Movie Review: Idris vs. a Lion with Legitimate Grievances — “Beast”

Let us begin with a few words in praise of Iyana Halley, the young actress tasked with playing a trope and knocking that trope out of the park.

In “Beast,” the “This is Us” ensemble member is the Hollywood idea of EveryTeen, the daughter in many a thriller who picks the worst moments to rebel, the most idiotic times to lash-out and unload all her personal issues with the parent tasked with saving her naive, know-it-all ass from the worst possible predicament.

As Meredith — who will correct you to “Mer” the minute you meet her — she blames her doctor dad (Idris Elba) for the premature death of her mother, for dragging them to a South African nature preserve near where their mother grew up. The only thing left unsaid is her blaming him for putting them within reach of the lion hellbent on killing every two-legged human in sight for the slaughter of his pride by poachers.

Halley is irritating every time Meredith-sorry-“Mer” abruptly blurts out something judgmental at her father, infuriating every single time she ignores his “Stay in the truck” and “look after your SISTER (Leah Jeffries),” maddening every time she takes on the role of “putting people in needless danger” character that every ensemble thriller has to have.

She’s your average annoying teen on steroids, in other words, stopping just short of “Gosh, when’s the lion going to eat that pain in the neck?” Well done.

“Beast” is an over-the-top savage and sometimes head-slappingly silly animal attack thriller. Its artfully paranoid and claustrophobic, comically cuddly and pretty much begs the audience to shout at the screen. A lot.

Oh God, don’t do THAT! Oh, come on. You IDIOTS!

Thanks to Halley’s unerring turn as the designated do-what-I-want-you’re-not-the-boss-of-me, “IDIOTS” isn’t always plural.

Elba ably plays Nate, a New York doctor whose estranged wife has just died. So he and his two daughters, Mer and Norah have made a pilgrimage back to South Africa, where his wife and he (it is implied) grew up. An old college buddy (Sharlto Copley) lives on this wildlife preserve in a big, half-rundown villa. He hems and haws about exactly what his work is, but Internet savvy Norah’s figured it out.

“He’s an ANTI-poacher,” one of those guys who shoots at the armed-to-the-teeth gangs who slaughter protected wildlife for profit. We’ve seen such a gang wipe out a pride of lions in a late night ambush in the film’s opening scene. “Wiped out” that is, save for one male, who tears a few poachers apart at the start of a rampage that consumes the rest of the movie.

A few scenes of family tension, eventually disarmed with a warm and cuddly reunion with (digitally animated) lions later, they stumble across a slaughtered village. No more hunting for animals to photograph. The four of them have just turned into prey, “law of the jungle” and all that.

Icelandic action director Baltasar Kormákur films this just the way he framed Denzel and Mark Wahlberg in “Two Guns.” The camera circles scene after scene, heightening the fear and paranoia of of the would-be victims about what’s “out there.” The attacks are in-your-face shocks, all close-ups and quick cuts to make us forget that the murderous menace snarling and swiping its paw at them is animated into the scene with them.

There’s even a moment where we can see Elba’s face digitally added to the body he’s using to tangle with the King of the Beasts.

At several points I was reminded on the perfectly paranoid killer (digital) gator thriller “Crawl” as I watched this family-plus-guide try to work the problem while claustrophobically trapped in a wrecked Toyota Land Cruiser, with a vengeful lion punching out the windows and taking bites of this and that. Dr. Nate, stuck under the SUV, about to be eaten and knowing it is about as primal as human fear gets.

Nate has time to dream of his late wife in an African afterlife context. But those dreams are interrupted by nightmares of what might happen to them all thanks to what’s coming for them all.

It’s just that the logic of many moments is simply loopy, some scenes play as pure, poorly contrived corn, and the problem-solving leaves a lot to be desired. “Beast” doesn’t necessarily traffic in great frights. It’s all about the shock-scares, sudden arrivals by The Beast Who Cannot Be Killed…apparently.

The violence is WAY over the top, especially in the otherwise eye-rolling finale. Anybody taking young children to this can reasonably expect their nightmares to begin on the drive home.

All that said, “Beast” is a briskly brief popcorn picture, even if we can’t take its “Lion King” killer lion as seriously as the animators would like, even if what its most annoying teen does is just give us our own flashbacks.

Rating: R for violent content, bloody images and some language.

Cast: Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Leah Jeffries and Sharlto Copley

Credits: Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, scripted by Ryan Engle. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:33

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “Run, Laal RUN!” An Indian take on “Forrest Gump,” “Laal Singh Chaddha”

There’s been talk in India of remaking “Forrest Gump” as a pan-historical Indian parable for decades, but landing Aamir Khan as star was what it took to get it made. If Gurinder Chadha can take on Jane Austen for “Bride and Prejudice,” why not see if Winston Groom’s riff on a “simple man’s” journey through American history translates?

I’d suggest that a quick read-over of a quick refresher on recent Indian history before buying a ticket to “Laal Singh Chaddha.” But even skipping that won’t leave you lost once the story of the “crippled” boy who crosses paths with Indian history and meets and inspires historical figures establishes its time frame with world famous events such as the incident that triggered the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.

“Laal Singh Chaddha” is a straight-up “Forrest Gump” adaptation, with “Forrest” now Laal and played by Aamir Khan (“Like Stars on Earth,” Lagaan”), his unhappy, adrift childhood love Jenny now Rupa and played by Kareena Kapoor (“3 Idiots” ), and that Army buddy Bubba who inspired a shrimp restaurant franchise now named Bala (Naga Chaitanya Akkineni) and an expert in underwear.

It’s “Run, Laal run!” (in Hindi and Punjabi with English subtitles), the war isn’t Vietnam, but one of the many bloody dust-ups with neighboring Pakistan and the nation torn by strife, struggling to discover itself, not America in the ’60s and ’70s but India in the ’80s and ’90s.

“My Mama always said life is like a box’a chocolates,” becomes “Life is a box’a Golgappas,” and so on.

Anyone familiar with “Forrest Gump” should at least be curious to see how a different culture might interpret a comic parable of how its history was experienced by a “simpleton” who just lets the parade of horrors and conflict roll over and past him, focusing only on what’s important to his limited world view — loyalty to family, friends and that one true love, no matter how far astray she wanders.

But the movie opens with the longest, most detailed disclaimer in screen history. If you thought American politics, culture wars and racial strife was a touchy subject, that “work of fiction” and “never happened” messaging reminds you of the many cultures and religions of the Subcontinent and how no one would want to set them against each other with a movie.

No sense dwelling on the Sikh assassination of PM Gandhi, or the bloody assault on a Sikh shrine that incited it, for starters. Stick to turning Forrest-inspires-Elvis into Laal gives a leg-braces-move to future Bollywood singing star Shah Rukh Khan, and the like.

It’s just that there isn’t enough that plays as all that funny in this version of the comic satire Groom cooked up. It’s a mostly joyless slog, reaching for laughs with Aamir Khan’s bug-eyed, head-bobbing dopey take on the title character, special effects that turn the former “cripple” into an Indian track star and Laal’s eternal fish-out-of-water status as a guy who never wholly grasps everything that’s going on.

The pathos in his mother’s (Mona Singh) devotion to teaching her “special” boy “you’re no different from anybody else” is lacking. And all the socially conservative Indian cinema does by making Jenny’s misguided “searching” for meaning a kept-woman/nude model “scandal” for Rupa, instead of surfing the waves of counterculture via abusive “free love” and drugs and the like so tames the character as to neuter her.

Khan’s turn as Laal/Forrest is superficial, a performance of exteriors. There’s no “soul” to “the dimwit,” and few grace notes in the performance. And being so afraid of offense — when you’re dealing with SATIRE here — muzzles the movie.

In America, conservative firebrand Newt Gingrich was a great “Forrest Gump” champion as he recognized the GOP base then and into the future — loyal, rural and often Southern people who stick to the important things in life, mostly skipping the faddish nature of pop culture, but also unquestioning, easily-led and “simple.”

There’s nothing in “Laal” to grab hold of, not for a Westerner, anyway. You just check off everything you know is coming — “This is ‘Lt. Dan,'” that train ride dissertation about Laal’s life takes the place of Forrest on that bench in Chippewa Square in Savanah, and so on.

Another problem with tackling over-familiar material, from Shakespeare and Dickens to global blockbusters or their equivalents in other cultures is the impatience they build into the experience. We know what’s coming and we’re restless getting there.

Wonder if anybody in India sat through this and thought, “Wait, our movies ARE too bloody long!”

Rating: PG-13 for some violent content, thematic elements and suggestive material.

Cast: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Naga Chaitanya Akkineni

Credits: Directed by Atul Kulkarni, scripted by Advait Chandan, based on the film adapted from Winston Groom’s novel. A Paramount release.

Running time: 2:39

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” Hours and Hours of Pondering

The glib response to George “Mad Max” Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is suggesting that only Terry Gilliam should be making Terry Gilliam “epics.” That assertion carries the message that it’s sprawling, fantastical and ambitious and that there’s a decent chance it doesn’t quite work.

But Miller’s earned a filmmaker’s benefit of the doubt. Every movie’s he’s made is at least “about something,” from the apocalyptic environmental/political warnings of the “Mad Max” movies, to the cautionary parables for kids that were “Happy Feet” animated films.

This strange and quirky tale is far more somber than you’d expect. A “narratologist” stumbles into a Djinn or genie by popping open a bottle she buys in exotic Istanbul. That leads to a movie-long debate that ponders aging, loneliness and the essence of happiness even as it never quite wrestles with the question the djinn (Idris Elba) poses to the “happy,” divorced and self-described “fulfilled” academic, played by Tilda Swinton.

“What is your heart’s desire?”

Miller’s film, based on an A.S. Byatt short story, is long and feels incomplete, weighty without much psychological or intellectual heft, colorful but rarely dazzling and never whimsical enough. It’s like a Terry Gilliam (“Brazil,” “Adventures of Baron Munchausen”) take on “Eat, Pray, Love.”

Because Alithea, the enterprising English academic expert in the commonalities that folk tales around the world share, isn’t having this “three wishes” business. She knows that “there is NO story about wishes that is not cautionary,” aka “Be careful what you wish for” She knows “all the stories about trickster djinn.”

And as the djinn, who’s been locked in assorted bottles and such for who epochs of time, tries to explain things from his point of view, what “no wishes” or the wrong wish might mean for him, the academic feels free to interrupt with the occasional “Oh, I KNOW where this is going.” Because she does.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is mostly these two in an Istanbul hotel room, debating the nature of fate, happiness and history by sharing (mostly his) flashbacks of their lives, which start with the djinn losing his true cross-species love, Sheba (Aamito Lagum) — a crafty, sexy queen known (to him) for her famously furry legs — to the persistent King Solomon (Nicolas Mouawad).

As the djinn relates each tale of his “incarcerations” back in a bottle, we visit Byzantine Constantinople and Ottoman Istanbul, all designed to sway Alithea’s decision about whether or not to make her wishes, or find some sort of escape clause.

And the viewer, watching the realms of the djinn’s experience give way to Alithea’s more modern wizardry, notices that the flashbacks grow murkier and less elaborate, the “relationship” strains and the storytellers try to wrestle their tale into something relevant for our divided, perilous world.

The first half of “Three Thousand Years” is the most engaging, with our narratologist explaining to a conference that “Mythology is what we knew back then, science is what we know…so far.”

But once the djinn’s out of the bottle, the film takes on an inscrutable mantle, mostly thanks to the muted emotions of the writing and the performances. The “djinn” effect has its digital elements, but once the vapor in the bottle has shrunken down to a manageable size — half again as big as Alithea (Forced perspective?) — basically the film becomes a two-hander, two muted performances tentatively waltzing around one another in an effort to come to mutual understandings, and more.

I couldn’t help but think Miller, for all the effects and occasional Gilliam-grotesquerie (a harem of absurdly corpulent Ottoman concubines) of this film, is making a statement on the way life shrinks to fit and closes in around you as you age. He’s 77 and maybe this dream project — like Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” like Barry Levinson’s “Toys” or Orson Welles’ “The Big Brass Ring” or “The Other Side of the Wind” — is meant to be valedictory but fated to be sad and reflective and a letdown.

For all the power the djinn has, he is never not hemmed in by “rules” and the threat of entombment and forced isolation. He wants to satisfy his needs, but they come second to those he serves, and he’s not enough of a “trickster” to ensure his “heart’s desire.” That’s life — disappointment. You can’t three-wishes that away.

Whatever the source short story is about, a London interlude which involves Alithea’s co-habitation with a Black djinn and facing off with aged “bigot” neighbors is plainly about today, and one can read Swinton’s own concerns into her complaints. It feels shoehorned in.

The leads don’t really make their characters move “considering” the other into anything we can warm up to.

Whatever Miller was getting at, not egging his leading players into something warmer, sexier, lighter and funnier seems like a blunder. Not casting famous faces as his assorted historical figures makes them largely forgettable.

The movie around Swinton and Elba suggests that strife and struggle and prejudice and loneliness are eternal. How might a creature trapped in a bottle for hundreds of years at a time spend that time? Stuck in memory, trying not too hard to hate himself for the fate he suffers.

“I am just an idiot who has been extravagantly unlucky.”

Surely that’s not how Miller sees himself.

Still, a great — if not prolific — director of popular entertainments with a message has earned the benefit of the doubt, and our attention and willingness to mull over what he shows us. But it’s hard to look at his magic lamp movie and not notice that it’s not just the djinn who has no clothes.

Rating: R for some sexual content, graphic nudity (LOL) and brief violence

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba, Aamito Lagum, Matteo Bocelli, Nicolas Mouawad and Lachy Hulme

Credits: Directed by George Miller, scripted by George Miller and Augusta Gore, based on a short story by A.S. Byatt. An MGM release.

Running time: 1:48

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Next Screening? A sprawling period piece fantasy — “Alienoid”

Not the first title that comes to mind for a Korean sword and sorcery/time travel fantasy.

But We’ll Go USA picked it up, and they rarely steer us wrong. Aug. 26 release.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Next screening? Is “Laal Singh Chaddha” “The Indian Forrest Gump?”

That’s the buzz. Let’s see what we see.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Classic Film Review: A “freely-adapted “Tell-Tale Heart” is Better than No Poe at All (1960)

The first-person narration of a killer patiently plotting his “perfect crime,” pitilessly committing it and then going mad by the pounding of “The Tell-Tale Heart” of his long-dead victim is the most sinister component of Edgar Allan Poe’s masterpiece. It’s something you don’t abandon lightly, as it has been key to many a dramatic reading (James Mason, et al), radio production (starring Orson Welles, Don Ameche, Fred Gwynne and others) and stage and screen adaptation.

IMDb lists 25 screen versions of the Poe short story — features, TV productions and shorts — and the most unusual may be the one the deviates from Poe the most.

British director Ernest Morris is best-known for being behind the camera for several long-running British TV series, the most famous being the Roger Moore version of “The Saint” that ran for most of the 1960s. As TV directors, especially of that era, knew how to make something “intimate” without that first person narration, he and screenwriters Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard thought they’d take a shot.

Their 1960 “Tell-Tale” looks like a slick and decently-budgeted TV adaptation — elaborately decorated mid-19th century interiors, a few decent backlot exteriors and actors filmed in tense closeups and tight, TV-framed group compositions.

They chose to replace the arbitrarily-chosen “vulture-eyed” old man victim with someone far more conventional. The crime is closer to impulsive than anything elaborately planned. And instead of interior narration, star Laurence Payne has to get across cunning, as well as lust, rage, terror and scheming with just his face and sometimes his body.

It’s not proper Poe, even though our murderous “hero” — unnamed in the short story, is now called “Edgar” and looks a little like a mustache-free Poe. The inciting event is a romantic betrayal, turning this into a murder born of a love triangle. But it’s stylish, tense, quite violent and racy for its time. And the performances, tense and tightly-framed, are quite good.

Edgar is a lonely bachelor in 1850s London, having only his library work, his stops by the pub and his weekly chess matches with his lone chum, dashing, rakish Carl (Dermot Walsh) to look forward to.

Well, that and his collection of art nudes which he keeps in a folder in his desk at home. Still, they’re not Japanese, so they aren’t even proper “porn.”

“How do you even get to KNOW a girl?” he begs of Carl, who advises the poor wallflower the best he can.

That sort of knowledge would come in handy when Edgar gets a new neighbor, a ravishing beauty (Adrienne Corri) who moves in across the street. She’s new at the florist shop down the block, and Edgar contrives to meet her — repeatedly.

“Getting to know” her, however, includes taking in the view through her window as she undresses each night. Edgar is awkward, forward and obsessed. And a bit of a perv.

Betty Clare bears his attentions, even his caddish clumsiness, because she’s new in town and that’s pretty much what women had to endure. Then they run into Carl at dinner one night, and idiotic Edgar keeps imposing on him to have a drink, “join us,” and on and on, while Carl — who can see the arch of Betty’s eyebrows and the widening of her pupils — tries to put a stop to his friend’s self-sabotage.

Betty is infatuated, and her betrayal with Carl — also racy for 1960, even in Britain — becomes a motive for murder.

The violence is bloody enough and broadly in the ballpark of this film’s contemporary, Hitchcock’s “Psycho” — a poker, thrashing blows, blood everywhere (in black and white), a body to be disposed of, preferable under the floorboards of Edgar’s piano.

This “Tell-Tale” opens with a cheesy graphic warning for “the squeamish” about when to avert one’s eyes — at the sounds of the thumping heart. The single “special” effect is a rug, rising and falling underneath that piano in time to the pumping heartbeat.

No, Payne isn’t Vincent Price or Boris Karloff (a great radio version) or Welles, but he cracks up in a perfectly British way.

And when Edgar gets his, well let’s just say it’s a lot more violent than was the norm for films of the era.

I like the visual compositions, the close-ups and the depth of field. It’s not suspenseful, being an over-familiar story. But once we get around to the murder and its consequences, “The Tell-Tale Heart” gets closer to what the master had in mind when he wrote this, the perfect horror story, for a $10 bill way back in 1843.

Rating: TV-14. violence, sexuality

Cast: Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri, Dermot Walsh

Credits: Directed by Ernest Morris, scripted by Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard, based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe. A Brigade release, on Tubi, Amazon and other streamers.

Running time: 1:20

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Viola & Co. “Train like a Warrior” for “The Woman King”

Several things stand out in Viola Davis’ just published memoir, “Finding Me.”

She likes to eat, a product of a grueling food-deprived childhood. She’s never been afraid to work out, get in shape — or out of shape — for roles. That gets harder over time, and the Oscar winner’s on the backside of 50 these days.

And among the landmark events of her life was her first trip to Africa, as a college student, on an educational journey to The Gambia organized by a a dance teacher who wasn’t at Juilliard, which she attended in a graduate program, from from The North Carolina School of the Arts.

An actress who grew up very sensitive about how “Black” she was found herself on a continent where she didn’t stand out, didn’t face an extra layer of discrimination from “fair skinned Black” people and didn’t have to do anything but soak up the culture, learn a little of the language, and dance.

Every time I see fierce “The Woman King” trailer I think about that. Here’s a vignette about Viola, “VAH-la,” as her mother called her, and her crew getting African warfare fit.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “Delia’s Gone,” a Vengeance Thriller with a Twist

There is nothing finer in the cinema than a simple, well-acted and well-crafted thriller.

“Delia’s Gone” checks off all of those boxes in a brisk but methodical and unhurried mystery set in rural Ohio.

Damn, it’s good.

You know who’s always good? Marisa Tomei. You know who else fits that description? That Paul Walter Hauser of “Richard Jewell.”

And if you haven’t been paying attention to Stephan James (“Race,” “If Beale Street Could Talk”), “Delia’s Gone” is a reminder that maybe you’d better.

“Delia’s Gone” is a Buckeye Gothic tale of murder and revenge about a man wrongly imprisoned for the death of his sister. The million dollar hook in writer-director Robert Budreau’s screenplay? The wrongly-imprisoned man is “on the spectrum,” or has a childhood brain injury that mimics the symptoms, as the staff shrink at the facility where he’s living puts it.

How might “Rainman” reason out what really happened to his dead sister, once he realizes he’s been set up? Will he go “John Wick?” Or is “Memento” the template for this confused man-child of selective memory, distracted by the most random things — birds and their behavior, for starters?

James is Louis, 30something and living in a small town with his sister, Delia (Genelle Williams, far better than she was in Netflix’s “The Holiday Calendar”). He’s reasonably independent, can drive himself to work at the hardware store, cook and so on. But she’s just been laid off and has to tell him she’s got to move to take another job.

Even though we’ve seen her ensure by extra-legal means that Louis has a ready supply of his medications — “Some things you can only get with a gun,” she tells him — Louis does not take her news well. He lashes out, and she leaves. He drinks, and the next morning he wakes up in a fog with her body on the kitchen floor of the house they grew up in.

The sheriff (Tomei) and deputy (Hauser) know him, but take his confused answers to their questions as a confession. He guiltily remembers he hurt his sister, not how she ended up dead. And that’s his ticket to prison.

But years later, a man who knew Delia and subsequently “found God” visits him. Stacker Cole (Travis Fimmel) starts talking about “that night,” and Louis snaps. It’s his first clue that he didn’t murder Delia, and this guy — tossed out of the facility for triggering our hero — knows who did. Louis impulsively breaks out with just two “memories” to cling to — reciting them over and over to direct his quest.

“Billy Dyson lives in Downey. Stacker Cole’s at the tavern.”

The sheriff’s now a state police detective still prone to insulting and bullying her former deputy, who is now sheriff. But the way she answers his “I’ve got it” when this “escape” call goes out goes beyond mere put-down, and gets a firm side-eye from lumpy, frumpy and slow Sheriff Bo.

“Like hell.”

Tomei doesn’t get a lot of roles that remind us they don’t give Oscars to slouches, and she is all over this mean and bitter tough broad whose ties to this case are small towns in a nutshell. Everybody’s related. Everybody knows everybody else.

Williams makes a sharp impression in just a couple of scenes — a downtrodden, lonely woman maybe a little bitter herself at the trap that having to stay with her brother has represented.

Hauser’s developed a distinct character actor “brand,” the hapless “I, Tonya/Richard Jewell” slowpoke everybody under-estimates.

And James goes deep into character as mental tween more comfortable talking and bargaining with small children — “stranger danger” be damned — than wringing answers out of potentially violent adults. He is a revelation.

Too many “on the spectrum” performances seem artificial, with behavioral parameters dictated by the necessities of the screenplay. James makes every word Louis says and every impulse he follows feel in the moment and organic.

“Delia’s Gone” never wholly transcends formula, and when it strays from expectations it seems on more uncertain ground. But Budreau, who wrote and directed Ethan Hawke’s fine Chet Baker jazz biopic “Born to be Blue,” bathes his film in overcast, sets his characters up with the sparest of sketches and then runs the table with them like a pool hustler with a film camera.

I say again, damn, it’s good.

Rating: R, violence, some profanity

Cast: Stephen James, Marisa Tomei, Travis Fimmel, Genelle Williams and Paul Walter Hauser

Credits: Scripted and directed by Robert Budreau. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:31

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Preview: Kevin Dillon and Bruce Willis are at odds over what is seen in the “Wire Room”

Dirty cops are misusing wiretaps and setting up people under surveillance. Dillon’s not one of them. Bruce is.

Sept. 2

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: Canadian Hippies Reminisce about their Yorkville Days — “A Song for Us”

“A Song for Us” is an inane bordering on insipid Canadian melodrama without the drama.

Its sole saving grace is the hippie nostalgia it wallows in, and the fact that I use “wallow” should tell you that’s praising with faint damnation.

Set in Toronto, writer-director Peter Hitchcock’s debut feature is a rosy, almost conflict-free remembrance of Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood, the hippest, singer-songwriter-friendliest corner of that city in the ’60s. Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot got their start in the “Canadian Haight Ashbury.”

An elderly folk busker gets the attention of a filmmaker (Karen Scobie) making a documentary about homelessness in Toronto. It turns out, he’s somebody her 60somehing mother’s friend (Brian Scott Carleton) used to know. Which means the homeless man is someone her mother (Lisa Kovack) recognizes, too.

Visiting painter-mom’s time-capsule home on Ward Island reveals that “Tom” (Keith McTie) and Mom used to be an item. He may look “beaten and sad” now. But back in the day…

A flashback takes us back to the least edgy, most PG depiction of the swinging, war-protesting, drug-abusing, free-loving ’60s ever committed to film. Mom remembers the day she (Haley Midgette) arrived in Yorkville from London, “and not the one in Ontario,” a folkie with a dream.

Young Tom (Tyson Coady), a popular San Francisco expat dodging the American Vietnam War draft, was a rising star of “the scene.” And that song we heard him busking in the film’s opening credits, “A Song for Us,” might have been his ticket to the Big Time.

Because “Come with me and sing along, this is a song for us” is the sort of thing that sold back then, right?

“A Song for Us” is a movie of drifting conversations and narrative with no more forward motion than a soap bubble in a breeze. We’ve seen enough tough-minded Canadian thrillers and boundary-pushing Canadian comedies that we know the “They’re just too nice” stereotype is easy to send up. Here’s a movie that embraces it, and is all the poorer for it.

“Any chance you’re a vegetarian?” “I’d LIKE to be!”

Too many scenes are aimless, too much of the dialogue is just — that word again — inane and every one of the ’60s references, from drugs to “head shops” to “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” are just cliches.

The acting’s as banal as everything else — line readings that sound like “readings,” “American” accents full of “oot and aboot.”

The film’s opening dedication “For a tribe I knew…..” would ring false if I hadn’t looked up a photo of first-time filmmaker Peter Hitchcock. Gray hair? This looks, sounds and plays like a student film — a very young student’s film.

Rating: unrated, drug use and abuse

Cast: Lisa Kovack, Haley Midgette, Keith McKie, Tyson Coady, Karen Scobie and Brian Scott Carleton

Credits: Scripted and directed by Peter Hitchcock.

Running time: 1:31

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment