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The Devil All the Time (review)

The Devil All the Time (review)

This sprawling tale stars Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, and Bill Skarsgård. It’s packed with murders, corrupt characters and all manner of dark dealings. The narrative follows 2 generations as they deal with various unfortunate outcomes. The members of this impressive ensemble assume roles as relatives and sinister supporting characters, but it’s Holland and Pattinson who are the most impressive (with convincing Southern accents). The seemingly unrelated stories have interconnected characters…reminiscent of the Coens at their most sinister…without the depth of enthralling storytelling or humor. It moves slowly (2:18 running time) and even with all the unfortunate events, never achieves any powerful emotional effect. Still, it remains compelling for the performances.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Netflix link

Coastal Elites (review)

Coastal Elites (review)

This is one of the first major shows shot social distanced. Each actor is in a solo environment, as they perform a monologue about how the Trump Administration has affected their lives. It starts with Bette Midler in classic comic form, which is amplified by writer Paul Rudnick in his best satirical style. The rest lack the humor, but embrace emotional responses. Dan Levy deals with being an out gay actor, Issa Rae encounters her prep school classmate, Sarah Paulson copes with her MAGA family and Kaitlyn Dever plays a nurse coping with COVID. It helps that accomplished director Jay Roach has created simple sestups to allow the actors to shine. Overall, this is a self-important screed decrying our current situation with well-worn political points. It’s a sincere effort at embodying liberal responses to our current social situation for an audience of the already-converted.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

HBO link

Two new series set in space (reviews)

Two new series set in space (reviews)

Away

Hilary Swank stars as the leader of the first manned mission on Mars. The initial two episodes feature some exciting space travel moments, but subsequent shows concentrate on the relationships with her crew and her family back home, including her husband (Josh Charles) who also happens to be the smartest scientist at NASA. Naturally, each member of the crew packs their own emotional baggage, which gets unpacked when it’s their turn in the spotlight.  While viewers hoping for cool sci-fi stuff will be disappointed, the solid performances help make the interactions more interesting. Furthermore, there’s too much focus on the teenage daughter’s story (probably an attempt to appeal to a young audience) and the whole series slowly deteriorates into a tearfest (Swank cries at least 2x in every episode). This is much more a relationship drama, than an exciting outer space adventure. Think This is Us goes to Mars

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

.Netflix link

 

Raised by Wolves

Ridley Scott returns to one of his favorite genres with this HBO Max effort (he directed the first 2 episodes and Executive Produced the series). After our planet has been devastated by a war, 2 androids are sent to a far-off planet to raise 6 babies and create a new civilization. This is only the beginning of an exciting science fiction effort with plenty of thought given to futuristic projections and action adventure. Only 4 episodes have been released (new ones every Friday), but so far, it an interesting take on the development of  future society with cool sci-fi elements that approach the horror angles of Scott’s Alien films.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

HBO Max link

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (review)

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (review)

Writer/director/editor/actor Kevin Smith took this sequel around the country for special screenings last year, but it didn’t make it to Richmond. Smith play Bob, while Jason Mewes repeats his role as Jay. They take off on a road trip from New Jersey to LA to stop the reboot of their movie…uh, this movie. Yes, there are lots of Russian Doll / meta layers in this narrative. Along the way, Jay discovers the daughter he never knew he had and that adds attempts at heartwarming moments. Otherwise, it’s full of silly gags, a few genuinely funny moments and cameos from stars of previous Smith films, including a few big names. The overall feel is just as energetic and weird as the original, but with lots more self-references. The script features some of Smith’s clever quips, but there are several monologues that just go on too long…Smith loves to hear his words. Fans of the duo will probably find it suitably reverential in that irreverent style, but as a stand-alone comedy it misses more often than it lands. BTW, outtakes continue thru the credits with one of the best at the very end.

 

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

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Lingua Franca (review)

Lingua Franca (review)

Isabel Sandoval has previously written and directed 2 films under her previous male identity Vincent, but this is her first foray after transitioning. She plays an undocumented Filipino trans woman, who works as a caregiver for an elderly Russian. She’s also saving money to send back home, looking for a green-card marriage and constantly stressed from the threats of abrupt deportation. The Russian’s grandson offers some respite and hope, but her own doubts create additional anxiety. Even with the often-static camera and simple setups, the characters are well realized. Even so, the emotions are guarded, which never allows the drama full reign. The narrative sometimes veers abruptly leaving some confusion. Still, this is an interesting low-budget, indie film this is quite personal and quietly compelling. (In Tagalog, Cebuano and English with NO subtitles, so turn on the CC or you’ll be lost.)

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Netflix link

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i’m thinking of ending things (review)

i’m thinking of ending things (review)

Charlie Kaufman has always been respected as a unique filmmaker. As far as I’m concerned, this latest Netflix entry has taken him over the edge. It starts as Jesse Plemons takes his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) home in a snow storm to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). After a long sequence in the car they arrive at the farm, where the Twilight Zone takes over. Things go from weird to confusing as this muse on memories and fantasy culminates in a dance sequence and a Nobel Prize. There are hidden messages and symbolic signs littered throughout in an attempt to make this make sense. As a straight-up cinematic experience it’s sometimes interesting, but more often frustrating, tedious, and self-indulgent (yes, that all lower-case title is one example).

There have already been numerous articles trying to decode the meaning of this mental adventure, so check them out if you want extra help with the confusion.

 

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

 

Netflix link

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Ted Lasso (review)

Ted Lasso (review)

Like the recent Peacock comedy Intelligence (my review), this new series from Apple features another actor bringing his American sensibilities to England. This time it’s Justin Sudeikis, playing a football coach who transfers to a failing soccer team (a sport he knows nothing about). This show relies largely on Sudeikis, who delivers a lovable, somewhat clueless but always optimistic charmer. There are the inevitable fish out of water moments, but the assortment of supporting characters adds to the fun. Interestingly, Nick Mohammed, who created Intelligence, also plays an enjoyable comic role in this. The series does sometimes fall into sitcom safety (it was co-created by Bill Lawrence, best known for Scrubs), but the earnest heart and sweet individuals make the show appealing. (Total 10 episodes with new ones being released every Friday)

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

AppleTV+ link

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Boys State (review)

Boys State (review)

Boys State has been happening all over the US since 1937, but this documentary follows the annual event in Texas: a thousand high school seniors participate in a week-long exercise to build their own state government. The filmmakers followed several young men as they pursued their goals for elected office. Interestingly, the conflicts mirror the divisions in this country and even the sometimes shady machinations of politics. Besides the obvious political statements the doc makes, there’s very little personal insight into the adolescents and there are gaps in the development of some of proceedings. Even so, it’s a fascinating study of the over-stimulated approaches of adolescent males seasoned with the reality of the contradictions of government and politics.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Apple TV+  link

Lucky Day (review)

Lucky Day (review)

As the trailer proclaims, Roger Avary is best known for writing the “story” of Pulp Fiction. This time he’s writer/director and the Tarantino influence is glaringly obvious. The film starts when a safe cracker (Luke Bracey) gets out of jail and comes home to his wife and daughter. Meanwhile, a deranged assassin (Crispin Glover at his most extreme) leaves a path of quick kills seeking revenge. The dialogue never gets remotely close to Tarantino’s linguistic style, although some of the violent moments do have a gruesome comic element.  Almost every scene goes on longer than needed with no reason (certainly not the writing). While there’s a cruel energy to the action, much of the plot and character situations are predictable.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

On various streaming services, including Hulu and Amazon

Tenet (review)

Tenet (review)

We’ve all seen reversed footage of someone flying OUT of a swimming pool back onto the diving board. This movie takes that effect to the extreme without much visual thrill. John David Washington stars as some sort of operative whose job is to save the world (that tired trope). Turns out people from the future have discovered how to invert time, which leaves clues that turn up in our present…in reverse. Like director Christopher Nolan’s last big concept sci-fi extravaganza Inception, there’s plenty to leave audiences confused. It’s best to just stop trying to figure it out and watch it for the encounters (some of the dialogue is hard to understand too). Even with some big set pieces, the action is never thrilling. While most of the locations focus on industrial sites, the visuals aren’t especially dazzling. Director Christopher Nolan insisted on releasing this film on the big screen and the movie’s success is primed to set off a return to the theatres. Sadly, it doesn’t look impressive or exciting enough to accomplish that goal.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Movie website

Woman Walks Ahead (review)

Woman Walks Ahead (review)

Jessica Chastain plays Catherine Weldon, a widowed artist who travels from New York to North Dakota in the 1880s to paint a portrait of Chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes). While there, she becomes part of the movement to help the Lakota maintain the rights for their land (Sam Rockwell is one of the hostile Army officers). Exposing these injustices never gains much dramatic traction and her relationship with the Chief has potential, but also fails to fully develop. Overall, this is an interesting historical footnote with strong performances, but not a very compelling movie.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

On Showtime and various streaming services

Bill and Ted Face the Music (review)

Bill and Ted Face the Music (review)

This 3rd installment picks up 25 years later, when the titular duo are married with teenage daughters, but still basically hapless failures trying to write the greatest song ever. This time, they’re charged with creating the musical masterpiece in order to save the universe, so they travel thru time to meet themselves in various absurd altered personalities. Meanwhile, their offspring (who are basically teen girl versions of their dads with Brigette Lundy-Paine making an especially funny Billlie) embark on their own mission to assemble the greatest band ever. While the actors still manage to capture the blank dudes tudes and phrases that started the franchise, the setups and punchlines are pale comparisons to the original. There’s plenty of silly energy, but none of it takes the series to new places or even makes the old familiars much more than nostalgia. NOTE: Sit thru the credits to see the codgers shred it one last time.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

Movie website

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