Friday, October 7, 2022

'Amsterdam' stumbles; 'Sadness' scores; and 3 more stream for scares

Five paragraphs for as many new films opening wide and/or streaming this week (in alphabetical order):

Amsterdam: Beware the jinxes associated with a big cast in this long-awaited latest from the usually reliable David O. Russell, whose first-rate ensemble occasionally seems as totally confused as viewers likely will become. All of their big names define the poster at left, but even top dog Christian Bale appears to be channeling "Columbo" legend Peter Falk -- glass eye and all -- instead of leading the pack as a war hero-turned doctor and drug-addled best friend to John David Washington's gentlemanly lawyer. Racism, antisemitism, fascism, a seriously stern Robert De Niro, as an angry Marine General, and the very good Margot Robbie, as nurse, confidante and more to the attorney and their doc pal, also play key roles in a crowded screenplay that misses more than it hits. Rated "R"; ($ $ and 1/2 out of $5); in theaters everywhere.

Hellraiser: Just what we need more than three weeks before Halloween is a tepid and redundant "reimagining" of what started Clive Barker's horror franchise a legitimately startling 35 years ago. Of course, way too many sequels followed (in fact, there were nine, if anyone's really counting, including a 2018 quickie that went straight to DVD). Regardless, here comes another round of Pinhead and Friends, now with the infamous "Hell Priest" portrayed by trans actress Jamie Clayton ("Sense8" and "The L Word") in a continuation story and predominately Serbian production co-starring a pair of recognizable actors. They would be Hiam Abbass (from "Ramy," "Succession" and a host of fine foreign films) and Croatian superstar Goran Visnjic, both helping reintroduce the puzzle box that brings forth those ever-popular, sado-masochistic Cenobites to wreak havoc on dull young folks who simply don't know better. And, oh yeah, this goes on for two whole hours, thanks to the same directing/writing team that actually gifted us with "The Night House" only a year ago. Rated "R"; ($ $ out of $5); streaming on Hulu. 

Mr. Harrigan's Phone: The performance of 87-year-old Donald Sutherland, as a lovably creepy billionaire (which will make no sense until you see it), coupled with some thought-provoking incidents down the stretch, help make this latest screen adaptation of a Stephen King short story worth a look. Sutherland's crusty old title character hires young Craig (Colin O'Brien) to read books to him three times a week for $5 an hour and a wealth of life lessons -- filled as much with pessimism as common sense -- that come with the experience. First on the agenda is "Lady Chatterley's Lover," but please don't read anything into that except the literary excellence and, perhaps, King (here via always-competent writer/director John Lee Hancock) making a statement about schools still banning books. Another early task, Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," then offers a back-handed introduction to what Craig -- now played by Jaeden Martell from the King-inspired "It" movies -- gets to face as a high schooler. Ah, "the horror! The horror!" Rated "PG-13"; ($ $ $ out of $5); streaming on Netflix.

Triangle of Sadness: This week's best of the bunch already scored big at Cannes in winning that festival's Palme d'Or, but the pointed class satire from Ruben Óstlund ("Force Majeure" and "The Square") could give some a tart taste between laughs and unintended drama. For the sake of brevity, Óstlund's three-part tale features attractive models named Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson), carrying their rocky romance from a bickering meeting, through to a final relationship that's not the only thing that gets stranded on a faraway island. Óstlund's main course, though, arrives during a lengthy, memorable, and often laugh-out-loud second act. That's when it simply, uh, overflows with dishing on wealthy guests aboard a luxury yacht, including a "Captain's Dinner" sequence that may even astound (or something comparable). By the way, though the title comes from a snide comment about Carl using Botox between his eyebrows, real-life sadness occurred in late August when 32-year-old actress and model Dean died after what has been called "a sudden, unexpected illness." Rated "R"; ($ $ $ $ out of $5); in only a few select theaters.

Werewolf by Night: More like a Disney special than a full-blown film, this nifty, black-and-white offering from award-winning composer-turned director Michael Giacchino tackles a new realm in the Marvel Universe. In fact, it looks a lot like those ancient Universal horror movies, circa 1930s and beyond. You know the ones, features such as "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" and most noteworthy here, "The Wolf Man," which certainly inspired Marvel to take a flyer on the grand Gael Garcia Bernal to personify Jack, a ghoulish-looking nice guy who just might get a little nasty every full moon or so. The dark and moody opening sets the tone at the funeral of the former patriarch for the famous Bloodstone Family of world-class monster killers. One huge "Man-Thing" beast not-so-thrilled with the goings-on there is simply named Ted, and Jack even may find a friend in Elsa, a rough-and-tumble beauty in the Blackstone clan (played by Laura Donnelly). Naturally, with Giacchino in charge, his score fills the room, too, including a colorful musical surprise at the end. It all adds up to some promising stuff. Rated "TV-14"; ($ $ $ and 1/2); streaming on Disney+.

(Also opening only in theaters, but not seen is the kid-friendly "Lyle, Lyle Crocodile," Rated "PG," with a mix of live action and animation.)

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