Friday, November 13, 2020

Star-studded Friday five flit from fat and freaky to familiar and far

A quintet of quick movie reviews -- in alphabetical order -- with today, Friday the 13th, emerging as what might become the crowded prequel to the holiday viewing season:

The Cringles (Jean-Baptiste and Gibson) escape the violence. 

Let's start with Mel Gibson as the titled "Fatman" and, ho-ho-ho, he's not only named Chris Cringle but almost begins as despondent as he was in those "Lethal Weapon" films since some kids these days deserve only coal in their Christmas stockings. In fact, one rich little boy (the nicely evil Chance Hurstfield) even can afford putting a contract out on the big man in the red suit, and the go-to gun for such a special chore is "Skinny Guy" (the Grinchly perfect Walton Goggins). Marianne Jean-Baptiste, as Chris' sweet, supportive wife, tries to offset the silly, senseless violence but definitely rides in the back on this darkly droll sleigh ride.

Rated "R" by MPAA: bloody violence, and language; 1:40; $ $ $ out of $5

Next comes the slasher comedy "Freaky," whose equally absurd premise puts a bit more twinkle on its tongue-in-cheek, not to mention a title-inspired twist that owes major debt to Disney's "Freaky Friday" body-swapping movies. A magical medieval knife, picked up during a murderously creative opening sequence in which four obnoxious teens are innovatively dispatched by a mask-wearing killer, provides the instrument of change. So, when the "Blissfield Butcher" (Vince Vaughn) stabs the likable, if family-troubled Millie (Kathryn Newton), their bodies switch while their personalities stay the same. That gives lean and lanky Vaughn, simply towering over his mostly young co-stars, a chance to shine comically as a high school lass, and the talented Newton an opportunity to run with a potentially star-is-born performance as the Michael Myers/Jason-like serial killer inside her school-girl frame. By the way, Cleveland's own Alan Ruck, as an especially nasty teacher, also revels in this horror hoot screenplay from another local boy, Michael Kennedy. Just don't say that I wasn't so fond of his tacked-on ending.

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, and language throughout; 1:41; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Mom, daughter Close and Adams shout it out loud.
Speaking of local boys, well kinda anyway, Southern Ohio and Middletown in particular become primary settings for "Hillbilly Elegy," the bestseller-based bio of author/lawyer/ex-Marine J.D. Vance, whose book's tagline is the rather alarming "A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis." The movie, now in a handful of northeast Ohio theaters before its Netflix debut on Nov. 24, doesn't play that way from notable director Ron Howard. It simply turns into a well-acted reflection on Vance's meager upbringing, with bows to ancestors from the hills of Kentucky, opioid addiction in his more immediate clan, and how they helped and hindered his education right on through Yale Law School. Gabriel Basso ("Super 8") and Owen Asztalos credibly portray older and younger Vance, respectively, but the ladies steal the soapy show, including Haley Bennett (as his sister) and Freida Pinto (his fiance). Certainly major plaudits will be reserved for Amy Adams, playing Vance's drug-addled single mom, and Glenn Close, his sternly encouraging "Mawmaw." I mean, Close probably already is picking out her supporting actress dress for Oscar night -- with appropriate mask to match, of course. Not sure, though, if the "Hillbilly" tag is sitting well with the good folks of Middletown, where both Jerry Lucas (the Ohio State legend and NBA Hall of Famer) and current Chicago Cub slugger Kyle Schwarber were born. Ironically, the team that Schwarber simply destroyed in the 2016 World Series, our ever-beloved Cleveland Indians, get a politically incorrect mention in this "Elegy," as well.  

Rated "R" by MPAA: language throughout, drug content and some violence; 1:57; $ $ $ out of $5

Young Gueye and living legend Loren take a walk.
Another Netflix offering, "The Life Ahead" features the movie return of Sophia Loren, here as a Holocaust survivor-turned prostitute-turned keeper of fellow street people's children. Obviously, most of her life is not really ahead, but Madame Rosa, like the classic actress filling her shoes, still has much to offer her wards, especially the Senegalese orphan who robbed her before a kind doctor asked Rosa to care for the kid to keep him out of jail. Surprisingly, first-time performer Ibrahima Gueye not only turns in quality work as the young street urchin, but stands toe-to-toe with the still-great Loren, a marvel at a stunningly grand 86. Don't be surprised if Oscar comes calling her once again, too. An aside: Simone Signoret who played "Madame Rosa" in a so-named 1977 French offering based on the same source material, did not receive a Best Actress nod. However, the picture did win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA; thematic content, drug material involving minors, some sexual material and language; 1:34; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Can Coon and Law afford "The Nest"?
Finally, there's "The Nest," an extremely well-made yarn from writer/director Sean Durkin who can dissect characters and make us share their sense of dread with the best of them. After assembling his well-received ensemble in the disturbing "Martha Marcy May Marlene" a full nine years ago, he finally returns to make us squirm again. Here, he gets exceptional work from two fab actors portraying a seemingly well-off, Reagan-era couple that has it all. Or do they? Something's definitely amiss with Rory (Jude Law) and Allison O'Hara (the wonderful Carrie Coon and, naturally, another Ohio product, this one from Copley Township). Back to the unsettling atmosphere, though, which seriously permeates the air when British-bred Rory forces a move from New York to London so he "can make some real money." Ever-suspicious Allison apparently has heard this tune before but plays along. So do the kids, especially as 10-year-old Ben sees the soccer field behind their huge Surrey-based estate and teen-age Samantha hears that "Led Zeppelin lived there while recording one of their albums." Until then, only Allison's horse is spooked. Good luck absorbing the rest of the powerful family dynamics, unfolding now in a limited number of theaters and starting Tuesday on VOD outlets everywhere.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language, some sexuality, nudity and teen partying; 1:47; $ $ $ $ out of $5

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