Friday, April 1, 2022

Theaters get 'Morbius,' while youthful 'Apollo' and 'Nate' stream for views

A brief excursion to a bat cave, the moon and Broadway:

The former scary domain comes at the opening of "Morbius," where the title character, played by Oscar-winner Jared Leto, gets off a helicopter in the middle of Costa Rica and calmly cuts his hand to draw the blood that attracts hundreds of vampire bats he apparently needs for medical research.

At least we can assume so, since the segment comes just before a "25 years earlier" caption appears on screen to take us to the beginning of a not-so-Marvelous origin story about a brilliant handicapped kid whose eventual experiments to cure his rare DNA disease give him powers that don't necessarily turn him into a superhero. 

Along the way, Morbius rejects a Nobel Prize (for inventing artificial blood), works closely with a lovely female doctor (Adria Arjona) and constantly feels guilty about his Jekyll-and-Hyde tendencies aboard a cargo tanker filled with unholy mercenaries he himself hired.

Occasionally, it's not as ghastly as it might sound, mostly thanks to Leto's general gravitas and a supervillain (Matt Smith from "The Crown") thoroughly enjoying his own personal discoveries. Best of all, the film's running time is just about bloody perfect for this kind of dreck (which includes the requisite closing-credit teasers). 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: intense sequences of violence; some frightening images, and brief strong language; 1:44; $ $ out of $5

This first April weekend's most entertaining entry -- perhaps at least if you're old enough to remember the times, places, and reams of resulting nostalgia surrounding the historic, 1969 moon landing -- is playing on Netflix in Richard Linklater 's "Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood." 

The initial 60 minutes become an animated delight, filled with apparent recollections from the life of the now 61-year-old writer and director, who grew up "right down the road" from NASA's Space Center Houston. With Jack Black, as the now-adult kid (named Stan) remembering it all with his steady narration, the Texas metropolis was a beehive of activity, from JFK's famous space speech at Rice University, to the unveiling of the giant Astrodome, and pioneer astronauts galore making names for themselves while "the rest of the world was going to hell."

Much of suburban America certainly could relate to such overwhelming memories, all playing to a soundtrack of some of the '60s biggest instrumental hits and guided through the decade by an assortment of classic TV shows, most of which seemingly earn mention here among many other fun topics.

Naturally, so does award-winning coverage of the moon flight and landing itself, with legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite coming back to life and still soaring as high as Apollo 11. Fortunately, it takes precedence over the film's most intrusive element, the shaky and title-producing plot about young Stan actually piloting the first real manned flight to our most reachable celestial body. Somehow, it should have remained on the lauching pad instead of interrupting an otherwise wistful ride.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some suggestive material, injury images and smoking; 1:37; $ $ $ out of $5

The similarly sweet, Disney+ streaming "Better Nate Than Ever" probably takes its cues from "High School Musical" but, in a critics' screener intro by director/writer and paperback author Tim Federle, he prefers comparisons to superior films such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Billy Elliott."

Uh, I don't think so, sir. What you have here is an energetic coming-of-age tale, carried by a couple of truly capable middle-school finds, Rueby Wood, as talented if far-reaching dreamer Nate, and smartly stylish Aria Brooks, as savvy best gal-pal Libby, who's hoping for a little more than a platonic relationship.

It all means Nate truly comes out in more ways than a grand, Times Square TikToc session that just might send him onto the Great White Way. Certainly he gets good-natured support, too, from struggling actress/Aunt Heidi (a nice-to-see Lisa Kudrow), whose own frictions with Nate's mom (Michelle Federer) play more frivolous than real.

Still -- and even with the movie's lack of any angst aside -- there's enough imagination evident to give my regards to such a perky, just-off-Broadway production.

Rated "PG" by MPAA: thematic elements, a suggestive reference, and mild language; 1:31; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5 

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