Friday, November 19, 2021

It's all in the family with 'Richard,' 'Dog,' and 'Ghostbusters' 4 decades later

Will Smith takes center court with his strong, if not exactly breathtaking performance as "King Richard," father, manager and taskmaster/trainer for young tennis prodigies Venus and Serena Williams. 

Rather remarkably, the girls playing their roles seem like naturals, too. In fact, the sweet smiles of big-screen newcomers Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney sparkle so readily that they dominate their scenes almost as much as Serena and the elder Venus, whose groundbreaking personal story certainly does inspire here, skillfully went on to rule their sport.

Also credit director Renaldo Marcus Green -- going from underrated debut feature "Monsters and Men" to the not-so-hot "Joe Bell" and then, somehow, to this high-end studio project -- for helping turn what might have been a glorified TV movie into a legitimate family charmer. First-time screenwriter Zach Baylin obviously contributes as well, along with the solid Aunjanue Ellis, as the girls' hardworking mother, who also has her hands full standing beside Smith's self-centered and, thus, clevery titled patriarch.

"King Richard" is playing now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some violence, strong language, a sexual reference and brief drug references; 2:24; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Cumberbatch and Plemons ride herd.
Next comes a landscape of pretty western skies and not-so-nice cowboys in "The Power of the Dog," a Jane Campion film, with touches of her Oscar-winning "The Piano," a potential nod or two to Ang Lee's much-admired "Brokeback Mountain," and enough dysfunctional family forces to call its own. 

Benedict Cumberbatch rides out of September's 46th Toronto International Film Festival -- where he brought home a "TIFF Tribute Award" and "Power" was the "People's Choice" runner-up (to "Belfast") -- as Campion's legitimate star (although this reviewer truly enjoyed his performance in the more whimsical "Electrical Life of Louis Wain").

Here, the man seems to like bullying folks for no particular reasons, except his own, which might become oh-so obvious to discerning viewers way too soon in a good-looking, though plodding piece. Somehow, his brother (Jesse Plemons) mostly turns the other way while Cumberbatch's mean hombre raises hell with a widow (Kirsten Dunst, the offscreen Mrs. Plemons) and her son (the smart Kodi Smit-McPhee). The ending ultimately gives the movie something to hang its hat on, too. It's a real good 'un. 

"The Power of the Dog" is now at just two Ohio theaters (including the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights), then bows on Netflix Dec. 1.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: brief sexual content/full nudity; 2:08; $ $ $ out of $5

Finally, this week there's "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," which someday could become a genuine movie lover's kind of film, warts and all. 

Before a press-only showing early this week, director and co-writer Jason Reitman appeared on screen calling it "a movie from a family about a family." Of course, he was referring to his father, producer Ivan Reitman, who directed the iconic original "Ghostbusters" in 1984 with a comedic cast to die for. By the way, the younger Reitman also asked the critical community not to reveal spoilers or any of the many surprises to come.

That's certainly never a problem in this neighborhood, but we will mention that the "Afterlife" family features Mom (Copley, Ohio's ever-grand Carrie Coon), an agreeable teen son (Finn Wolfhard from Netflix's popular "Stranger Things"), and the shy whiz-kid daughter (Mckenna Grace) destined to keep the ghostly film franchise alive. 

The latter, who has been so good in films such as "The Gift," "Annabelle Comes Home," and "I, Tonya," brilliantly helps make matters more credible than they really should be in this tribute to the past. And, referring back to Coon, look quick and you might spot her Pulitzer Prize-winner-turned actor husband (an uncredited Tracy Letts) among all the nifty revelations.

By the time the curtain comes down, it once more simply endorses Ray Parker's classic lyrical claim that, "Bustin' makes you feel good."

 Apparitions, spirits and "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" are showing up only at theaters everywhere. 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: supernatural action and some suggestive references; 2:04; $ $ $ out of $5

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