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Wayne (review)

Wayne (review)

This series is a cross between Shameless (incorrigible characters doing outrageous things) and The End of the F***ing World (2 closed-off misfit teens on a road adventure). Wayne (Mark McKenna) is prone to mood swings from sullen to fierce, but he also hardwired with a sense of protecting those being wronged. He takes off to Florida with his outspoken and headstrong new friend (Ciara Bravo). Meanwhile, a delightful range of unique and scruffy supporting characters joins in the chase (the twins are especially hilarious). This is dark comedy in the best sense with occasional outbursts of violence, witty dialogue, fun surprises and touching moments of insight. (Ten 30-minute episodes with the possibility of a 2nd season)

 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

Uncle Frank (review)

Uncle Frank (review)

This is yet another movie where the trailer looks like a saucy comedy, but the reality is a dreary coming out story. Paul Bettany plays the uncle who’s been living with his boyfriend in 70s New York. When his precocious niece comes to college, she discovers the situation. Then trauma rises back home and they return to South Carolina. While the performances of this excellent cast are worthwhile, it’s surprising that writer/director Alan Ball is behind this. The tragedy of being gay and dealing with a family rejection might have an impact 40 years ago, but this film now feels wretchedly outdated. To top it off, nothing about the script is remotely original, making it feel more like a bad Hallmark film with a good cast.

 

1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

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The Last Vermeer (review)

The Last Vermeer (review)

Guy Pearce has created his most eccentric character and enjoyable performance as Han van Meegeren, a Dutch artist who’s accused of selling art treasures to Nazis. When the titular painting is recovered, it’s up to a Dutch Jew (Claes Bang) to determine the artwork’s origin and Meegeren’s guilt. This film presents an interesting look at Amsterdam right after World War II, when collaborators were literally being shot in the street. The investigation unfolds in typical political/historical style with intelligent dialogue, inevitable setbacks, compelling performances and, as would only be expected, luminous Vermeer-inspired cinematography. It’s made even more fascinating by the fact this is based on a real character and his true story.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Movieland link

Sound of Metal (review)

Sound of Metal (review)

Riz Ahmed is one of the most impressive actors of his generation and this film gives him the showcase role to solidify his standing. He plays a punk-metal drummer on tour with his girlfriend (Olivia Cooke who also turns in a moving performance). Things go sideways quickly when he suddenly loses his hearing. The character Ahmed creates is not only aggressive and determined, but ultimately venerable and touching. The script and direction seem a bit random at times (there are some lapses in logic), but it always returns to Ahmed’s creation. The sound design also contributes to the experience of alternate hearing and open captioning is on screen to be more inclusive for a deaf audience.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Movieland link

On Amazon Prime 12/4

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Vanguard (review)

Vanguard (review)

Even though this film stars Jackie Chan, he’s relegated much of the fight assignments to a new generation. He plays the head of a private security agency that travels from Africa to Dubai to save one of his clients from yet another weapons seller. Of course, the plot is negligible. It’s all about the fights and they’re plentiful. Some of them, especially the chase down the rapids, feature spectacular setups and daring stunts. Even so, the shooting and editing sometimes make the action unclear, but Chan always manages to add a humorous moment to his stunts. For noisy martial arts (and no small amount of guns) this will satisfy fans.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Movieland link

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Two new spy series

Two new spy series

Here are 2 new espionage thrillers from very different points of view.

 

Tehran 

A young Jewish woman (Niv Sultan), who’s also a Massad agent, becomes embedded in the Iranian city to carry out her dangerous mission. Nothing about the narrative is unique. There’s the expected peril and double-crossing. What does set it apart are the location and the attendant risks and threats from that world (although it was actually shot in Greece). Overall, it’s mounted with skill, intelligence and even some tension. (Eight one-hour episodes with subtitles in several languages when English is not spoken)

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Apple TV+ link

 

 

Alex Rider

This new series from IMDB (yes, IMDB) takes the titular young spy back to the beginnings, as he sets out to discover who killed his uncle. The first few episodes set up the situation and gets him recruited and “trained.” After his assignment takes hold, the intrigue builds. This is more adventure adjacent than an action film, although there are some nifty fights and one really cool escape. Entertaining and fun for a YA version of espionage. (Eight one-hour episodes with Season 2 already announced)

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

IMDB TV link

Amazon Prime Video link

Mangrove (review)

Mangrove (review)

Director Steve McQueen (best known for 12 Years a Slave) has produced a series of 5 features examining the experiences of London’s West Indian communities over the decades. The overall title is Small Axe.

 

The first one on Amazon is Mangrove, which chronicles the struggles of a man trying to run a restaurant. After a first hour of numerous police harassments, the narrative moves to court, where the defendants mount their case against institutional racism. As expected, the performances are all committed and strong (even though the accents sometimes make the dialogue a challenge to follow). McQueen has staged much of the film in ALL CAPS, wielding a strong hand to create frustration, outrage and ultimately power.

(The remaining features will be released weekly on Fridays starting 11/27)

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

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The Climb (review)

The Climb (review)

The first scene features 2 best friends on an extended bike ride up a hill. Then the opening credits cite them as co-writers and one as director. I was expecting a self-indulgent talkfest. It is, but it’s develops into more. Kyle Marvin and Michael Angelo Covino (also directed) play the duo, who go thru a number of episodes where their friendship is tested. Both of them and the rest of the cast inhabit their characters, perhaps because they’re playing versions of themselves. One unique aspect of the direction is the minutes-long continuous takes that are technically showy, but also impressive in their elaborate staging. There are also a few arty musical interludes that add nothing but time. Even though it’s billed as a comedy, there’s scant humor and some of the scenes seem forced. By the end, the twists over time turn into a quietly affecting indie bromance.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Movieland link

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Mank (review)

Mank (review)

The title is the nickname for famed 30s writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (played with grand style by Gary Oldman). Although the through line revolves around his efforts to write the screenplay for Citizen Kane, there are plenty of side trips into his other Hollywood dealings. Director David Fincher has chosen to frame this paean to the glory days of Tinseltown in rich black and white with some obvious nods to Orson Welles’ cinematic style. As for the story, the narrative by Fincher’s father Jack is scattered without ever getting deep into the circumstances or character, although he does manage to insert some snappy quips. The performers do a good job, the period art direction is sufficiently attractive and the pacing never lags. Still, it seems more like a tribute to the cinematic art form than a fulfilling biographic insight.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Movieland link NOW

Netflix Link on Dec 4

Hillbilly Elegy (review)

Hillbilly Elegy (review)

Although it’s not mentioned until the closing credits, this film is based on a true memoir. Even so, the continuous tragedies that surround these 3 generations seem stacked against anything but strife and sadness. The narrative (literally narrated) jumps between recent times, when the central character, who’s now a law student at Yale, has to come home to Ohio to deal with his mother (Amy Adams). The flashbacks feature him as a boy, dealing with her continuous failures and the sometimes support of his Mamaw (an almost unrecognizable Glen Close). Director Ron Howard is making sure that everyone’s acting like crazy, but the relentless misfortunes and hurtful relationships make the whole thing hard to handle without much empathy to give it any emotional heft. (There are photos of the real family during the credits).

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

Movieland link

On Netflix November 24

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Dreamland (review)

Dreamland (review)

This film takes place in the dust bowl in 30s Texas and the drama is at least that dry. Finn Cole plays a young man frustrated with his small town life and intrigued by crime stories. Enter a beautiful bank robber (Margo Robbie) who seduces him into helping her. While both of the performances are compelling, the overwrought script and deadly pacing can’t elevate this above mediocre romance drama. The excitement of a crime spree never materializes, leaving us with dashed expectations.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

Movieland link

Freaky (review)

Freaky (review)

The main reason to see this film to enjoy 6’5” Vince Vaughn playing a flighty teenage girl, although Misha Osherovich (as the gay friend) has the best punchlines. This is a hybrid between the Freaky Friday movies (2 people exchange bodies) and the Friday the 13th serial killer series. Kathryn Newton plays the teen whose body is switched with The Butcher (Vaughn). Comic chaos ensues. While there are the expected clever kills, most of the film has the teens frantically racing around to save their friend from a lifetime in the wrong body. It’s high energy and although never especially clever, still lots of fun for the genre and for Vaughn.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Movieland link

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