Wednesday, November 25, 2020

New 'Croods,' 'Uncle Frank,' and screenwriter 'Mank' visit for Thanksgiving

An animated sequel, a period piece streaming only on Prime Video, and a much-anticipated Netflix film now playing at three Greater Cleveland cinemas are among holiday visitors this week.

The two grandgirls, especially the 6-year-old, simply couldn't wait for The Croods: A New Age, the follow-up to a movie released a year before she was born. FYI: She's giving this new "Croods" two big thumps up, 9-year-old big sis mostly agrees, and Gramps is playing along if only because he actually managed to stay awake through it all.

Seriously, folks, there's more than a little to keep us involved, but the returning and star-studded voice cast -- headed by a fabulous Nicolas Cage and Catherine Keener, as cave-dwelling Mom and Dad, Grug and Ugga Crood, does much of the heavy rock-lifting.

Of course, strong daughter Eep (Emma Stone) and boyfriend Guy (Ryan Reynolds) are now so downright infatuated (after meeting in the first film) that Grug is feeling the kind of separation anxiety which often drives daddies wild. Thank goodness he falls into a paradise of sorts -- with lots of bananas-- to keep his mind off such problems. Oh-oh! Turns out it's an environmentally perfect place run by the newfangled and obnoxious Bettermans (Leslie Mann and Peter Dinklage), a couple introduced to bring in a series of "New Age" potential and everthing that might suggest.

Regardless, this "Croods" remains pleasant enough, with a group of funny punch monkeys and one really scary King Kong-like creature offering some minimal frights, and a couple of oldies, the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" and Spandau Ballet's classic "True," continuously splashing through like sprinklers stuck on one speed.

A real highlight: Ever-wild and wooly Gran Crood, still spectacularly voiced by 94-year-old Cloris Leachman, brings in some surprising "thunder" to thrill the two little girls here.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: peril, action and rude humor; 1:35; $ $ $ out of $5 

Bettany, Lillis and Macdissi prep for a key road trip from New York.
Next up is "Uncle Frank," an Amazon film from a softer, gentler Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning writer of "American Beauty," and the creator of two dark and classic HBO series, "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood."

The director/writer now gets fine work from Paul Bettany, as the middle-aged title character still apparently keeping his sexual preferences private from his large Southern family, circa 1970. The clan is headed by a "Big Daddy" type (Stephen Root), a stronghander favoring another son (Steve Zahn) over quiet professor Frank, and the pleasant South Carolina "Mammaw" (Margo Martindale), who simply welcomes and embraces everyone.

Frank's biggest family ally, though, becomes narrator/niece Beth (Sophia Lillis), a smart, sassy teen-ager who adores him and lovingly tells his story through thick and thin and plenty of sad flashbacks, with moments of genuine humor thrown in. Most of the latter occurs after we and Beth meet Frank's partner Wally, an immensely likable fellow, as played by a terrific Peter Macdissi. 

Ball's often emotional -- and occasionally autobiographical -- tale starts spinning and streaming today.

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

Last and definitely not least is the Netflix International production, "Mank," perhaps the year's most gorgeous-looking film and every second of it in glorious, Hollywood glamorous black and white.

However, unless you are somehow readily connected to the silver screen, its inside-studio story of greed, alcoholism, pile-it-on politics and somewhat tortured screenwriting might leave you cold and lonely. 

Perhaps not really so ironically, those exact feelings became evident during the famous death scene of one "Citizen Kane" in the legendary 1941 movie of the same name. Any guesses about who wrote it?

Certainly that would be Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz (the splendid Gary Oldman), and this significant slice of a major life story slowly details why, where and how he came to pen what many extremely important people keep calling "the greatest film of all time." 

That means introducing us to an assortment of self-centered individuals, such as then "boy genius" Orson Welles (Tom Burke), the star and director of "Kane"; tyrannical MGM studio mogul Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), and controversial newspaper publisher (among other things) William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), whose escapades became real source material for the Welles movie.

Nobody in Mankiewicz's inner circle wanted him to take the job, but the inimitable Mank forged ahead, despite being bed-ridden after a serious auto accident and, more importantly, knowing that he would be hurting friends by writing it. Those include Hearst mistress Marion Davies (a show-stopping Amanda Seyfried) in this lavish if often indecisive production, as presented by director David Fincher from a screenplay by his late father, Jack Fincher. ("Mank" debuts on Netflix Dec. 4.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: some language; 2:11; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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