“Save Ralph” — The Complete Ricky Gervais/Taika Waititi short film on animal testing

Dry, deadpan and sober.

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Movie Review: “At Night Comes Wolves”

A cryptic, allegorical tale with a lot of intellectual ambition, “At Night Comes Wolves” takes on toxic masculinity and the cultish way religion tends to amplify it in an emotionally remote and dramatically flat thriller.

It’s got a message, but sends it in ways that prevent it from ever chilling, thrilling or even roping in the viewer.

It starts with great promise. Leah (Gabi Alves) is married and making all the effort to make it work. Testy, demeaning and bullying Daniel (Jacob Allen Weldy) has some hold on her and a way of never apologizing after every fight he’s started, every insult he’s dropped.

He the sort who says “I’ve tried” to connect with her when we can see he’s done no such thing.

Leah dresses up as Wonder Woman and greets him at the door when he comes home for his birthday. And when she catches him watching porn later, she’s the one expected to say “I’m sorry.”

At long last, she flees, dumps her old life entirely, so it seems. Thus she becomes a sitting duck for the friendly, flirtatious Mary May (Sarah Serio) when she stumbles into a diner. Mary May is all “honeybun” this and “sweetie” that, suggesting Leah join her “in the forest” because “I have someone I want you to meet.”

And then she closes the deal. Who does she to introduce to Leah?

“The Lord our God!”

Vladimir Noel is Davy, a hunter of plants, seeker of herbs and maker of potions, a healer with an intense look Mary May seems to regard as charisma, but which spooks Leah. He offers her something that can “stop all men from acting the way your husband does.” It takes a lot of selling for her to buy into that.

Writer-director TJ Marine weaves in interlocking narratives built on coincidence — Leah’s husband is “known” to her new friends — and never quite explaining what the hell is going on. “Death cult” comes to mind, as the film introduces earlier recruitments, the idea of conversing with aliens and the hold the patriarchy exerts in such organizations. These revelations emerge from a story told in chapters titled “The Future, After the Incident” and “The Past, Origin Story No. 1” and later “No. 2.”

Whispers, wolf howls, crackling crackpot short wave broadcasts lend the entire affair a no-budget dream vibe.

But the suspense of the first scenes rather dissipates as flashback within flashback introduces off-camera violence committed by other characters, other members of this cult. The story sputters along on different threads and doesn’t cohere into anything particularly deep or remotely horrific.

We lose track of Leah’s plight, and even if we’re getting a feel for how unmoored she is in this new environment, when she’s not in the story there’s no one to identify with, nothing to fear and no one to fear for.

Whatever wavelength “At Night Comes Wolves” is operating on, it never tuned in for me.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity

Cast: Gabi Alves, Sarah Serio, Jacob Allen Weldy and Vladimir Noel.

Credits: Scripted and directed by TJ Marine. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:17

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BOX OFFICE: Kongzilla rules, “Voyagers” utterly lost.

“Godzilla vs. King Kong” rolled up another $13.4 million from ticket buyers this weekend, crushing the competition again, what little there is of it.

Globally it will clear the $360 million mark Monday. Not. Too. Shabby.

The Lionagate sci fi offering “Voyagers” didn’t even achieve liftoff, $1.35 million in proof that even having Colin Farrell in the first act was never going to make this Tye Sheridan/Lily-Rose Depp vehicle fly.

“Nobody,” “The Unholy” and “Raya” all cleared $2 million.

Figures provided by @BoxOfficePro

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Documentary Review: Superheroes with snouts — “The Truffle Hunters”

In villages in the hill country of extreme northwestern Italy life moves slowly, and can seem to revolve around an elite corps with names like Nina, Birba, Pepe, Leo and Siana, Tina and Jeri, Fiona and Titina.

They are the adored dogs with the million Euro noses, “The Truffle Hunters.”

Sure, their human partners are the ones who finish digging up the fungal morsels that assorted mutts and hounds locate. The old men clean the truffles with care, sell them to intermediaries who either offer them directly to restaurants, or auction their finds off. At 4500 Euros per kilogram and up, those affairs take on a Sotheby’s air.

But the dogs — coddled and nuzzled, rewarded and protected — are the stars of this charming and intimate slice-of-life documentary by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw.

One fellow and his dogs have celebratory sing-alongs on the ride home from a fruitful day in the gloomy mud of early spring. His ancient Suzuki SUV saw its best days decades before, but the dogs are pampered, in the tub with him at home, cleaning off the day’s work.

Birbi gets a birthday cake. Fiona gets a rub behind the ears and cooing words of thanks. Nina is confided in. Because “If you don’t trust your dogs, you shouldn’t go truffle hunting.”

The codgers bump into each other in the woods and bitch about the “greedy” competitive nature of truffle hunting these days. They have to worry that about some resentful redneck leaving poisoned bait out to kill their dogs and thus gain a perceived edge.

“Why would they do that to the dogs?” one hunter’s companion cries. “They’re innocent!”

“Truffle Hunters” takes in a little of the root (they’re a fungus that grows on tree roots) to table life of this delicacy, the wheeling and dealing of direct sales and an auction. We see them served on this mouth-watering dish or in that one.

But mostly, this is dogs and men in the woods, the old men comparing life with a good dog to marriage, with their canine companions having the edge. And yes, most of the men we meet here aren’t married.

As one 84 year-old veteran of the forests around San Damiano d’Asti endures the pleas of a younger man who begs him, in Italian (with English subtitles), “Can you tell me your secret spots?” and replies “Never, NEVER,” you have to wonder how the filmmakers ever got close enough to these adorable curmudgeons to film the magic as it happens.

My guess? They told them, “Hey, we want to make a movie about your dogs.”

MPA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language (profanity)

Cast: Sergio Cauda, Paolo Stacchini, Carlo Gondola, Pierro Botto, Enrico Crippa

Credits: Directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:24

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Movie Preview: Mickey Rourke, Gillian White, Michael Jai White and James Russo star in “Take Back”

A near-shooting interrupted by a woman (GW) who knows how to take care of herself triggers a revenge kidnapping and all the mayhem that follows in this June 18 release.

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Movie Review: Active Shooter Seizes Art Gallery at “86 Melrose Ave”

A dinner argument over Middle Eastern politics triggers a Marine vet (Dade Elza) who figures he needs a revolver to settle his dispute with a WEB designer, and shoots him.

The crazed shooter staggers down the street and into an art gallery, taking everyone at an “86 Melrose Ave” photography show opening hostage.

That’s the incredulous premise of this clumsy and atonal thriller, a pokey little flashback-cluttered indie that never remotely gets up a head of steam or amounts to anything.

Writer-director Lili Matta tries to shove a lot into a tepid tale that falls down before it gets up, and staggers into an anti-climax that is dramatic only in the sense that it’s embarrassing to all involved, especially the writer-director.

Travis, the shooter, is a married plumber whose abrupt snap at his wife’s high school pal seems…off. Topping that with a pistol seems insane, as an ex-Marine who works with his hands isn’t likely to figure he needs a gun to snap some tech nerd’s neck like a breadstick.

But “off” is just getting started. The gallery Travis stomps into is run by a gay couple, freshly coked, and features a Lebanese artist (Anastasia Antonia) who left her homeland for “a fresh start for my mind and spirit” away from her “war torn land.”

Naturally, she’s hit on by the only Israeli (Gregory Zarian) to show up for the opening. Her “never happening” rebuffs fall on deaf ears.

There are competing, bickering critics (amateurishly-played) there, and a “collector” for the already-spoken-for gallery owner (Richard Sabine) to flirt with, and a couple of others, all ordered “On the FLOOR” when our active shooter shows up.

As the cops lay siege, Travis fiddles with his pistol and stops and berates each customer in turn, they flash back to a son’s suicide, a therapy session, a traumatic childhood in Lebanon, a heated argument with a parent, and so on.

Travis? He flashes back to his military service, laying out the cause of his PTSD.

The combat flashback is briefly impressive, then hysterically over-the-top. None of the others impress in the least, thanks to unpolished acting and trite dialogue.

There are cringe-worthy flashes of English-as-a-Second-Language screenwriting (Matta is Lebanese-American herself) that sound like blown lines that no one corrected. “Inhabitated?”

And then the story staggers into the most ridiculous police interrogation ever filmed, a pointless third act that one hesitates to label an anti-climax, because that implies there is an actual climax.

There isn’t.

MPA Rating: unrated, bloody violence

Cast: Dade Elza, Anastasia Antonio, Gregory Zarian, Langston Fishburne.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Lili Matta. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:24

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Movie Review: Sports, prom, puberty and sadness, high school “Giants Being Lonely”

“Giants Being Lonely” is a dreamy, downbeat portrait of small town Southern teens, an impressionistic portrait of the idea that you never know what somebody’s dealing with.

Although it borrows, in the most overt ways, plot points from “The Last Picture Show” and “Hoosiers,” it paints an engrossing portrait of kids being kids — aimless, reckless and focused on “the now” even with the weight of the world on them.

Bobby (Jack Irv) is the handsome, curly-locked star pitcher of the Giants, his high school team. Everybody in this corner of North Carolina knows him and seems to just adore him. Bobby gets by on natural ability and unaffected charm. He has the confidence of being celebrated and the exhibitionism of toned and fit youth. Skinny dipping with the gang isn’t enough. He’s got to do a nude dive off the nearest bridge, girls trying not to gawk as he does.

But we see the loner in him, his walks along the tracks, sleeping outside in the gazebo in the park, sneaking into a junkyard to steal car parts to resell. We watch him put his drunken, broken father to bed on the couch of their double-wide.

Caroline (Lily Gavin) wears her “hottest girl in school” label with a certain reluctance. She has her posse, and a pretty but embittered divorced mom who rides her constantly. She’s sexually active, searching for some connection, some affection that’s missing in her life.

Adam (Ben Irving) has it worst of all. He’s another pitcher on the baseball team, but not the star. He’s shy and sensitive. And he’s the coach’s son. Coach (Gabe Fazio) is the first angry face we see in “Giants,” the first profane, bellowing voice we hear, chewing out his “privileged little bastard pipsqueak” team like a redneck who takes the wrong messages from watching John Oliver.

Coach is the sort of rural Southerner who stuffs his Glock in his pants before going out, even to practice, who lets off steam at the firing range and who relentlessly bullies his team, his fragile, sad wife (Amalia Culp) and his kid.

“Giants” isn’t a movie with a big “inciting incident” that prompts everything that happens in the third act. Director Patterson shoots for a dread that sticks to the viewer’s mind as we watch these kids drift toward something or somethings that will eventually go off the rails for them.

Baseball scouts are noticing Bobby. But like the walking cliche that he is, he can shrug that off.

Caroline gets asked to the prom, something that happens shockingly close to the date for “the hottest girl in school.”

And Adam is just about ready to rebel, to start demanding what he wants out of life from parents who either won’t or can’t consider that, because they never have.

This indie outing washes over you in ways that make its many dissonant notes recede into the background. The performances are understated, internalized, even the characters that we know are going to blow up at some point.

Bobby’s Dad looks more like a granddad, and the best way to calm him down is “put the record on.” Dad’s into Lou Reed.

The Coach seems to dote on his wife and is definitely abusing his son. But before we get too comfortable in a stereotype, he’s pushing a Grand Tour of Europe vacation at them, which his boy isn’t having.

“I’m going to prom!”

Adam asking Caroline to prom, in front of all her friends, is novel. So much for bashful. She doesn’t give away any idea that she’s smitten. He’s just the next guy who might get her away from her mother for a bit.

That makes “Giants” feel true to its sense of place at times, but more true to what outsider screenwriters (rarely high school jocks), recycling tropes from other coming-of-age dramas, understand it to be.

That said, the obvious artifice doesn’t change the film’s essential adolescent truth. High school is all about “being lonely.”

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, sex, profanity

Cast: Jack Irv, Lily Gavin, Gabe Fazio, Ben Irving and Amalia Culp.

Credits: Directed by Grear Patterson, script by Grear Patterson and Sam Stillman. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:18

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Movie Review: Italian bra-makers hope to be “Beate (Blessed)” in this comedy

Much of the world has been turning out sparkling, or at least amusing comedies about displaced workers finding the pluck to succeed for years. You’d think the Italian creators of “Beate (Blessed)” could have made a funnier, sunnier film in their sleep.

Consider the set-up. A small lingerie sewing operation on the northeast coast is betrayed by a boss who wants to move their skilled labor to Serbia. The seamstresses team up with an endangered local convent, famed for its lace work, to try and save both institutions.

That’s a funny conceit. But three screenwriters and a director were barely able to get so much as a grin out of it in this sour, sad little “romp.” Shockingly, it never occurred to the producers that making a movie with female heroines and villains could have used a woman or two behind the camera to give it a feminine touch or point of view. That’s no guarantee of laughs, but stuff pops up on screen here that lacks logic, romance, aspiration or heart.

Tone deaf? Si, ragazzo mio!

Donatella Finocchiaro (“Youtopia”) is Armida, floor manager of a dozen or so seamstresses at Veronica, a high end “knickers” factory. They bust their butts to get every order filled, to turn designers’ prototype bras into finished goods.

But the “Veronica” in Veronica (Anna Bellato) is sneaking around, plotting to take their machines and their jobs across the Adriatic to Serbia. A protest at a fashion show won’t save them. Picketing the closed factory isn’t enough.

If only there was something they could cook up with the Convent where Armida’s aunt (Lucia Sardo) lives and works. The sisters, few in number in a vast property the city and the scheming bishop have their eyes on, are famous for their fine lacework.

Heck, Armida is even named after the founder of their order, her 300 year old corpse preserved under glass in the chapel. But all Auntie can say is “Serves you right” to her “trade unionist…communist” niece.

Armida’s had a tough life. Pushing 40, a single mom, she walks with a lifelong limp and has, it’s implied, self-esteem issues. It’s why she has a long-term friend-with-benefits thing with Loris (Paolo Pierobon) that is never going anywhere.

But the Daughters of the Holy Cloak lose their Mother Superior to injury in a fire, so young Sister Caterina (Maria Roveran) takes over with the job of running the place, and saving it. She proves more pliable.

The script gives the ladies cast here precious little that’s funny to say or do. The story has all these possibilities, of a “Gung Ho, “Made in Dagenham,” “Calendar Girls” or “Potiche,” to name similar feel-good wish-fulfillment fantasies that have come out of Hollywood, Britain or France. The screenwriters commit to basically no clear idea of where to go.

The direction by Samad Zarmandili, a veteran assistant director on Italian TV, is similarly lackluster, with glimpses of a cute coast side town (never identified) that he doesn’t exploit, and much of the potential fun to be had in a world of frilly women’s “knickers” simply squandered.

Even the nuns making “sinner garments” for “the Devil’s money” idea is left hanging. Instead we fret over their underground underwear not selling because it doesn’t have a famous “label,” and women don’t buy such clothes in flea markets.

The one character given a little edge is the one — just guessing here — that the three credited writers and credited director identified with, the womanizing, smooth-talking Loris, making amusing sales pitches to women of a certain age, “fearless women…cougars without scruples” or young women who dig older men and earn the label “pussycats.”

Rare is the female-centric movie so blatantly smothered in the crib by “boys club” timidity behind the camera. It’s as if they didn’t have a clue what to do with women, and were afraid of burning the Catholic church with too many jokes as well.

Was Finocchiaro’s Armida meant to seem this sad, or was the actress just bummed because she knew the guys had screwed this up?

MPA Rating: unrated, adult situations

Cast: Donatella Finocchiaro, Paolo Pierobon, Lucia Sardo, Maria Roveran

Credits: Directed by Samad Zarmandili, script by Antonio Cecchi, Gianni Gatti and Salvatore Maira. A Corinth Films release.

Running time: 1:35

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Movie Preview: Rebecca Romijn is on a Safari that goes ever-so-wrong

Jerry O’Connell is the villain in this version of “The Most Dangerous Game” plot, a poacher hunting humans.

Please tell me that isn’t a CGI rhino that attacks Rebecca Romijn and family’s SUV? June 1, the humans are the “Endangered Species.”

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Movie Review: Roy Andersson ponders the futility of “infinity” — “About Endlessness”

There’s nothing for it but to call the contemplative Swede Roy Andersson’s “About Endlessness” the fourth film in his “trilogy” about the futility/banality/hopelessness of life, “Living,” which supposedly ended with. “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.”

And if you’re reading beyond that first paragraph, that must mean you give a damn about this philosopher filmmaker’s brooding collections of tableaux, characters illustrating whatever point he wants to make about human existence under the perpetual “dream like” gloomy grey of Swedish interiors and exteriors.

So I won’t limit this review to “only Andersson could contemplate infinity and get across the idea of its endless tedium in a mere 76 minutes of screen time.” While I like the challenge of his self-conscious cinema, I find the urge to go glib every time I encounter one of his films almost too hard to resist.

My take on “Endlessness” is that he’s illustrating the banality of existence and how it distracts us from perhaps appreciating life on its own terms.

As the weeping man on the Stockholm street tram whines to one and all in the film, “I don’t know what I want.” Who does?

Using a little irony and just a smidge of drollery, Andersson makes this Deep Thought argument via vignettes about blind dates that don’t show up, a woman who “doesn’t expect anyone to meet her” at the train, an irritable, hard-drinking dentist and Adolf Hitler (Magnus Wallgren), ” “a man who wanted to conquer the world and knew he’d fail.”

The linking device in all of this is a couple, floating in the clouds over a ruined city, with a female narrator (Jessica Louthander) introducing the various tableaux with “I saw a man who did not trust banks, and keeps his savings under his mattress” or “I saw a woman communications manager incapable of feeling shame.”

A man’s car breaks down in a striking piece of wilderness, mountains behind him, geese flying overhead. But he’s stuck, as are we all, bogged down — facing some fresh aggravation instead of stopping to take in the beauty. Same with the tippling dentist who won’t look up from his drink at the “marvelous” snowy Christmas season scene unfolding outside the bar window.

A distracted waiter overpours wine all over a white table cloth where his customer, who has just walked in from his latest brush-off in some decades-long grudge against a man he knew long ago, finally is focused on “the now.” And yet even that’s a mess.

A “sad” mandolinist who “lost his legs to a land mine” plays “O Sole’ Mio” on a public sidewalk, perhaps musically lamenting that we never see the sun here. Andersson’s films all share the same color palette and thus even the exteriors have a whiff of soundstage about them.

The stand-out story thread here concerns a priest (Martin Serner), who is having a recurring nightmare. He is flogged, kicked and taunted as he is forced to carry a cross up a narrow street.

“Crucify! Crucify!” the Swedish punters shout (in Swedish with English subtitles).

As he relates this to his wife and later a shrink, he has two questions. “What have I done to them?” Yes, that’s the lone instance of “humor” here, and if you wonder why Swedish comedies aren’t exported the way their Strindberg/Bergman worshipping dramas are, there’s your answer.

The priest gulps sacramental wine before facing his congregation, tearfully muttering the same second question he’s asked his wife and his therapist.

“What am I to do now that I’ve lost my faith?”

The shrink may be making Andersson’s point in “About Endlessness” when he suggests one be “content with being alive.”

As that, like Andersson’s latest lovely but dense and ponderous film, isn’t much help to the suffering person it is spoken to, it’s as good an analog for the movie and its musings as any.

MPA Rating: unrated

Cast: Martin Serner, Tatiana Delaunay, Jan-Eje Ferling, Magnus Wallgren, narrated by Jessica Louthander.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Roy Andersson. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:16

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