Give or Take


In the weed hole.

(2020) Drama (Breaking Glass) Norbert Leo Butz, Jamie Effros, Joanne Tucker, Louis Cancelmi, Cheri Oteri, Annapurna Sriram, Jaden Waldman, Garry Mitchell, Shaun O’Hagan, Chris Fischer, Roya Shanks, Kyle Overstreet, Dennis Cunningham, Polly Lee, Jack Casey, Nathaniel Schultz, Kate Dearing, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Steve Ross, Ian P. Ryan, Paul Schuyler. Directed by Paul Riccio

 

A vital part of indie cinema is the city dweller return to their small-town home for self-reflection following some trauma or event, finding some kind of a) redemption, b) growth or c) peace. Sometimes, all three. These movies can be by-the-numbers and as such, offer little insight; however, they can also take a fresh look and shine a light on some aspect of our nature that we can relate to.

Said city boy is Martin (Effros), who has returned to his home on Cape Cod to attend his father’s funeral and settle his affairs. Martin isn’t particularly thrilled to be there; his father had always been a distant, critical and cold man who never warmed to his son. They were driven further apart after Martin’s mother passed away, and his father promptly came out as gay and took up with Ted (Butz), his yard landscaper who now lives in the house that Martin grew up in.

Both men have issues; Martin hears tales of his father’s warmth and generosity, traits he never displayed towards Martin, and feels some jealousy that others saw this side of his dad and he never did. Ted feels slighted that his lover had not changed his will and left everything to Martin, including the home that he has lived in for seven years and made so many wonderful memories in. A predatory real estate agent (Oteri) is after Martin to sell, confident she could get a nice seven-figure sum for the property. Ted doesn’t want to leave, but he doesn’t have a legal right to stay. The two men clash in all sorts of details about happens at the funeral. Ted thinks there’s some homophobia going on, but neither man, trying to deal with the grief they both feel in different ways, truly understands that the other is also grieving.

Riccio (who co-wrote the movie along with Effros) fails to resist the temptation to make all the characters in town quirky, although he doesn’t take it to the degree that it becomes annoying. Martin reconnects with his prickly teenage crush Emma (Tucker) who is married now – Martin himself has a high-maintenace girlfriend (Sriram) who is remarkably materialistic. He also befriends a little boy who hides in a water-filled garbage can, using it as a kind of DIY sensory deprivation tank. There is also the stoner pool guy Terrence (Cancelmi) who has a large hole in the ground where he likes to smoke weed and invites Martin to join him from time to time. He also dispenses pearls of wisdom that are very un-stoner-like.

Good use is made of the bucolic Cape Cod setting. The best part of the movie is the relationship between Ted and Martin. It’s generally contentious, and there are times you want to give each one a good shaking, but at others you marvel at the humanity they have. Each man is played as wounded and imperfect; Butz, in particular, shines here, shows Ted as sometimes overwhelmed in his grief.

Some have classified this as a LGBTQ film and I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate; it’s more of a film in which one of the main characters is gay, but it isn’t necessarily about his experience as a gay man. It appears that most people in town seem to accept Ted for who he is, but it would seem likely in a small New England town that he would have encountered some push back. That really isn’t explored here, though.

Overall, the tone is pretty low-key, almost to the point of lethargy. Some might find the tone unexciting, but in all honesty, I found this to be a satisfying slice of life that reminds us that yes, even our parents are capable of growth and change, and so are we. Solid, all around.

REASONS TO SEE: Complex, layered relationships.
REASONS TO AVOID: Might be a little too low-key for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Butz is a two-time Tony Award winner.
=BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Play, Spectrum, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
=CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/4/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Beautiful Boy
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Huda’s Salon

Slut in a Good Way (Charlotte a du fun)


Sexual politics are hot.

(2018) Comedy (Comedy Dynamics) Marguerite Bouchard, Romane Denis, Rose Adam, Anthony Therrien, Vassili Schneider, Claudia Bouvette, Nicolas Fontaine, Audrey Roger, Samuel Gauthier, Elizabeth Tremblay-Gagnon, Jules Roy Sicotte, Adrien Belugou, Alexandre Godbout, Marylou Belugou, Mariane Johnson, Alexandre Cabana, David Fleury, Emaria Doumbia, Sharon Igbui. Directed by Sophie Lorain

 

=Heartbroken Charlotte (Bouchard) is obsessing on ex-boyfriend Samuel (Cabana) who has dumped her because he has discovered he is, in fact, gay. The plucky 17-year-old French-Canadian girl nevertheless believes she can get him back. Her besties – cynical activist Mégane, and shy awkward Aube (Adam) seek to take her mind off her folly, and they do so by ducking into a big box toy store. There, they see something that captures their attention. No, not acres of playtoys – more like the yummy college boys who skateboard around the store and capture the attention even of anti-love Mégane. Not only do the guys excite Charlotte’s romantic instincts, they send her libido into overdrive as she works her way through the beds of the store’s male population.

This beautifully photographed French-Canadian film by second-time director Lorain takes a look at sexual politics, specifically the double standard when it comes to having sex. While it is fine for the boys to have a contest to see how many girls they can sleep with, Charlotte’s amorous adventures garner her a reputation and the derision not only of the boys, but also of her fellow girls.

Like a lot of teen sex comedies (and this can only loosely be categorized as one), there are no adults anywhere to be seen and so the girls make their way through a tricky minefield of morality and social customs pretty much on their own. Fortunately, the three main characters are richly drawn with lots of depth; you can’t say about any of them that they are one-note or archetypes. Instead, we get real, living, breathing teen girls who, yes, are beautiful, but also bicker, make mistakes and figure shit out.

While sex figures in the movie’s subject matter deeply, parents should be aware that the depictions of sex are never done in an exploitive manner, and are also shown to have consequences, which also differentiates it from male-oriented sex comedies. While there’s an overuse of Maria Callas singing “Habanera” from Carmen (and an almost Bollywood-style soundtrack which just seems a little too oddball, if there is such a thing), this is a movie that has a tremendous amount of heart and an overabundance of hormones. In short, just like most teenage girls.

REASONS TO SEE: A stark examination of sexual double standards. The girls are given distinct personalities of unusual depth. A European-style film from Canada.
REASONS TO AVOID: The soundtrack is a bit quirky.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity and sex as well as some drug use and teen drinking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The translation of the original French title is “Charlotte has fun.”
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Alamo On Demand, Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Kanopy, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, Tubi, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghost World
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Give or Take

Seobok: Project Clone


Ki Heon REALLY takes exception to being asked to wear a mask.

(2021) Science Fiction (Well Go USA) Park Bo-Gum, Gong Yoo, Jang Young-Nam, Woo-jin Jo, Byeong-eun Park, Maurice Turner Jr., Kwang-hoon Na, Mi-nam Jung, Eon-jeong Lee, Yang Hee-Woo, Andreas Fronk, Daniel Joey Albright, Han-ji Hyun, Leraldo Anzaldua, Edward Hong, Rebecca Jensen Uesugi, Shogo Miyakita, Erin Nicole Lundquist. Directed by Lee Yong-ju

 

=As our medical technology improves, we begin to approach areas of moral dilemmas that we might never have envisioned even a few years ago. Research on stem cells and human cloning promise breakthroughs in the not-so-distant future, but what will be the cost for developing these lines of science and medicine?

Ki Heon (Yoo) is a former secret service agent for South Korea who has been afflicted with a terminal brain tumor, hence the “former.” He is beset by guilt regarding some shady deeds in his past (which are never fully explored). And yet, his old boss Chief Ahn (Jo) calls to give him one last mission; to escort valuable research from a human cloning experiment to a safer place following the assassination of the American scientist who was involved in it.

Needing to feel useful again, Ki agrees and is surprised to discover that the research he’s escorting is actually a young man named Seobok (Bo-Gum) who is a successful, genetically engineered clone, but there’s more to him than meets the eye; his body manufactures stem cells that can cure any disease, which could render the human race virtually immortal. In addition, Seobok has developed astounding powers of telekinesis, as well as the ability to generate force waves from his body.

They don’t get very far before they are attacked by a group of mercenaries, working for a group that wants control of the clone for themselves. The two fight off the killers, and go on the run, trying to avoid various would-be kidnappers and killers while slowly beginning to develop a grudging bond. For Seobok who has lived his entire life in a lab, the road trip is nothing short of miraculous, whereas Ki realizes that the young man he is transporting holds the key to his own personal survival – assuming they don’t get shot to pieces first.

The filmmakers spend a great deal of time focusing on the moral dilemmas of this kind of scientific research, and there are some truly thought-provoking points brought up. There is an intelligence here that is sometimes hard to find in sci-fi films, especially those that have actions sequences, which this one does, although not so many as you might think. However, when there is action, it is done competently well. The special effects are also pretty nifty.

Yoo, one of Korea’s biggest stars, is best-known to American audiences for his work in Train to Busan. He does some stellar work here, giving Ki layers upon layers; when we first meet him, Ki is wallowing in self-pity and something of a jerk. As we get to know him better through Seobok, we begin to see the pain that has caused him to put up those walls, and understand him a little better as a man. It’s not Oscar-level work, but considering this is essentially meant to be a genre film, it is surprisingly strong.

As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t a lot of action sequences here and for the most part, the movie goes pretty slowly, focusing on the ethical questions. For cerebral science fiction fans, that might well be candy, but for those looking for a space opera-like hoot, they will find it to be a Sour Patch Kid of a film. For what it is, however, it is better than we have any right to expect and for those who like their science fiction to be truly speculative, this is one worth seeking out.

Just a quick note; the film is available both in dubbed and subtitled versions. Not every streaming service carries it in both formats, so be sure you know what you’re getting when you order. The DVD/Blu-Ray edition does contain both versions, so if you still go the physical media route, that might be your best bet.

REASONS TO SEE: Surprisingly thoughtful for a genre film. Strong performances throughout, particularly by Yoo.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little slow-paced and heavy on the exposition.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was originally set to be an end-of-the-year tentpole release in 2020 for its Korean distributor, but the pandemic delayed release until April 2021, when it debuted simultaneously in theaters and on the Korean streaming service TVING.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Plus, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/3/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Never Let Me Go
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Slut in a Good Way

New Releases for the Week of March 4, 2022


THE BATMAN

(Warner Brothers) Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Matt Reeves

As Bruce Wayne begins his second year as the masked vigilante known as the Batman, he goes up against a sadistic killer leaving cryptic clues that start to point at Bruce’s own past – and force him to face the corruption that has long plagued Gotham City. This will be the first exclusive theatrical release for the studio in more than a year.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material)

Aadavallu Meeku Johaarlu

(Sri Lakshmi Venkateshwara) Rashmika Mandanna, Radhika Sarathkumar, Kushboo, Sharwanand. No plot summaries currently available online. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Asking For It

(Saban) Kiersey Clemons, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexandra Shipp, Ezra Miller. A waitress in a small-town diner who has been sexually assaulted forms a bond with a group of women who are determined to take on a patriarchal society and fight for their idea of justice.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for disturbing and violent content, sexual material, nudity, and language throughout)

Hey Sinamika

(Global One) Aditi Rao Hydari, Dulquer Salmaan, Kajal Aggarwal, Yogi Babu. A beautiful weather scientist falls in love with a quirky but loving man. Their relationship proceeds nicely for a couple of years until the arrival of a wild card.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

Jhund

(ZEE) Amitabh Bachchan, Abhinay Raj Singh, Ganesh Deshmukh, Vicky Kadian. A retired teacher, concerned about the situation of underprivileged children, organizes a soccer program to get kids into sports, off the streets and away from criminal elements.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Universal Citywalk
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Bridesmaid in Love (Sunday)
A Day to Die (Friday)
After Yang (Friday)
Autumn Girl (Tuesday)
The Bombardment (Wednesday)
The Changed (Friday)
Fresh (Friday)
If Walls Could Talk (Sunday)
The Invisible Thread (Friday)
Lucy and Desi (Friday)
Meskina (Friday)
Stolen By Their Father (Saturday)
The Weekend Away (Thursday)
You Can Never Go Home Again (Friday)
You Will Remember Me (Friday)

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Batman
Lucy and Desi

Creation Stories


Alan McGee is ignored in his own office.

(2021) Music Biography (RLJE) Ewen Bremner, Leo Flanagan, Richard Jobson, Rori Hawthorn, Tess Rowe, Ciaran Lawless, Jack Paterson, Gerry Knotts, James Hicks, Irvine Welsh, Mickey Gooch Jr., Tom Dunlea, Suki Waterhouse, Elysia Welch, Seána Kerslake, Theren Raufman, Michael Socha, Thomas Turgoose, Paul Gallagher, Thomas Grant, Mel Raido, Siobhan Redmond. Directed by Nick Moran

 

In the late-1980s through mid-1990s, alternative rock was more or less dominated by the United Kingdom. With apologies to Seattle grunge and hip-hop (which was in its formative era back then), American indie music tended to follow trends set in England months and years earlier. It is startling for some American music fans who are interested in the era to discover that several different sub-genres were essentially brought into the limelight by one man and his record label; Scotsman Alan McGee and Creation Records.

As a young boy in Glasgow, McGee (Flanagan) lip-synched and played air guitar to Bowie while his abusive father (Jobson) despaired of his son ever making anything of himself. With the support of his mother (Redmond) and sister (Hawthorn), he managed to survive with ego intact and after seeing the Sex Pistols on TV, determined to move to London and start a punk band. Unfortunately, his timing was bad and he arrived just as the punk era was more or less fading out.

But the now twenty-something McGee (Bremner), while not himself talented as a musician, knew talent when he heard it. He found the Jesus and Mary Chain and became their manager, using the profits from that relationship to pour into a record label that he named Creation, named after a 60s band that he admired. The band was a seat-of-the-pants operation early on but McGee had an uncanny knack of discovering bands and trends – like acid house (Primal Scream), shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine) and indie pop (Teenage Fan Club) before they became huge. But his most notable discovery was Oasis, the band that spearheaded the Britpop craze of the Nineties, and was for a time the biggest band in the world.

But as all rock docs let us know, the success was fueled by excess as McGee became hooked on ecstasy, cocaine and eventually, heroin. After his drug usage got to a point (he famously claims that he doesn’t remember anything about 1993 except signing Oasis) that he had a breakdown, he managed to clean up, but the cost to his personal life was high.

Having been a rock critic during the heyday of Creation, I can testify to the influential status of the label. While they weren’t the only influential label of their time, there really hasn’t been a label like them before or since. Moran’s somewhat fictionalized account of McGee’s life captures the era well, using montages, archival footage and New Music Express headlines. For someone who was in tune with what was going on across the pond, it brought up a lot of memories.

For those who were less in the loop, it might all be a bit confusing – the introduction of since-disgraced British DJ Jimmy Saville late in the movie might not resonate with those who aren’t aware of the reasons McGee despised him so deeply, for example. Bremner plays McGee in a somewhat over-the-top manner which ordinarily might be off-putting, yet is perfect for the task at hand. McGee was (and is) larger than life and it is a tough assignment to get his personality just right and in many ways Bremner’s portrayal doesn’t do McGee justice, but to be fair, nobody could.

Moran’s directorial style seems heavily influenced by Danny Boyle in his Trainspotting days (Boyle is a producer here, not coincidentally) and yes, the hyperactive style that Boyle made famous back then works wonderfully here. There’s a lot of cheeky humor here, some of it of the meme-worthy variety, that seems in tandem with McGee’s personality. It may grate at times, but I found it amusing anyway.

If there is a problem here, it’s just that it feels so much like every other rock biography out there, with enough reverence to be nearly hagiographic, but enough irreverence to make it rock and roll. Moran also uses the hoary old conceit of telling most of the story as a flashback, using an interview that McGee does with a fictional but comely interviewer (Waterhouse) in Los Angeles as a springboard for his anecdotes.

McGee is not as well-known over here in the States as he should be, but thankfully, the music he helped bring to the world speaks for itself and there is plenty of it on the soundtrack. Even so, the movie is definitely all about McGee and his personality which permeates the film. This is isn’t a movie whose innovation will match the music that it chronicles, but it is serviceable enough a story and the music is good enough to carry the movie through.

REASONS TO SEE: A cheeky sense of humor. A great soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: Seems a bit too much like most rock biographies.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a shit ton of profanity, drug use, some violence and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made it’s world premiere at the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival, which is also where McGee was from and where much of the early portion of the movie is set.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC Plus, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/2/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews; Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kill Your Friends
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Seobok: Project Clone

Butter (2020)


The intensity of a teen boy confronting his own end.

(2020) Dramedy (Blue Fox) Alex Kersting, Mira Sorvino, Mykelti Williamson, McKaley Miller, Annabeth Gish, Brian Van Holt, Jack Griffo, Monte Markham, Ravi Patel, John Kassir, Jake Austin Walker, Rachel Wotherspoon, Adain Bradley, Natalie Valerin, Matthew Gold, Nikki Tuazon, Jessie Rabideau, Danielle Langlois, Walker Barnes, Shannon Kiely, Taj Speights, Olivia Baptista. Directed by Paul A. Kaufman

 

We are a society that demands conformity and regards those who fail to conform with suspicion and, just as often, with derision. Nowhere is that more apparent than in high schools, where those who don’t “fit in” often become the targets of bullying. Sometimes, just getting out of bed and going to school can be an at of heroism.

Butter (Kersting) is a morbidly obese high school junior in a suburban high school in Phoenix, where his parents lead more-than-comfortable lives. His mom (Sorvino) adores him and is his rock; she is also his enabler, often soothing his depression with his favorite food. To his dad (Van Holt), Butter is a disappointment, when he bothers to notice him at all. Oh, and the name? It’s an unwelcome nickname foisted on him after a group of bullies forced him to eat a whole stick of butter. Like most things, Butter just accepts it and lives with it.

He yearns for friendships, particularly from Anna (Miller), the prettiest girl in school whom he has a major crush on. He is a talented musician, a soulful sax player which his music teacher (Williamson) has noticed; he tries to get Butter to join the jazz band but Butter isn’t interested in standing in front of people and giving them another opportunity to make him a target. He is content to stay at home on the Internet, where he can create his own persona as a sensitive jock from another school, which enables him to chat with Anna, whom he believes wouldn’t give him the time of day if she knew who he really was.

After one lunch room humiliation too many, Butter reaches a breaking point (or, perhaps more aptly, a melting point). He creates a website where he announces his intention to eat himself to death on live stream on New Year’s Eve at midnight. He figures nobody will care anyway.

A curious thing happens, though; when he arrives at school the next day, people are treating him differently, like a hero rather than a target. A couple of popular boys take him under their wing and introduce him to others in their circle. For the first time in his life, he feels accepted and it changes his outlook on things. He even begins to lose weight, quite unintentionally.

But nobody is trying to convince him to change his mind. Nobody seems to think he’ll actually go through with it, and nobody reports his intentions to an adult – in fact, they advise him to password-protect the site so that adults can’t access it. In fact, his friends somewhat ghoulishly help him plan the menu for his final meal. But will Butter go through with it, now that he has something to live for? And if he doesn’t go through with it, will things end up being worse than before?

The issue of teen bullying has been tackled in documentaries and films for quite a while now; Erin Jade Lange, who wrote the book that this is based on, has written several that include teen bullying as a central theme. In that sense, there isn’t a lot of subject matter that’s particularly new here. That said, though, the movie packed a lot of resonance in it, especially for those who have endured the kind of hazing both physical and psychological that Butter endures (his real name, by the way, isn’t revealed until near the end of the film, and I won’t tell you what it is here). I have to admit, for the sake of transparency, that I was bullied during that time in my life, although not as severely as depicted here. I often felt the same way Butter did, and can relate to him eating to relieve the pain. To this day, I use food as a means of self-medication.

And to be honest, this isn’t to point fingers at anyone; I’ve forgiven those who were mean to me back then and moved on long ago. This just is to explain why I do feel an empathy for Butter – not just the character, but the film – that others might not. And quite frankly, there are some moments in the movie that brought tears to my eyes, including one in which Butter’s mother realizes the depth of his pain and how she has failed to see it. It’s a credit to Kersting and Sorvino that the scene works so well; it could have been a moment that came off as maudlin (and, to be fair, others do come off that way) but it winds up being absolutely heartbreaking and cathartic. Kersting, in his first lead role, gives Butter a great deal of personality. He feels like a real kid with real suffering. Miller also does a good job with Anna, who turns out to have more depth to her than even Butter gave her credit for.

This isn’t always an easy movie to watch, and at some times it tries to use a light touch when a heavier hand would have done, and vice versa, but it does hit the mark more often than it misses, and becomes, overall, a really moving film. Not everyone will be as affected by it as I have, but those who can look back at (or are right in the middle of) their high school years with bittersweet, conflicting feelings may well find this movie just what they need to get by.

REASONS TO SEE: Really speaks to the outsider in all of us, particularly those who have been teased for their weight. Kersting is very personable. The cast is strong throughout, particularly Sorvino who has a wonderful relationship with Kersting. Some very wrenching moments.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit maudlin in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some serious adult themes involving teen suicide, profanity, violence and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Based on a 2012 young adult novel by Erin Jade Lange.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/28/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews; Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Virgin Suicides
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Creation Stories

Cyrano


The melancholy nature of love.

(2021) Musical (MGM/United Artists) Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Monica Dolan, Bashir Salahuddin, Joshua James, Anjana Vasan, Ruth Sheen, Glen Hansard, Sam Amidon, Scott Folan, Mark Benton, Richard McCabe, Peter Wright, Tim McMullan, Mark Bagnall, Mike Shepherd, Paul Biddiss, Katy Owen, Paul Hunter, Celeste Dodwell. Directed by Joe Wright

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, MGM Studios was known for their classic musicals, from those created especially for the screen to those fresh from the stages of Broadway. Times have changed since then; musicals are less popular with theatrical audiences, MGM is no longer the dominant studio in Hollywood (although they did at one point buy United Artists, a studio best known for being the home to the Bond franchise). Earlier than that, however, French playwright Edmund Rostand wrote the classic romance Cyrano de Bergerac, which always (it seemed to me) to be perfect fodder for a musical. There have been several attempts at setting the classic Rostand play to music, but this one finally gives the story the music it deserves.

Most of you are likely familiar with the story, even if you didn’t read about it in high school Lit; Cyrano de Bergerac (Dinklage) is a well-known man whose soulful poetry and rapier-like wit is the talk of the town. Sharper still is his skill with the sword. He is the type of man even in 18th century France who should have his pick of women, but one thing holds him back; his height (in the original, Cyrano was self-conscious about his prominent nose).

He is deeply in love with his friend, the beautiful Roxanne (Bennett) who is also being pursued by the pompous and devious Count De Guiche (Mendelsohn), who is in charge of His Majesty’s armies in one of the many wars France always seemed to find itself involved in back then. Cyrano is a soldier, but it is with one of his new recruits, handsome Christian (Harrison) to whom Roxanne has given her heart. In turn, Christian is smitten with Roxanne.

But Roxanne wants to be wooed, not just with flowers and longing looks, but with passionate love letters. Christian might have the makings of a fine soldier, but he is completely ill-equipped for this kind of warfare and Cyrano, wanting above all else for the woman he loves to be happy, agrees to write the letters for Christian. But the deception soon proves costly, for everyone involved.

Joe Wright, after helming such lush period fare as Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, had gone on a bit of a cold streak in the last few years, but shows himself back with a vengeance. His sweeping camera movements are perfect for the scope and romantic sentiment of the material, and the production design lends itself for just that kind of direction.

It doesn’t hurt that he gets one of the finest actors of our generation, Peter Dinklage, to play the lead. Dinklage doesn’t have a heroic singing voice, but he has an honest one and it is perfectly suited to the music, written by the brothers Dessner of the National (that band’s frontman, Matt Berninger, wrote the lyrics along with his wife Carin Besser, who also fulfills the same function for the National). The music is decidedly non-Broadway, and like the music of that band has a deeply wistful, romantic quality that is absolutely perfect for the story.

The off-Broadway stage play was adapted for the screen by Erica Schmidt (who also wrote the stage play), who happens to be Dinklage’s wife, and to further add to the nepotism element, Bennett is married to Wright. So it’s no surprise that the cast and crew seem incredibly comfortable working together and that comfort shows on the screen.

I can probably continue spouting off superlatives for this incredible film, which deserves all of them and more, but I don’t want to be boring (which this movie definitely is not). Anyone who has ever loved someone who didn’t love them back will relate to Cyrano’s plight, and for my money, getting Dinklage to play this role was a stroke of genius. Dinklage has always excelled at expressing emotions non-verbally and in the scene where Roxanne informs Cyrano of her love for Christian, it is absolutely heartbreaking to watch Dinklage’s reaction as Cyrano.

Schmidt also modernized Roxanne somewhat; she was a bit shallow in Rostand’s play, and there is a certain amount of that here as well (her attraction is essentially to Christian’s looks initially), but Roxanne wants more than just a pretty face. She is also not the luminous, nearly unattainable goddess that Roxanne is often portrayed as, but more of a pretty girl next door sort. Some might find her a bit too ordinary to inspire the depth of feeling in all three of the men here, but I kind of like that Schmidt made her less of an object here.

This is a movie that goes for your emotional throat and never releases it once the fangs are in, which of course is what Rostand wanted to do all along when he wrote his play more than a century ago. There are some incredible moments here – the soldiers fatalistic song “Where I Fall” is an absolute highlight, and Wright employs pro singers like Glen Hansard of the Swell Season, and Sam Amidon. I know that the initial plan was to release this in time for Oscar consideration, but that plan changed which is a shame because I suspect that the film would have some impact on the nominations. This is very clearly the best movie musical since Les Miserables and certainly one of the best movies of the year, even this early in it.

REASONS TO SEE: Dinklage is perfectly cast and does a fabulous job. The music is absolutely amazing. Lush production values. A movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. Rough around the edges where it needs to be. The best movie musical in ten years.
REASONS TO AVOID: Bennett might be a little bit too “girl next door” to be Roxanne.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, some of it brutal; there’s also suggestions of intimacy, brief profanity and mature thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dinklage and Bennett reprise their roles here from the stage version, which they premiered in Connecticut in 2018 before a brief off-Broadway run in 2019.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews; Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Roxanne
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
Butter

The Unmaking of a College


Hampshire College president Miriam Nelson is surrounded by disgruntled students.

(2022) Documentary (Zeitgeist) Ken Burns, Miriam “Mim” Nelson, Marlon Becerra, Margaret Cerullo, Nya Johnson Andrew Del Banco, Cheyenne Palacio-McCarthy, Moon West, Holden Tharp, Andrew Gordon, Rhys MacArthur, Joshua Berman, Adam Falk, Salman Hameed, Adele Simmons, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Mingda Zhao, John Buckley, Lynda Pickbourn, Annie Wood. Directed by Amy Goldstein

 

College campuses have traditionally been a hotbed when it comes to demonstrations for causes. From civil rights, to antiwar demonstrations in the Sixties right up through now, when protests against climate change denial and racial injustice continue to pop up in colleges across the country, student protests have long been an instigator for social change.

Hampshire College is, located in the beautiful Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts, along with four other schools – Amherst College, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It was founded in 1970 as an experimental school which offered no set majors and allowed students to select their own curriculum. As most private liberal arts colleges tend to be, the tuition is pricy.

In 2018, the school selected their eighth president – Dr. Miriam “Mim” Nelson, whose background was as the CEO of Newman’s Own Foundation. She has also been a policy advisor on health and nutrition under President Obama. However, during the winter break in 2019, she sent out a disturbing e-mail, indicating that the college was in severe financial difficulties and was in need of a “strategic partner” to help extricate them. She scheduled a meeting while students were out on break, which seemed odd. She also announced that the school would not be accepting a freshman class in Fall 2019. For a school that relies nearly completely on tuition and fees for their budget, this would be a devastating blow, and could easily lead to the closing of the school altogether. Certainly, it would mean significant layoffs at the conclusion of the 2018-19 academic year.

The more that students heard, the more disturbing it became. It turned out that Dr. Nelson had not only not consulted with students or faculty about any of this, but she also hadn’t consulted members of her own board. In the open meetings, she used a lot of corporate-speak to discuss the financial situation with the students, who began to suspect that something was amiss. Did Dr. Nelson have ulterior motives for these sudden and unprecedented moves?

It turned out that the lack of transparency hid some things that were less than savory. Students, furious that their education was being put at risk, decided to do something about it. They staged a massive sit-in in the President’s office, with a consistent presence for 74 days. The organization that the students displayed was admirable, scheduling people so that there was a round-the-clock presence but allowing students to still attend classes.

Hampshire alum Goldstein obviously feels a kinship with the students, and this is mostly their story. We hear almost nothing other than the public statements from Dr. Nelson, or from most of the trustees with the exception of those who were in opposition to the college president. If the narrative feels one-sided, well, that’s because it is.

Most of the voices we hear are those directly involved with the story, with the exception of Hampshire alumnus Ken Burns, the noted documentary filmmaker who waxes poetic about his time at the college. The students are for the most part, articulate and interesting; the faculty members and administrators are also equally passionate about their affection for the school.

Of course, the kids can be accused of having tunnel vision – that comes with the territory. Also, being young, they can be irritating and condescending at times; I found their habit of snapping their fingers instead of applauding to be pretentious, but that’s just one curmudgeon talking, I suppose. But the great failing here is that Goldstein really never manages to make this more than a local issue; although she attempts to connect this to alarming trends in higher education, she isn’t really successful at doing so, so the documentary may well fail to appeal to those outside of New England.

But the students themselves are certainly passionate and there is some comfort to be had from that. Change has, as I mentioned early, traditionally begun on college campuses and our nation is badly in need of some right about now. It’s good to know that there are students out there still that are willing to fight to make good changes happen.

REASONS TO SEE: Indicates that there are larger problems going on in higher education.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fails to really connect the dots to what those issues are, other than the regional one for this specific school.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The sit-in in Dr. Nelson’s office lasted 74 days, the longest on a college campus to date.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Kino Marquee
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews; Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: American Teacher
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Cyrano

New Releases for the Week of February 25, 2022


STUDIO 666

(Open Road) Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Rami Jaffee, Whitney Cummings, Leslie Grossman, Will Forte, Jenna Ortega, Jeff Garlin. Directed by BJ McDonnell

Rock and roll hall of famers Foo Fighters settle into a mansion in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles to record their tenth album, unaware of the terrifying history of the place. Soon, frontman Dave Grohl will find himself dealing with sinister forces that threaten the lives of the band and worse yet, getting the album done on time for the label.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, and sexual content)

Bheemla Nayak

(Sithara) Pawan Kalyan, Rana Daggubati, Nithya Menen, Samyuktha Menon. Sparks fly when the egos of a police officer and retired army officer collide.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary, CMX Plaza Orlando, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Butter

(Blue Fox) Alex Kersting, Mira Sorvino, Mykelti Williamson, McKaley Miller. An obese high school boy, tired of being bullied and marginalized, decides to commit suicide in a live stream online on New Year’s Eve, and tells everyone so. As the day approaches, he finds himself reveling in a newfound popularity, but can he go through with it?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, CMX Merritt Square, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content involving suicide, crude sexual material, language , and drinking – all involving teens)

Cyrano

(United Artists) Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn. The classic Edmund Rostand novel Cyrano de Bergerac is remade into a lush musical, with songs supplied by members of The National.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, CMX Daytona, CMX Merritt Square
Rating: PG-13 (for some strong violence, thematic and suggestive material, and brief language)

The Desperate Hour

(Roadside Attractions) Naomi Watts, Colton Gobbo, Sierra Maltby. A recent widow, while out jogging in the Colorado woods, discovers there’s an active shooter at her son’s school. As she races back, she becomes aware that her intervention is required if her son is to survive. From acclaimed Australian director Philip Noyce.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and some strong language)

Desperate Riders

(Lionsgate) Trace Adkins, Drew Walters, Vanessa Lee Evigan, Victoria Pratt. A young ,man recruits a gunslinger to help rescue his mother wo has been kidnapped by a notorious outlaw. However, it soon becomes unclear whether the woman wants to be saved.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Western
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: PG-13 (for language, thematic elements, drug content and some suggestive material)

Drive My Car

(Janus) Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Yoo-rim Park. A widowed stage director, contracted to mount a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima, finds the road to moving on with his life in the unlikely hands of the taciturn driver assigned by the theater festival to chauffer him around town.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian
(Friday through Sunday only)
Rating: NR

Gangubai Kathlawadi

(Pen Marudhar) Alia Bhatt, Tareeq Ahmed Khan, Abhinay Raj Singh, Ajay Devgan. A woman defies local conventions to become a major player in the Indian underworld.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime Biography
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC West Oaks, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Universal Citywalk
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Against the Ice (Wednesday)
Big Gold Brick (Friday)
The Burning Sea (Friday)
Caged Birds (Friday)
The Desperate Hour (Friday)
Destination Fear: Trail to Terror (Thursday)
Driven to Murder (Sunday)
Family Squares (Friday)
Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez (Saturday)
Hellbender (Thursday)
I’ll Find You (Friday)
Love, Tom (Thursday)
Love is Colorblind (Tuesday)
My Wonderful Life (Monday)
No Exit (Friday)
The Pink Cloud (Tuesday)
Restless (Friday)
Servants (Friday)
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Homecoming (Friday)

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Against the Ice
Butter
Cyrano
Family Squares
I’ll Find You
Love, Tom
No Exit
Studio 666