Friday, January 29, 2021

Denzel, Zendaya, and JT among those stirring up rather serious stuff

You might view both Washington and Leto through a glass darkly.
Three Oscar winners -- Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto -- light up John Lee Hancock's deeply dark "The Little Things," which gets increasingly more watchable during the trio's accomplished and assorted interactions.

The always earnest Washington plays a county sheriff's deputy sent to check on some evidence in Los Angeles, where we discover he has a long and, perhaps, checkered past as a homicide detective. Malek, meanwhile, is the young, cocky cop currently working on a possibly connected string of murders, and Leto's ominous Albert Sparma (possibly named because of writer/director Hancock's family ties to sports) becomes a primary suspect. 

Certainly, there's much more to it all, including maybe a few too many friends, co-workers and obsessions getting in the way. Regardless, the heavyweight performances, some of the finest in a serial-killer thriller since Anthony Hopkins played that guy who enjoyed liver and fava beans with a nice Chianti, carry it through to the thought-provoking conclusion.

"Little Things" opens today in theaters everywhere and on HBO Max, where it will stream through Feburary.

Rated "R" by MPAA: violent and disturbing images, language and full nudity; 2:05; $ $ $ 1/2 out of $5

JD Washington and Zendaya as the talkative "Malcolm & Marie."
While on the subject of aging classics, you should know that Denzel's talented son, John David Washington, offers up a sparkling soliloquy on special movies, their directors and film criticism as the male half of "Malcolm & Marie." It's a highlight of his mercurial turn as an up-and-coming filmmaker arriving home from the apparently well-received world premiere of his latest offering.

Malcolm's live-in girlfriend Marie, a young actress portrayed by Zendaya, already an adept artist who might have her own unique take on such things, has much to say about the evening, too. And does she ever -- while making mac and cheese, trying to relax in a bathtub, and even with a threatening butcher's knife at her side. 

Their heated exchanges come wrapped in grand-looking black-and-white from writer/director Sam Levinson, himself an up-and-comer who obviously has heard much of the trade talk his movie couple keeps quarreling over. After all, we do realize that 36-year-old Sam is the son of longtime show-biz legend Barry Levinson, no?

The bigger deal here, of course, is that Zendaya already has won an Emmy for playing an addict on "Euphoria," the HBO series created by the younger Levinson. Now he might be directing her -- and co-star Washington  -- toward Academy Award nominations as the 21st century answer to the bickering Burtons from 1966's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." Surely this disagreeing duo is as intriguing to watch -- and just as uncomfortable to listen to, even if their topic most likely will fall on deaf ears outside of the self-possessed world of Hollywood. 

"Malcolm & Marie," now playing at the Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights and the Cinemark Valley View, debuts Feb. 5 on Netflix.

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

Timberlake and Allen bond nicely.
Finally, today pop icon Justin Timberlake once again proves his worth at the movies, this time as an ex-con named "Palmer" in an oft-told tale with a few new twists.

One is the way he bonds with the poor boy next door. He's a happy youngster (newcomer Ryder Allen), who enjoys dolls and princesses and thinks nothing of telling his newfound friend: "Hey, Palmer, you had a sleepover with my Mama and you didn't wear no pajamas or underwear, neither."

That young Sam says such things in front of Palmer's grandmother (the sparkling June Squibb, very pivotal early on) gives a keen sense of what's to come, especially since aforementioned "Mama" (Juno Temple) has a penchant for disappearing for weeks on end. 

Despite bullies big and small -- but mostly thanks to the screen chemistry of Timberlake and Allen --"Palmer," showing now on Apple TV+, becomes an occasionally moving little film for our times.  

Rated "R" by MPAA: language, some sexual content/nudity, and brief violence; 1:51; $ $ $ out of $5

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