Thursday, July 22, 2021

'Old' hardly feels seriously fresh, and hard-to-watch 'Bell' rarely rings true

Life is way too short to waste even a few hours on "Old," the latest from frustratingly up-and-down filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan.

This one is a bust from the get-go, with conversations of "one last vacation" and "an irrelevant medical condition" immediately casting a dark cloud over a family of four's visit to a resort "version of paradise." I mean, the fawningly smarmy greeters there -- complete with "welcoming cocktails" for both adults and kids -- might be enough to send some tourists packing. Then again, maybe Mom (Vicky Krieps) has one too many secretive issues on her mind to notice, while wimpy actuary Dad (Gael Garcia Bernal) just remains happy to talk job-related data and numbers.

One ridiculous comment even has the ol' man -- and, in this movie, there's definitely nothing wrong with calling him that -- actually spouting: "We are on a beach with two unrelated dead bodies. Statistically, that is just impossible!"

Writer/director Shyamalan himself makes one of his famously extended cameos as the bus driver who drops off the lead family, among others, at a private beach where things really get bizarre. The fellow trippers feature Rufus Sewell, as a mad doctor infatuated with "The Missouri Breaks" (a 1976 film with Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson), and his considerably younger, health/beauty-conscious squeeze (Abbey Lee). Both are alarmingly funny, although neither is supposed to be.

Another couple's strengths and weaknesses play more credibly, with Nikki Amuka-Bird and Ken Leung, perhaps still drawing on some "Lost" flashbacks, rising above the material. As the plot would have it, a host of actors star, too, as variously aged "kids," including the most notable likes of Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Emun Elliott, and a great-to-see Embeth Davidtz, back on the big screen after a lengthy stint of cable-series credits.

One more thing: The shaky ending, cashing in on a few clues left here or there, almost works in explaining it all. Still, "Old" -- now new to a slew of theaters everywhere -- goes down as Shyamalan's biggest head-scratcher since "The Happening." 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, nudity and brief strong language; 1:48; $ $ out of $5

And, speaking of head-scratching Mark Wahlberg movies, the actor/producer's latest premiered at last September's 45th annual (and first digital) Toronto International Film Festival, when it was called "Good Joe Bell."

No jokes about dropping a small, but descriptive word, folks, but now the movie finally is making the rounds as simply "Joe Bell." The truth-based tale from talented director Reinaldo Marcus Green ("Monsters and Men") tackles bullying, youth suicide and a father who blamed himself for the rest of his own very brief lifetime. 

Wahlberg portrays the blue-collar tittle character, whose son Jadin (a memorably moving Reid Miller) is gay. Joe tries to be supportive but, unbelievably, in a screenplay co-written by "Brokeback Mountain" Oscar-winners Diana Ossana and (recently deceased) Larry McMurtry, much of the gimmicky story-telling rarely rings true.

As a result, Dad's essential cross-country walk from a small hometown in Oregon to New York City to honor Jadin's memory doesn't seem so powerful with the added manipulation of his dead son tagging along. Yes, we understand how Jadin constantly tugs at Joe's heart. After all, he reaches for ours, too, especially during times when the film's showy scenery delivers what the fictitious dialogue never does.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language, including offensive slurs, some disturbing material, and teen partying; 1:30; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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