New Releases for the Week of October 1, 2021


VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE

(Columbia) Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu. Directed by Andy Serkis

Eddie Brock continues to have problems reigning his alien symbiote Venom in, but all that changes when serial killer Cletus Kasady gets a symbiote of his own, the evil Carnage.

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

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material and suggestive references)

The Addams Family 2

(United Artists) Starring the voices of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Wallace Shawn. Everyone’s favorite creepy and kooky family decide to take one last family vacation in their haunted camper in an attempt to reclaim the bond that they once had before the kids began to want a life of their own. But this will take them out of their element and into an America that may not be ready for them.

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

Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide (also on Premium VOD)
Rating: PG (for macabre and rude humor, violence and language)

American Night

(Saban) Emile Hirsch, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Paz Vega, Jeremy Piven. When a highly prized Andy Warhol original appears on the market, a ruthless New York City art dealer and the head of the New York crime syndicate will stop at nothing to obtain it.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for violence, sexual content, nudity, and language throughout)

The Jesus Music

(Lionsgate) Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Toby Mac, Kirk Franklin. The story of how Contemporary Christian music rose from a Sixties counterculture movement to become a worldwide phenomenon.

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

Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, CMX Lakeland Square
Rating: PG-13 (for some drug material and thematic elements)

The Many Saints of Newark

(Warner Brothers) Michael Gandolfini, Vera Farmiga, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta. The prequel to the legendary HBO series charts the rise of Tony Soprano in the volatile streets of Newark as he rises in the crime family, fueled by the example of a beloved Uncle whom he idolizes.

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

Genre: Crime
Now Playing: Wide (also on HBO Max)
Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual content and some nudity)

Prisoners of the Ghostland

(RLJE) Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley. A bank robber with little or no moral compass is sprung from jail by a ruthless warlord who wants him to find his adopted daughter who has run away. She is in the wilds of the Ghostland, and he has five days to find her, otherwise the suit that he is locked into will self-destruct and him with it. Cage has said this is the wildest movie he has ever done, and that’s saying something.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: NR

Republic

(Zee) Sai Dharam Tej, Aishwarya Rajesh, Jagapathi Babu, Ramya Krishnan. A corrupt system protects The Collector, a ruthless man who runs his country without pity or conscience. Brave men must take on an entire system to bring him down.

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

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary
Rating: NR

Titane

(Neon) Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Lais Salameh. A father is reunited with his son who has been missing for ten years.

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

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Avenue 16 Melbourne, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, CMX Plaza Orlando
Rating: R (for strong violence and disturbing material, graphic nudity, sexual content, and language)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

The Amityville Moon (Tuesday)
Bingo Hell
Black as Night
Coming Home in the Dark
Diana: The Musical
Falling for Figaro
The Ghost and Molly McGee
The Guilty
Implanted
Mayday
Stop and Go
There’s Someone Inside Your House
(Wednesday)
The Universality of It All
V/H/S/94
(Wednesday)
Witch Hunt

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Guilty
The Jesus Music
The Many Saints of Newark
Stop and Go
Venom: Let There Be Carnage


The Mad Women’s Ball (Le bal des folles)


Talking to yourself makes for better conversation.

(2020) Drama (Amazon) Mélanie Laurent, Lou de Laáge, Emanuelle Bercot, Benjamin Voisin, Cédric Kahn, Lomane de Dietrich, Christophe Montenez, Coralie Russier, Alice Barnole, Lauréna Thellier, Martine Schambacher, Martine Chevallier, André Marcon, Valérie Stroh, Grégoire Bonnet, Pierre-Antoine Deborde, Morgan Perez, Pierre Renverseau, Laura Balasuriya. Directed by Mélanie Laurent

 

With the draconian abortion law enacted by Texas (and eyed eagerly by other Red States), the assault on the bodily autonomy of women continues unabated by a vicious patriarchy intent on turning women into Stepford Wives, barefoot and pregnant, mindless and opinion-free whose only role is to squeeze out more white males to perpetuate the patriarchy. These are the headlines of the 21st century.

They aren’t anything new. In the 19th century, women were expected to conform to societal norms and France was no different than anywhere else. Women who were “difficult” (read as “having opinions of their own”) who longed to enjoy the same rights as men were often diagnosed with some sort of mental illness. In Paris, they’d be sent to the notorious Salpêriére asylum where they were subjected to abominable “treatments” that were little more than legalized torture.

Young Eugénie (de Laáge) is the daughter of a wealthy, controlling man (Kahn) who is at his wit’s end with his daughter who often says and does things that scandalize the family. She wants nothing more than to hang out in Bohemian Montmartre, smoking cigarettes and reading poetry – what the chic set does. She keeps her brother Theophile’s (Voisin) homosexuality a secret in return to being smuggled to the cafes she so loves.

But Eugénie has a bit of a problem; she is able to communicate with the dead. Contact with them puts her into a convulsive-like state, although she is learning to master the situation. However, it only adds to her already tenuous reputation and when her father finds out about it, he commits her to Salpêriére. There, she will be under the treatment of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot (Bonnet) whose methods are brutal, to say the least; he forces women to sit in ice baths for hours, locks them up in solitary confinement in darkness, conducts examinations with medieval-looking instruments.

Eugénie however manages to befriend head nurse Geneviéve (Laurent) particularly after telling her that her deceased sister is aware of the hundreds of letters that the nurse has written her after her death. Despite falling afoul of nurse Jeanne (Bercot), Eugénie is able to against the odds maintain her spirit, but how long can it survive in a place like this? The upcoming ball in which the madwomen of the asylum are permitted to socialize with the citizens of Paris may provide her that opportunity.

This is the sixth film Laurent has directed in the last ten years (in addition to a busy acting schedule), and her confidence and assuredness is obvious. As an actress herself, she is able to coax some amazing performances from her charges and de Laáge, who previously worked with Laurent in Breathe, is the beneficiary. Her large doe-like eyes glisten with excitement and intelligence, as she is eager to experience all the wonders of life in 1880s Paris for herself. Watching that fire slowly being leeched out of her eyes is a master class in cinematic performance.

But de Laáge isn’t alone as the cast is uniformly strong in their performances. This is Laurent’s first period piece as a director, but you’d never know it; she captures the misogyny and brutality of the era quite well. And despite the fact that the action takes place nearly 140 years ago, its relevance to our own era seems quite clear.

The movie does move at it’s own pace which some American audiences will find slow; it is also not a short, easy viewing. It will require some attention from the viewer and that’s not always easy to supply when watching at home where the distractions are often overwhelming when watching movies in your bedroom or living room.

There are definitely some scenes that are hard to watch, but as The Wrap’s Marya Gates put it, this is a love letter to the power of women. The resilience of Eugénie in the face of hardship, abandoned by those who should have loved and protected her, is inspiring. It reminds me of what some of the activists in the Pro-Choice movement in Texas are accomplishing, fighting the ongoing battle against aging white men who do not have their best interests at heart.

REASONS TO SEE: Strong acting performances all around. A look at 19th century feminism and misogyny and relates it to modern times.
REASONS TO AVOID: Slow-paced and a little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nudity and sexuality, some brief profanity, violence and a rape.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on a novel by Victoria Mas, a 34-year-old Sorbonne graduate who has lived in the United States for the past eight years.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/29/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews; Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hysteria
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Heval

Emergence: Out of the Shadows


Some trains don’t take you where you want to go.

(2021) Documentary (SHER) Alex Sangha, Kayden Bhangu, Jag Nagra, Jaspal Sangha, Avtar Nagra, Harv Nagra, Rajwent Nagra. Directed by Vinay Giridhar

Coming out is no easy task even in the best of circumstances. It means admitting not only to those you care about but also to yourself, that there is something different about you. Doing it within a culture that places family so highly, but also considers homosexuality to be anathema, bringing shame to both family and community. In South Asia, many gay children have been disowned by their parents and the incidence of suicide among gay South Asians is horrifically high.

This Canadian documentary examines the coming out experience of three LGBTA individuals of South Asian ethnicity; Amar (who goes by Alex), Kayden and Jag. All three had very different experiences. Alex was raised mainly by his mother Jaspal, who left her husband when he became alcoholic and abusive. That in itself is unusual in the Sikh community, but Jaspar is an extremely strong woman and she proved to be extremely supportive of her son, making his coming out relatively easy, or at least easier than the others had it.

Jag had to contend with parents who had already seen their other child, Jag’s brother Harv, come out. It made her more hesitant to come out because she was concerned that her parents would be less able to handle it because her brother had already come out and it turned out to be difficult at first, but eventually her parents came around.

That wasn’t the case for Kayden, who already had a contentious relationship with his parents. They still live in India, and after he ran away from home (and eventually returning when he found it too hard to cope), he came out to his parents who responded by beating the living crap out of him and disowning him. He eventually ended up in Canada where he was often suicidal and calls to his mom just to hear her voice frequently ended up with her hanging up on him.

But eventually things got better for Kayden, who discovered a support group for young people like himself, of South Asian heritage who were gay. The organization, SHER, turned out to be a life saver for him as he discovered other in similar situations who gave him the love and support he had been denied by his family. These days he doesn’t think he’ll ever reconcile with his parents, and he remains angry at them, his father in particular – and justifiably so.

The documentary is largely straight interviews, which are conducted pretty professionally. There are occasionally some tears, but for the most part are more matter-of-fact. We see a lot of home pictures of the young children who became the adults we see being interviewed before us. Unfortunately, the music for the soundtrack is often used to make moments sound more dramatic. It’s actually totally unnecessary as those moments tend to speak for themselves. The filmmakers need to trust their audience a little bit more.

It seems such a waste, to deny your own flesh and blood for something they cannot help any more than they can help what toppings they prefer on their pizzas. How do you cope when the one place that you would expect unconditional love from, the one place that should support you no matter what denies your very existence? Organizations like SHER are necessary because of that; perhaps as we continue to become more enlightened vis a vis our LGBTQ brothers and sisters we won’t need them forever. Sadly, it looks like we’ll need them for a while longer, however.

REASONS TO SEE: Some very compelling stories about coming out.
REASONS TO AVOID: The soundtrack is a bit bombastic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is frank discussion of adult and sexual themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alex Sangha is the founder of SHER, an organization dedicated to supporting South Asian gay people in Canada. The group also funded and distributed this film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/28/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Boys in the Band
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Mad Women’s Ball

The Song of the Butterflies (El canto de las mariposas)


The art of Rember Yahuarcani recalls the legends of the Amazon.

(2020) Documentary (PBS) Rember Yahuarcani, Martha Lopez, Nereida Lopez, Santiago Yahuarcani. Directed by Nuria Frigola Torrent

 

The Amazon is a great, mysterious place. A significant portion of the indigenous people there – about 10% – have never had any contact with so-called “civilized” cultures. It is a land of lush greenery, of ancient trees and wisdom, of colorful creatures and people. It is a land that is sadly being stripped of its resources and seeing its native cultures dislocated.

Rember Yahuarcani is a painter, an artist who lives in Lima, Peru. He is a part of the White Crane tribe, which was once flourished but now consists of just two families. His grandmother Martha, who recently passed away, is his inspiration; she tells stories about the clan, from its mythology to the history she has seen. She survived the decimation that came from the rubber plantations, who killed off terrifying numbers of natives in their quest for profits. Indigenous peoples the world over can relate to those stories.

He has been at an impasse lately and decides to go visit his mother and father in the small village he grew up in. They are both artists as well and live much the same way as when Rember was a boy, teaching their grandchildren the stories of their culture, trying to preserve it as best they can. But Rember needs more, and ventures into Colombia where the remainder of their tribe lives.

This is a beautifully shot film and with the Amazonia region as a canvas, that almost goes without saying. It is the sounds, however, that make the movie sing. The flapping of butterfly wings. The buzzing of insects. The chirping of birds. The flow of water. The patter of rain. The songs of the aboriginal people of the region. Imagine hearing those sounds all the time. Preferably without the humidity.

Interwoven with all of this are archival photos of indigenous people in the employ of colonial plantation owners. We hear horrific stories of natives being burned alive, of having their skin flayed off. Discipline was brutal and the men who wielded engorged with greed and possessed of zero empathy for the suffering of others. This is the story of what colonialism has bought us; cultures essentially wiped from the face of the Earth, a lack of respect for nature and the workings of ecology. That colonialism is still with us, not just in Brazil where a tyrannical President seeks to eradicate the rain forest, turn it all into profitable farmland without caring one whit at what the world loses just so long as the profits keep rolling in. It’s no different here, only we call the colonialists “industrialists” and they enslave the working class here in subtle, but similar ways.

At times, the juxtaposition of the natural world and the horrors of the colonial world don’t mesh as well, and it can be rather jarring. Still, this first-time feature film from Catalan-Peruvian filmmaker is absolutely breathtaking from the stories of ancient wisdom to the tales of more recent horrors.

REASONS TO SEE: The sound is stunning. So is the cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is smoking and some discussion of genocide.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Before becoming a filmmaker, Torrent worked for several years at Amnesty International.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: PBS
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/19/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Embrace of the Serpent
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Emergence: Out of the Shadows

Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan


Even sitting down to a meal can be a work of art.

(2020) Documentary (Greenwich) Jim Denevan, Marcus Samuelsson, Deval Patrick, Damani Thomas, Jane Rosen, Catherine Panip, Hans Haveman, John McCarthy, Linda Butler, Sean Baker, Dina Brewster, Matt Lackey, Paul Kulik, Nion McEvoy, Danika Markegard, Jason Weiner, William Fox, Randall Graham, Andrew McLester, Tish Denevan. Directed by Patrick Trefz

 

It is true that art can come in all shapes and forms. It is also true that art can be found sometimes where you don’t expect to find it.

Jim Denevan is an artist. His canvas is nature. He began by drawing geometric shapes and patterns in the sand. His art is extremely impermanent; the tide and wind can wash it away in moments. His art, however, is no less beautiful for that; there is a kind of elemental magic in it, as you might find from a shaman conducting a ritual, or a sorcerer constructing a spell. Either way, his work has a powerful effect on the viewer.

Denevan also has a passion for food and eating, and he felt that we as a species needed to get closer to the sources of the food we eat. From this sprang his organization, Outstanding in the Field. Outstanding in the Field conducts these elaborate events where tables are set up in specific, exact ways, generally in places where food is sourced – farms, ranches and orchards. Local chefs are called in, sometimes some fairly well-known ones, who prepare a menu and then supervising the preparation of the meal. Jim acts as a kind of a host and facilitator, making sure that things are set up properly so that the guests have the kind of experience he envisions. Sometimes things go like clockwork (rarely) but most times they don’t; windy conditions means place settings are blown all over hither and yon; rain can cause the event to be relocated indoors; beach-set Outstandings can end up with waves crashing into guests.

But Jim perseveres and does these hugely popular events year after year (for those interested in signing up for a future event, point your browser here). The film shows smatterings of various events, interspersed with some of Jim’s art, drawn on beaches, deserts or in fields. Mostly we’re hearing from farmers, chefs and former guests who sing the praises of the event, as well as a few art curators who sing the praises of Jim’s artwork. That’s to be expected.

My issue with the way that the filmmaker chooses to make his film is that he shows brief clips from a variety of Outstanding events from all over the world with almost zero detail about the event itself. I think it would have been far more interesting to see how one event was put together, from the menu planning to the set-up to the execution. Then, we could have gotten more of a feel for the experience. The way it’s done is more like flipping through the pages of a magazine article without stopping for more than a few seconds on any page and expecting to gain an understanding from that. It doesn’t work. I could have gotten as much information from a list of past events run by the organization.

We also don’t see much about what drives Denevan to make his art until the very last 20 minutes or so when he begins to talk about the mental health issues of his family and how it affected him. It’s pretty intense stuff, and seemed to be included as an afterthought, but it is really the most illuminating segment in the film. Yes, I think Denevan’s endeavors are worth a documentary, but it feels like we just skimmed through the surface here rather than doing a deep dive into either his life or his art. A little more effort and detail might have made this a better movie.

REASONS TO SEE: Shows how hard and food can collide.
REASONS TO AVOID: The filmmaker goes skipping from event to event without a whole lot of detail.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and a frank discussion of mental illness.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Three of Denevan’s brothers were diagnosed with schizophrenia within the same year.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV
CRITICAL MASS: ;As of 9/26/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Song of the Butterflies

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)


Some kisses are more magical than others.

(2020) Fantasy/LGBTQ Coming of Age Dramedy(Gravitas) Sophie Hawkshaw, Zoe Terakes, Marta Dusseldorp, Rachel House, Julia Billington, Bridie Connell, Madeleine Withington, Randall Hua, Melanie Bowers, Ed Wightman, Chiara Gizzi, Olga Markovic, Patrick James, Orya Golgowsky, Lauren Johnson. Directed by Monica Zanetti

 

In our high school years, it is somewhat expected that we don’t really have a clear picture of who we are quite yet. High school is in many ways an exercise in masochism, because we try as hard as we can to fit in, yet we have not even half a clue why, or whether or not if that is truly who we are. Figuring it out gives us the battle scars that come in useful later on.

Ellie (Hawkshaw) is one of those girls who never gets into trouble, who hits the books, makes her mum and teachers proud (her dad isn’t in the picture) and is a bit on the nerdy side. She’s still a pretty girl, but she’s noticed something about herself – she really isn’t interested in boys. At all. In fact, to the upcoming Formal (which is what we Americans, it is pointed out somewhat gently, call the Senior Prom). One of her classmates makes a big show of asking out his girlfriend on social media, delivering a huge bouquet of flowers. Very charming, and makes my inner 17-year-old a little bit jealous; however Ellie has her heart set on going to the formal with Abbie (Terakes)…a girl.

She presents it exactly this way to her mum (Dusseldorp) whih is her way of coming out – and not the best way in the history of coming out. Her mother’s frozen smile turns into a belated “That’s brilliant,” to which Ellie responds in typical teen fashion “You’re such a bigot mom!” before stomping out. Mama, y’see, didn’t signal her acceptance quickly enough for Ellie. But Ellie’s got larger problems.

You see, her Aunt Tara (Billington) – her mum’s sister – starts popping up. Tara is a free-spirit who identifies herself as a “FAIRY Godmother, get it?” which is the Dad Joke way of signaling that Tara is a lesbian. Tara also happens to be dead, having passed on right around the time Ellie was born. You see, the way it works is that when gay people come out and they have no living gay family members to help guide them through, it falls upon the dead gay family members to do it instead – to take up the burden. Ellie was only aware that her aunt had died in a car accident, and that her dying had really torn up her family, including Tara’s girlfriend Patti (House). Tara herself doesn’t remember the circumstances of her own death.

Tara’s advice to feel out Abbie to make sure she’s receptive to having a lesbian relationship is about 40 years out of date, as are most of her cultural touchstones. Ellie eventually musters up the courage to talk to Abbie – who is one of those cool kids that Ellie has never really been able to talk to – by pretending tp be in detention for littering, which disturbs Abbie because she’s really passionate about environmentalism and Ellie had led the school assembly in following proper recycling techniques earlier that year. Whoops.

In any case, Ellie soon gets fed up with Tara’s well-intentioned advice and essentially tells her to get lost. Then during a school report on women whom they admire, Abbie inadvertently does one on Tara – who had been a leading activist for LGBTQ rights back in the ‘80s before she was deliberately run over by a car during a protest. Nobody had ever bothered to tell Ellie the circumstances of her aunt’s demise, which sorely wounds Ellie and brings back very painful memories for her mum. Eventually Ellie learns what an incredible person her aunt was…and she begins to accept that she is who she is, and Abbie is who she is, and that the only thing that matters is that they make each other happy…but will that be enough to make up for all the mistakes she’s made?

I have to admit that the first part of the movie left me a little flat. The humor is awfully broad and sitcom inspired, and there is a little bit too much overwrought drama and not enough insight. But that changes about halfway through and the movie finds its heart, and suddenly you go from wanting to find another cat video to watch to becoming truly invested in the characters and their issues.

Hawkshaw does a very fine job with her character, making Ellie far from perfect – she wears her heart on her sleeve and sometimes jumps before thinking things through, which is not uncommon among people her character’s age. The chemistry between her and Terakes is sweet and awkward and completely believable. Like most teens, they’re just figuring things out as they go along. That’s pretty much how we all do it.

The character of Tara is the one that caught my attention. She’s introduced as a little bit of a goof and someone not too terribly serious, but then we see her on the last day of her life as an activist, a leader of her community and someone passionate and serious and suddenly you want to know more about her. It isn’t often that you really wish that a character in a movie wasn’t dead, but that’s the case here.

Having grown up straight, I won’t pretend to understand what LGBTQ teens go through. I grew up in a different era where gay slurs were used regularly by all and kids who had different sexual preferences kept those preferences to themselves; coming out of the closet was not the norm then, and although I have since discovered that there are members of my high school class that have since come out, I can only imagine what they went through. I wish there had been movies like this one for them. In all honesty I wish there were movies like this for people like ME too – I might have been a little bit more sensitive and a little less of a jerk back then. And for modern kids it might help those struggling with coming out to see that it IS okay and there IS support out there for them. Even if it is from gay ghosts – you knew that it had to happen sooner or later.

REASONS TO SEE: Really picks up in the last third. An awesome watch for LGBTQ youth.
REASONS TO AVOID: The humor can be a bit lame (proof positive that lesbians can crack dad jokes too).
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes, a bit of profanity and some drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Zanetti’s first feature film as a director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/24/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic:No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan

The Magnificent Meyersons


Just a walk in the park.

(2021) Drama (Argot) Kate Mulgrew, Richard Kind, Ian Kahn, Jackie Burns, Daniel Eric Gold, Shoshannah Stern, Barbara Barrie, Lauren Ridloff, Melissa Errico, Greg Keller, Neal Huff, Lilly Stein, Kate MacCluggage, Ajay Naidu, Terrence Gray, Talia Oppenheimer, Sarah Nealis, Andrew Hovelson, Allyson Morgan, Bryan Fitzgerald, Anna Dale Robinson, Athan Sporek, Henny Russell. Directed by Evan Oppenheimer

 

Through thick and thin, we rely on our family to provide support and stability. Even when the family is beset by traumatic circumstances, we cling to those that we can be certain still love us. It is as a life raft on a stormy sea.

Dr. Terri Meyerson (Mulgrew) is a pediatric oncologist and the matriarch of the Meyerson family. She sometimes wonders why on earth she took a job that sometimes entails telling parents that their child is about to die, but she manages to take her role with as much grace and dignity as she can muster, both of which were once stripped from her when her husband, Morty (Kind), deserted the family to deal with a mental illness. At the time, he flippantly told her “see you in a few days” but has been gone for decades.

She has her mother Celeste (Barrie), an acerbic sharp-tongued octogenarian who loves her grandkids (and great-grandkids) but that doesn’t keep her from taking jabs at them. And of course, Terri has her kids; Roland (Kahn), the eldest, a successful businessman and a bit of a hypochondriac when it comes to his daughter Stefania (T. Oppenheimer); Daphne (Burns), a publisher married to Alan (Keller) who has just terminated her pregnancy without consulting her husband, a source of contention between them; Susie (Stern), a deaf real-estate agent who is in a relationship with Tammy (Ridloff), and finally Daniel (Gold), who is studying to be a rabbi and often gets into theological discussions with Catholic priest Father Joe (Duff).

It seems to be an ordinary day in New York City, but events turn it into an extraordinary one; the first affects all New Yorkers (heck, it affects everyone) and the second, just the Meyersons. Both seem to be unlikely, but both are events that all the Meyersons will have to deal with – in each his or her own way.

This is a movie very much influenced by New York City. The Meyersons are well-educated, literate and thoughtful, one and all. They talk about meaningful things and ask deep questions of one another. They are, in short, searching for answers to imponderable questions and understand deep down that they aren’t likely to get any. The dialogue they speak reflects that literacy, and may at times be too smart for its own good – the Meyersons can come off as pretentious from time to time, which let’s face it can be true of an awful lot of New Yorkers, but that’s what comes from living in a city like New York. They at least come by it honestly.

The ensemble cast is, as is normally the case with ensembles, dominated by the more experienced actors. The most delightful is Barrie, who has already been nominated for nearly every major acting award at one time or another. She is the scene-stealer here, and you end up looking forward to her every appearance. Mulgrew does nearly as well in her most Janeway-like role since Star Trek: Voyager ended. Terri is a little more vulnerable than the starship captain, however, although she covers it with a patina of competency that comes from her profession. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that side of her though. Kind also does well here, being genuinely cuddly when he needs to be and somewhat lost and befudled when he has to be. He doesn’t overdo the pathos, which lesser actors might have done.

The actors playing the kids get the lions share of the screen time though, and while they all submit strong performances, none really stand out the way the other three do. They are given a lot of fairly lofty dialogue, discussing their place in the universe, relationships with God, with each other, and from time to time, the open wound that was left by their father leaving the family.

And I wish they had stuck to that story. The first “event” I referred to earlier – the one that affects “everyone,” seems terribly out of place in the movie. I understand the reason that they chose to do it, but it flat-out doesn’t work. It ends up being a massive distraction and strays away from the more important themes here – specifically, the ability to reconcile when one is wounded by someone beyond forgiveness, and whether those who stray from the family can find their way back again. Those are subjects far more in tune with the tone of the movie and had writer/director Evan Oppenheimer opted to stick with just that, he would have had a terrific film on his hands. He still does, but not quite as terrific as it might have been.

REASONS TO SEE: Smart dialogue gives hints of deep conversations. Strong performances by most of the ensemble, with Barbara Barrie emerging from the pack.
REASONS TO AVOID: The midpoint plot twist was regrettable and unnecessary.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Mulgrew, who originated the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, will be reprising the role in the new children’s animated series Star Trek: Prodigy, debuting next month on Paramount Plus.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/23/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Royal Tenenbaums
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)

New Releases for the Week of September 24, 2021


DEAR EVAN HANSEN

(Universal) Ben Platt, Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Danny Pino, Colton Ryan. Directed by Stephen Chbosky

The hit Broadway musical comes to the big screen, as we follow the titular character – an isolated, stressed-out high school boy who is in therapy. His therapist urges Evan to write a letter to himself, which is then stolen from him by one of his tormenting bullies. When the bully later commits suicide and the letter found among his effects, it gives his parents the mistaken impression that the bully was Evan’s close friend, which out of compassion Evan doesn’t dispute – leading to consequences he couldn’t envision. A monument to the cruelty of our social media age.

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

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive references)

Courageous Legacy

(Affirm) Alex Kendrick, Kevin Downes, Ben Davies, Rusty Martin. The re-release (with some additional footage) of one of the first faith-based movies to become a hit on the occasion of its tenth anniversary.

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

Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and drug content)

Love Story

(Sree Venkateswara) Naga Chaitanya Akkineni, Sai Pallavi, Uttej, Devayani. A boy and a girl move from their small village to the big city to pursue their dreams.

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

Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary
Rating: NR

The Nowhere Inn

(IFC) St. Vincent, Carrie Brownstein, Dakota Johnson, Ezra Buzzington. When indie singer/songwriter St. Vincent enlists her friend Carrie Brownstein to make a documentary about her tour, things go wildly out of control. Cinema365 has already reviewed the film; a link may be found below under “SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED”.

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

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

On Broadway

(Kino Lorber) Hugh Jackman, Helen Mirren, Christine Baranski, Alec Baldwin. As Broadway prepares to come back from an unprecedented 18-month layoff, stars of stage and screen recall the last time Broadway came back from the brink and how innovative thinking and the uneasy alliance of art and commerce helped change the face of musical theater forever.

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

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

Rumba Love

(Vision) Guillermo Iván, Zair Montes, Ed Trucco, Osvaldo de León. A rumba singer leaves Havana to pursue his dream in New York City – not to mention pursue the woman he loves. When his happiness seems to be unattainable, he must put all his faith into that dream in order to find out who he really is and what he really wants.

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

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: CMX Plaza Café Orlando
Rating: NR

Solitary

(Vertical) Johnny Sachon, Lottie Tolhurst, Michael Condron, Brian Bovell. A man wakes up in a small room with no memory of how he got there, discovering that he is in fact a convicted criminal being sent into space to start a new colony. To make matters worse, his cellmate is hell-bent on destroying everything – including him.

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

Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Apache Junction
Beyond Paranormal
(Tuesday)
Birds of Paradise
Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan
My Little Pony: A New Generation
On These Grounds
No One Gets Out Alive
(Wednesday)
The One You’re With
(Tuesday)
The Starling
Surge
This is the Year
Time is Up
The Toolbox Killer
(Thursday)
Venus as a Boy

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Bird of Paradise
Dear Evan Hansen
Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan
The Nowhere Inn
On Broadway
On These Grounds
The Starling
The Toolbox Killer

Malignant


Sweet dreams.

(2021) Horror (New Line) Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jean Louise Kelly, Susanna Thompson, Jake Abel, Jacqueline McKenzie, Christian Clemenson, Amir AboulEla, Mercedes Colon, Ingrid Bisu, Ruben Pla, Jon Lee Brody, Paula Marshall, Zoe Bell, Dan Ramos, Shaunte Johnson, Natallia Safran. Directed by James Wan

 

For those who love horror movies, James Wan is a name that is spoken with reverence. He is responsible for three of the most successful – and influential – franchises of modern horror; Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring. Of late his time has been spent branching out into big-budget action and superhero movies, but in between Aquaman installments he found time to return to the place where his heart really is.

Maddie (Wallis) has had a lot to deal with in her life. Adopted early on, she has put up with an abusive husband (Abel) and numerous miscarriages. After yet another unwarranted assault by her husband, she locks herself in her room and falls asleep. When she wakes up, he has been brutally murdered by someone with nearly superhuman strength. The detectives assigned to the case, the improbably-named Kekoa Shaw (Young) and the Wanda Sykes-channeling Regina Moss (White), are sympathetic but they are also dealing with some other murders in the Seattle area, including two retired doctors (McKenzie, Clemonson).

The trouble is that Maddie has been having vivid visions of the murders as they are happening. Her adopted sister Sydney (Hasson) is providing moral support, as well as physical care for the battered woman, but the more awful carnage that Maddie sees, the more she realizes that the killer – a spectral being calling himself Gabriel – has a deep and disturbing connection to her own past.

While it is good to see Wan back in the genre that he has been such an integral part of for decades, this isn’t his best work. The good news is that even the lesser entries in his filmography are still worth seeing. While Gabriel is unlikely to enter the pantheon of horror movie icons like Freddie Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Chucky – or even Jigsaw – his supernatural strength and control of electricity (he communicates through electronic devices like radios, cell phones and loudspeakers) he is a formidable opponent. He doesn’t have the personality to be truly memorable, but the performances – when he makes his emergence in the latter half of the film is truly spectacular – but he suffices.

Wallis, who has worked in Wan’s universe in Annabelle, is also not quite memorable as Madison which is largely a fault of the writing. Faring better is Maddie Hasson as Sydney, providing occasional comic relief but just showing a bit more energy than Wallis. What’s truly memorable about the movie, though, are the technical aspects. There are some set pieces near the end that are as good as any that have been filmed for a horror movie, particularly one set in a holding cell. The gore is spectacularly done and effects, most of which are practical, well-integrated. Watching Madison’s reality melt into her vision is particularly nifty.

There are a fair number of odd plot choices, which is not uncommon for movies like this and which generally can be overlooked, but one thing that can’t is that the movie is paced a little too slowly for the first two thirds. Madison and Sydney spend a ton of time looking at case files and doing the kind of exposition that have people reaching for the fast-forward button. One thing that the script gets absolutely right is the reveal of Gabriel and who he is; it’s a knockout. Eliminate some of the research scenes and you would have a classic here. Even as is, this is an entertaining movie that is going to leave most horror buffs with a smile on their faces.

REASONS TO SEE: Terrific gore and special effects with some cringe-inducing body movements.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some may find the pace a bit too slow.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity and lots of violence – much of it bloody and disturbing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Three separate people play various aspects of Gabriel; Ray Chase supplies the voice, (no spoiler) the body, and Marina Mazepa does the contortion effects.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (through October 10)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/22/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews; Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Basket Case
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Magnificent Meyersons

Confetti (2020)


For a mother trying to raise a special needs child in a strange land, even colors don’t bring joy.

(2020) Drama (Dada) Zhu Zhu, Amy Irving, Yanan Li, Harmonie He, George Christopher, Helen Slater, Robyn Payne, Meryl Jones Williams, Yi Liu, Nikolai Tsankov, DL Sams, Joe Holt, Ian Unterman, Kira Visser, Marissa McGowan, Tracy Ifeachor, Teresa Meza, Vivian Chiu, Tom Galantich, Amanda Chen, Zhuo Shunguo, Ruiyu Yang, Jia Chuanxi. Directed by Ann Hu

 

As parents, we want to see our children find the excellence in themselves. Sometimes, it’s more about finding the happiness within themselves. For a lot of kids, that means fitting in with the pack and not standing out too much (although so many teens complain that nobody understands the uniqueness in them). But some are most certainly NOT a part of the pack, and that can lead to difficulties.

Meimei (He) is a nine-year-old girl living with her two lower class parents Chen (Li) and Lan (Zhu), in a small Chinese city in 1989. Her mom, Lan, is the custodian at her school. Meimei is a sweet, adorable girl who is ostensibly happy and good-natured, although she is finding it difficult at school. The other children tease her mercilessly and the adult teachers have lost all patience with her. The reason? She can neither read nor write.

The American-born English teacher, Thomas (Christopher) figures out that the culprit is dyslexia Meimei sees letters as “confetti” but could retrain her brain to learn differently, if only she could get the right kind of education. Unfortunately, there isn’t that kind of education available in China at that time, with the emphasis on group achievement.

With Thomas’ help, Lan takes her daughter to New York City where they move in with a friend (maybe his mom?) of Thomas, wheelchair-bound writer Helen (Irving). She’s at first taken aback when she discovers that Lan speaks not a word of English and Meimei speaks it only somewhat. Helen is busy working on a book, has deadlines to meet and doesn’t have the time to hold the hands of two Chinese immigrants. Lan doesn’t even have a green card or work permit, so she gets a job at a garment factory being paid under the table.

But the school that they place Meimei in, which is supposedly inclusive of kids with learning disabilities, isn’t helping. If anything, Meimei is getting worse. She needs a private special needs school, an expensive one where Dr. Wurmer (Slater) is president. It seems to be an impossible dream, but with the feisty Helen championing them, maybe there’s a chance.

There is an air of improbability to the film that is sometimes hard to get past. Both Chen and Lan are unskilled laborers, definitely part of the poor class in China. How can she afford to move to New York? Problems that seem insurmountable are routinely overcome, or sometimes, just plain ignored.

The Chinese cast is strong; Zhu (whom some might remember from Cloud Atlas) shows fierce determination as the tiger mom who absolutely refuses to give up on her daughter, for good reason as is revealed later on in the film. Her chemistry with Li is natural and completely believable. And He? She’s absolutely charming, refreshingly so for an actor of her tender years. It is also nice to see actresses Amy Irving and Helen Slater, who had good runs in the Eighties and Nineties, onscreen again. Both respond with memorable performances.

While the movie does point out the obstacles that parents of children with severe dyslexia (and other learning disabilities) face not just in China but here, It also portrays a mother’s fierce determination to make the best life possible for her daughter in a world which is completely indifferent to her daughter’s present situation, let alone any future she might have. And while the plot might be something of a fantasy fulfillment, there is enough warmth here to overcome the raised eyebrows in all but the most jaded, crusty, curmudgeonly viewers. Which lets out most critics.

REASONS TO SEE: Harmonie He is about as adorable as it gets. Good to see Slater and Irving in a movie again.
REASONS TO AVOID: Stretches believability in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult issues.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is loosely based on Hu’s own experiences.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beautifully Broken
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Malignant