as she attempts to lead a country-wide search for the remains of English King Richard III, whom she believed was royally smeared by Shakespeare, among many others.

Coogan plays Langley's mostly supportive (if separated) husband, even when Philippa claims to see and converse with the centuries-dead King himself. Of course, we see the handsome devil (Harry Lloyd) as well and, as directed by the ever-steady Stephen Frears ("Dangerous Liaisons," "The Queen," to name only a few), those scenes become some of the film's most charming moments.

Please just don't expect screenwriters Jeff Pope and Coogan to engage you the same way they might have in their Oscar-nominated work on Frears' "Philomena," and you'll probably walk out of the theater more entertained than exhilarated.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some strong language and brief suggestive references; 1:48; $ $ $ out of $5

Sorry to say I can't claim the same sentiments for "A Good Person," a film that neither world-class actors Florence Pugh nor Morgan Freeman can save.

It's a Debbie Downer of a movie, with Pugh, who remains marvelous in all she does, playing an opioid addict, and Freeman, as a recovering alcoholic himself, portraying the solemn ex-cop that almost became her father-in-law.

The lengthy whys and wherefores, offered up in another behind-the-camera effort from comic actor-turned director and writer Zach Braff, should be seen and likely judged by others who have not watched dozens of similar recovery dramas previously. 

I must have looked at my watch at least that many times in the last half-hour alone.

Rated "R" by MPAA: drug abuse, language throughout and some sexual references; 2:09; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

(Also opening Friday exclusively in theaters: the long-awaited John Wick: Chapter 4. Meanwhile, and speaking of cinematic showcases such as TIFF, our own 47th annual Cleveland International  Film Festival, or CIFF, is boasting a full array of product -- 121 features and 199 more shorts -- now through April 1. And wouldn't you know, CIFF's closing night film will be another TIFF46 world premiere, the Canadian comedy "I Like Movies." Return here next week for a review.)

Friday, March 17, 2023

Commanding women stir dark 'Strangler' and lighter 'Moving On'

Except for the infamous string of murders and the botched investigation into them, "Boston Strangler" has little connection to the 1968 film "The Boston Strangler."

In fact, the two movies take on the grisly deaths of 13 women in the early '60s from entirely different perspectives, with the new one exploring how the case was so thoroughly covered by a pair of female newspaper reporters, themselves dealing with incessant sexism from bosses and cops while possibly putting their own lives at risk.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin ("Crown Heights") firmly details how their work way back then helped up the ante of attention to the murder probe, beginning with the similar killings of "just four nobodies" and turning the "Strangler" killer into one of the nation's most notorious criminals ever.

It also becomes some very scary stuff when Loretta McLaughlin (a smartly offbeat role for Keira Knightley) and Jean Cole (Copley, Ohio's own Carrie Coon) connect the dots on a couple of potential copycat murders along the way.

By the end, let's just call it another well-done showcase for the kind of tough, investigative journalism that rarely exists today, even if the entire film is not quite on par with last year's "She Said."

That one, of course, told how a more modern group of women reporters helped nail the monstrous Harvey Weinstein and, sadly, failed miserably at the box office. Perhaps that is why "Boston Strangler" lives only exclusively on Hulu today and not in theaters.

Rated "R" by MPAA: some violent content and language; 1:56; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Ironically, two more strong gals, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, try to turn the tables on another Weinstein type in "Moving On," a revenge comedy with certainly a little less than a heart of gold.

The bad man (treacherously portrayed by always alarming Malcolm McDowell) is a new widower, whose late wife was a college roommate of alienated friends (Tomlin and Fonda) now reuniting at the funeral.

I'd love to report that madcap chaos ensues, but such is not the case. There are a few laughs, some melodrama, a twist ending, very nice supporting work from Richard Roundtree, and an odd subplot resolution you can even see coming from Ohio (where Fonda's character resides).

Truthfully, if you want to watch more sparkling use of its two enduring stars, simply find the classic "9 to 5" somewhere, or just about any episode of their seven-year hitch on "Grace and Frankie."

("Moving On," which world-premiered at last fall's 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival, is now playing in theaters.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language; 1:25; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening today only in theaters: "Inside," "Shazam! Fury of the Gods," which was not previewed for critics in northeast Ohio, and "A Snowy Day in Oakland."