Friday, December 3, 2021

December brings 'C'mon C'mon,' 'Hand of God,' 'Benedetta,' 'Encounter'

"C'mon" clearly rides with Phoenix and Norman.
A chockfull and final movie month of 2021 begins with a quartet of releases, nicely led by the purposely black-and-white "C'mon C'mon," one of the sweetest films you'll ever want to see in this or any other year. 

Joaquin Phoenix stars as a formerly estranged adult brother to a frazzled sis (wonderfully portrayed by ex-child star Gaby Hoffman) and winds up watching her nine-year-old kid (the precocious if not necessarily irresistible Woody Norman) for much longer than both ever bargained.

The lengthy babysitting assignment certainly becomes a chore for Phoenix's mostly patient Johnny, whose current radio work entails interviewing kids about the meaning of their lives, anyway. So, he's a nice guy, who learns a lot about himself while becoming a potential father figure, not to mention a pretty swell uncle.

The charming mix of discussing and listening comes from writer and director Mike Mills ("The Beginners," "Twentieth Century Women"), who even sprinkles in some parental reading tips thoughout his tender telling.

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language; 1:48; $ $ $ $ out $5

Much of another youth-based story, "The Hand of God," apparently results from the recollections of acclaimed Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino, already an Academy Award winner for "The Great Beauty" (2013) and now the director/screenwriter of his country's submission into this year's International Film Oscar contest. 

Of course, life was not always so rosy for Sorrentino, who grow up in a large, loving family, the so-named Schisa clan here and headed by his parents (quite convincingly played by "Communist" father Tony Servillo and prankster mother Teresa Saponangelo).

Teen-aged Fabietto (the young man based on Paolo and so winningly captured by Filippo Scotti) easily becomes their pride and joy in the early-going when various relatives, friends and typically memorable Sorrentino-drawn characters get introduced in fun-loving fashion. Two of them, one they call "The Baroness" and looks exactly like Pope John Paul, and another, his overtly sexy Aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri), defintely might become permanent fixtures in his memory bank. 

It all unspools rather stylishy from there, perhaps never as fondly but still in rather grand and colorful detail, because Fabietto's interests find good reason to exchange soccer and superstar Diego Maradona for Fellini movies and more mature escapes from the Napoli he truly enjoyed and loved.

Rated "R" by MPAA: some graphic nudity, brief drug use, sexual content, language; 2:15; $ $ $ $ out of $5 

Other films debuting today in northeast Ohio include the theme-rich "Benedetta," a period piece about a nun's battles with 17th century Rome over her visions and sexual beliefs, and "Encounter," advertised as a "sci-fi thriller."

The latter offers a promising opening salvo with a bright whoosh from the sky, causing dogs to bark, alarms to blare, and possibly beings giving birth to mind-controlling parasites. Or, maybe we're simply left with another intense performance from Riz Ahmed, an Oscar nominee just last year for Best Picture hopeful "Sound of Metal." 

"Benedetta," meanwhile, comes from director Paul Verhoeven, now almost the dirty ol' man of cinema about 30 years after exposing us (and probably Sharon Stone) to "Basic Insinct." Here, he gets a terrific and titillating Virginie Efira, as the based-on-truth title character, battling power, institutions and inner turmoil so persuasively that we might not know whether to laugh or cringe at any of it.

"Benedetta": Not rated by MPAA (but with nudity and both sexual and violent situations); 2:07; $ $ $ out of $5

"Encounter": Rated "R" by MPAA: language and some violence; 1:48; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

So, looking to watch? All four are in a few select theaters, with "C'mon, C'mon," "The Hand of God" (which starts streaming Dec.15 on Netflix) and "Benedetta" (going to VOD on Dec, 21) all playing now at the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights. "Encounter," which streams Dec. 10 on Amazon Prime, is showing exclusively at the Cinemark Valley View (where you also can find "C'mon, C'mon").

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