The Many Saints of Newark


Dinner with the Family.

(2021) Crime Drama (New Line) Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Vera Farmiga, Ray Liotta, Michael Gandolfini, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michela De Rossi, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Michael Imperioli (voice), Samson Moeakiola, Joey Coco Diaz, Germar Terrell Gardner, Alexandra Intrator, Gabriella Piazza, Mason Bleu, Aaron Joshua, Lesli Margherita. Directed by Alan Taylor

 

There is absolutely no doubt that The Sopranos remains one of the most influential and important television series of all time. It helped establish HBO as a legitimate provider of quality original entertainment and ushered in a new golden age of television which moved away from broadcast and to alternate sources of content providers, from cable and now to streaming. For many of our favorite television shows of the past decade, we can thank show creator David Chase, who co-wrote and produced this prequel to his show, whose storytelling prowess paved the way for shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Sons of Anarchy.

The movie opens with a startling and effective crane shot that turns into a dolly shot of a graveyard. We hear various voices of the dead until one takes focus; that of Christopher Moltisanti (Imperioli, the sole member of the series cast who appears here), who acts as a kind of narrator as well as Banquo’s ghost. He laments over his own untimely death (one of the most shocking moments in a series replete with them) and focuses in on his father, Dickie Moltisanti (Nivola).

Dickie is welcoming his father, “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti, back from Italy. He brings with him a brand-new bride, Giussepina (De Rossi) from Italy. She speaks little English and is about a third his age. Dickie has been running the numbers operation for the DiMeo crime family, using enforcer Harold McBrayer (Odom) to collect in the predominantly African-American neighborhoods of central Newark. It is 1967, and after the violent arrest of an innocent black taxi driver, riots erupt.

In the meantime, Johnny Soprano (Bernthal) has been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and sent to prison, leaving his son Tony (Ludwig) in the less-than-tender care of Livia (Farmiga), who is already showing signs of being the unstable, manipulative harridan that Nancy Marchand was acclaimed for in the series. Tony admires his uncle Dickie and begins to see him as a mentor and father figure. As Tony grows into his teenage years (Gandolfini, the son of the late James Gandolfini who played Tony in the series), he begins to show a willingness to gravitate towards the criminal life that his Uncle – and father – are part of. In the meantime, McBrayer – seeing the Black power movement and feeling the contempt in which he is held by the Italians – begins to build an empire of his own. Things are going to get mighty ugly in Newark.

I have to admit, I blew a little hot and cold about this one. Da Queen, who is not really a Sopranos fan and has seen little of the show, liked this movie a lot. On the other hand, I’ve watched the show and know how good it could be – and to be frank, the movie doesn’t really measure up in some ways to the original. Few things, to be fair, ever do.

Part of the problem is that the characters who were so indelible – not only Livia, but Paulie Walnuts (Magnusson), Uncle Junior (Stoll), Big Pussy (Moeakola) and Silvio Dante (Magaro) – all faithfully reproduce the look and mannerisms of those who played the characters on the show. It is a bit distracting in a way – it’s like watching a remake of a favorited movie with celebrity impersonators – but one has to give credit where credit is due. All of the things that made us love (or hate) those characters are present here. Farmiga, in particular, and Stoll, both get high marks for inhabiting the parts that Marchand and Dominic Chianese created. However, there isn’t a lot of additional insight to the characters that can’t be gleaned by watching the show – any of them. As a result, the emphasis is mainly on the “new” characters of Dickie, his father and McBrayer.

It should also be mentioned that Gandolfini acquits himself very nicely in the role that made his father famous. The movie really isn’t about Tony; he’s a bit player in his own prequel. For some, that is going to be annoying. I think, though, that it’s a smart move; Tony Soprano is a character that was perhaps one of the most well-developed in television history. While other characters in the show that are portrayed here don’t really get to add much insight to their characters, I don’t think there’s really a lot that can be added to Tony that we don’t already know

So there are a couple of questions to be answered here. First of all, if you’re not familiar with the show, you can still see The Many Saints of Newark without feeling lost. Familiarity with the show adds a certain amount of flavor, but for many of the characters who met untimely ends, we’re fully aware of their (sometimes) grisly demises that occurred in the series and that does color our perceptions somewhat. Does it add anything for fans of the show? Not really a lot. You get a little more background into the relationship between Tony and his mentor, but it doesn’t really make for any startling revelations. While there are plenty of Easter Eggs for super fans to glom onto, for the most part this doesn’t really sit atop the pantheon of mobster movies as much as the show does. If you’re anything like me, however, you will be inspired to re-watch the show once again and that really isn’t a bad thing at all.

REASONS TO SEE: Strong performances throughout. Plenty of Easter Eggs for fans of the show.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t really add a lot of additional insight into the show and characters.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence (some of it gruesome), profanity and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The amusement park scenes were filmed at Rye Playland in Westchester, NY. The amusement park scenes for Big were also filmed there.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (through November 1)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/10/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews; Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Goodfellas
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Pharma Bro

The Secret of Sinchanee


This is one serious dude.

(2021) Horror (Vertical) Tamara Austin, Steven Grayhm, Nate Boyer, Laila Lockhart Kraner, Rudy Reyes, Chris Neville, Margarita Reyes, Mark Oliver (voice), Kathleen Kenny, Skylar Schanen, Elena Capaldi, Ricky Barksdale, Jacob Schick, TJ Millard, Don McAlister, Emmett Spriggs, Bryanna Nadeau, Jesse Goddard, Trystyn Roberts, Donna Tierney-Jones. Directed by Steven Grayhm

 

It is a shameful fact that the Europeans who came to colonize the Americas often clashed with the Natives who were here first. The interlopers behaved deplorably, making promises they had no intention of keeping, spreading diseases among the native indigenous population and when all else failed, massacring them outright. Not all Europeans treated the first nations poorly, of course, but enough did to create a schism between original inhabitants and colonists that has continued for morethan four hundred years.

Will Stark (Grayhm) is a tow truck driver who suffers from insomnia. He has returned to his home in Massachusetts to dispose of his father’s property, after his father passed away. However, selling the house is no easy task; it is a house, as they say, with a past, and an unsavory one at that – Will witnessed the murder of his mother and sister in that house when he was a child. The townsfolk consider him an odd duck; his father had schizophrenia and Will is showing signs of the condition as well, experiencing strange visions. Of course, the lack of sleep might account for that, too.

But there are other disturbing things going on. A woman for unknown reasons abandons her car in the middle of a cold night and wanders out into the snow to freeze to death. When her body is discovered, it appears as if she has been branded with peculiar symbols. Detectives Carrie Donovan (Austin) and Drew Carter (Boyer) are investigating the case, and they, like Will’s house, have a history – they also have a child together, young Ava (Kraner).

As Will begins experiencing more strange occurrences in the house, Detective Donovan is finding that the case of the murdered woman is leading her increasingly towards the supernatural. She finally meets with a Native American shaman named Solomon Goodblood (Reyes) who tells her about the Sinchanee, a tribe that lived in the area that had shown remarkable resistance to the diseases that the white settlers brought to the area. This apparently annoyed the heck out of a pagan cult called the Atlantow who were bound and determined to destroy the Sinanchee and turned their death spirit against them. The Atlantow will not be satisfied until every last remaining Sinchanee is wiped out. Guess who has Sinchanee blood running in their veins? Yup…Will, Carrie…and Ava.

First-time filmmaker Grayhm opts to tell Will and Carrie’s stories concurrently. This is a tactical error, as it lengthens the film unnecessarily. There’s also an awful lot of unnecessary business in the movie, which takes a long time to get going and once it does, doesn’t really pack the kind of excitement that the slow buildup would required as a payoff. Grayhm, who also wrote the film, uses a lot of horror movie tropes which don’t add luster to the story.

The cinematography by Logan Fulton is very scenic in a wintery way and does make the movie look good. Grayhm also does a good job of creating a tone for the movie, which is right about two hours long and should have been at least a half hour less. One way he might have accomplished this is by combining the two storylines, having Carrie and Will working together. It might have streamlined the story which is badly in need of it.

In these politically correct times of woke expectations, I wonder about using Native American legends as a framework for a horror movie, even if the legends are spun from whole cloth. There might be some who take offense to it…but then again, basically we’re in an era where everything causes offense by one person or another; so, what are you gonna do? I get the sense that Grayhm was fairly respectful of Native American culture in general, although that’s not really for me to say – not being of that ethnic group. But I think it would have been more respectful to make a better movie about native mythology just as a general rule of thumb.

REASONS TO SEE: Does a good job of creating a tone.
REASONS TO AVOID: Should have streamlined the story considerably.
=FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The company Will works for in the movie actually exists in Massachusetts, although that is not their office used in the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Redbox, Vudu
=CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wendigo
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Many Saints of Newark

Wife of a Spy (Supai no tsuma)


Danger lurks everywhere in prewar Japan.

(2020) Historical Drama (Kino Lorber) Yû Aoi, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Higashide, Ryôta Bandô, Yuri Tsunematsu, Minosuke, Hyunri, Takashi Sasano, Chuck Johnson, Nihi. Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

 

Marriage is built on trust. Trust comes with open and honest communication. Certainly we all have our secrets and over-sharing isn’t necessarily healthy for a relationship, but without communication, there can never be trust and without trust, no marriage can survive.

Satoko (Aoi) loves her husband Yusaku (Takahashi) very much. He is a prosperous silk merchant in the Japanese city of Kobe in 1940 during the height of imperialist Japan. He fancies himself a cosmopolitan sort, having visited America (and liking it) and being fond of Western customs. But Japan is in the middle of an era of retrenchment, when doing things – like wearing a suit and tie or drinking whiskey will bring the suspicions of the police upon you for being “un-Japanese.”

Yusaku also likes to direct home movies that are silent, vaguely noir espionage thrillers starring Satoko and his nephew Fumio (Bandô), who also works for him in the silk impor/export business. Satoko’s childhood friend Taiji (Higashide) who is now the head of the local military police, warns Satoko about her husband’s Western ways, and Western associations – a British client of theirs (Johnson) is arrested as a spy. Yusaku bails him out but Taiji is now watching Yusaku’s every move.

\So it’s the perfect time for Yusaku to take Fumio on a month-long trip to Manchuria, recently conquered by Japan, right? But when he comes back, he begins acting cagey, arousing the suspicions of Satoko and Taiji both. But while Taiji thinks that the liberal Yusaku might be getting involved with espionage, Satoko is thinking he’s getting involved with the mysterious woman Hiroko (Hyunri) that he brought back with him from Manchuria. When she turns up dead on the beach, things take a turn for the worse.

Kurosawa certainly knows his movie lore. He manages to capture all sorts of different genres from the era, from noir to melodrama to romance. This movie is one I almost wish had been filmed in black and white; it certainly would fit right in with any TCM movie marathon. He also gets an impressive performance from his leading lady. Satoko starts off as being a bit of a ditzy diva, goes through an “anything for hubby” stage, and then ends up as a woman in peril. Aoi carries off each version of her character with aplomb and makes each change in her attitude very natural and understandable. As submissive as Satoko is initially, by the end of the movie she’s far stronger than anyone might have thought she’d turn out to be.

He also knows how to make the suspense intense. He brings up the level of tension almost imperceptively through the first half of the film so that by the time things come to a head, you don’t notice you’ve been sitting on the edge of your chair for the past half hour. His work here shows that he should be a much more well-known talent here than he is; he’s basically known for Tokyo Sonata and Kairo, two fine films, but he’s clearly a world-class talent. With a name like Kurosawa, you almost have to be (although he’s not related to the iconic Japanese director).

It is rare for Japanese films to be critical of their government’s behavior during the Imperial era of the 30s and 40s but this movie takes on events of actual wrongdoing that is pretty much never discussed. Not many directors feel comfortable questioning the misdeeds of their country’s past, but Kurosawa is evidently an exception. Incidentally, the lab referred to in the movie actually existed and the things that Yusaku and Fumio claim that happened there, actually did. That lab is a museum today.

This has the look and feel of a classic film, and the quality to become a classic in its own right. While it may fall on the overly melodramatic side upon occasion, Kurosawa never loses sight of his main focus and keeps his eye on the prize throughout. While the coda (which takes place five years after the film’s action begins) may seem a bit anti-climactic (and indeed, I thought it wasn’t really necessary), the movie nonetheless takes you back in a good way.

REASONS TO SEE: A throwback of a film in all the right ways. Really gets the suspense dialed up. Picks up the pace to a fever pitch in the second half.
REASONS TO AVOID: Piles on the melodrama a bit too thickly.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and some scenes of torture.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When Fumio grumpily refers to Manchuria as “settler’s paradise,” he is echoing a slogan that the Japanese government actually used when resettling Manchuria with Japanese peasants in the 30s and 40s.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Kino Marquee
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews; Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Zookeeper’s Wife
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
The Secret of Sinchanee

Cry Macho


The lion in winter.

(2021) Drama (Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Dwight Yoakam, Eduardo Minnett, Natalia Traven, Horacio Garcia Rojas, Fernanda Urrejola, Brytnee Ratledge, Paul Alayo, Daniel V. Graulau, Alexandra Ruddy, Ivan Hernandez, Lincoln A. Castellanos, Marco Rodriguez, Jorge-Luis Pallo, Rocko Reyes, Abiah Martinez, Ramona Thornton, Elida Munoz, Cesia Isabel Rosales, Ana Rey. Directed by Clint Eastwood

 

There’s no doubt that Clint Eastwood is a national treasure. Seventy years (!) into his career in Hollywood and ninety-one years of life aside, he has consistently made movies as an actor and a director that contribute to the cultural identity of the United States – even when he was making spaghetti westerns.

His latest feature – the 39th he’s directed and a number too high to count that he’s acted in – sees him as Mike Milo, a former rodeo star who had to retire due to a back injury. He’s been a horse trainer ever since. As the movie begins, he’s being fired by his longtime boss, Howard (Yoakam). Too much booze, too much age have both caught up with Mike. However, he isn’t unemployed long when Mike comes back, asking Mike to do something else for him – to go to Mexico and fetch his boy, whom he has not had much contact with, from his abusive mother and bring him back to Texas to live with his dad.

Seems simple enough, so Mike gets into his battered truck, pulls on his cowboy hat, turns on some twangin’ tunes and heads for the border. It’s 1980, so it’s still morning in America and the hordes of rapists and murderers haven’t started knocking on our doors quite yet. When Mike arrives in Mexico City, he discovers that the boy – Rafo (Minnett) has run away from home and his mom it turns out is a crime boss, something ol’ Howard neglected to mention (he also neglected to mention that he has ulterior motives in wanting his son back, but that will wait for a later reveal). The kid is on the mean streets making his way by his wits and by entering his pet rooster Macho in cockfights and apparently winning – there are two places in a cockfight, y’know: winner, and arroz con pollo.

The kids is intrigued by the notion of starting a new life with a father he’s never met – which makes him a damn sight better than I might be in those circumstances – so off they go, back to the U.S. of A. However, Mamacita (Urrejola) has sent some goons to get her son back. Mike and Rafo end up hiding out at the ranch of Marta (Traven) who lives in  the Mexican equivalent of BFE. There, she and Mike bond, Mike and Rafo bond and the kid comes closer to learning that toxic masculinity isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, and that 91 isn’t too late to be a chick magnet.

This isn’t Eastwood’s best work by a country mile, nor did anyone really expect it to be. The bar is generally set high for his work and he usually delivers and that’s why even his lesser works are often more worthwhile than the best work of lesser directors. Every movie he makes feels like some kind of farewell; some are saying this might be his last movie, but I’ve been hearing that back since Gran Torino (and yes, I was one of those saying it) so I’ve learned never to bet that the prolific Eastwood has hung up his director’s spurs.

Eastwood, national treasure that he is, dominates the screen even if he’s long in the tooth for this kind of role. You have to feel for young Minnett who spends the most time onscreen with him; he’s a young actor not equal to the task, which is to say that even much more experienced actors would not be equal to the task. Eastwood is a legitimate movie star from an era when that meant something, and he is going to overwhelm just about anyone he’s paired with.

This isn’t the best-written film Eastwood has ever directed, unfortunately. Many of the plot points are cliches, and feel like their in there for their own sake rather than in serving the story. That’s not to say that there aren’t some really memorable moments here; there’s a scene in which Eastwood talks about his wife and son and as he does, a tear slowly rolls down his cheek. I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by that moment and I wish the movie had more of them.

Alas, no. This is more a movie in which Eastwood acts like a sensei to a young student who is at a point in his life where he can either lead a good life or make some can’t-come-back-from-those types of mistakes. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself – older men mentoring young boys have made some great movies over the years, from Karate Kid on down. It’s just this one feels particularly flat. That’s a shame, because there’s a lot to be said on the subject of toxic masculinity.

In the end, it’s still an Eastwood movie and there’s something valuable to be gleaned from that. However, this won’t be remembered as one of his finest works. In fact, it will likely be well down his list when ranked from best to worst. That, as I said, doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile viewing.

REASONS TO SEE: Even on work that isn’t his best Eastwood remains a solid reason to see a movie.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the plot points feel a bit forced.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as adult thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This is the first Eastwood-directed film since 2010 (Hereafter) that isn’t based on or inspired by a true story.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (through October 17)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/7/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews; Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Night in Old Mexico
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Wife of a Spy

New Releases for the Week of October 8, 2021


NO TIME TO DIE

(MGM) Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

Daniel Craig takes his last lap as James Bond, as Bond is pulled out of a tranquil retirement to help an old friend on what at first seems to be a simple task. However, it turns into something far more dangerous as he comes up against a mysterious and deadly new villain armed with dangerous technology.

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

Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material)

American Insurrection

(Saban) Nadine Malouf, Nick Westrate, Brandon Perea, Sarah Wharton. In a future America (well, let’s hope not), a civilian militia has begun tracking everyone not white, straight and cisgender through a high-tech barcode system. A group of friends decide to escape the oppression and flee to Canada but that will be no easy task.

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

Genre: Sci-Fi Action
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for some strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality)

Azor

(MUBI) Fabrizio Rongione, Elli Medeiros, Stéphanie Cléau, Alexandre Trocki. Appropriate material given the recent release of the Pandora papers, a Swiss private banker heads to Buenos Aires during the military junta of the 1970s to reassure their wealthy clients after their representative there mysteriously disappears.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

I’m Your Man

(Bleecker Street) Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw. In order to get funding for her own research, a young scientest agrees to live with a humanoid robot tailored to be her perfect mate.

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

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: CMX Plaza Café Orlando
Rating: R (for some sexual content and language)

Lamb

(A24) Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær, Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson. The studio that brought you Midsommar brings you another international horror masterpiece as a childless couple in Iceland find something disturbing in their sheep pen. They will soon face the consequences of defying the will of nature.

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

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Enzian, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for some bloody violent images and sexuality/nudity)

Who Do You Think I Am?

(Cohen Media Group) Juliette Binoche, François Civil, Guillaume Goulx, Charles Berling. After being ghosted by her much younger lover, a middle aged single mom creates a fake online profile of a vivacious 20-something woman to snoop on her ex, but finds herself getting into an increasingly more intimate online relationship with his roommate.

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

Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman
Convergence: Courage in a Crisis
(Tuesday)
Fever Dream
(Wednesday)
The Gig Is Up
Jacinta
Killing Eleanor
(Tuesday)
Madame X
Madres
The Manor
Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle
The Secret of Sinchanee
South of Heaven
Survive the Game
Witkin and Witkin

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Azor
Fever Dream
Lamb
Madres
The Manor
No Time to Die
The Secret of Sinchanee

Stop and Go


Who knew the pandemic would be such a wild ride?

(2021) Comedy (Decal) Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Julia Jolley, Anne Sward Hansen, Stephen Meek, Jessica Drolet, Baylee Thornock, Noah Kershisnik, Dora McDonald, Tyler Andrew Jones, Tori Pence, Marvin Payne, Jonathan Baty, Jetta Juriansz. Directed by Mallory Everton and Stephen Meek

 

Obviously, the big story from the past 18 months is the COVID-19 pandemic. It has affected nearly every human on Earth, either directly through actually coming down with the virus (or having a loved one affected by it) or through the various lockdowns and safety measures that dominated our lives in the early days of the pandemic. Now that we have endured the Delta variant, is it time yet for a comedy set in the pandemic?

Jamie (Call) and Blake (Everton) would seem to think so. They are sisters who are transitioning from their twenties into their thirties when the pandemic strikes. The two women party together and share everything, including living space in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They also share a near-hysterical wariness off germs that may well have been triggered by the outbreak; we see them using disinfectant like they had just taken a stroll through Chernobyl. Like all the rest of us, they are frustrated by a maddening lack of information and a sneaking suspicion that what we’ve been told may or may not actually be accurate.

They also share a grandmother (Hansen) whom they love deeply. However, word comes from the retirement facility in which she lives that there has been positive cases there, and recommending that anyone who could pick up their loved ones and put them up do so at the earliest time. Nana’s retirement home is in Washington state…normally their other sister Erin (Jolley) would take care of this since she lives in the same town, but she isn’t exactly the most responsible person ever and has chosen that moment to take a cruise. “Prices were so good,” she exclaims.

So it’s up to the two girls, and they decide that they will have to drive from New Mexico to the Pacific Northwest, so a road trip it is. They will have to face all manner of obstacles, from germ-laden gas pumps to angry bikers to a very creepy guy (Meek) who is caring for Nana’s beloved dog. Along the way they will get phone calls from Jacob Harper (Thornock), a nine-year-old student of Jamie’s who she entrusts with caring for the classroom rats while the two girls are picking up their Nana and who has an unhealthy attraction to Jamie, much to the suspicions of his mother (Drolet), and then there is Scott (Kershisnik), with whom Blake had one date before the lockdown and now can’t get out of her mind.

There is a tremendous amount of chemistry between Call and Everton; they riff off of each other like a veteran comedy team, and there is an obvious affection for one another that comes through in their performances. The two girls are extremely likable and one would hope that there are many more buddy movies for the two of them in their future.

The humor is clearly meant for the Internet generation; the rhythms and humor is very much like what you might hear in a podcast. To be honest with you, I’m not a fan of it – too many times the podcasters aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are, and while these two women are at least able to come up with a funny line here and there, too often they end up just sounding smug and snarky. It doesn’t do anything for me at all.

And there’s the elephant in the room. Is the pandemic a suitable subject for humor right now, in 2021? While some might argue that the movie isn’t about the pandemic but rather about the bond between the sisters and the journey that they take, COVID is a central factor in the action here – it is literally what drives the action, so the question remains legitimate. And as people continue to die from the disease to the tune of hundreds and thousands per day, I have to say that it isn’t appropriate yet. This is a movie that needed to be made a decade from now.

So it’s likely I’m giving the movie a much harsher score than I might have, but it’s hard to overlook that it makes fun of people’s desire to protect themselves from a disease they knew almost nothing about and continue to try to determine what is actual information and what is misinformation about. For that reason, I just can’t recommend the movie, although I do hope Call and Everton make more movies together. They really are a dynamic duo.

REASONS TO SEE: Legitimate chemistry between Call and Everton.
REASONS TO AVOID: Inappropriate to use the pandemic as a vehicle for humor when people are still dying from it. Not nearly as funny as it thinks it is.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Everton and Call, lifelong friends, were previously in sketch comedy shows Studio C and Freelancers before writing this film together (there is the clip during the end credits of the two of them together as children).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/29/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews; Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Barb and Star at the Vista del Mar
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Cry Macho

Old Henry


Tim Blake-Nelson takes aim at a career-changing role.

(2021) Western (Shout!) Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis, Trace Adkins, Stephen Dorff, Max Arciniega, Brad Carter, Kent Shelton, Richard Speight Jr. Directed by Potsy Ponciroli

 

We are all of us haunted by the mistakes of our past. They keep us up at night, pondering “what if” (and not in an MCU kind of way) and praying that we can in some way protect those we love (particularly our children) from the repercussions of those mistakes. Eventually, we all must come to terms with those past mistakes. Sometimes, though, that reckoning is forced upon us whether we are ready for it or not.

Henry McCarty (Nelson) is an Oklahoma dirt farmer in 1906. His wife having died of consumption some years prior, he has endeavored to raise his son Wyatt (Lewis) alone, and not always successfully. Wyatt has reached that age where he wants to spread out his own wings, but Henry is steadfast about what he will and will not teach his son. Among the things he will not teach him is how to shoot a gun, a curious omission considering the time and place. All it does is drive the wedge between father and son further apart, which Henry’s brother-in-law Al (Adkins) who lives on a nearby farm, tries his best to referee.

When his father finds an unconscious man who has been shot with a wad of cash, his first instinct is to ride away and let things settle themselves without his involvement. Perhaps it would have been better for him if he had, but he can’t help but want to help out a stranger in need, so he takes the man – whom we eventually learn is Curry (Haze), a lawman whom has tracked down a group of bank robbers to the area.

But then comes a group of riders led by the garrulous Ketchum (Dorff), who claims that HE is really the lawman and he has been chasing a group of bank robbers led by Curry and he’d be much obliged if Henry would just turn over the fugitive to him. The trouble is, Henry is not sure which of them is telling the truth, so he lies to all of them, hoping to buy some precious time, which is the one thing he doesn’t have. And when Henry’s secret comes to light, it will affect everyone in the story in profound ways.

Like most Westerns, the cinematography (in this case by John Matysiak) tends to have an epic feel, even in the scrub brush of the Oklahoma panhandle. While much of the action takes place in Henry’s sod farmhouse, the dynamic between father and son is really the central theme of the film.

Nelson has tended to play comic relief and he is wonderful at it, but this is very much a different role for him and he responds with a performance that is going to have casting directors looking at him a lot more intently. His cold-eyed stare hints at a past that he would much rather forget, but the worn exhaustion speaks to the fact that it won’t let him. His relationship with Wyatt is strained; he tends to be the sort that brooks no nonsense, but doesn’t seem to understand that his son isn’t a child any longer and needs to be given the respect that 16-year-olds demand, whether they deserve it or not. Trace Adkins is fine, continuing his streak of appearing in every Western being produced in the 21st century.

There is a humdinger of a twist near the end of the movie that will answer the question about Henry’s sordid past and it is one you are unlikely to see coming unless you are a scholar about the Old West (and if you are, this might not be the movie for you). It is one that left my jaw flat on the floor, but felt absolutely perfect for the movie that preceded it.

I also have to say I love the tone here. It begins kind of melancholy, and evolves from there. It isn’t always easy to watch the dynamics between Henry and Wyatt. Any father (or son) will tell you that it hits uncomfortably close to home. But really, this is a high-quality magnificent entry into the modern western pantheon. It’s worth seeing just for Tim Blake Nelson alone, but also for a well-written script and a fairly bloody climactic shoot-out. A winner all around.

REASONS TO SEE: One of the best twists you’re likely to see. A tremendous, career-changing performance by Nelson. Nice tonal qualities.
REASONS TO AVOID: Moves a bit slowly at the beginning.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its world premiere at the prestigious Venice Film Festival this past September.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/5/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews; Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Unforgiven
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Stop and Go

Be Still


Tea for two.

(2021) Biographical Drama (Ceroma) Piercey Dalton, Daniel Arnold, James McDougall, Amber Taylor, Meredith Hama-Brown, Sophie Merasty, Anja Savcic, Cameron Grierson, Brendan Taylor, Dakota Guppy, Ariel Ladret. Directed by Elizabeth Lazebnik

 

Back in the days where photography was a novelty, just taking a picture was pretty much a big deal. Eventually, adventurous souls discovered that images could be manipulated and a capturing of image became art. So had paintings progressed from imagery to impression, so did photography.

Hannah Maynard (Dalton) was a bit of an oddity; living in the 1880s in Victoria, British Columbia, she operated a photography studio with her husband and was much in demand as a portraitist. Her husband Richard (Arnold) was known for landscapes and natural photography, but Hannah was a wizard in the studio. She took hundreds, thousands of photos of newborn babies in British Columbia. As she took the daguerreotype, she would murmur “be still” to her subjects, because the old photographic plates required several moments for the image to be imprinted.

But of late Hannah wasn’t acting like herself. She was prickly and sometimes downright rude. She threw herself into her work, spending hours upon hours in the laboratory, coming out with her clothes stinking of chemicals. She couldn’t treat anyone with decency; not client, not her husband, not even her adorable little daughter Lillie (Taylor), who often pestered her. Her husband was beginning to fear for her sanity, consulting Dr. Fell (McDougall) who prescribed all sorts of strong pharmaceuticals.

But Hannah was becoming obsessed with multiple exposures, something that cinema’s Georges Melies would eventually become famous for. She had pictures of herself, sitting in three different places serving her other selves tea. Herself, in an impish portrait, was about to pour milk over her own head.

But as she and Richard were drawing further apart, it was clear that something was terribly amiss, something that was messing with her mind. Would it succeed in tearing her sanity into shreds, or would she find the strength to resist?

What’s going on may not become readily apparent, particularly if you don’t know the story of the real Hannah Maynard. I didn’t, and that’s not surprising; she has mostly been lost to history, despite the compelling and groundbreaking nature of her images. Had she been a man, it is likely everyone would know the name, but because she was a member of the fairer sex, for some reason that means her accomplishments have to be discounted. It’s something of a travesty and also something the film doesn’t deal with except in an oblique way.

Dalton bears a striking physical resemblance to Maynard, albeit minus the Victorian penchant for stern, unforgiving countenances. She has a difficult role to tackle; the Hannah Maynard portrayed here is snippy, and often argumentative. But she is a troubled soul, and Dalton gets that across beautifully.

The big problem here is that Lazebnik, who has made a number of short films including a previous one on Maynard, in her feature debut tends to overuse visual and audio effects. There is a constant industrial buzz that sometimes becomes overbearing, and the optical effects soon become tiresome. I understand the rationale in trying to portray the world as Maynard saw it, but Lazebnik should have trusted the story to do that and less on the camera tricks. It’s not that she shouldn’t have used them, it’s just that she overused them to the point where it became too noticeable. A little more nuance would have been more effective.

Nevertheless, she does a great service in presenting the story of a woman whose name should be better-known, but isn’t. Maynard’s actual photographs are shown during the closing credits, and they were very much ahead of her time. When you think of those big special effects-laden Marvel movies that we all seem to love so much, we should give a silent thank you to Maynard, whose innovation made movies like that possible.

The movie is making it’s world theatrical premiere Wednesday at the Vancouver International Film Festival, although it is currently available online at the Festival website in Canada through October 11. It is likely to make the rounds at various film festivals in the winter and spring; keep an eye out for it at your local festival.

REASONS TO SEE: A compelling story with a fine performance by Piercey Dalton.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overuses the optical, lighting and audio effects.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:T he film is based on a stage play by Janet Munsil.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: VIFF online site (Canada only – through October 11)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/4/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Modigliani
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Old Henry

Godavari


Nishikant is so angry even the masks are amused.

(2021) Drama (Blue Drop) Jitendra Joshi, Vikendra Gokhale, Neena Kulkarni, Gauri Nalawade, Priyadarshan Jadhav, Sanjay Mone, Saniya Bhandare, Mohit Takalkar. Directed by Nikhil Mahajan

 

Rivers can feel timeless; moving majestically in their way, they can be a comfort. But rivers can be soiled, made filthy. Rivers can be dammed and forced into different pathways. Thus can the will of man overpower the inexorable flow.

Nishikant (Joshi) would love to exert his will over the Godavari River that flows alongside his home in Nashik, a city about 98 miles northeast of Mumbai. He is a landlord, the son of a well-off family with a pleasant home overlooking the river, but he chooses not to live there even though he is welcome. He spends his time collecting rent from the many tenants in his buildings. He responds to them with scorn and annoyance, which is pretty much how he responds to everybody, including his mother (Kulkarni), his bedridden and dementia-ridden grandfather (Mone) and even his devoted wife (Nalawade). He seems to only show tenderness towards his young daughter (Bhandare) who alone shines joy in his life. He somewhat tolerates his friend Kasaav (Jadhav). His father (Gokhale) he doesn’t even tolerate and the two don’t speak.

Nishikant has a pair of life-changing events staring him in the face. One, I will not reveal here. The second is an offer from a developer to buy some of his riverside property, which would involve the eviction of a number of tenants but would fetch the family a tidy profit. His mother is against the idea but Nishikant is resolute.

This is unusual for Indian films in that it is more of a character study. Most Indian films that make it to the States (and Canada) are either Bollywood musicals with bright colors and much spontaneous street dancing, or rip-roaring action movies with tough guy heroes and many explosions. Nishikant seems to be something of a sourpuss from the beginning and one wonders what on earth he has to be so enraged about, but it is rage he feels. Rage at the river that is so polluted that its waters are unsafe to drink; rage at his station in life that hems him in to a job he can’t stand; rage at his family which seems to be caught in an inertia-free existence. At times it feels like that rage is going to break free and Nishikant is going to just snap.

Joshi does a pretty credible job in humanizing a character that is hard to like. He chain-smokes, often in the privacy of the small apartment he has exiled himself to. He likes to spend time by the river, despite all of his vitriol directed against it and those tend to be some of the more quietly effective scenes in the film. He has good chemistry with Jadhav whose Kasaav, while remaining a peripheral character, nonetheless seems to understand Nishikant the most clearly.

The soundtrack is also somewhat unusual for an Indian film in that composer Av Prafullachandra has written a score that seems to blend Western hard rock (or more accurately, classic rock) with traditional Indian melodies and instrumentation. The mash-up isn’t as jarring as you might think.

My one issue with the film is that Mahajan at times seems to be more intent on bringing in visual metaphors rather than sticking to the story. The pacing is slow (again, unusual for Indian films which tend to move along at breakneck speed) but Mahajan does a terrific job of developing his characters, particularly that of Nishikant.

This isn’t always an easy movie to watch and it does require some patience, but for those who are willing to invest the time and attention, the movie is a rewarding one. Unusual can also be good.

The movie is making it’s world premiere tomorrow at the Vancouver International Film Festival, although it is currently available online at the Festival website in Canada only through October 11. It is set to debut in India in December and may possibly hit North American theaters around the same time.

REASONS TO SEE: Like India herself, there is a mixture of beauty and filth.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times seems to go for visual symbolism at the expense of story.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Making its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival.BEYOND THE THEATERS: VIFF online site (Canada only – through October 11)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/3/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ikiro
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Be Still

The Jesus Music


For some, music is a means of expressing their faith.

(2021) Music Documentary (Lionsgate) Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Toby Mac, Kirk Franklin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael Sweet, Phil Keaggy, Eddie DeGarmo, Glenn Kaiser, Tommy Coomes, Chuck Girard, Greg Laurie, John Styll, Matthew Ward, Mike Norman, Joel Smallbone, John Cooper, Chris Tomlin, Lauren Daigle, Jennifer Cooke, Phil Joel, Michael Tait, Natalie Grant. Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin

 

Like it or not, evangelical Christianity is a part of American culture. In the Seventies there was a massive return to Christianity by baby boomers disenchanted with the strife of the Sixties and with the state of the world and American morality in general. Even in the counterculture, many hippies found themselves feeling that free love, drugs and some of the philosophies of different world religions didn’t bring them the peace they sought.

Some of the hippies congregated at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California – one of the few churches that welcomed long haired freaky people (who need not apply for jobs, as the Five Man Electrical Band noted). Some of them began to form bands, as disaffected young people will, but in this case they were forming bands with a Christian message. Groups like Love Song and Second Acts of Apostles began to sprout up, as did the ascendency of Larry Norman, considered by many the father of Christian rock and roll.

This fairly informative documentary chronicles the rise of the multi-billion dollar Contemporary Christian music industry from these humble beginnings. The filmmakers chat with folks like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, who in the Eighties really started the explosion of Christian music into the mainstream, followed by bands like DC Talk in the decade that followed.

For those, like myself, who are not well-versed in the history of the genre, there is a good deal of information here and the movie is chock full of interviews and performance clips by performers like Steven Curtis Chapman, Kirk Franklin, Stryper and the Newsboys. For the most part, the filmmakers steer away from controversy, other than to obliquely address segregation within the Christian music community (“Why (was) there only one Andrae Crouch,” wonders critic John Thompson) as well as the effect of Grant’s 1989 divorce from songwriter Gary Chapman and subsequent marriage to Vince Gill a year later on her career (it essentially brought it to a screeching halt).

In fact, the word “evangelical” is never mentioned in the documentary, which I imagine is done on purpose. The movie oddly doesn’t really address the rise of evangelical political power that coincided with the rise of Contemporary Christian music, nor does it mention how the careers of some performers were destroyed when they came out of the closet. The movie doesn’t seem to want to address the elephant in the room when it discusses the dearth of African-American performers (whose gospel music was certainly a major influence on modern Christian rock and roll) in that there was also a resurgence of white supremacism within the ranks of evangelical Christians that continues to be an issue.

Still, I can’t fault the filmmakers for not making the movie I would rather they have made. They made a movie that is a celebration of a type of music that brought Christianity into mainstream music where it has remained ever since. Certainly, if you’re looking for that type of film, this will fill the bill. But if you’re looking for an unbiased look into some of the issues with Contemporary Christian music, it’s audience and it’s effect on American culture as of 2021, look elsewhere.

REASONS TO SEE: Extremely informative and meticulously curated.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fails to address the deeper problems that essentially ended the dominance of Contemporary Christian music.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes and a bit of drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the earliest supporters of Contemporary Christian music was evangelist Billy Graham.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/3/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews; Metacritic: 42/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: God’s Angry Man
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Godavari