Thursday, May 11, 2023

Not much truly deep in 'The Next Chapter,' but Fox doc 'Still' reveals

Can anyone guess what those famously mischievous girls from "Book Club" have been up to since their unexpected hit of 2018? 

Well, apparently simply much of the same stuff many of us did to get ourselves through the scary world pandemic, that is, before this not-so-quiet film quartet decided to trade Zoom chats for Italian wines and the latest zany adventures now documented in their new "Book Club: The Next Chapter."  

You see, one of the four golden-age besties has decided to get married -- and if you can't guess the actual bride in the first 30 minutes, you simply haven't seen enough mediocre movies -- so let's do the bachelorette party in Tuscany. (By the way, book readers may care that "The Alchemist" becomes the sequel's minimally discussed tome of choice in replacing the original's "Fifty Shades of Grey.")

And what better way for fate to intervene in dream-chasing than to let hotel magnate Vivian (Jane Fonda, still perhaps the cast knockout at 85), restaurateur Carol (Mary Steenburgen), federal judge Sharon (Candice Bergen), and widowed fashion plate Diane (Diane Keaton) enjoy lifelong pursuits in Rome and Venice while wearing designer clothing and dropping naughty, eye-rolling jokes.

As in the first "Club," Bergen's tart-tongued jurist steals the show in the laughs department by, among other things, forming a mutual admonition society with a police chief marvelously portrayed by Giancarlo Giannini. The legal-authority horseplay also allows the legendary latter to walk away with interesting old-man acting honors over Don Johnson, Andy Garcia and Craig T. Nelson, the American trio back again in their same nice-guy roles. Antonioni or Fellini, though, are nowhere in sight.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some strong language and suggestive material; 1:47; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5 (Opening Friday in theaters just about everywhere.)

Despite the clever title, "Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie" is actually a damn good documentary from director Davis Guggenheim ("Waiting for Superman" and the Oscar-worthy "An Inconvenient Truth").

Uh, still, the film does offer an array of clips from Fox's many cinematic ventures and a pair of Emmy Award-winning TV sitcoms. It's the way, though, that Guggenheim sorts them all into such meaningful and memorable companion pieces to the popular actor's own moving words that shows off the humanity of a courageous man whose small physical stature belies a massive heart still beating strong.

Of course, for more than 25 years now, Fox has become the beloved public face leading the war against Parkinson's disease. The falls and significant breaks/bruises that come with it are all part of a great personal story based on Fox's four books and filled with more hope and humor than sadness and suffering. Blessings and good thoughts all around.

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language; 1:35; $ $ $ $ out of $5 (Streaming on AppleTV+ and in select theaters.)

Other films opening Friday theatrically: "Blackberry," "Fool's Paradise," "Hypnotic," and "Knights of the Zodiac"; Streaming only: "Crater" (on Disney+) and "The Mother" (Netflix).

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