Movie Preview: Oscar winner Jessica Chastain and Ralph Fiennes star in John Michael McDonagh’s “The Forgiven”

A tipsy drive in the North African desert, an accident and.. recriminations.

McDonagh did “Calvary” and “The Guard” and is nobody’s idea of “the lesser McDonagh brother, even if his sibling did “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

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Vangelis — 1943-2022, an era-defining film score composer

Evangelos Odysseus Papathanassiou was born in Greece, sought pop stardom in Paris before his mastery of synthesizers got the attention of major film studios.

As Vangelis, he scored “The Bounty,” “Blade Runner,” “1492,” “Alexander” and this film, whose opening is such a perfect synthesis of image, motion, memory and emotion that it became a touchstone and then a cliche and finally a cultural punchline. It’s that ingrained in any filmlovers’ psyche.

Honestly, I remember seeing this film in a preview in Charlotte, NC, and just weeping at how perfect this is.

Well done. Rest in peace.

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Movie Review: “Ip Man” never left, he’s merely been asleep — “Ip Man: The Awakening”

There are so many film and TV versions of Ip Man, the legendary Hong Kong martial arts guru who taught Bruce Lee, that it’s pointless to try and keep track of them all.

So let’s not even try. Life was simpler when I thought that this growing subgenre of martial arts action was sci-fi and skipped it. But eventually, one realizes the great Donnie Yen played this character multiple times, and he’s fun even in sci-fi (“Rogue One”). So you watch and you lose the misconception and maybe you get hooked.

Yen has moved on, but that doesn’t mean the character has to. As Ip Man learned Wing Chun kung fu and first practiced it in the 1920s and ’30s, that makes for some great period piece settings for his feet and fists of fury to be on display.

Hong Kong veteran Tse Miu takes over the role for “Ip Man: The Awakening,” another “origin story” that parks our hero as a young man in 1930 (or so) Hong Kong, someone who awakens the human trafficking and British misrule — got to pander to those People’s Repubilicans — and stands up for friends and his people in a battle of Wing Chun vs “The Gentleman’s Martial Art” practiced by Sherlock Holmes, especially the Robert Downey Jr. version of him — “Bartitsu.”

Young Ip Man likes traveling the streets, resplendent in all white suits, and mixing it up with ruffians and bullies who try to rob the “weak” and the innocent in broad daylight.

Busting up a street car when a gang tries to rob Miss Chan (Zhao Yuxuan) is how he falls in with her brother, rickshaw driver Buefeng (Chen Guanying), whom he knew in childhood. And it’s while hanging out with Feng that he becomes aware of all the kidnappings of young women all over the city, something the Chinese/British police force turn a blind eye to and something that’s making a Euro-crime lord (Sergio Deieso, I think) rich.

Mr. Starke has the cops on the take or intimidated, so his version of “peace makes prosperity” holds sway. Take a little cash, look the other way, or somebody will find your pinky ring in their soup — that sort of thing.

If Mr. Starke and his countless minions out “rounding up piglets” are to be confronted, Ip Man will need to teach Feng and his fellow rickshaw drivers the ways of Wing Chun — “Sinking Bridge,” position, “Thrusting Fingers” and “Little Idea.”

The genre story’s simplicity is kind of mucked up by promising more than it delivers. Of course, Feng’s little sister Chan is kidnapped and of course this matter will have to be settled with a champion vs. champion martials arts prize fight.

Of course the “foreigners” will cheat. No, none of them speak good enough English to pass for “British.”

The big brawls are impressive enough, and Tse Miu is a competent if not the most compelling Ip Man ever to come along.

So unless you’re an Ip Man completist, “The Awakening” sits among the Ip Man movies you don’t bother with unless you’re behind on your sleep.

Rating: unrated, lots of violence — fists, knives and guns

Cast: Tse Miu, Chen Guanying, Hou Tongjiang, Sergio Deieso and Zhao Yuxuan

Credits: Directed by Li Xijie Adam and Zhang Zhulin, scripted by Fang Lan and Liu Bayin. A Well Go USA release.

Running time: 1:17

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Movie Preview: Keiynan Lonsdale, Dylan Sprouse and Sarah Hyland help cook up “My Fake Boyfriend”

A gay Rom Com about inventing a “fake boyfriend” on social media to help poor Andrew finally leave a toxic lover behind, only to have the “fake” become a social media sensation?

Sounds about right. Looks cute, and it beats Billy Eichner’s gay Rom Com to the screen by months since it comes to Amazon Prime Video June 17.

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Movie Preview: Roth, McDonagh, Paz Vega and Ron Perlman work for Paul Schrader –“There Are No Saints Official Trailer”

Looks intense.

Funny thing about “There Are No Saints.” I went to IMDb to look up the spelling of the leading man, and Shannon Sossaman. And the title isn’t listed.

Not as a Schrader film, not as an acting gig for Tim Roth.

May 27.

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Movie Review: When Dark Laughs make Despair Manageable — “On the Count of Three”

You’d be hard-pressed to think of a darker or more delicate subject for a “dark comedy” than a double-suicide. “On the Count of Three,” the debut feature of comic turned comic actor/director Jerrod Carmichael manages to pull that off. It’s a hilarious comedy built around two adorable doofuses that somehow feels pro suicide and pro “sticking around” at the same time.

Carmichael’s debut feature is an almost jaunty “last day” romp through two guys who seem ready to end it all and willing — eventually — to do it together. It ridicules a “system” that’s “obsessed with keeping everybody alive” and America’s easy access to the suicide, murder/suicide and double-suicide instrument of choice — firearms.

“How are these LEGAL?” dopey/mopey Kevin (Christopher Abbott) bellows, after one impulsive misuse of a firearm — one among many, I should add. “Read the CONSTITUTION. It’s my RIGHT, for some reason, to ‘bear’ this ‘arm.'”

The performances have a making-it-up-as-we-go-along familiarity. The messaging of Arit Katcher and Ryan Welch’s script has the simple profundity of the obvious. Of course America has a “gun problem.” Of course America has a “mental health problem.” And of course one problem makes the other that much worse.

Abbott (of “Black Bear” with Aubrey Plaza) plays the easier role. We meet Kevin in a mental hospital, because he’s already made up his mind, already attempted suicide once. He’s so anxious to get on with it that he lies to his counselor/”assessor” (Sydney Van Delft) about how eager he is to “start living life again” just to get out and end it all.

Val (Carmichael) is just now getting there. Something about shoveling mulch at a groundcover supply business in wintry Ontario and the prospect of a “promotion” has him yanking off his belt in the bathroom stall and taking his first stab at “not waking up in the morning,” which he tells Kevin is “the most beautiful thought I’ve had in a long time.”

He visits his friend just to break him out. And after he does, Val shows Kevin and us his solution — two pistols. But Kevin, shockingly, needs a “last day,” a chance to “leave this world a better place” because “There’s no point in living a last day if we’re gonna live it like the rest.”

Kevin has an idea — ideas — about how each can make this day count. There’s a score from Kevin’s past he’d like to settle. And Val could take the day to reconcile with his dad (JB Smoove) and his ex (Tiffany Haddish) before saying farewell to all this.

“On the Count of Three” — that’s how they’ll do it when the time comes, each shooting the other in the head. But first they need to make and act on “last day” plans and have those plans go awry — sometimes grimly, sometimes hilariously.

For a comic, Carmichael’s damned good at playing the wacky Abbott’s straight man, still slipping in digs at his “white trash EMO POS” and “angry white boys shooting up high schools” in the middle of mocking Kevin’s on-the-nose choice of music (Papa Roach) for this odyssey.

Haddish, Smoove, Lavell Crawford and Henry Winkler make vivid, amusing and/or irritated impressions in small supporting roles.

Suicide isn’t dwelt upon even though it’s always present. The writers ensure that “On the Count of Three” never descends into a glib treatment of a potentially triggering subject. Kevin is one kind of potential victim, Val is another. They can joke around all they want, but hearing each out on his reasons allows the viewer to judge if, philosophically speaking, either or both make a good argument, pro or con.

Neither the subject nor the movie is for everyone. But “On the Count of Three” is a fascinating variation on a dark comedy theme, and its light touch with hidden depth is one of the most worthwhile farces about “the only serious question,” as Albert Camus famously put it — “whether or not to kill oneself.”

Rating: R for violence, suicide, pervasive language and some sexual references

Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove, and Henry Winkler.

Credits: Directed by Jerrod Carmichael, scripted by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch. A United Artists release.

Running time: 1:23

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Preview…of a preview? Idris Elba stars in George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing”

The full trailer to this eye popping thriller drops Friday. But there’s enough in this teaser to get one all worked up by the latest from Mr “Mad Max.”

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Movie Review: Italian sci-fi “Oliver Twist” “Mondocane” is not THAT “Mondo Cane”

The dystopian thriller “Mondocane” has the intentional misfortune — “unforced error” — of sharing its title with one of the most infamous “snuff” films of all time, 1962’s “Mondo Cane.”

Get past that and this grim slice of sci-fi — the title means “Dog’s World,” by the way — delivers violence, suspense in a Dickensian “Oliver Twist” package that maybe needed a few more days of workshopping the screenplay.

Dennis Protopapa has the title role, not that the tweenaged street urchin gave it to himself. He and his running mate Cristiano (Giuliano Soprano). These “strays” scavenge an over-industrialized/unregulated hellscape of a coastal city. Italy’s near future doesn’t have to be “post apocalyptic” director and co-writer Alessandro Celli reminds us. The rich are exploiting and polluting us into a climate-changed dystopia without any help from a global plague, nuclear war or asteroid strike.

This Italy looks like the poorest corners of any Third World country. Italy has devolved into Bangladesh.

The local gang, The Ants, are the ones who nickname Mondocane. They gave it to him for a piece of work he did on their behalf, something horrific involving a pet store. They call Cristiano “Pisspants (Pisciasotto)” because that’s what he does during the worst of his seizures.

As the lads dive for sellable junk in off-limits polluted lagoons, Cristiano’s seizures could be genetic or pathogen related.

Mondocane longs to join the gang, and its leader, Hothead (Alessandro Borghi) is open to the idea. It’s just that he has no interest in “Pisspants.” Mondocane sets out to change his mind.

A little girl ( Ludovica Nasti) connected with the torched pet store is grilled by a reckless, over-zealous cop (Barbara Ronchi), who then befriends her. Will working class Sabrina fall in with the strays and their forbidden zone anarchy, or will she figure out what these boys did?

Director and co-writer Celli takes us into a world of pistol-packing Artful Dodgers, where no child recruited into the gang is as innocent as Dickens’ Oliver Twist. We see how useful children can be when it comes to breaking and entering, and how awful they turn when they’re armed and turned into child soldiers.

The film loses the thread as Celli can’t decide whether to simply concentrate on the boys, or give Sabrina and the cop Katia some agency in figuring out who these kids are and what they’re capable of.

Mondocane and Cristiano settle into diverging gang paths, as is the way of such screenplays. But Celli works in a fine twist or two to add to the third act’s bullet-riddled mayhem.

The kids are good, holding their own with some seriously hardcase adult characters played by more polished professionals.

But “Mondocane” is a mixed bag, as its sci-fi without really committing to that, “Oliver Twist” without the warmth, entirely too predictable for stretches and entirely too frustrating in its finale.

Rating: unrated, violence, profanity

Cast: Dennis Protopapa, Giuliano Soprano, Ludovica Nasti, Alessandro Borghi and Barbara Ronchi.

Credits: Directed by Alessandro Celli, scripted by Alessandro Celli and Antonio Leotti. A Kino Lorber release.

Running time: 1:54

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Movie Review: Same old “Top Gun,” Same old “Maverick”

“Top Gun Maverick” is movie about how people don’t change, and how hit movie formulas shouldn’t be messed with.

It’s a sentimental stroll through 1986’s “Top Gun” — a sentimental stroll at Mach whatever, pulling seven, eight or nine “G’s” along the way.

Every bit as simply-plotted as the original, it’s built around seriously impressive flying footage involving a lot more stunt work than digital trickery, and the stoic “Let’s make this REAL” presence of Tom Cruise. Starting with “Top Gun,” he set the bar for what movie stars should put themselves through in the “Holy crap, he’s really DOING that” realm of action stunts.

And that spreads throughout the cast of Joseph Kosinski’s adrenalin rush remake. Look at Cruise’s grimace as his character’s F-18 launches from an aircraft carrier, twists, rolls, dives and climbs. Look at the eyes and faces beneath the helmets of young co-stars Miles Teller, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis and Danny Ramirez.

If they aren’t “in there” and “up there” experiencing a version of what their characters go through learning to dogfight and carry out a desperate “Star Wars” bombing mission in a “rogue state” about to start enriching uranium, that’s the most impressive stunt fakery and acting in the picture.

This “Top Gun” shamelessly repeats huge chunks of the original film, and makes no bones about stealing from “The Right Stuff” and every action pic about feuding pilots and zig-zagging through “canyons” to evade radar (“Firefox,” etc.) and strike a target tucked into a mountain (“633 Squadron”) ever. Including “Star Wars.”

If screenwriters Ehren Krueger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie aren’t blushing, that’s OK. Let’s just hope they donated the DVDs of all the pictures they memorized and ripped off to their public libraries.

But none of that strips the fun from this nostalgic, jokey and balls-to-the-wall sequel. It’s pure popcorn fun at its corniest.

Cruise is a wizened if not wiser test pilot Maverick still given to “breaking the rules,” still “just a captain” over 30 years into his career. He gives us a little of the “Right Stuff” as he takes a prototype spy plane to its limits and beyond, inviting a chewing-out and dismissal from “The Drone Ranger,” the commanding officer (Ed Harris) who kills that program on the spot.

“The future is coming, and you’re not in it.”

But Maverick’s Navy flying career has a “guardian angel.” That’s how he ends up back at the dog fighting school he so disrupted during the ’80s. There’s this mission, the CO there (Jon Hamm) informs him, prompting Maverick to leap to the wrong conclusions.

“We don’t want you to fly it. We want you to teach it.

A brash corps of Navy fighter jocks is to be trained, tested and culled to find the right ones to stop this over-armed and unnamed “rogue state” from going nuclear. One of them has a mustache, just like his old man.

Goose (Anthony Edwards) may be gone. But his kid (Miles Teller of “Whiplash”) is here. And “Rooster” holds a grudge. How will that endanger the mission, and can there be bro bonding between young pilots when not all of them are “bros,” and one of them is a geezer with a flight jacket covered with service patches?

Aside from fighting female Phoenix (Barbaro, of TV’s “The Good Cop,” “Stumptown,” etc) reminding us that the Navy’s not just a boy’s club any more, this “boy’s club” engages in the same camaraderie, hijinks and pilots’ piano bar sing-alongs that every fighter pilot movie since “Hell’s Angels” has showcased.

They’re still playing pool, only the cloth covering the table has fighter plane schematics drawn on it, still singing along to “Great Balls of Fire,” only Rooster’s now tickling the ivories, still pranking “the new guy.” Only now he’s an “old man.”

Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly classes the picture up as the old flame who’s now the owner of “The Hard Deck,” as that bar is named. Penny has her own “need for speed.” She likes bombing around the waters off San Diego under sail in her racing J-boat. When she digs the lee rail in the water and rattles her old beau hanging on for dear life, it may be the most impressive stunt in the movie.

Naturally, she’s reluctant to take up again with hit-it-and-quit-it Maverick. But she looks so natural and at home on the back of his latest Kawasaki.

The wisecracks fly and characters shout out their “issues” mid-dogfight. Everybody takes a break from training for a rough, shirtless but Raybanned game of touch football in the surf.

And the homages to the first film begin with the recycled opening credits (original co-producer Don Simpson, long dead, turns up) and a near shot-for-shot Kenny Loggins-scored carrier flight operations montage remake, and continue through to a moving reunion between Maverick and the Iceman.

It’s all in good fun, even if you’re never really surprised by anything, even if you your eyes roll with every barrel roll of a plot twist in the later acts. The stunts, the knock-you-around-in-your-seat dogfighting, still has “the need for speed” and a license to thrill.

And yet “Maverick” — the character and the film — seems more sober, more reflective. It’s somehow less like the jingoistic “MTV Fighter Jocks” Navy recruiting film that the even shallower (and not aging well) Reagan-era original was.

“Maverick is a reminder that while his non-action career has petered out, Cruise was and remains one of the greatest action stars ever. And if he’s dyeing his hair and doing stuff most folks pushing 60 shouldn’t or wouldn’t, he’s earned that right because we still believe it — every stunt, every damned time.

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some strong language

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jon Hamm, Jay Ellis, Glen Powell, Ed Harris and Val Kilmer

Credits: Directed by Joseph Kosinski, scripted by Ehren Krueger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, based on the film “Top Gun.” A Paramount release.

Running time: 2:11

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Series Preview: Who’s excited for “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law?”

August 17, Disney wrings a little more value out of that Marvel buyout with this series.

Ruffalo, sure. Not seeing any other familiar faces in it. Tatiana Maslany was in “Perry Mason.” The effects just turn her into a Kardashian…with an education and work skills.

Like the tone, though.

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