Friday, July 2, 2021

Four for the Fourth, with one memorably soulful 'Summer' leading the way

A trio of Sly and his Family Stone hits helped rock Harlem in '69.
One very unforgettable and, in many cases, newly discovered "Summer of Soul (. . . or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" takes the cake when it comes to a very crowded holiday movie weekend. 

The Sundance Award-winning documentary comes courtesy of first-time director and executive producer Ahmir Thompson. Of course, if you don't recognize his real name, would you know him better as "Questlove," the drummer and leader of "The Roots," the creative, hip-hop house band heading host Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" and "The Tonight Show" for more than a decade? 

Certainly you would. That being a given, though, it might be Quest/Thompson's DJ skills that play so well in this celebratory "Summer" mix of Black heritage and music he discovered in footage never before shown from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. 

The combination of superstar talent performing then, interviews and remembrances from some of them now, and familiar names and voices commenting on the litany of oh-so many mind-blowing events from an era that shaped Black history even occasionally becomes a bit overwhelming. 

I mean, here's 19-year-old Stevie Wonder wowing with his prodigious talents, then stirring us while discussing his current, all-reaching activism. And there's cherubic, young Gladys Knight (with her stylishly choreographed Pips) taking us "Through the Grapevine." And color-coordinated members of The Fifth Dimension singing and dancing on stage, with two of them later relaying a fate-filled story about how they were able to make "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" a No. 1 single. Or, how 'bout the late and much-heralded artist, poet and performer Nina Simone literally giving heart and soul to entertain -- and inspire -- many of the 300,000 who came to Harlem to watch, enjoy and learn for six weekends that incredible summer.

The film's gospel-music assortment, featuring the fabulous Staples Family, legendary vocalist Mahalia Jackson, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, proves especially rousing and definitely inspirational. "Oh, Happy Day"! This revolutionary recording was lost and now it's found!

("Summer of Soul" opens today in select theaters and streams on Hulu as well.)

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some disturbing images, smoking and brief drug material; 1:57; $ $ $ $ and 1/2  out of $5

Full disclosure one: I never bought into the voice of Adam Baldwin as the reprobate "Boss Baby" which, only heaven knows how, actually earned an Academy Award nomination for "Best Animated Feature Film" in 2017.  Of course, the grandgirls, then 3 and 6, loved it. 

Now along comes its long-awaited (really?) sequel, "The Boss Baby: Family Business," and I'm really anxious to see how the kids, oh so much older and wiser these days, react to the same old, same old (especially after "The Boss Baby: Back in Business" has been a Netflix fixture, too, since 2018).

One thing I can tell you already, Gramps is still not enthralled with the yelling, screaming and main-character Templeton brothers, now also certainly older but maybe not so exceptionally wiser themselves. Tim (voiced by James Marsden) has two kids of his own: studious eldest sister Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) and infant Tina (Amy Sedaris), who's about to turn into the latest Boss, baby.

Oh, yeah, Baldwin's back to wreak a little nasty voice business as Uncle Ted, at least until some hokum lets him digress back into the title role that created all such nonsense. Regardless, he's not the villain of the seemingly lengthy piece. Those chores belong to a smarmy school master (Jeff Goldblum), with his own infantile tricks up his sleeve.  

("The Boss Baby: Family Business" is playing in theaters everywhere and streaming on Peacock, too.)

Rated "PG" by MPAA: rude humor, mild language, and some action: 1:46; $ $ out of $5

Full disclosure two: I never had seen any of the well-watched (and by now well-worn) "Purge" movies (or TV show) until this week, when I stuck my curious head into a screening link of the latest, bloodletting shoot-‘em-up called "The Forever Purge."

The result? Let's just say I got too much of what I was expecting from an anything-goes, 12-hour purging that -- as the title suggests -- never really ends. The genuine surprise, however, became the exceptional work from much of the cast, particularly the grand Ana de la Requera ("Army of the Dead" and Amazon's "Goliath") getting a run for her acting money from male leads Tenoch Huerta and Josh Lucas.

Huerta and de la Requera portray illegal aliens (what else?), with the former working as kind of horse-whispering cowboy at a huge Texas ranch owned by a respected land baron (the always capable Will Patton) and his right-wing son (ever-simmering Lucas).

The rest of this steadfastly grim and offensively simplistic story shall be left to the imagination. 

("The Forever Purge" is only playing in theaters -- and a lot of them.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong, bloody violence and language throughout; 1:43; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Last and definitely not least -- even if it's not in theaters while streaming only on HBO Max -- there's "No Sudden Move," the latest from prolific director Steven Soderbergh.

One of his typically serpentine thrillers, only with more of a '50s period bent and based on some legitimate history, "Move" flows with a nicely eccentric ensemble of on-call hoods, mob bosses, General Motors execs, and a trio of splendid women drifting in and out to walk away with the picture, perhaps among some other things.

Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro star -- and, as usual, soar -- as the Detroit-based small-timers hired "to babysit a family" while the clan's wimpy paternal influence (David Harbour) is coerced into stealing from his boss.

Amy Seimetz ("Pet Sematary"), absolutely intriguing as the wife in this suddenly shaken household, is soon joined on the terrific distaff side by Frankie Shaw (from Showtime's "SMILF") and Julia Fox ("Uncut Gems") as "girlfriends" and oh so much more.

Veteran screenwriter Ed Solomon and helmer Soderbergh fill their film with neat twists and turns until a major casting surprise works as a kind of brake-pusher down the not-so-energetic stretch.   

Rated "R" by MPAA: language throughout, some violence and sexual references; 1:55; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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