Thursday, November 4, 2021

Movies have four words for you: 'Eternals,' 'Finch,' 'Passing' and 'Spencer'

Four capsule reviews for as many new, single-word titles (in alphabetical order): 

From the (comic) Book of Marvel comes "Eternals," a kind of soap opera for the gods, filled with action sequences featuring head-chomping, CGI bad guys called Deviants. Of course, it doesn't help that the titled -- and immortal -- superheroes, directed by Olympian-like Celestials, mostly stand and watch 700 centuries of Earth history pass them by without lifting a finger to save anyone but themselves. Instead, a dozen or so movie stars, including Angelina Jolie (the unstable Thena), Salma Hayek (handpicked leader Ajak), Richard Madden (an arrogant Ikarus) and Kumail Nanjani (the downright silly Kingo) preen, pose and say little that matters as if they were all appearing in an old satiric episode of "The Californians" on "SNL." Even acclaimed filmmaker Chloe Zhao, who collected Best Picture and Director Oscars for last year's "Nomadland," can't save her first venture into the MC Universe from being laughable too often in all the wrong places. "Golden Raspberry Awards" here we come.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: fantasy action and violence, some language and brief sexuality; 2:37; $ $ out of $5

Hanks, Jones (as Jeff) and friend.
Unless you count best friend Goodyear (a dog actually played by Seamus) and robots named Dewey and Jeff (smartly voiced by Caleb Landry Jones), "Finch" would be another one-guy show for Tom Hanks. That means the Everyman actor actually gets to chat with something besides the volleyball he made famous in year 2000's "Cast Away." A number of sci-fi films quickly will come to mind, too, perhaps animated classics such as "The Iron Giant" and "Wall-E," and certainly last year's underrated "Midnight Sky," from and with George Clooney, as the last man on our planet. Here, Finch/Hanks' expert in AI engineering is probably not alone, but sun flares and more have him on the run from unbearable heat and radioactivity in Springfield, Mo., to San Francisco. Why would this heart-tugging road movie take us there? Everything  -- from how Goodyear got his name to the lanky, lumbering and especially loquacious Jeff's purpose to exist in the first place -- suitably gets explained by the time the world ends. Or does it? ("Finch" starts streaming Friday only on Apple TV+.)

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: brief violent images; 1:55; $ $ $ out of $5 

Negga and Thompson stir "Passing."
Looking like the finest movie of the week, "Passing" uses a pair of powerhouse performances to tell its period tale, as based on a 90-year-old novella by Harlem's own Nella Larsen. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga (an Oscar nominee for 2016's terrific  "Loving") star as ex-schoolmates meeting again years later to find each other married to successful men, a hardworking doctor (Andre Holland) and successful businessman (Alexander Skarsgard), respectively,  Oh, yeah, the latter also happens to be a raging racist, which is just one of a few reasons why Negga's Clare has been pretending to be a white woman for many years. In fact, the relationship between Thompson's Irene and her long-lost friend reignites only after "passing" herself by the doorman of a swanky New York hotel, where air conditioning allows her to escape stifling summer temperatures. Some other forms of steaminess also might be suggested the rest of the way, as the vivacious Clare begins making regular visits to the comfortable household of an increasingly insecure Irene. With strikingly meaningful black-and-white cinematography from Eduard Grau ("Boy Erased," "A Single Man"), the subtle complexities of it all come courtesy of first-time writer and director Rebecca Hall. Yes, the still very actively working actress delivers the goods, with both odd and wonderful choices behind the camera and despite a few editing transitions that might make viewers wish for a rewind button.    

("Passing" starts Friday at only a few theaters, including the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights, and Wednesday on Netflix.) 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: thematic material, some racial slurs, and smoking; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of 5

Stewart as the Princess of Wales.
During a virtual interview at September's 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival, Kristen Stewart said she to decided to portray the late and iconic Princess Diana because she "appreciates stories that ask questions more than tell you things." Well, no doubt  the resulting "Spencer" does exactly that since the film is immediately presented on screen as "a fable from a true tragedy." The chamber drama from director Pablo Larrain mixes dreamy sequences of Diana's well-revered fashion sense with an ongoing anxiety bordering on paranoia. Hey, screenwriter Steven Knight ("Eastern Promises" and "Locke" remain two of his best) even throws in visits from the ghost of Anne Boleyn. Not surprisingly, the warmest energy in the movie comes during Christmas celebration moments with then-young sons William and Harry, nicely rendered by up-and-coming Brits Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry. Otherwise, the film's best performance belongs to the ever-realiable Timothy Spall, as a tough ex-military man hired to keep tabs on the ditzy Diana in what some definitely will be calling a hatchet job on a woman who became a legend long before her tragic death soon after that unforgettably infamous crash in a Paris traffic tunnel. Surely Diana's legions of admirers will resent the way her life is pictured here. By the way, Stewart likely follows the bizarre script to the word in a turn that neither sounds nor seriously feels like the Princess she portrays. ("Spencer" opens Friday in theaters everywhere.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: some language; 1:51; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

No comments: