Thursday, June 22, 2023

'Asteroid City' does look cool; 'No Hard Feelings,' though, if it's a mess

"Asteroid City," the latest from director, co-writer, producer and certified oddball movie god Wes Anderson becomes his usual visual delight right from the start. And, even without much of an intriguing story, it is always a hoot to watch the parade of stars (see list on poster at left) waltzing in and out of a crowded project that still leans on creative crafts people to keep eyes dancing.

In this case, names such as Fernando Contreras Diaz (art director), Adam Stackhouse (production design), and four-time Oscar winner Milena Canonero (costume designer) deserve as much credit as anyone for keeping us watching this "imaginary" tale -- complete with "behind-the-scenes" machinations -- being shown on TV within the film. 

Of course, Anderson's most faithful enthusiasts likely will buy in immediately, and Bryan Cranston, as an Edwin R. Murrow, "See It Now" type, certainly helps by introducing the particulars in all their small-screen, black-and-white glory.

The fictional title location itself then arrives via train, automobile, and an assortment of peachy-pastel, desert-minded hues that work fabulously. Various and many human connections follow, even well before a more silly than scary sci-fi intruder enters the mostly wry -- and dry -- proceedings.

And if one of Anderson's messages somehow emphasizes the importance of communication by forcing us to realize how meager and meaningless special effects just had to be on '50s-era television, then so be it. By the way, when's that next blockbuster?

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: brief graphic nudity, smoking, and some suggestive material; 1:45; $ $ $ out of $5

Surprisingly, perhaps, the less written about Jennifer Lawrence's latest, the ironically titled "No Hard Feelings," definitely would be for the better.

I mean, a gratuitous F-bomb is the first word we hear from the mouth of the "Silver Linings Playbook" Best Actress, and we only come to despise her maddening Maddie Barker increasingly from there. Regardless, the cringe-worthy bimbo/bully/"Maneater" with severe daddy and money issues would seem like a perfect match for a raunchy comedy heroine.

The trouble is, neither Lawrence nor the lightweight premise -- about wealthy parents who basically hire Maddie to schtup their shy son (an OK Andrew Barth Feldman) before he goes to college -- hardly ever get funny at all, or daringly raunchy enough. 

Some of the smartest dialogue occurs early, such as when Maddie promises her new bosses (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) that "I will date your kid's brains out." Alas, the work of director Gene Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips soon turns into a salvage job for editors, since characters, discussions and events keep showing up out of nowhere, a sign that much of it must remain on the cutting-room floor.

Golden Raspberry Awards, here we come, assuming that hallowed group still even responds to "entertainment" such as this.

Rated "R" by MPAA: sexual conduct, language, some graphic nudity, and brief drug use; 1:43; $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also new Friday in theaters is "Past Lives." Streaming only: "The Stroll" (Max), "iNumber Number: Jozi Gold" (Netflix), and "Through My Window: Across the Sea" (Netflix).

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