Friday, August 5, 2022

4 for August: 'Hallelujah,' 'Prey,' 'Bullet Train' and 'Easter Sunday' (huh?)

Four brief takes on as many movies bringing us into the dog days of August:

Maybe nobody ever had a cooler voice or style than the man featured in "Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song," and it's proven here once again. The crowded documentary neatly dissects how the title song -- first written and released by the Montreal baritone in 1984, then tinkered with endlessly and rewritten in some 150 notebooks by Cohen for years -- is of course now considered an epic international hymn. Even with versions and tributes from artists such as Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Judy Collins, Brandi Carlile and many more, "The Man" himself remains the ultimate star. During a Q&A after a late-June screening of the film at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, co-director Dayna Goldfine explained why she and partner Daniel Geller went all in on their own long journey to make it: "We attended his 2009 concert in San Francisco, and the image of Leonard going down on his knees (to sing THE song) was just so indelible." The rest became fully documented movie and music history, with "Hallelujah" rolling into a slew of additional theaters today, including a few in northeast Ohio.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: brief strong language and some sexual material; 1:55; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

I love quicksand. Always have, always will -- even though it scared the Johnny Weismuller out of me as a kid watching all those old jungle movies on TV. Now today, some up-to-the-neck moments are among a few reasons to recommend "Prey," a wild and wooly "Predator" franchise prequel set to stream exclusively on Hulu. It takes place 300 years ago on and around a historically accurate Comanche settlement, where the brave young Naru (a marvelously intense Amber Midthunder, who somehow might resemble Aubrey Plaza) becomes an axe-wielding hunter, proceeds to kick butt and never really thinks about taking any prisoners. All this, naturally, goes against the wishes of an older warrior brother (Dakota Beavers). Expect both on-screen siblings to keep finding work in movies for years to come.

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong bloody violence; 1:40; $ $ $ out of $5

A couple of great personas aside, including "twins" nicknamed Tangerine and Lemon (Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry), the promisingly titled "Bullet Train" keeps getting slowed down by both flashbacks to exceptional violence and painstakingly cutesy phone banter between its big-name players (Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock). In sleek, Tokyo-to-Kyoto-bound compartments filled with assassins, you'll also find some equally intrusive star cameos, what might be a big inflatable kitty, Bad Bunny, one frighteningly poisonous snake, and Japan's legendary Hiroyuki Sanada, fittingly portraying the only character on board with any real sense of honor. Ride with it long enough and you might discover a legitimate headache, too.

Rated "R" by MPAA: bloody violence, pervasive language, brief sexuality; 2:06; $ $ out of $5

Last, truly least, and with its large heart constantly worn on a long sleeve in some outrageous places, "Easter Sunday" just might take the traditional holiday lamb cake as the most head-scratching wide release of 2022. I mean, stupid me figured that a film starring a funny guy like R-rated comic Jo Koy would offer valid and hilarious reasons for connecting his first major foray onto the big screen with a springtime Resurrection feast and still release it on Aug. 5. Alas, it does not. Instead, a few tame, lame and obviously forced Koy stand-up bits, along with a cameo by Tiffany Haddish, as a kooky cop, play remarkably wrong-headed, too. The main story -- surrounded by more sinister silliness than you can throw a package of Peeps at -- really does simply focus on escapades linked to an Easter Sunday dinner at the home of Jo's mother, one of two constantly bickering matriarchs (Lydia Gaston and Tia Carrere) in a large, mostly Filipino-American family. Better smile with it when you get a chance, 'cause any real laughs come few and extremely far between.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: strong language and suggestive references; 1:36; $ and 1/2 out of $5

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