Film

In Theaters    All Reviews A-Z

Technically, no films are playing locally, but the ones below are the most recent.

 

Ode to Joy (review)

Ode to Joy (review)

Martin Freeman brings an anxious intensity to any role he plays (most recently in the darkly funny Breeders on FX). This character gives him a chance to amp up those traits for laughs. He plays a man with cataplexy, a disorder that makes him lose muscle control whenever he’s happy. To avoid that outcome, he moves thru his day focusing on the miserable side of life, until he meets a wonderful woman (Morena Baccarin). In addition to Freeman’s affable charms, Jake Lacy (as his brother) and Melissa Rauch (as his “safe” girlfriend) add additional funny moments. Director Jason Winer is most associated with his work on Modern Family and he captures that same buoyantly upbeat/offbeat vibe here. While the romance plays out predictably, getting there provides lots of sweet appeal and delightful comedy. (On Showtime and streaming platforms) 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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Quiz (review)

Quiz (review)

The hit game show Who Wants to Be a Milionaire? was actually created in Britain before travelling to the US. This series looks at the cheating scandal that shook the UK, when a husband and wife team were accused of working with a 3rd person to win the big prize. Matthew Macfadyen (best known as the inept son-in-law on Succession) stars as the husband and his performance is the show’s strongest asset (although everyone is good). Director Stephen Frears has guided the production with an assured hand, but the show lacks much emotion. Even though it revolves around the couple, it’s more about the game process and the legal procedural that followed. Still, it’s a fascinating examination of this unique event. (3 one-hour episodes on AMC)

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Da 5 Bloods (review)

Da 5 Bloods (review)

This is Spike Lee at his most. The title refers to 5 black men who served together in Vietnam. All these years later, 4 of them return to bring home the remains of the 5th soldier. Even though things get expectedly complicated, the first hour rolls by with predictable encounters and much personal drama. In the flashbacks, it’s a bit jarring that Chadwick Boseman is playing the young 5th soldier, while there’s intentionally little attempt to make his much older costars look his age. Being that this is Lee, there are history lessons sprinkled thru the dialogue and several racially-tense encounters. Delroy Lindo is the lead and he’s chewing every piece of bamboo in the jungle. His performance is way over the top and his character (despite the PTSD) is basically obnoxious, which is bolstered by the fact that Lee has him wearing a MAGA hat (and Lee is an outspoken critic of “Agent Orange,” as he calls him). The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel is sometimes sumptuous and they’ve created some memorable imagery. The mostly Marvin Gaye soundtrack works well, but Terence Blanchard’s expansive orchestral score seems totally out of place. Like much of Lee’s best work, this is at times powerful, exasperating and controversial…and right now, more relevant than ever. NOTE: If u sit thru the credits, there’s a shot of the entire crew . (Mostly in English with some subtitles in French and Vietnamese) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Netflix link

The Great (review)

The Great (review)

As is popular these days, this is an occasionally true, completely updated take (in style and language) on the story of Russia’s Katherine the Great. It starts as an innocent German girl (Elle Fanning) arrives to become the wife of Peter III (Nicholas Hoult). Her desire to bring new ideas of enlightenment and freedom comes into conflict with the current court. Fanning is wondrously sweet, strong and mischievous, while Hoult brings a delightfully charming cluelessness to his portrayal of the incompetent ruler. There’s a long list of supporting characters who all add depth and flavor to the relationships. Tony McNamara, who was a writer/producer on The Favourite, picks a similar devilish tone, including a comically cruel and raunchy approach to the court proceedings and the interpersonal relationships. The richly witty, deliciously evil writing, coupled with delightful performances make this funny, smart and even poignant reimagining of history. (8 one-hour episodes on Hulu)

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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Shirley (review)

Shirley (review)

Elisabeth Moss continues to expand her range as this cantankerous horror writer (based on Shirley Jackson). Her character is smart and verbally vicious, but also immensely troubled. When a young couple moves into their house, unusual things happen in several directions. This is primarily an exercise in putting complex characters in uncomfortable situations. As the relationships evolve, the drama abounds. Director Josephine Decker has created moods and people who are sometimes compelling and other times just frustrating. It’s an unusual character drama with Moss’ performance creating the most interest.  (On Hulu, Google, Amazon & YouTube)

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

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Devs (review)

Devs (review)

This is another series in the new trend of low-key, intellectual sci-fi shows. The mysterious titular organization is working with quantum theory on time travel, until a young coder gets in the way (after her boyfriend is murdered). This was created by Alex Garland, who’s responsible for Ex Machina (my review) and Annihilation (my review) and this series features many of the hallmarks from those films: Glacial pacing, ominous creepiness and promising tech. To drag out the drama, the inventor (Nick Offerman) is struggling with the loss of his family (one of the tiredest tropes in tragedy). Most of the time is spent in low-key dialogue with sprinklings of special effects and mild violence to keep us hoping for a payoff. Sadly, there aren’t any revelations til Episode 6 and even then, it isn’t really worth it. The disruptive discordant sound design just adds to the flailing suspense. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

(8 one-hour episodes free on Hulu, but available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon)

 

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Tom of Finland (review)

Tom of Finland (review)

Illustrator Touko Laaksonen was known for the unabashed, highly-masculinized homoerotic art that he drew under the name Tom of Finland. This biopic follows his life from WWII to his worldwide success in the latter half of the 20th century. He struggled for many years with his country’s repressive laws, frequenting parks for sexual connection. The narrative follows a predictable path with occasional flashbacks to significant memories and mild flights of fantasy with one iconic leather-clad stud. Considering the personal adversity he faced, there’s not much emotional connection. Still, those who might appreciate this story will find it full of information. BTW, even though lust pervades the subtext, the sex is more explicit in his drawings than what’s portrayed among the film’s characters. (Finnish and English with subtitles) Streaming on Amazon, Hulu and iTunes

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

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Hail Satan? (review)

Hail Satan? (review)

The Satanic Temple has generated lots of controversy in the last few years, most notably by campaigning against Ten Commandments monuments on state capital grounds. This movie outlines the rise of the group and their fights for religious pluralism and other noble causes. They make sure to stress that they don’t actually worship the Devil, but focus on social and political justice. Instead of slipping any anarchistic potential in the filmmaking process, director Penny Lane chose to take a sober, traditional approach. There are lots of interviews with cult members, all done on the same background (which adds little visual variety). Plenty of news footage fleshes out their story, but it’s all presented in a rather serious and slowly-paced package. The message comes across early, then the remainder plays out more like a sober 60 Minutes story than an entertaining documentary. NOTE: Sit thru the credits for a great punch line. (Streaming on Amazon, Hulu & iTunes)

 

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

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I Love You, Stupid (review)

I Love You, Stupid (review)

After the lead character gets dumped by his girlfriend and loses his job, he sets out to reinvent himself with the bad advice of his best friend and the unfunny suggestions from an online guru. This story has been told dozens of times before with better results. There’s a profusion of tired tropes like:

– the hero addressing the camera

– the string of disastrous dates

– the long-lost girl from high school, who’s now hot

– the inevitable montages (trying on clothes, breaking up and I’m pretty sure they ate ice cream at some point)

– the “Say Anything” music moment

To top it off, the dialogue is humdrum and the characters aren’t especially appealing. Everyone is acceptable and the pacing is crisp, but there’s nothing to make this movie memorable.  (Spanish with subtitles) 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

Netflix link

Adam Ruins Everything (review)

Adam Ruins Everything (review)

This series started in 2015, but I only just discovered it. It stars comic Adam Conover, who is also a cast member/writer for the website CollegeHumor. On each episode, Conover picks one topic that we take for granted and he debunks it…everything from diamonds to voting to sex. Each show starts with a “regular” person doing something normal, then Conover swoops in to expose the truth in a variety of amusing encounters. Often there’s time travel, occasionally there’s animation and sometimes there’s silliness, but it all serves to solidify his aim to deflate common misconceptions (along with cited articles and guest experts). This is not normally my kind of show, but they’ve made learning the truth so much fun that it’s more entertainment than education. NOTE: Look for former UR president Edward L.Ayers as the guest expert on the “Voting” episode. (On many streaming platforms plus TRU TV) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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Homecoming (review)

Homecoming (review)

This Amazon series got off to a big start last season with Julia Roberts headlining. Her character was employed by an organization that works with vets to wipe their minds clean from the traumas of war. Roberts has departed, leaving Janelle Monáe as the big name. After waking up stranded in the middle of a lake, her journey leads to a more in-depth investigation of the crucial chemical and the dangers it triggers. The first season moved slowly, even with the gradual revelations, there was never much dramatic tension…just lots of dialogue. Ditto this time around. Although there’s an undercurrent of potential tragedy, the lack of much conflict and profusion of talk keeps it from ever being more than a mildly interesting drama. (7 one-hour episodes)

 

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)
Spaceship Earth (review)

Spaceship Earth (review)

Remember BIOSPHERE 2? This doc explores that great experiment in1991 where 8 people lived for 2 years inside a giant structure meant to replicate Earth’s ecology. The story starts with a group of hippies that formed a commune in the 70s and follows them thru their other endeavors, which culminated in this mostly-failed experiment. As documentaries go, this one is average. The subject is fascinating, but the structure and style is rudimentary and the pacing is too self-indulgent. It’s an interesting look back at that unique event, but this telling could be trimmed more tightly. (Streaming on Amazon, YouTube, Hulu & Google Play)

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

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