June Movie Reviews

By Steve Warren

DEADPOOL 2 (R)
***
You can't argue with the success of an infinite screenful of superheroes overwhelming their fans, if not their adversary, with PG-13 dialogue and violence; but I prefer a single pottymouthed smart-ass superantihero who's R for the coarse. I thought I learned all the dirty jokes in seventh grade but there are enough new ones here, and at the same maturity level, that I could repeat the year with all fresh material. Ryan Reynolds is a repeat offender as Wade Wilson/Deadpool. His shtick works as well the second time, and there's more of it. There are so many references to other movies, Deadpool 2 should be sponsored by Netflix. Deadpool even addresses Cable, Josh Brolin's villain, as "Thanos." Nothing is sacred and most of the things you shouldn't joke about (racism, cancer, Canada) are joked about. It's not for the whole family but family is the theme. Wade's about to start one with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) when she's killed (before the opening credits, so it's not a spoiler; besides, she's dead but not gone). Then, as an X-Men trainee, he takes young Russell/Firefist (Julian Dennison), "the first plus-sized mutant," under his wing, and recruits a batch of wannabes for his own "X-Force." The serious doesn't work as well as the funny, and the first Deadpool had much better action scenes; but there are enough quips - and I swear Reynolds is able to show expressions when his face is completely covered by a mask! - that Deadpool 2, if not quite on a par with the first (and critics were debating that point on the way out of the screening), is still strongly recommended.

AMERICAN ANIMALS (R)
**
The (very distant) second-most-anticipated heist movie of the month is, I suppose, for those who want to see a movie about a robbery but don't want it to be committed by women. I'd recommend instead watching the classics, as four Kentucky college students do here for research when they plan to steal rare art books from a school library. "This is not based on a true story," an early title (mis)informs us; then "not based on" disappears, leaving us with "This is a true story." If this doesn't strike you as clever, quit while you're ahead. The older, perhaps wiser, real characters appear as themselves in a multiple-narrator gimmick stolen from Richard Linklater's Bernie. They bear little resemblance to the actors who play them when they were a decade younger. Back in 2004, Warren (Evan Peters) is the mastermind (pardon the exaggeration) who essentially bullies three friends - Spencer (Barry Keoghan), Chas (Blake Jenner) and Eric (Jared Abrahamson) - into joining him in the caper. It's occasionally fun to see them do everything wrong, but you mostly feel as stupid as they look for watching them. Well, if theft or making movies about theft were easy, everybody would do it.

BOOK CLUB (PG-13)
**1/2
Book 'em, Dano. Book four over-the-hill actresses we don't see enough of, then raise the hill so they're not over it yet. You shouldn't expect too much of a movie like this, and Book Club delivers what you should expect - a Lifetime sitcom with occasionally amusing material that's beneath the stars' dignity, including dirty jokes which despite being told by seniors, are as juvenile as those in Deadpool 2, but not as funny. Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) have been friends for "over 40 years" (the film's catchall phrase for referencing the past, even though Diane cites her specific age and Vivian jokes about hers). All but Vivian have been married. Carol still is (to Craig T. Nelson); Diane is recently widowed and Sharon long divorced. Vivian decides to spice up her friends' lives by choosing Fifty Shades of Grey for their monthly book club. Soon Diane is flirting with a pilot (Andy Garcia), Sharon is hooking up with two men (Richard Dreyfuss, Wallace Shawn) via an online dating site and Carol is spiking her husband's beer with Viagra. Most surprisingly of all, Vivian reconnects with a flame (Don Johnson) from over 40 years ago. A movie like this has to deliver four happy endings, however many clichés it goes through to get there. It won't win any awards but it will give fresh hope to women of a certain age with its preaching that it ain't over 'til it's over and we should all live while we're alive.

THE SEAGULL (PG-13)
**
I'm not a fan of Anton Chekhov, so if this were a good adaptation of his play I still wouldn't be wildly enthusiastic about it; but at least I'd feel guilty. No guilt here. It begins in Moscow in 1904, then moves to the country and, while we're trying to figure out who all those people are, flashes back two years without informing us (although we're notified an hour or so later when the flashback ends). Irina (Annette Bening), a diva of Moscow theater, is summoned home because her brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy) may be dying. She brings along her lover, successful playwright Boris (Corey Stoll), who develops a crush on Nina (Saoirse Ronan), the budding actress who's dating Irina's son, aspiring playwright Konstantin (Billy Howle), who's lusted after by Masha (Elisabeth Moss), who's pursued by the local schoolteacher. Masha's belatedly identified as the daughter of the housekeeper, Polina (Mare Winningham). The elitists bemoan not being able to afford more horses yet still look down on the working class. These Russians all speak with American accents and filming was done in upstate New York, so why not move the story to America and make Irina a Broadway star? It couldn't be any more ridiculous. Bening is magical in the scene where she fights to keep Boris from leaving her, but otherwise fails to rise above the material, even when she mocks her son's pretentious play: "I think this is supposed to be high art." I know how she feels.

HEARTS BEAT LOUD (PG-13)
***
"This is a mood piece. It just has to have feeling. This has feeling." So says Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) as he and daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) prepare to record a song that could change their lives during a "jam sesh" at home. Frank is about to close his Brooklyn record store because Leslie (Toni Collette), his landlady, has been forced to raise the rent. Sam is preparing to go to UCLA in pre-med but has just started a potentially serious relationship with a Brooklyn girl (Sasha Lane). Frank's wife and musical partner died over a decade ago in a cycling accident, and his mother's (Blythe Danner) dementia is turning her into a shoplifter. Posted to Spotify, the title song attracts attention to the father-daughter band, and Leslie shows signs of becoming more than a landlady to Frank. With so much going on, no one has time to care that Sam is a biracial lesbian. (It's Brooklyn. You got a problem wit dat?) Otherwise, nothing has changed in 35 years as Dave (Ted Danson, a former Sam) presides over the neighborhood bar. There are cheers but few tears as Brett Haley's film wears its Hearts on its sleeve. But speaking of elements of vinyl packaging, there's a grievous error in set design. At home Frank keeps his record collection in flat stacks instead of standing on end, as they are in the store. No one who knows anything about records would do that. Otherwise, Hearts Beat Loud is a sweet indie that has feeling.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN (NR)
**1/2
(**** for Juliette Binoche's performance)
I don't know how many expressions the human face is capable of, but I'll bet Juliette Binoche exhibits most of them at some point in Let the Sunshine In. It's an amazing showcase for an actress who deserves one. She plays Isabelle, a middle-aged divorcee who's looking for love in all the wrong faces. She sends mixed signals to every man she talks to, even a cab driver on a simple ride; and she sleeps with so many of them we wonder when she ever sees the daughter of whom she shares custody. Among her men are a married banker she can't get rid of; an actor who drinka - or is he a drinker who acts? - who can't make up his mind about anything; an uneducated type she meets in a sexy dance to one of cinema's most overplayed songs, Etta James' "At Last" (the singer's face also adorns Isabelle's wall - coincidence?); and her ex-husband, of whom she can't quite let go. The woman needs help and appears to get it from Gerard Depardieu in a final scene, with an ironic twist, that continues through the closing credits. Claire Denis' film has been described as a romantic comedy, perhaps by sadists. I don't remember laughing once at this sad tale of a woman who searches for love without finding it. Despite the downbeat nature of the material I was in constant awe of what Binoche does with it - a performance for the ages!

THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW (NR)
***
A huggable indie that could spur a punk revival (hell yeah!), this dramedic first feature by Peter Livolsi follows two teenage boys as they come out of their respective bubbles to form a friendship and a band. Sebastian (Asa Butterworth) has been living with his grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) since his parents died in a plane crash. Their home, which doubles as a tourist attraction, is a geodesic dome designed by R. Buckminster Fuller, the mid-20th-century futurist whose philosophies pop up unexpectedly here to solve problems. Nana, a disciple of Bucky's, dome-schools Sebastian; so he doesn't get out much and lacks socialization. Jared (Alex Wolff) had a heart transplant a year ago and exertion is risky for him. As their bromance develops, there's also a chance of romance between Sebastian and Jared's promiscuous sister, Meredith (Maude Apatow, Judd's daughter). There's a possibility that this could be another "terminal teen" movie; or it could be a fantasy where guys suddenly develop musical skills (don't expect too much skill) and a drummer appears out of nowhere to join in their first gig. It's certainly a story of a young man choosing between two distinct paths as he moves forward in life, and I'd recommend taking the path that leads you to this movie.

THE MISANDRISTS (NR)
*1/2
Is it Thursday yet? That's the only day to watch this throwback, set and made in Germany by Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, who's done some enjoyable work in the past. If you were around in 1970, this will give you acid flashbacks to the political and pornographic films of the time. It's as if the original version of The Beguiled had been made by a more political, less amusing John Waters. The setting is similar, a girls' school in a country estate run by women who occasionally dress as nuns. They're the feminist revolutionaries of the Female Liberation Army (FLA). They use words like "womancipation" and "womanaged," and end a prayer with "World without men, ahwoman." We learn more about the five women and eight girls, mostly former sex workers, and their agenda, in lengthy scenes of exposition. Meanwhile one of the girls has hidden a wounded male radical in the basement. While the women plan to make lesbian porn for the cause, the hardest-core scenes are in the gay male porn they watch for "aversion therapy." The Misandrists might have been successful if marketed as the restoration of a lost cult classic from 50 years ago. Sometimes I couldn't tell if it was meant to be serious or ironic, but I didnt care because I didn't find it entertaining.

MOUNTAIN (NR)
**1/2
If you're frugal with time and money, you can't get a better bargain than visiting 22 countries in just over an hour for the price of a movie ticket. The photography of Renan Ozturk and others is often breathtaking, taking us to the world's highest heights where nature is largely unspoiled. I appreciate director Jennifer Peedom collecting all this footage, but I don't always like what she's done with it. The Australian Chamber Orchestra plays beautifully, a combination of classics and new music by Richard Tognetti; but it often overpowers the visuals. Likewise, Willem Dafoe's narration, while sometimes clever, poetic or informative, is mostly unnecessary. If you want to be helpful, tell us which of the 22 countries we're in. For all we know we could be looking at the same mountain from different angles. Despite the singular title and lack of information, this isn't a standard movie about one person or group trying to climb one mountain. Dafoe tells us that three centuries ago mountains were thought to be inhabited by gods and monsters. Only relatively recently have humans heard their siren song and sought to conquer them, especially after the summit of Everest was reached. There are countless How'd-they-get-that-shot? shots, including some looking over the shoulder of someone clinging to a sheer rock wall. There are also skiers, cyclists, parachutists and really high wire walkers. (The movie's called Mountain because "Mad Men" was already taken.) There are so many shots of monks in their mountain retreat I wondered if the monastery paid for product placement. I don't regret seeing Mountain for its visual splendor, but I'd like to watch it again with the sound turned off; or better yet, be given the raw materials and allowed to make my own edit.

NANCY (NR)
**1/2
Is Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) more troubling than troubled? The eponymous character remains something of an unsolved mystery in Christina Choe's intriguing if not completely satisfying drama. Oh, Nancy's a liar, perhaps a pathological one; but it's not always clear what she's lying about and why, if she's inventive or delusional. In her thirties she lives with and cares for her ailing mother (Ann Dowd, suggesting Roseanne without cosmetic surgery) and works as a temp while waiting to become a famous author. Shortly after her mother dies Nancy sees a news report about a couple, Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron) and Leo Lynch (Steve Buscemi), whose daughter disappeared 30 years ago at the age of five. Whether she believes it herself or not, Nancy sets out to convince them she's their missing child. Ellen is eager to accept her while Leo is more wary, mainly to keep his wife from being disappointed. No one asks the obvious question: Does Nancy have any childhood pictures of herself? But a DNA test should resolve things quickly, so if Nancy's pulling a scam it can't be a long con. It's not clear whether the puzzling aspects of the plot are intentional or the result of bad writing. It's possible that ten people can see Nancy and no two of them will agree exactly what the story was.

SUMMER 1993 (NR)
**½
If Tully made you think twice about raising kids, this film could make you think a few more times. But from a filmmaking standpoint, thank heaven for little girls! As they showed last year in The Florida Project and others, they have an amazing ability to act naturally on camera (with a little help from their directors). Laia Artigas, who plays six-year-old Frida, is almost never out of our sight. Either we're seeing the world through her eyes or we're seeing her eyes seeing the world. Frida's mother just died – of AIDS, although that's never mentioned and the clues are dispensed sparingly. She's taken from her home in Barcelona to live in the country with her Aunt Marga, Uncle Esteve and their three-year-old daughter Anna (Paula Robles). There she has difficulty adjusting. Sometimes she seems right at home with her "new" parents and sister; at other times she acts out, testing their boundaries and setting her own until you want to slap the screen. She looks forward to visits from her grandparents and their other daughters, whom she'd been close to in Barcelona. It's an autobiographical story for writer/director Carla Simón, and she sometimes seems to think we know it as well as she does. If the plot's not as completely involving as it's meant to be, it's still amazing for the performances (if they can be called that) of its two young stars. The Catalan film industry may not be quite ready for a Catalexit from Spain, but they do pretty well on their own.

FILMWORKER (NR)
***
They say you have to be crazy to work in the movie business (except as a reviewer, of course), and Filmworker makes its subject, Leon Vitali, look certifiable. It's about his working relationship with Stanley Kubrick but ignores the fact that Kubrick only made four films in the 25 years they worked together; so while there were intense periods where Vitali toiled 24/7 for months on end, there were long gaps when he was free to vacation, raise three children and pursue other projects. In the early '70s Vitali was a young English actor, the go-to guy to portray a contemporary youth. He was too late for A Clockwork Orange but when he saw it he decided he wanted to work with Kubrick. Be careful what you wish for. Vitali was cast in Barry Lyndon and impressed Kubrick so much that his role was expanded. He expressed a desire to learn about off-camera work and went on to perform many jobs for Kubrick (and Kubrick's estate since the director's passing), including taking care of details to help the perfectionist achieve the perfection he demanded. Vitali handled so many tasks, including supervising restorations and transfers of Kubrick's films to new media, he described his occupation as simply "filmworker"; hence the title. Despite appearances by Ryan O'Neal, Matthew Modine and the late R. Lee Ermey (but not Jack Nicholson or Tom Cruise, except in clips), Tony Zierra's well-made documentary is strictly for film buffs and Kubrick fans who want to know the story behind the story behind the story.

BEAST (R)
***
What happens to bullies - and their victims - later in life? Moll (Jessie Buckley) has grown up on the isle of Jersey (old, not New). She was bullied in school and, at 13, stabbed a girl in retaliation. She was expelled from school and her mother (Geraldine James), who also conducts Moll in the church choir (who sound like they should be singing at the Mormon Tabernacle), started home-schooling her and has kept her on a short leash ever since. On the night of her 27th birthday Moll rebels and goes to a pub to dance the night away. When her dancing partner gets aggressive the next morning, he’s scared off - with a rifl - by Pascal (Johnny Flynn), who could be the man of Moll’s dreams - or nightmares. (Flynn could be the next Brad Pitt or whoever; Buckley has to get by on her talent.) Three young girls have been kidnapped and murdered in the area and a fourth goes missing the night of Moll’s birthday. She gives Pascal an alibi when questioned by the cop who has a crush on her. It turns out Pascal did time as a teenager for having sex - consensual, he says - with a 14-year-old girl. Since the film’s title is singular, you’re kept wondering to the end which one is the “beast.' It’s an offbeat psychological romantic thriller, the first feature by promising writer-director Michael Pearce. I get revenge on my boyhood bullies with my reviews of movies I don’t like, but not everyone is as skilled at transference. Anyway, Beast is safe from my wrath.


THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE (PG-13)
**1/2
Fashionista movies are becoming as plentiful as foodie films. You can make one about anybody as long as you get Anna Wintour to participate, and she never met a camera she didn’t like. Producer-director Kate Novack must have been found Wintour easy to enlist for this one, as it often plays like an infomercial for Vogue magazine. Yet while we see clips from fashion shows going back decades and hear from the likes of Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, there’s relatively little about fashion in the film. The subject, Andre Leon Talley, is still a contributing editor to Vogue; but observing an observer of fashion makes the garments twice removed. Talley’s story is interesting. He was raised by his grandmother in the segregated south (Durham, NC) and majored in French at Brown, then established himself in New York, first as an apprentice to Diana Vreeland, then as a writer for Interview. In 1978 he wrote for Women’s Wear Daily from Paris, a rare African American among the elite press. As a boy he had discovered Vogue in the Durham library and considered it his “escape from reality.” In 1983 he started writing for the magazine. Blame his conservative upbringing or his tendency to bury himself in his work, but Talley laments that he’s never fallen in love. He went to Studio 54 nightly in the ‘70s to dance, not for sex and drugs.His flamboyance must have been a problem in Durham, but if anything it would help him fit in in the fashion world; so his sexuality is hardly mentioned (he may be asexual in practice), while his race is treated as an issue. Talley’s own style tends toward capes and caftans in an obvious attempt to camouflage his girth. He says he was thin until he was 40, and he recently started trying to lose weight and get fit - perhaps to make him a better role model for young viewers.

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