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Movies at a Glance & New DVDs



 

MOVIES AT A GLANCE
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NEW MOVIES at a GLANCE Review:  THELMA.

ATLAS (2hrs) *** Artificial Intelligence is the ability of a computer or machine to learn from its environment and make decisions based on the data it collects. AI systems are able to process large amounts of data quickly and accurately, allowing them to make decisions faster than humans can. Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez) is a data analyst employed by high ranking officers (Mark Strong and Sterling K. Brown) She has a distrust of AI, searches for fugitive AI terrorist Harlan Shephard (Simu Liu), whose AI rebellion left 3 million dead before fleeing into outer space. Atlas’ mother created Harlan who killed her. Harlan, the world’s first AI terrorist, escaped to another planet and Atlas joins the military mission to capture him. The ship carrying the mech-equipped military space rangers, synchronized their brains to the AI in their mechanized battle suits, is attacked by Harlan's drones. Atlas is forced to enter a mech and falls onto the planet as the ship is destroyed. She gains control of the onboard AI, introducing himself as Smith (voiced by Gregory James Cohan), an expert analyst for the International Coalition of Nations (ICN). She directly interfaces her mind with Smith and they bond. Harlan lured Atlas and the military to his planet so he could steal a ship and a carbon bomb which will burn Earth’s atmosphere. Lopez is alone for most of the sci-fi actioner and will be enjoyed by faithful fans. (Netflix)
THE BEAUTIFUL GAME (2hrs 4 min) ** The game of football or soccer might well be beautiful but not this excessively long and tedious bore. For those who don’t know (including myself) the Homeless World Cup is officially an annual street football tournament organized by the Homeless World Cup Foundation, a social organization which advocates the end of homelessness through the sport of association football. Co-founded in 2001 to advocate for a global solution to homelessness, the organization puts together an annual football tournament where teams of homeless people from numerous countries compete.  Bill Nighy plays Mal, a former soccer scout now coaching Team England’s homeless guys, and he and his UK team of fictional six players are off on an all expenses paid trip to Rome for the Games and we have predictable depressing tales of woe that have fallen on each member of the team. The moral of the story is that winning is not important compared to friendship and community. (Netflix)
BECKHAM
. **** (4 hrs 30min)  Recommended. “Here’s an absolutely fascinating 4 part Documentary series handled by Oscar-winning director Fisher Stevens which tells the inside story of global football star and cultural icon, David Beckham, one of the best known names on the planet, yet few people know who he really is. From his humble working-class beginnings in east London, his drive and determination to win at English football caught the attention of legendary manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, who earmarked him for greatness when he was just 13. Beckham’s story is one of immense ups and downs to find balance between ambition, love and family. There are plentiful highlights from matches over the years captured on film. The series builds a surprisingly personal and definitive story of one of the most recognizable and scrutinized athletes of all time. With never-before-seen footage, we follow David Beckham's meteoric rise from humble beginnings to global football stardom."  His wife Victoria Adams, while with pop group The Spice Girls, was known as Posh Spice. The couple “fancied” each other at first sight, dated and were married after their first child, Brooklyn, was born. Posh and Becks became the paparazzi’s favourite couple. In 1996 at 21 in his “goal of the century” against Wimbledon, his astounding kick from his own half actually bent the ball into the goal!  But when the golden boy of soccer at the 1998 World Cup petulantly kicked the Argentina midfielder on his calf, it resulted in universal hatred and death threats. Beckham was shown a red card by the referee and removed from the match, which England lost in a shoot-out, thus eliminating them from the tournament. “I made a stupid mistake, and it changed my life… I still beat myself up about it.” The following season he was at the heart of a Manchester United team that won a historic treble and, a few years later, he was captaining England and hailed as a hero by the country’s fans! After a much-publicized incident in 2003, Sir Alex sold Beckham to Real Madrid for “new career opportunities,” and, after that, Becks chose to live in the US and decided on LA Galaxy where his contract was worth $250 million. Beckham reveals himself as a charming, engaging personality as he talks his way on camera, reacting physically and verbally to some of the many memories we see. I predict a knighthood is due in the near future!  (Netflix)
THE BOY AND THE HERON (2hrs 4min) *** ½  A visually superb Japanese 2D animated fantasy film from long acknowledged 82 year old Hayao Miyazaki as Japan's preeminent animator and director. It’s had universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike although this is probably too long for youngsters. 12 year old Mahito Maki (Santoki) during WW2’s War in the Pacific, moved to the countryside after the death of his mother Hisako in a hospital fire in 1943 Tokyo. A year later, Mahito's father Shoichi remarries Hisako’s younger sister, Natsuko, and she becomes pregnant. They move to the countryside, living with several old maids. Grappling with grief, Mahito struggles in school while pestered daily by a mysterious grey talking heron informing him that his mother is still alive and his stepmother is missing - so they go to rescue them.. The journey leads him into a new world full of fantastical creatures and they discover a ruined, sealed tower in the woods near the house. The heron, actually a disguised demon, tells Mahito only someone of his bloodline can access the portals hidden in the abandoned library-tower, when the lord of the tower kidnaps Natsuko into another dimension. Mahito unhesitatingly crosses time and space to bring Natsuko home. The story is somewhat convoluted, a bit complicated, even depressing and with too many characters, but for the visuals it is still well worth seeing.  
BROTHER (2hrs) **** Recommended. Nominated for Best Canadian Film it’s the adaptation of the David Chariandy award winning novel Brother, co-written, produced and directed by Clement Virgo. A Caribbean black immigrant single mother Ruth (Marsha Stephanie Blake) brings up her two maturing sons Francis (Aaron Pierre) and Michael (Lamar Johnson) in “The Park,” the poorer Scarborough district of Toronto in the 1990s considered dangerous. Ruth works double or even triple shifts to support her young boys in their predominantly black and brown community with all the prejudices and low expectations that brings. Francis puts himself at risk in order to protect smaller Michael from constant bullies. Without their father, the two took care of each other as their mother was seemingly forever at her cleaning jobs, The film cuts back and forth from the boys being children to high schoolers and beyond, with Michael looking up to Francis. In high school Michael is attracted to Aisha (Kiana Madeira) and the feeling is mutual. They witness a fight which escalates into a shooting altercation and brutal crackdown from the cops. Francis changed after that incident and left home to live in a barber shop with his best friend DJ Jelly (Lovell Adams-Gray). They and their friends were helping Jelly prepare for a hip hop concert, hoping to get picked up by a famous producer, but he wasn’t. In a brawl, Francis punched one of them and got severely beaten by bouncers. At the shop the cops showed up, and with a concussion, upset Francis refused to comply, demanded what law they had broken and being warned by a cop not to take a step forward. Author Chariandy lives in Vancouver and teaches literature and creative writing in the department of English at Simon Fraser University.
CHICKEN RUN: DAWN OF THE NUGGET (1hr 28min) *** ½` Animation. Chicken Run, produced by Aardman Animations of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep fame, is the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film of all time.  In it clay chickens escaped from becoming chicken pies on the farm of tyrannical spinster Mrs Tweedy, Now, English chicken Ginger and her American husband Rocky have discovered their new home - an idyllic island bird sanctuary - where the chickens can live in harmony, without any risks from humans and where resourceful rat buddies Nick and Fetcher provide them with supplies. Ginger and Rocky have a daughter Molly and it doesn’t take long before the rambunctious young chick begins to outgrow the area. She and new friend Frizzle sneak onto a truck headed for the Fun-Lands Farm, entranced by a miniature golf course with all the feed they can eat and where chickens are duped into thinking the fast food factory is a giant playground.  Evil nugget inventor Mrs. Tweedy and her scientific husband Dr. Fry want to turn our fowl heroes into deep-fried chunks of fast food. Ginger and Rocky’s dangerous rescue operation of Molly is aided by mother hen Bunty, bird-brained Babs, veteran RAF cockerel Fowler as well as rats Nick and Fetcher. The gang who broke out of a facility deadly to their kind in the first film now must break into a diabolical facility in this long-awaited sequel 23 years after the original popular film. It’s fun for the whole family! (Netflix)
A COMPASSIONATE SPY (1hr 31min) *** The immense publicity at present is on the feature film “Oppenheimer” with predictions of Best Film nominations but here’s a smaller story on the same subject, the Manhattan Project's Los Alamos Laboratory, location for the development and testing of the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan in August, 1945. In 1943, Harvard undergrad and Jewish atheist Ted Hall at 18 years became the youngest physicist hired to help J. Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project. The semi-documentary is narrated largely by Hall’s supportive wife Joan of 52 years and, now in her 90s, it includes a number of excerpts from interviews with both Ted and Joan. Early days of their friendship at the University of Chicago in 1947 blossomed into a personal relationship and then marriage after the war through unnecessary awkward dramatic reenactments. She was politically involved and as ambitious as her husband. He confided in Joan of his secret during their whirlwind campus courtship. Throughout their lives, a close friend was socialist Ted (J. Michael Wright) and fellow physicist / conspirator Saville “Savvy” Sax (Nicolas Eastlund), who shared Hall’s politics and served as his go-between. In 1944 Ted began secretly communicating with Soviet spies. To him it was very dangerous that the Americans had a monopoly in this new weapon and so he gave it to the Russians to safeguard the world from monopolistic power and atomic annihilation..Hall suddenly found himself under intense scrutiny in the wake of the Red Scare, drawing FBI surveillance, but he was never charged with a crime. Providing interesting and insight are Joan’s memories in close-ups and the occasional clips from Ted’s last interview before his death in 1999.
DAMSEL (1hr 50min) *** ½  According to Netflix, in just the first three days the dark fantasy drama recorded 35.3 million views and placed number one in 79 countries, and that is not at all surprising. This is designed for younger audiences and it is unexpectedly entertaining. Elodie (20 year old UK star Millie Bobby Brown) received a proposal from Queen Isabelle of Aurea (Robin Wright) and King Roderick (Milo Twomey) to marry their son, Prince Henry (Nick Robinson). Initially Elodie is unsure but at the urging of her impoverished father, Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone), she reluctantly agrees, in order to repay the royal family's ancient debts. Elodie's worried stepmother, Lady Bayford (Angela Bassett), fails to befriend haughty Queen Isabelle, and she begs Elodie to end the engagement. Following the wedding, the couple take part in an ancient ritual in the mountains to celebrate their union. Isabelle describes the pact between the first king and the fire-breathing dragon (voice of Shohreh Aghdashloo) when he sacrificed his three daughters for peace. After the ceremony, Henry carries Elodie across the narrow path over the steel-scaled predator’s lair and then shockingly hurls her into the chasm! She  eventually reaches the bottom of the pit and realizes she has become the actual sacrifice. She must rely solely on her wits and will to survive. Millie Bobby Brown is impressive as the damsel in distress. Well directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later), the production design and costumes are commendably gorgeous  This should have been seen on a theatrical screen. (Netflix)
DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS (1hr 26min) *** ½`Joel and Ethan Cohen have written, directed and produced 18 films in 35 years jointly, including  Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men and True Grit. In 2021 they started directing solo pieces. In 2022 Ethan and wife Tricia Cooke co-wrote the raunchy comedy caper Drive-Away Dolls (or Drive-Away Dykes), this being Ethan's first narrative film without Joel, and it is a raucous lesbian road-trip adventure.  In 1999 Santos (Pedro Pascal) is sitting in a dimly lit restaurant clinging onto a silver briefcase when two men run off with his valuable briefcase. Next, sexually voracious Jamie (Margaret Qualley) teams up with introvert demure friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassie, Florida. Jamie’s goal is for Marian to have sex!  Unbeknownst to the girls, their particular “drive-away car” contains a valuable package with totally inept criminals, Arlie (Joey Slotnick) and Flint (C.J. Wilson), hot on their trail, intent on delivering the box and metal suitcase to their boss The Chief (Colman Domingo). What makes this worth seeing is its raunchy and very funny rapid-fire dialogue while the performances of their two extremely likeable leads are absolutely impeccable. As expected, lots of laughs as with most Cohen offerings.
EILEEN (1hr 38min) *** ½ Featuring two great performances from Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway in a psychological thriller based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel about two complicated women subject to dark and deadly impulses.  In 1960s New England, we meet 24 year old, single, mousey Eileen (McKenzie) working as a lowly secretary in a youths’ prison in Massachusetts. She has repressed workplace sexual fantasies about a prison guard she barely knows. In a subplot  penitentiary teenage inmate Leo Polk (Sam Nivola) is doing time for stabbing his father to death as he lay in bed next to his mother. Rebecca goes home nightly to a drunk, slovenly, ex-cop father (Shea Whigham) and she has mixed feelings about blowing her brains out or that of her abusive father. Everything changes on the arrival of a new prison psychologist, blonde, beautiful and self-assured Dr. Rebecca St. John (Hathaway), exuding worldly confidence. Impressionable Eileen is smitten by Rebecca who sees in Eileen someone who is enticing and malleable. Rebecca takes her to a bar and knowing glances, accidental touches and pregnant silences lead to obvious physical attraction. Eileen models herself after Rebecca by improving on her wardrobe and taking up smoking. The more they meet the more radiant and attractive Eileen becomes. Rebecca’s investigation into Polk’s case takes a sinister and unprofessional turn, and she calls on Eileen to help her out. When Rebecca invites Eileen over to her home on Christmas Eve, the groundwork has been laid for them to take their relationship to the next level. Rebecca reveals a dark secret, throwing Eileen onto a much more sinister dangerous path. For this reviewer the ending is too abrupt.
ELVIS (2hrs 39min) ***  Frankly I found this an uneven and disappointingly too often boring biographical misfire from renowned Australian film director, producer, writer and actor Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby) which stars impressive newcomer Austin Butler as the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, and a totally miscast Tom Hanks as Elvis' manipulative and controversial manager Colonel Tom Parker, an illegal immigrant from the Netherlands without a passport, known for his appalling behavior towards his star client in the pursuit of wealth.  From the start, callous Parker exploited and manipulated naive and trusting Elvis. We get the basics of Presley’s career: the early days of hardship, the influence of black gospel and blues music, his days on the country circuit before signing with Parker, the worldwide massive Elvis mania success, bits of his countless hits, two years of military service in Germany, his marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu and the start of a family, numerous bubblegum movies, the 1968 Comeback Special, his North American city tour, culminating with the seven years’ long Las Vegas goodbye. The final scenes are of a bloated Elvis himself at the piano singing Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. Although slim Butler only remotely resembles Elvis, he had his moves down pat, improving as the film progressed till his terrific performances in Vegas.  For his role, Butler won a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA Award, and was also nominated but didn't win the Academy Award for Best Actor.  Strangely there isn’t one complete song in the entire overly lengthy film!   For the countless Elvis fans this is definitely a must-see but I would like to have had more music, considerably less of conniving Parker. (Netflix)
EZRA  (1hr 40min) ** The story is about an autistic 11 year old Ezra (neurodivergent William A. Fitzgerald) and his separated parents: stand-up comedian Max Brandel (Bobby Cannavale) and Jenna (Rose Byrne) as well as Max’s father Stan (Robert De Nero), a former chef now doorman at an hotel. Whoopi Goldberg as Jane has a tiny part. Living in Hoboken, intelligent Ezra has been lashing out at school but his actions have put himself and others in danger. He needs to be medicated and sent to a private facility to which Jenna approves and Max doesn’t. Ezra didn’t speak until late in childhood and became difficult to control. Expelled from school, his doctor recommends Resperdal, an anti-hallucinogenic. Max assaults the doctor and is jailed.  A restraining order is placed against Max, preventing him from getting close to Ezra. Stan explains to Max his story laced with sincere regret about his own failure to do so. Just as Stan could not touch his son, Ezra cannot let Max touch him. With a date on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in LA, father abducts son and they head off across country without informing anyone, instigating a FBI chase with Wanted ads on TV.  They stop along the way with Max’s friends Nick (Rainn Wilson) and Grace (Vera Farmiga). Cannavale, with the best performance of his career, and newcomer Fitzgerald both give breakthrough performances. Tony Spiridakis’ screenplay is inspired by his experience in co-parenting a kid with autism.
FIREBIRD (1hr 47min) ** ½  The 2021 bland romantic war drama is based on Sergey Fetisov's memoir The Story of Roman about the real life romance between conscript Sergey (Tom Prior) and fighter pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii) in Soviet-era Estonia. The British-Estonian melodrama, directed, co-written and co-produced by Estonian Peeter Rebane is set in the Soviet Air Force during the Cold War when Sergey, close to ending his compulsory military conscription, was romantically involved with secretary Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya) when he is assigned to assist new fighter pilot Roman. But Roman reawakens sexual desires Sergey had long suppressed. A passion between them develops, despite five years imprisonment hanging over homosexual romances under the Soviet regime’s criminal code. Sergey suggests they run away but Roman can't imagine leaving his homeland and ends the affair in order to protect Sergey.  Sergey pursues an acting career on stage, but returns for Luisa and Roman’s wedding. Their relationship is rekindled, and they continue to carry on their affair in a Moscow rented apartment.  The clichéd heavy handed screenplay is uneven and monotonous and the dialogue stilted and wooden, not helped by the Russian accented English language. Disappointing! (Netflix)
THE GREATEST NIGHT IN POP  “WE ARE THE WORLD.” (1hr 36min) **** Recommended Documentary. In 1984 in the UK, Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats and Midge Ure of Thin Lizzy organized the Charity supergroup Live Aid to sing “Do They Know It’s Christmas” recorded by a UK cast of music stars in London to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.. In 1985 “We Are the World” was prompted by singer / activist Harry Belafonte and he contacted entertainment manager Ken Kragen, who approached clients Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers and conductor / arranger Quincy Jones to create an American version. Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder joined in. They would record immediately following the American Music Awards on January 8 1985 in Los Angeles where US stars were already in attendance. 48 of the US biggest name musicians united as super group USA for Africa for the charity single “We Are the World.”  That included Richie, Jackson, Belafonte, Wonder, Rogers, Paul Simon, James Ingrim, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Bette Midler, John Oates, the Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, and others. There was the massive job of approaching performers, deciding who was to sing what and did their voices match, etc. It’s all here with original 1985 footage as well as the completed video.  (Netflix)
HUMANE (1hr 33min) **** Recommended.  Brilliant! The Family that Slays Together Stays Together!  Euthanasia Enlistment needs Boost!  That’s intriguing and then this surprise: 39 year old photographer / filmmaker, now sci-fi mystery/thriller director Caitlin Cronenberg is David Cronenberg's daughter, and director, screenwriter Brandon Cronenberg's sister. HUMANE takes place over a single day, a few months after a global ecological collapse has forced world leaders to take extreme measures to reduce the earth's population. 20% of the world’s population must be culled, and people are being encouraged to volunteer for euthanasia, a voluntary suicide programs called “Enlistment.” In a wealthy enclave, former TV news anchor Charles York (Peter Gallagher) and his second wife Dawn (Ubi Oark) have invited his grown children to their last dinner together as he volunteered in the euthanasia program. Dawn runs off so a family must volunteer. Tensions flare and chaos erupts among the dysfunctional family: anthropologist-turned-political-pundit Jared (Jay Baruchel), pharmaceutical company exec Rachel (Emily Hampshire), addict, concert pianist and adopted son Noah (Sebastian Chacon), and actress Ashley (Alanna Bale). When the euthanasia van arrives, disarmingly cheerful Bob (Enrico Colantoni), has a contract for two bodies. Charles volunteered but who’ll take Dawn’s place. The siblings refuse to go willingly, do the inevitable and start turning on one another violently.
I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE (1hr 43 min) *** Canadian writer, editor and filmmaker M.H. Murray’s feature film debut takes place over the course of one weekend when a gay working class musician named Benjamin (Mark Clennon) must urgently scrape together $1,000 to pay for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to protect himself from HIV after he is sexually assaulted by a stranger. Struggling Toronto-based black musician Benjamin earns a measly wage playing in clubs at night and he tutors music lessons by day, The treatment he must take within the 72-hour exposure window following his assault costs $1000 he just doesn’t have. Coming out of a bad relationship with Oscar (Kevin A Courtney) Benjamin is into a new one with Malcolm (Anthony Diaz). Going home alone drunk from a gay club, he is assaulted and raped by a stranger (Michael Hogan), left with the uncertainty of HIV and whether he can prevent it from taking hold in his system. Benjamin spends the weekend supported by lesbian friend Ariel (Nat Manual) and attempting to raise the money from friends as he has no personal insurance, his credit card is maxed out and, while doing so as time is running out, he avoids Malcolm. Clennon gives a superb performance and director Murray shows huge potential. Hopefully the film will find an audience apart from the gay community, _ IMMEDIATE FAMILY (1hr 42min). **** Documentary. Recommended.  Record producer Danny Tedesco is known for his award winning 2015 documentary The Wrecking Crew, a most requested group of session musicians which backed up instrumentally legendary recording artists ranging from Bing Crosby to Frank Sinatra … it’s an endless list.  The highly entertaining fast paced follow up, The Immediate Family, is composed of four respected 1970s male musicians, namely Danny Kortchmar (guitar and vocals), Waddy Wachtel (guitar and vocals), Leland Sklar (bass) and Russ Kunkel (drums) and the film follows the music and lives of these fabulous legendary session musicians, with intimate, informative and highly amusing interviews with the guys themselves, as well as the memories of some of rock’s most iconic voices. Instrumental in the group’s formation was Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon (World without Love) fame who left A&R at the Beatles’ Apple Records to become the manager and record producer for James Taylor who called the musicians The Session: Their work can be heard on best selling albums by Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, Stevie Nicks, Crosby, Nash & Young, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne and countless others you’ll see and hear here. The Family also performed on stage with many of them and has been credited by name on albums. The direction and photography are impeccable with interviews and commentary from performers such as Keith Richards, Lyle Lovett, Don Henley and Phil Collins. Collectively, these four musicians helped define the sound of a generation. FYI the Immediate Family’s much-anticipated new 14 track studio album, Skin in the Game, was released on February 16, 2024.
IRENA’S VOW
(2hrs 1min) *** ½ Originally a Broadway play written by Dan Gordon which recounted the story of a Polish Catholic nurse, Irena Gut Opdyke (Sophie Nelisse) who, while risking her own life, saved eleven Jews in German-occupied Polandduring the Holocaust in World War 11 by hiding them in the cellar of the villa where she was employed as a housekeeper to Nazi Major Eduard Rügemer (Dougray Scott). The penalty that the Germans imposed on any Pole found to be harboring or otherwise aiding Jews was death. She has been ordered to supervise 11 Jewish tailors working on German officers’ uniforms. All of them lied about their expertise just to stay alive.  Learning about the upcoming extermination of Jews in Poland, Irena, now working as housekeeper in a large villa assigned to Nazi Major Rugemer finds a hidden completely furnished suite in the basement where she now hides her new friends. She turns down Rugemer’s offer of an assistant and when hosting a large dinner party, her friends now help her prepare food trays impressing Rigemer with her efficiency. Eventually Rigemer finds out and he agrees never to betray any of them. In real life, Irena faced accusations of Nazi collaboration before being exonerated and emigrating to the United States.
LA CHIMERA (2hrs 13min) ** ½  In Italian and English.  You’ll need infinite patience to sit through this overlong meandering tale of a young Englishman Arthur (Josh O’Connor) out of prison and heading for Tuscany to rejoin a group of local tombarolis, grave robbers who follow his genuine passion for archaeology by using a y-shaped branch as a divining rod to guide his remarkable instincts in locating long buried invaluable Etruscan antiquities. They sell them to a shady dealer who provides false papers vouchsafing the artifacts come from the estate of an Italian family and can be legally sold to unsuspecting foreign buyers. They hit the Etruscan mother lode: a magnificent, fully intact Chimera statue worth inestimable millions. At a crumbling villa of physically disabled but mentally sharp Flora (Isabella Rossellini) lives with her three predatory daughters and is cared for by classical singing pupil Italia (Carol Duarte). Arthur had a close link with Flora’s deceased daughter Beniamina but now is attracted to awkward Italia. Writer-director Alice Rohrwacher has done a praise-worthy job of building mood of time and place, but unfortunately the end result is that it is just too long and fragmented. (Netflix) .
LAND OF BAD (1hr 50 min) ** ½` Pudgy Russell Crowe plays US Air Force drone pilot Captain Eddie Grimm nicknamed Reaper who mans the controls of deadly drones along with Sgt Nia Branson (Chika Ikogwe) at a military base in Las Vegas. That vital eye in the sky will keep track of the squad, search for any hostile forces in their immediate area and fire missiles on targets if necessary. The teal includes rookie Sgt JJ “Playboy” Kinney (Liam Hemsworth), sgt Abel (Luke Hemsworth), sniper sgt Bishop (Ricky Whittle) and Master Sgt John “Sugar” Sweet (Milo Ventimiglia). Reaper’s job is to provide air support from a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper to a US Delta Special Forces team in the South Philippines where the enemy are the Abu Sayyaf Islamic rebels led by ruthless Saeed Hashmini (Robert Rabiah). A firefight spirals into a 48-hour battle for survival and Kinney is the survivor who is eventually ambushed, captured and tortured by sneering Hashimi. With an air strike closing in, Kinney's only hope hinges on the guidance of Air Force drone pilot Reaper, navigating unknowable danger where every move could be their last. When there is action the results are engaging but otherwise it’s all pretty monotonous and mediocre.
LISA FRANKENSTEIN (1hr 41min) **  I enjoyed the first unhinged act and since it’s from the pen of Oscar-winning Diablo Cody, responsible for 2007’s great coming of age comedy-drama Juno, I looked forward to more of the same. Written by Diablo Cody and inspired by Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein, this weird 1989 coming of age RAGE story is of smart, misunderstood teenage goth girl Lisa (Kathryn Newton) who, while hidden, witnessed her mother’s home-invading axe-murder. Her popular cheerleader step-sister Taffy (Liza Soberano) understands her, her toxic controlling step-mother Janet (Carla Gugino), at a psychiatric hospital, openly schemes to have Lisa committed against her will, while her father Dale (Joe Chrest) lacks parental skills, intelligence and self-awareness. Lisa retreats to her favourite grave, decorated with a deceased teenage hunk’s bust, and she tells its owner that she wishes they could be together. During a lightening strike Lisa is home when chaotic moments later, she is talking at the Creature … since he can’t speak! He has been buried since the Victorian era and she reanimates the once handsome, big-haired, now decayed and grunting corpse to make him the man of her dreams by using a broken tanning machine in her garage to reanimate dead flesh! They embark on a murderous journey to find true love, happiness, and a missing hand, an ear and a penis for him. It's hugely disappointing and Cody’s usual wit is virtually non-existent in her weak script.
LONGING (1hr 40min) *** What a complex but entertaining and amusing movie which was originally a 2017 film Gaqgua in Hebrew from writer/director Savi Gabizon whose film won screenplay and audience awards at the Jerusalem Film Festival. When wealthy Daniel Bloch (Richard Gere) meets an old college Canadian girlfriend Rachel (Suzanne Clément), they small talk about their schooldays together twenty years ago and she breaks the news that they had a son which he knew nothing about since they broke up when he returned to New York twhile she was pregnant! That's followed with another explosion. Their son Allen (Tomaso Sanelli) drove his car off a bridge and was instantaneously killed!! “You need to know” Rachel tells him, knowing he never wanted kids. Daniel heads to Hamilton to visit his son’s grave and to meet Allen’s friends. At the cemetery there is another mourner, Jacob (Larry Day), whose 18 year old daughter Elizabeth committed suicide. Apparently Allen was an accomplished classical pianist and he liked writing poems. He was kicked out of school for defacing a building’s wall with obscene graffiti and an adolescent love poem to French teacher Alice (Diane Kruger). Daniel checks out Alice and learns Allen was stalking her while living in the home of his 15-year-old girlfriend Lillian (Jessica Clement). We’re heading towards a really weird scene in which Daniel proposes an outdoor wedding ceremony between Allen and Elizabeth, the dead daughter of the man in the cemetery! On the plus side is the photography by the most awarded Canadian photography/director Paul Sarossy
MAESTRO
(2hrs 9min) *** It is a biographical drama film that centres on the loving relationship between legendary composer/conductor/pianist Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and his Chilean American wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). In 1943 Bernstein (Cooper with a prothestic Jewish nose) aged 25 was m assistant conductor with New York’s Philharmonic Orchestra when he took over the baton from Bruno Walter resulting in Bernstein becoming an instant sensational success. He was a heavy smoker and a closeted homosexual, although his meeting with actress Felicia (Mulligan) led to a happy marriage. By the mid 1960s, Bernstein was an established name in the entertainment world, having composed several successful operas and Broadway musicals including On the Town, Candide and West Side Story. The Bernsteins hosted lavish parties and Felicia noticed Lenny’s attraction to younger men (“You are a homosexual and may never change.") Their bisexual marriage produced three children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina, In 1973 Lenny conducted Mahler's Resurrection Symphony in a legendary performance at Ely Cathedral, England and the tumultuous reception brought the two together again. In 1976, Lenny left Felicia to live with music scholar Tom Cothran (Gideon Glick). But then, Felicia was diagnosed with lung cancer and Lenny returned to the family. Mulligan gives a powerful award-winning performance in a complex heartbreaking role. We know that Cooper had enormous success directing (A Star is Born) and acting, but with co-writer Josh Singer, they are responsible for the disjointed screenplay. (Netflix)
MARRY ME  (1hr 52min) ** ½` If it weren’t for its stars, the rarely seen duo of Jennifer Lopez (nickname JLo) and Owen Wilson, this formulaic romcom would have been a total disaster - although their chemistry isn’t obvious. Here’s the storyline. “Kat Valdez (Lopez), a pop music superstar, impulsively decides at a sold out concert to marry a total stranger Charlie Gilbert (Wilson) a divorced math teacher with a young daughter, while he is accidentally holding a "Marry Me" sign which many in the audience are holding, the title of their latest worldwide hit, after learning that her partner and now on-stage bridegroom, Bastian (Columbian rapper-singer-songwriter Maluma), has been having an affair with Kat’s assistant.” Kat takes him up on that and Charlie goes onstage and marries Kat in front of the world!!  The mismatched pair eventually fall in love for real after spending time together away from the media and her management. It is all so totally predictable, absurd and unnecessarily long right through till the end. (Netflix)..
MASTER GARDENER (1hr 47min) *** For all horticulturists the opening credits feature a succession of flower buds time-lapsed to full blooms and the result is spectacularly unique, a perfect introduction to the magnificent Gracewood Garden estate, owned by ultra-wealthy, haughty and controlling dowager, Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver) and under the care of introverted meticulous horticulturist Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) with a hidden past. Narvel has three young working trainees also attending his schooling, and he lives in a single room home on the grounds, keeping a personal daily diary devoted to studying plants. Norma wants him to accept as an apprentice her troubled, estranged, mixed blood, great-niece in her 20s, orphaned Maya (Quintessa Swindell). Maya’s family was into drugs and her drug dealer is physically abusive.  Narvel has a personal deep dark secret (“I thought you should know I was once somebody else”) and his horrific past is tattooed all over his body which Norma has seen from his very personal relationship.  He is only known by his police contact Deputy Neruda (Esai Morales). With the drug dealers affecting Maya, Narvel’s reaction is not to kill but to brutally maim them as a reminder he can do worse. Noticing Narvel’s warmth towards Maya, Norma fires them both, and immediately jealous she retaliates viciously and physically with her entire estate. 76 year old filmmaker Paul Schrader wrote and directed this story of a damaged human “being like a garden in need,” while performances by Weaver and Edgerton are exemplary. (Netflix)
MAYBE I DO  (1hr 35min) ***  Take 2 Academy award winners Dianne Keaton, Susan Sarandon, one Emmy Award winner William H Macy, one Golden Globe winner Richard Gere and add in youngsters Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey and the fun result is superlative acting.  They’re all in Michael Jacobs film version of his play Cheaters which he now directs about two unhappily married couples and their two grown children, wondering about marriage when their parents set a bad example.  Sam (Macy) and Grace (Keaton) are in a theatre watching a Swedish movie when after it their talking leads them to pick up fried chicken and a 6 pack and they head to a hotel room to eat and talk. Monica (Sarandon) and Howard (Gere) have been meeting secretly in a hotel room for 4 months and now he wants out and that displeases her. In real life Grace is married to Howard and they have a daughter Michelle (Roberts) while Monica and Sam’s son is Allen (Bracey) who has seen his parent’s marriage disintegrate and is slow in giving his frustrated girlfriend Michelle an engagement ring. Sam supports the marriage but Monica doesn’t. Howard and Grace are surprised they’ve never met Allen’s parents and suggest he should invite them for a family dinner which Sam accepts but Monica reluctantly agrees.  I’m sure by now you get the picture and what the reaction will be when unexpecting four parents meet. How will it all play out?   (Netflix)
MEMORY (1hr 42 min) *** ½  Mexican producer/director/writer and editor Michel Franco is well known for films dealing with dysfunctional families and here, co-star Peter Sarsgaard won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 80th Venice International Film Festival. Also deserving recognition is co-star Jessica Chastain as Sylvia, a single over protective mother raising a teen daughter Anna (Brooke Timber) while coming to terms with her past. She, a recovering alcoholic, is also a social worker at a care home for adults with learning difficulties, while Saul (Sarsgaard) is suffering from severe early onset dementia which causes him to be confused and disoriented. After a high school reunion, she notices Saul watching her closely and, on leaving, he follows her eventually to her home. In the morning Sylvia finds Saul has slept outside in the rain. From the medical card in his wallet, she finds out he has dementia while giving the name of his controlling brother Isaac (Josh Charles) whose family asks if Sylvia might be willing to help care for him during the day and she agrees. As she gradually gets to understand and appreciate Saul, this is the bleak bittersweet story of two damaged lonely souls who gradually find love and companionship in spite of family members trying to keep them apart. It’s a slow burning, deeply moving and poignant relationship melodrama and the riveting sensitive performances given by both Sarsgaard and Chastain. 
NIMONA (1hr 41min) **** Recommended.  Animation.  The fantasy animation film is a computer-animated science fantasy adventure comedy, super-modern and hi-tech and based on the 2015 queer graphic science fiction novel by ND Stevenson, a 31 year old American cartoonist and animation producer nicknamed Indy. Mixing magic with eye popping technology, Nimona was written when teenager ND wrote the comic as a last-minute class assignment in art school. Nimona (Chloe Grace Moritz) is a shapeshifter, usually a human girl, but able to grow and shrink and take any human or animal form. The mischievous motor-mouth becomes something utterly unexpected at any moment and has been ostracized by the kingdom because of her shape-shifting abilities. The film is set in a futuristic medieval world much like ours in terms of pop culture. Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), a street kid who worked his way up through an elite knight-training program, became the first commoner to be knighted for the Institution, overseen by the imperious, conniving Director (Frances Conroy). As he was being knighted by Queen Valerin (Lorraine Toussaintand), the sword he was handed emitted a blue deadly ray that killed the beloved Queen in front of everybody and he was forced into hiding as a wanted man. He is approached by the mischievous, rebellious shape-shifting teenager who offers to be his sidekick and help find out why he is being accused of the assassination and Ballister realizes that her shape-shifting abilities could help him unmask the real killer. Ambrosius Goldenloin (Euhene Lee Yang) is the champion knight of the kingdom and is in an openly gay relationship with Ballister but he has no choice but to lead the hunt against his lover, All of the voice performances are excellent. The gorgeous computer animation proves eye-popping to the witty screenplay by Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor. The action/adventure family fantasy tale is as hilarious as it is thrilling as it is emotional, and here’s hoping Netflix will tap into Nimona’s franchise potential. (Netflix).
NOBODY (1hr 32min) *** ½  What a surprising thrill ride this is!  The Mansell family consists of working dad Hutch (Bob Odenkirk), a former assassin employed by intelligence agencies, wife Becca (Connie Neilsen, son Blake (Gage Monroe) and daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath). Manager Hutch works for a construction company doing a mundane job and, ambitionless, he sees himself as Nobody. When thieves break into their home, Hutch disappointingly does nothing to his son’s dismay and his wife’s acceptance of him as a failure, but the home invasion changes that. On a bus, drunk Russians thugs harass a defenseless woman and Hutch’s suppressed rage explodes and he brutally beats each of them. One is the brother of dangerous sociopathic Russian crime syndicate boss Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov) who sends his team over to Hutch’s home to take revenge but instead, Hutch, his family hidden, kills the attackers. The fights are exciting, masterfully choreographed and brilliantly filmed. Realizing there’ll be retaliation, Hutch sends his family to safety, retrieves his hidden guns and gold, and he eliminates the invaders, then sets his house on fire to dispose of the bodies and drives off. Assassins go after his father and retired FBI agent David (Christopher Lloyd) in a retirement home and they are killed. With the gold, Hutch buys his father-in-law Eddie’s (Michael Ironside) metal fabrication factory and burns Yulian’s amassed fortune!  Hutch offers to stop the killing to furious Yulian but is refused and he is forced to retreat to the factory where he is joined by his protective adoptive brother Harry (RZA) and father David. Together they massacre the Russians through deadly booby traps pre-set by Hutch. The ultra violent action-comedy is well directed by Ilya Naishuller and penned by John Wick mastermind Derek Kolstad and producer David Leitch.  (Netflix)
NYAD (2hrs 1min)  ** Biopic. The biographical sports’ true story is of long distance swimmer Diana Nyad's memoir 'Find a Way.' Nyad (Annette Bening) was loud, self-involved, opinionated about everything and everyone and obsessed with the challenge. She rose to prominence in 1975, when she swam around the island of Manhattan in 7 hours and 57 minutes. Aged 30, she had a successful career in sports broadcasting and writing, giving up marathon swimming for three decades. She was obsessed with starting again and, at age 64, between 2011 and 2013, she had made four attempts with the assistance of her devoted friend and coach Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster) and a dedicated sailing team on the support boat led by navigator John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans). Disappointingly she failed with all four attempts, but finally succeeded with the fifth attempt and without a shark cage. The swimming scenes are repetitive and eventually tediously boring and waterlogged, and, due to a bland script and dull dialogue, it suffers from pacing problems. As Diana insisted of doing the dangerous swim in raging seas without a disqualifying shark cage, Luke Tipple (Luke Cosgrove), created an electronic shark shield and it worked well for the 53 hours. Diana relives flashbacks of abuse she suffered at age 14 from sexually abusive coach Jack Nelson (Eric T. Miller), which probably formed her abrasive behaviour throughout her life. It’s an extraordinary story with a strong performance by Bening which deserves more than this conventional treatment. (Netflix)
PAGE EIGHT (1hr 39min) ** ½  The 2011 verbose, slow-moving British political “thriller” was written and directed by British playwright, screenwriter and theatre director David Hare, Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) is a veteran MI5 officer in a precarious international position.. His boss and closest friend is Benedict Baron, Director of M15 (Michael Gambon), who summons a meeting with MI5 agent Jill Tankard (Judy Davis) and Home Secretary Anthea Catcheside (Saskia Reeves) regarding a potentially explosive note at the bottom of page eight of a damning secret report alleging PM Alec Beasley (Ralph Fiennes) has placed himself in a precarious international position with knowledge of secret overseas prisons where US authorities have illegally tortured terror suspects.  He didn’t share intelligence gained with Security Services at the expense of British lives. Johnny has a fractured bond with daughter Julianne (Felicity Jones) and a friendship with neighbour, political activist Nancy Pierpan (Rachel Weisz). Although they’ve common interests, he asks former M15 officer Rollo Maverley (Ewen Bremner) to check her out. But Baron has a heart attack and dies, leaving an inexplicable file threatening the organization’s stability. Beasley orders the mysterious report to be buried and informs Johnny M15 needs replacing! Johnny needs to disappear for his own safety. The final stretch is anticlimactic but Nighy is his reliable self. (Netflix)
PASSAGES (1hr 32min) **** Recommended   Set in Paris, the title is also a film being shot in a nightclub with self absorbed, volatile director Tomas Freiburg (German actor Franz Rogowski) berating an extra in a scene whereby he is walking down some stairs and he is not doing it as the director requested. At the film’s wrap party married gay couple Tomas and Martin (Ben Wishall), who runs a successful graphic art studio, mix with the crowd. When Martin heads home rather than having to dance, Tomas dances with elementary school teacher Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and they instantly feel an irresistible spontaneous attraction to one another and at her apartment they have sex. The next morning Tomas returns home and proudly confesses he had sex with a woman (“It was exciting! It was something different. You could say that you’re happy for me”) which obviously humiliates Martin (“This always happens when you finish a film. You just forget”). Tomas starts lying about his clandestine meetings with Agathe and finally he moves in with her which hurts but doesn’t surprise Martin. He rebounds in a relationship with black French novelist, Amad (Erwan Kepoa Falé), although he still loves Tomas and they still have torrid sex..Agathe knows Tomas is gay and when she introduces Tomas to her protective, inquisitive parents, they are concerned that Tomas is totally self absorbed and they are concerned for her. Well they might be as she proclaims she is pregnant! All three leads give impeccable performances in this riveting and compelling love triangle drama with loads of steaming sex.
PERFECT  DAYS  (2 hrs 3 min) ** Subtitles The co-production between Japan and Germany combines four short stories in one excessively long and repetitious Wim Wenders film starring Kōji Yakusho in the under-written role of a quiet toilet cleaner in the Tokyo Toilet Project. The superb photography by Franz Lustig includes a spectacular variety of ultra modern and unique street toilets in clean Tokyo. Silent middle-aged cleaner Hirayama’s (Yakusho) near solitary day starts with him folding up his floor mattress bed and ending the day in bed reading a book from his collection of classic literature. He starts early, pops a classic rock tape into the van’s stereo, and he’s off to various public restrooms. Here he scrubs and tidies meticulously and. regularly. After work he travels by bicycle, encountering people who cause shifts in his routine. A horny co-worker whines why Hirayama works so hard at such a meaningless job. Hirayama’s niece, a runaway from his wealthy estranged sister’s home, shows up. He photographs and keeps prints of trees and has a collection of young potted tree plants. His collection of audio cassettes features Lou Reed, Van Morrison, the Kinks and Patti Smith. So are Hirayama’s days really “perfect”?
PERSIAN LESSONS (2hrs 7min)  *** ½  The background is the Holocaust in WW 11 and the inhumane slaughter of the Jews. In 1942, withdrawn, frail but resourceful Belgium Jew Gilles/Reza (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) avoids being shot when he insists he is not Jewish but a Persian, and he carries a Persian book on mythology He tells his captors that he can’t speak Farsi but knows enough words  In a Nazi people processing facility he works in the soup kitchen. He is introduced as Reza to deputy commander Klaus Koch (Lars Eldinger), a master chef before the War, who wants to learn Persian as he wants to join his brother and open a restaurant in Tehran. Section leader Max Beyer (Jonas Beyer) suspects Reza is lying and he sets Reza the task of translating 40 common words into Farsi, and Koch will write them down. Reza’s must remember the words he invents!  Koch gives Reza the job of writing in a ledger names of new live prisoners and Reza emembers by making up words based on the names of the prisoners, since he has the ledger in front of him. In time captive and captor form a tentative bond with Koch opening up about his family and ambitions. The scenic design and cinematography are impeccable and there are deeply moving performances by Biscayart and Eldinger with solid direction by Ukranian-born Canadian Vadim Perelman.
THE PROMISED LAND (2hrs 7min) **** Recommended. In Danish with subtitles. In the historical drama set in 1755, Danish Mads Mikkelson plays the bastard son of a maid and a nobleman, Capt Ludvig Kahlen, an impoverished Danish officer who retires from the German Army after 25 years of service to Denmark and is rewarded with permission from the Royal Danish Court to build an establishment on the vast heather-covered sandy barren Jutland Heath for land cultivation. He requests from the Court a noble title in addition to a manor. He clashes with arrogant, abusive, wealthy magistrate Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg) who is determined to monopolize ownership of the moorland where nothing grows. With assistance of German migrant laborers and young pastor Anton Eklund (Gustav Lindh) bringing runaway servants, Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin) and husband Johannes (Morten Hee Andersen), they build a large rustic farmhouse and work on the once barren land growing German potatoes!  Schinkel insists he owns the land in spite of Kahlen‘s permission of Frederick V which Schinkel disdainfully disregards. When Johannes is captured and tortured to death, war between Kahlen and Schinkel begins and you know who will win!  Direction is flawless by Nikolaj Arcel who also co-wrote this with Anders Thomas Jensen while based on the novel The Captain and Ann Barbara by Ida Jessen. Totally satisfying with solid performances!
RUMOR HAS IT (1hr 36min) *** ½   What a cast: Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner, Shirley MacLaine, Mark Ruffalo, Kathy Bates, Richard Jenkins; the Director is Rob Reiner (All in the Family; A Few Good Men); and Executive producers are Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney (both Ocean’s Eleven trilogy). In 1997, writer for The New York Times Sarah Huttinger (Aniston) returns home to California for her younger sister Annie's (Mena Suvari) wedding, accompanied by her lawyer fiancé Jeff Daly (Ruffalo). When Sarah tells grandmother Katharine (MacLaine) she is unsure about getting married, she learns her late daughter, Sarah's mother Jocelyn, went to Cabo San Lucas with a guy a week before her own wedding. To Aunt Mitsy (Bates) Jocelyn confirms she “spent time” with classmate Beau Burroughs (Costner) the week before her wedding to Sarah's father Earl (Jenkins). Beau’s author friend, Charles Webb, based his book on Sarah’s family living in Pasadena. Were they the Robinson family in the novel and movie "The Graduate?" Is Beau her biological father and Sarah is determined to find out. She meets Beau who admits to sleeping with her mother and grandmother, but assures Sarah he couldn't be her dad because he is sterile from a soccer accident. The following morning Sarah wakes up in Beau's bed, the third generation to have sex with Beau!!!  It’s well directed with appealing performances and very clever dialogue.  (Netflix)
SCOOP (1hr 43min) *** ½ The adaptation of former Newsnight producer Sam McAlister's book Scoops: Behind The Scenes of the BBC's Most Shocking Interviews by Peter Moffat is the retelling of the most shocking 2019 BBC television interview of Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell), second son of Queen Elizabeth, by presenter /journalist Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) and the production team at BBC Two news and current affairs program Newsnight. Sam McAlister (Billie Piper), the interview booker, was a member of BBC’s  team, McAlister, Maitlis, and editor Esme Wren (Romola Garai) who track the story from beginning to end, navigating palace vetoes, tense negotiations with Prince Andrew’s private secretary Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes). It was broadcast on BBC Two on 16 November 2019, focused on Andrew’s close relationship with financier and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein who introduced him to Virginia Giuffre, trafficked for sex by Epstein and known by Virginia Roberts, to which Andrew denied even meeting her. Yet a civil case filed by Giuffre against Prince Andrew in early 2022 was settled out of court for £12 million!!! The fallout from the program was immediate, as disgraced Andrew gave up his royal duties and his role as trade envoy. QED. (Netflix)
SHORTCOMINGS (1hr 32min) *** ½  This is actor Randall Park’s impressive debut as director of Adrian Tomine’s 2007’s graphic novel of the same title. Not only is it hilarious but it is perfectly cast and brilliantly written.  In Berkeley, a romantic comedy at a festival screening is enthusiastically received by the Asian audience except for cynical filmmaker Japanese-American Ben (Justin H. Min) who runs a low grade art house theatre and he vents his criticism to his girlfriend Japanese-American Miko (Ally Maki) who works for the American-Asian film festival. Ben reckons he is always right and barely recognizes Miko’s point of view, resulting in a crumbling relationship. Ben’s best friend is straight-talking Korean American lesbian Alice (Sherry Cola) who has broken up with girlfriend Meredith (Sonoya Mizuno) but that is soon rectified.  Both Miko and Meredith have noticed Ben’s partiality to blondes so when blonde Autumn (Tavi Gevinson) applies for a job at the theatre, naturally she is accepted and in return invites Ben to see her experimental band. Miko informs surprised Ben that she has accepted a three month internship in New York City and then confesses she wants to be on her own and they should take some time off from each other. That leaves Ben to play around and he is attracted to recently separated blonde Sacha (Debby Ryan) until her lover returns!  To discover what happened to Miko, Ben and Alice head to New York, and is Ben in for a painful surprise. All this is segmented into hugely amusing digestible chapters, vastly entertaining and with perfect pacing. 
SLY.  (1hr 35min)  *** ½  Documentary/Biography. 77 year old Sylvester Stallone, actor, writer and director, hit the jackpot around the world with massive blockbusters Rocky followed by Rambo and The Expendables making him a global superstar.  In his early life in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen his Italian immigrant father was a hairdresser while his mother was a woman’s professional wrestling promoter and he had a younger brother Frank. Early in life he took an interest in writing and frequented the public library to further his skills. In the 70s, he also took a liking to acting and gained a supporting role in The Lords of Flatbush. His big break came in 1976 with the role of struggling boxer Rocky Balboa who took on heavyweight champ Apollo Creed and, inspired, Sly spent three days in writing the first draft of Rocky. His attempts to sell the script were rejected as he was determined that he, an unknown, should play the lead role!  In 1977 Rocky was nominated for 10 Oscars and won Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Film Editing! In 1979 he wrote, starred in and directed Rocky 11 grossing $200 million which led to two more successful sequels. In 1982 he starred as PTSD former Vietnam Green Beret veteran John Rambo in First Blood, launching another massive franchise winner in Rambo. He had another massive success in 2009 when he wrote, directed and starred in the elite mercenaries’ ensemble action trilogy The Expendables. Oddly, none of Sly’s three wives are mentioned by name in the bio and then only his son Sage, but not his three daughters.  Talking into the camera, Stallone tells great stories about himself.  He doesn’t hesitate to critique his artistic choices, tackle some of the flops and foibles, his personal failures, and even his own ego. I could easily have enjoyed another half hour of this intimate documentary!  (Netflix)
SPACEMAN  (1hr 47min) ** ½ This is virtually a one man drama and that person is Adam Sandler in a restrained dramatic role as Jakub, a solo astronaut on a solitary mission towards Jupiter to study the mysterious radiant Chopra clouds of glowing particles at the edge of the .solar system.  With feelings of loneliness and constant dread, he’s six months into the mission and is troubled that he is not hearing from his pregnant wife Lenka (underwritten Carey Mulligan). Convinced there is something wrong, he is reassured by his Czech commanding officer Tuma (Isabella Rossellini) and physician/technician Peter (Kunal Nayyar) at Mission Control. Lenka sent a recent video message to Jakub, tearfully sharing her loneliness and her dissatisfaction with their marriage before going to stay with her supportive mother Zdena (Lena Olin). We see a creepy-crawly form moving under the skin of Jakub’s face, its pedipalps (elongated leglike structures) making an attempt to exit through his nose before it emerges from his mouth!!!  Lo and behold, the world’s loneliest man now discovers there is another living creature on the spacecraft, a mysterious giant-eyed, multi-legged, ancient 6 eyed arachnid he names Hanus (voice of Paul Dano), obviously speaking the same language and wanting to help him reach his destination! This is the adaptation by Colby Day of Jaroslav Kalfař’s absurdist original sci-fi novel Spaceman of Bohemia. Cinematographer Jacob Ihre is to be commended for effectively using a floating, roaming camera to capture the weightlessness throughout the space shuttle and the purple extraterrestrial vapours orbiting around Jupiter. But the script is disappointingly lacklustre and unremarkable and gets monotonous during its bloated running time.  (Netflix)
THE STONES AND BRIAN JONES (1hr 32min) *** ½  Documentary. In June 1969 one of Britain’s most popular rock groups The Rolling Stones fired their gifted founding member, guitarist Brian Jones, due to his excessive drug and alcohol dependency which hampered his performance in the recording studios, and in less than a month he was found dead, aged 27, drowned in his swimming pool. Handsome blond Jones had been a talented and prolific musician playing a multitude of instruments. In the early 1960s he rebelled and at 17 was thrown out of his straitlaced, disapproving parents’ home in Cheltenham and left for London where the lifelong fan of jazz, rhythm and blues advertised in Jazz News for musicians to audition for a new Blues band. First to sign up was pianist Ian Stewart followed by vocalist Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, bass player Dick Richards and drummer Tony Chapman. Jones got their name The Rolling Stones from an old Muddy Waters blues recording, and their first gig on July 12 1962 was at London’s Marquee Club. Initially Jones was the group’s uncontested leader but there was a rivalry between him and Jagger but he didn’t write songs although Jagger and Richards did. In 1963 the band’s line up changed to include bass player Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts, becoming the band as we know it. Success with the public was instantaneous for one of the world’s most influential and revered bands. Unreliable and struggling constantly with substance abuse and erratic behaviour led to a downward spiral affecting his relationship with the band..From his rebellious teen years at 17 Jones was a womanizer, having several turbulent, steamy, teenaged relationships, five of his conquests abandoned after he impregnated them and moved on!  “Most people today haven’t even heard of him,” quotes music documentarian Nick Broomfield of Jones, but this film should go a long way of rectifying that.
THE TASTE OF THINGS.  (2 hrs 15min) *** Reviewers gave this a thumbs up and audiences gave it a whooping thumbs down. The direction by Tran Anh Hung, the superb photography by Jonathan Ricquebourg and performances by Juliette Binoche as master chef Eugenie and Benoit Magimel as wealthy gourmet Dodin Bouffant, are impeccable.  In 1885 France, two people with their young assistants, prepare an enormous meal in a country manor. The meal is intricate and multiple courses are being prepared simultaneously and we get details of each exquisite course in Dodin’s kitchen. Apart from all male dinner parties thrown by Dodin, we never see who else enjoys the sumptuous spread lovingly created daily by Dodin, aided by perfectionist Eugenie and assistants Violette (Galatea Bellugi) and gastronomic prodigy Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire),. Dodin has strong feelings for Eugenie who appreciates her freedom but they do share occasional nights. She has worrisome odd fainting spells and won’t commit further to their relationship, although eventually giving in. This will appeal mostly to Art House audiences and those who have a passion for the culinary arts.
TAYLOR SWIFT: MISS AMERICANA  (2hrs 2min) **** Recommended. The 2020 Documentary covers several years of her life through a biographical compilation of interviews, flashbacks, studio footage, home videos, cellphone videos and concert recordings. It includes sensitive subjects that Swift often avoided in interviews, such as her past battle with eating disorder, her favourite person her mother Andrea's cancer diagnosis, the toxic Internet culture and media scrutiny she faces, her sexual assault trial, and decision to go public with her political views. Netflix described the film as a "raw and emotionally revealing look" at Swift "during a transformational period in her life as she learns to embrace her role not only as a songwriter and performer, but as a woman harnessing the full power of her voice". Director Lana Wilson offers a multifaceted window into Swift, her creative process, and her singular experience of being one of the brightest lights on the world's global stage. Miss Americana has been described as an intimate, genuine, funny and empowering film, documenting "her humble beginnings as a country-music star to her position as an influential figure in pop culture" It’s hugely personal with Swift opening up completely and, at the heart of it all, her love of music. The fascinating documentary follows Swift during a transitional phase in her career, as she wraps up her 2018 Reputation Stadium Tour and began creating her 2019 pop album Lover. It includes rapper Kanye West interrupting Taylor’s acceptance speech for winning Best Video at the MTV Video Awards with “Beyonce had the Best Video” and her experience of sexual assault in a 2017 court case. For all Swift and music fans, this is a ‘must see,’ (Netflix)
NEW: THELMA (1hr 37min) **** Recommended to all viewers over 80. Prediction: 94 year old June Squibb in her first leading role will receive an Oscar Nomination for her sensitive performance in the energetic charming, action comedy film Thelma and don’t be surprised if she wins! Apparently the story was inspired by director/writer Josh Margolin’s own 103 years old grandmother’s real life experience and, in every respect, the acting, storyline, dialogue and hilarious events will have most of us seniors laughing out loud throughout the 90 minutes. Here’s the gist of the story and something many of us have experienced.  93 year old widow Thelma Post (Squibb) gets duped by phone scammer Harvey (Malcolm McDowell) sounding like and pretending to be her 24 year old grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger). Most of us have been the subject of a scam call from someone pretending to be a grandson, saying he was in jail and needed $10,000 to bail him out. Here Thelma rushes to the post office with cash in an envelope and mails it. But when she finds out she has been tricked, she’ll go through hell and high water, determined to get her money back. Embarrassed yet undeterred, a visit to the police results in a brush-off: there’s nothing to be done, and so Thelma sets out alone. With the support of aimless but doting Daniel who is trying to find his purpose in life but who can’t get taken seriously by his parents (Parker Posey and Clark Gregg, if there is a weakness it is in their characters), he helps grandma with basic online tasks. She visits two longtime friends, firstly Ben (the late Richard Roundtree), a retiree at a senior living facility. But he has something she really wants, his motorized 2 seat scooter, but he insists on coming with her to confront potentially dangerous criminals, while she drives through LA streets at night like a maniac. Then they drop in on old dotty friend Mona (Bunny Levine) and Thelma “borrows” her hidden revolver without Mona's knowledge. Here is something you don’t see very often, a thriller starring a 93-year-old action hero. Squibb is absolutely wonderful with impeccable comedic timing and full command of her character. Please see it - you won't be disappointed. (Fifth Avenue, Riverport)
THELMA THE UNICORN (1hr 33min) ** ½  Animation. The musical adventure comedy film with juvenile humour is for under 12 kids'  Thelma is a small farm pony who dreams of becoming a famous musician alongside her barn-yard band mates Otis the donkey and Reggie the  llama, who have formed a band called The Rusty Buckets, failing at an audition for a spot on the renowned musical showcase musical made up of animal acts called Sparklepalooza. A clumsy truck driver transporting vegetables has an accident and drenches Thelma with buckets of glitter and pink paint, with a carrot stuck on her forehead giving her the appearance of a unicorn!!  That attracts people passing the farm (“look, mommy, a real unicorn”). She takes the opportunity to sing and is immediately recognized as an unusual singing unicorn!  Peggy Purvis, a blind retired record dealer, decides to make them her new comeback attraction. Then Thelma is noticed by record exec Vic Diamond, who represents self-absorbed singer, Nikki Narwha, and he signs Thelma as Nikki’s opening act! Vic uses a missile to destroy a limo carrying blind Peggy, Otis and Reggie. At Nikki’s show without her band, Thelma sings solo, rises to international pop-superstar and Vic signs a contract with Thelma which enrages Nikki. Will Thelma get together with Otis and Reggie? It’s simple, predictable and formulaic but it does have a soundtrack filled with lively tunes. (Netflix)
THEY SHOT THE PIANO PLAYER (1hr 42min) ** ½` Animation. In Spanish and Portuguese w subtitles.  A true story centred around the real-life disappearance and presumed murder of Brazilian samba-jazz pianist Francisco Tenório Júnior in 1976 with Jeff Goldblum’s voice as that of New York music journalist Jeff Harris investigating in 2010 Tenório's mysterious vanishing at age 34 on March 18, 1976  during Latin America’s disastrous total take-over by powerful fast spreading totalitarian regimes, snatching thousands off the streets only to "disappear" in the seven year Dirty War. At a local New York book store, Harris is there for the book signing event of his new work depicting Tenorio’s promising career and what happened to him when he went out to a corner store in Buenos Aires late night one to buy a sandwich and never returned which was common place at the time with ruthless Argentine police under military dictatorship during the political revolution. The book was to collect stories and memories from Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires from Tonorio’s family members, friends and fellow musicians of his short but promising life, although much of the interviews are similar. I found the colourful animation incompatible and a contradiction to cover the grim tale of suppression and dictatorship in South America, although in reality there isn’t much of a story to tell of the unsolved cold-case crime. To add to the confusion, we are given on-screen titles to translate the often meaningless dialogue, another aggravation. I would have preferred to have seen this as a live action drama and I was disappointed not to hear popular Bossa Nova hits such as The Girl from Ipanema, Desafinado and Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) but no such luck.
ULTRAMAN: RISING  (1hr 57min) *** ½  Animation. Vibrant and stunningly gorgeous, the animation for the family-friendly film was produced by Industrial Light & Magic. Self-centered Kenji Sato (voice of Christopher Sean) is a superstar baseball player living a secret life as the Earth-defending giant superhero Ultraman.  With Tokyo under siege from rising monster attacks, he reluctantly returns home to Japan to play for the Giants team in Tokyo and to take over his father's duties as Ultraman, shielding Tokyo from giant monsters as becomes a legendary hero.  He balances his career and hero duties while reluctantly adopting as his own child a 35-foot-tall, fire-breathing newborn baby kaiju monster after defeating her mother, the offspring of his greatest enemy. Sato must protect the baby from forces bent on exploiting her for their own dark plans. This all leads to an exhilarating action-packed finale in this message of family, acceptance, and forgiveness co-written and with direction debut by Shannon Tindle. (Netflix)
UNFROSTED  (1hr 36min)  * ½  Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld TV series) directs, co-writes and stars in a bland and childishly laugh-free silly new comedy with jokes falling flat, based around the creation of the popular, mass-produced breakfast pastry, the Pop-Tart story.  In 1963 Michigan, Kellogg's and Post, sworn cereal rivals, race to create a pastry that will change the face of breakfast forever. In Battlecreek, Michigan  monopolizing the breakfast cereal market were two companies. Kellogg’s with their general manager Edsel Kellogg 111 (Jin Gaffigan ) and Post run by Marjorie Merriweather Post (Amy Schumer) accompanied by her bumbling right-hand man Rick Ludwin (Max Greenfield),  Post had supposedly created a fruit filled pastry to be heated in the toaster. Given their latest assignment to beat the Post company to a toastable breakfast pastry are rival Kellogg’s Head of Research and Development Bob Cabana (a wasted Jerry Seinfeld) along with NASA scientist and innovator Donna Stankowski (equally wasted Melissa McCarthy), trying to create a rival product which would become the Pop-tart. And that is the film’s plot.  The weak jokes fall flat as does the dialogue from the impressive cast members including Hugh Grant, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage and Christian Slater, (Netflix)
WICKED  LITTLE  LETTERS (1hr 40min) *** is set in the 1920’s English seaside town of Littlehampton with a variety of interesting, character faces and an over abundance of unexpected foul language coming from its small-town folk. Someone has been sending profanities in the mail to everyone and the English bobbies have no idea who that might be. Based on a true story, the main characters are deeply religious, conservative, unmarried Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) living with her overbearing, permanently controlling father Edward (Timothy Spall) and his devout wife Victoria (Gemma Jones), while Edith’s rowdy and course next door neighbour is single mother and Irish immigrant Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley), living with her young daughter Nancy (Alisha Weir) and Rose’s black boyfriend Bill (Malachi Kirby). The semi-detached homes are divided by paper thin walls whereby every sound can be heard. Edith is distraught when she receives 19 crude anonymous insulting letters and she suspects they come from Rose as the words are similar to the vulgarities Rose uses regularly. She reports this to local Police Constable Papperwick (Hugh Skinner) who arrests and jails protesting Rose. Black police officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) is skeptical because of the difference in handwriting but Chief Constable Spedding (Paul Chahidi) orders her not to get involved. The vulgar poison pen letters are now being sent to local town folk as well as to residents across the country! Because of the handwriting, the culprit is not Rose, who begs Gladys for help and she eventually reveals the writer. Thea Sharrocks direction is excellent, as is the cinematography by Ben Davis. The skimpy subject matter is barely adequate and overly repetitive for a full length feature. (Fifth Avenue). 
THE ZONE OF INTEREST (1hr 46min) ** ½  I knew absolutely nothing about this film before attending the press screening and frankly I was bored during the majority of it. I was shocked then to read that inexplicably at Cannes it had won the Grand Prix and FIPRESCI Prize and was named Best Film by the LA Film Critics Association! In 1943 Auschwitz Poland extermination camp commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his family enjoy s mundane domestic real dream life in their new spacious home with a barbed wire-topped garden wall right next to the infamous death camp. His wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) tends to the lush pleasure garden while Rudolf, when not working or on the phone, takes the five children out fishing or swimming in the river adjoining the property. When Höss notices human remains in the river, he quickly gets his children out of the water and chastises the camp personnel for their carelessness. Servants attend to Hedwig’s every needs, while she and friends select for themselves clothes from exterminated Jews’ belongings. Meanwhile Höss makes plans about building a more efficient facility for the mass cremation of bodies. Promoted to deputy inspector of all concentration camps, he must relocate to Oranienburg near Berlin, but Hedwig insists on remaining with the children in their comfortable home and Höss requests and gets the approval. At no time do we actually see scenes of brutality or piles of corpses in the death camp although the odd voice or gunshot is heard. The tedious, monotonous, boring film subjects audiences to an endless sequence of mundane activities that provide little narrative substance. 4 Academy Award wins including Best International Film?  You've got to be kidding!!  Yuk!!! 

 

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