Documentary (Mockumentary?) Preview: St. Vincent checks into “The Nowhere Inn”

Sept 17 this doc about a musical bio documentary of the musician, gay icon, signature guitar line star St Vincent comes out and we find out where “things went horribly wrong.”

For once, you can’t blame that on the casting of Dakota Johnson. Then again, she is in it.

Bet her former tour mate David Byrne is kicking himself that he didn’t think of this first. Has a whiff of “True Stories.”

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Movie Review: THE musical of the summer? “Summertime”

Much and all due respect to the gent who did “Hamilton” and that “In the Heights” New York tuner that opened back in June.

But “Summertime” is the musical of this summer. It bounces and tickles and touches and shares the credit, the rhymes and the love among some 22 poets, rappers and singers.

This LA “musical” with rap and slam poetry, dance and mariachi and folk-pop is the “Slacker” of musicals — borrowing its storytelling style from Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking indie comedy. The camera starts on one person in one setting, and attention is handed off, scene to scene, character to character, with some folks returning for a second or third helping in a different setting.

That makes it tightly-choreographed, no matter how loose and liberating and freestyling its performers get. “Summertime” saunters out of the gate, works up to a trot, and takes a bit of a breather in the third act. It’s still brimming over with street life and the occasional laugh.

Mila Cuda skates and plays the guitar in an intro set at the Venice Breakwater, where “all the winged dreams around me scribble footnotes in our city’s story.”

A prissy, hyper-critical video essayist, food, architecture and urban culture critic (Tyris Winter) launches into a tirade for the ages at an overpriced eatery that wants $15 for an over-decorated slice of toast. This life of the party shows up again and again in the film, lamenting changing storefronts — “The colonizer has given us…blouses!” and bemoaning the lack of cheeseburgers in the diet, dining pretension and avocado toast capital of the world.

A graffiti “artist,” a Korean 20something cook, a side hustling street vendor turned limo driver and a feuding couple whose therapist prescribes her book, “How to Rap Battle Her Demons” all get their say. And our opening serenader (Cuda) returns to shut down a bus rider who complains about same sex public displays of affection.

“I’m gay as a wool flannel on a summer day…gay like grandma ‘doesn’t get it’…gay like too-short fingernails!”

Amaya Blankenship and Bene’t Benton and others swap definitions in “Home Is,” as in “Home is the only salon that I know in this city is closing,” the only place (Blankenship complains) that can be trusted with “braiding me armor every morning.”

Rappers (Bryce Banks, Austin Antoine) try and succeed in getting themselves discovered, a Rodriguez sound-like serenades a lovelorn lady on a train, a Latina teen bickers with her “Lady Macbeth” mother over lipstick, one and all spitting “that emotional fire” in each other’s and the city’s faces.

As I say, “Summertime” gets a little gassed by the third act. There’s such a thing as “performative poseur” fatigue, and rappers and slam poets push that button even as they push the envelope.

But the energy, humor and wit of the early scenes carry it. And the pathos of the later scenes, along with a burger joint break down and the fun in discovering the secret to any rapper’s success as a novelty act (rapping about “my mom”) make even the slow jams go down easy, leaving a warm, fuzzy afterglow that makes LA seem nicer and maybe a trifle less superficial than its image.

MPA Rating: R for language throughout and sexual referencesCast: Tyris Winter, Anna Osuna, Amaya Blankenship, Bryce Banks, Austin Antoine, Gordon Ip,
Bene’t Benton, Mila Cuda, Maia Mayor, Sun Park, others

Credits: Directed by Carlos López Estrada, script by Paolina Acuña-González, Jason Alvarez and Austin Antoine.

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Movie Preview: Four mothers meet and have a moment — “Materna”

This intrigues…and opens August 6.

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Movie Review: A Somber Story of Drugs and Blood and of West Virginia at “The Evening Hour”

We can tell the minute the “old friend” shows up, back in the remote corner of West Virginia where he grew up, that he’s trouble for Cole.

Terry (Cosmo Jarvis) talks too loud and too freely and knows way too much about Cole’s personal life. He’s a little too quick to “do shots,” make off-color cracks about having dated his buddy’s current lady friend and way too eager to “catch up” with Cole (Philip Ettinger).

Cole fakes a smile and gives him the wary side-eye. This “old friend” is indiscrete, making a lot of noise and drawing a lot of attention, which Cole avoids.

Cole is a stalwart, compassionate and valued nurse’s aide at the nursing home, helps the grandmother (Tess Harper) who raised him with his enfeebled retired preacher granddad (Frank Hoyt Taylor) and checks in on any number of old folks in their holler, bringing groceries when he does.

But Cole also traffics in pills — given them by seniors who don’t know what he’s doing with them, sold to him by ex-con Reese (Michael Trotter), glowered at but tolerated by local kingpin Everett (Marc Menchaca). He’s saving up for a better life, and sharing his stash with the tattooed tart Charlotte (Stacy Martin), the classmate Terry used to carry on with.

Reckless Terry’s just the sort of ill-wind that could blow Cole’s whole house of cards down.

“The Evening Hour” is a down-to-Earth and down-and-dirty opioid drama set in Ground Zero for this “other” American epidemic. Filmmaker Braden King filmed this adaptation of Cater Sickels’ novel in Harlan County, Kentucky and brings to life a vivid portrait of a community and a people in mourning.

Battered, lifted pick-ups and camo, aged trailers and houses whose upkeep “got away” from whichever generation is living in them now, it’s a community where the Eagle Tavern and the nursing home are the only going concerns for the feckless men and faithless women still young enough to long for escape.

Coal mining is all but dead, with its last remnants — destructive “mountain removal” mining tempting any of the downtrodden souls still stuck here, still hanging on to their land.

The despair is palpable even as Cole smiles at the wide swath of the community — classmates who’ve given up to seniors who try and pretend this off-the-books pill buying and popping is normal — that he, in a very real sense, holds together.

That’s got to be his rationalization, the way he lives. He’s got to see that “the Carson girl” he’s sleeping with is using him for pills and a way out.

“Terry Rose is the only person thinking big around here,” she says, goading him. She’s indiscrete, too, and “gossip still flies faster’n skeeters around here.”

And then grandpa dies, long-lost “Mom” (the great Lili Taylor) returns and Cole’s world threatens to crash in around his ears.

King, who directed the indie drama “Here” starring Ben Foster, cast “The Evening Hour” so well almost every character seems to have grown up in this hardscrabble world.

Ettinger (of “First Reformed” and TV’s “One Dollar”) makes Cole earnest, sensitive enough to make us wonder if he’s up to dealing with all these unsavory “types” he’s mixed up with. The “secretive” side gives him his edge.

Martin (“Vox Lux,” “All the Money in the World”) is convincingly louche and mercenary, using what she’s got to try and cash in a ticket out.

Kerry Bishé plays the sweet but sad barmaid, newly divorced and with a kid, who might be a better match for Cole.

Menchaca is biker-menace incarnate, Trotter brings layers to his hard-partying dealer and Jarvis, blurting and stammering and swaggering and imposing himself on this town and old friends, gets across cockiness born of desperation.

“The Evening Hour” may lean into stereotypes of Appalachia and the lawless dead end many find themselves driving into. But King, working from Elizabeth Palmore’s script, humanizes the character “types” and the “statistics” to make one of the more compelling dramas set in this world and its struggles.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, sex, smoking, profanity

Cast: Philip Ettinger, Lili Taylor, Marc Menchaca, Cosmo Jarvis, Stacy Martin, Kerry Bishé, Michael Trotter and Tess Harper

Credits: Directed by Braden King, script by Elizabeth Palmore, based on the novel by Carter Sickels. A Strand release.

Running time: 1:54

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Movie Preview: Almodovar’s latest is about Mommas… again — “Madres Paralelas”

The teaser trailer doesn’t tell us much — generations of women, Penelope Cruz of course, babies, life…

But how much does it need to tell other than it’s Almodovar?

“Madres Paralelas” is about to premiere at the Venice FFest. Sony Classics has it and we should see it this fall.

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BOX OFFICE: “Old” pulls away, “Snake Eyes” craps out, “Space Jam” takes a dive.

M.Night Shyamalan may be an act headed for long form TV, but he managed a nice if deflated  opening weekend box office win with “Old.”

The sci-fi fantasy that’s a meditation on age that finishes with a juvenile “let’s try and EXPLAIN this” finale managed $16.5 million.

Pop the (cheap) champagne at Universal.

Paramount didn’t hide their piece of crap “Snake Eyes” from all critics, just the ones they feared. An $88 million million recycled nonsense script starring Henry Golding, it opened just over $13. Bombs away.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” took a 69% dive it’s second weekend. It went from $32 or so to under $10 in a heartbeat.

That put it well behind “Black Widow,” which added another $11.6 million.

“Widow” is in the mid $150s in North America, and should leapfrog past the fast fading “F9” and “Quiet Place Part 2” by the end of next weekend.

“Boss Baby” cleared the $50 million mark. “”Forever Purge” is over $40.

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Movie Preview: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas in “Official Competition”

A rich eccentric finances an artiste’s latest movie “blockbuster” sounds silly enough.

But that cast!

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Netflixable? Shailene and Felicity are connected by “The Last Letter from Your Lover”

A few things hamstring the “Affair to Remember-ish” romance “The Last Letter from Your Lover,” a Netflix film adapted from the Jojo Moyes novel.

One is casting. Shailene Woodley and Felicity Jones are marvelous, as one would expect, with Woodley as a posh 1960s Londoner trapped in a loveless marriage and Jones as a modern day London reporter who stumbles across the letters that linked that ’60s woman to another man and a “passionate.”

It’s a bit of a stretch seeing Woodley (“Big Little Lies”) as a ’60s socialite. But Jones as a plucky, lovelorn reporter who must simply find out “how it came out?” That’s a no-brainer.

It’s the menfolk cast opposite these two magnetic stars who let down the side. They practically wilt in their presence.

And then there are the letters themselves. As emotionally repressed as the English stereotype is, you’d think the Land of Shakespeare could come up with something more spicy than the banal “We could be happy, so happy” bloodless “Brief Encounter” prose the mysterious “B” or “Boot” writes to court a married woman.

Those shortcomings combine to make “Last Letter” a bit of a hard sell.

Jones is Ellie, a features writer for a London newspaper not quite over her last break-up, given to drunken hook-ups and clever if somewhat soul-bearing stories on “passionate vs. ‘companionate’ love.” The death of a prominent former editor sends her to the archives to dig into that woman’s life. And once she gets past the pedantic pissant (Nabhaan Rizwan) who officiously safeguards those archives, she stumbles into letters from “B” to his beloved “J,” neither one of them being the editor Ellie is supposed to be researching for a definitive obituary.

Flashbacks take us back to the London of the ’60s, where married-well Jenny (Woodley) is recovering from a car accident that left her physically-scarred and with little memory of the life she led before it. Her domineering, aloof and often-absent husband (Joe Alwyn) isn’t much help. But eventually, she too stumbles into a letter from this “Boot” fellow, stashed inside a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s comic riff on journalists, “Scoop.”

“Boot” was the name of the hero of that book. And as Jenny starts her own digging into clues from these letters, she discovers it was a pet name she gave to a journalist (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) who came to interview her globe-trotting husband.

So the movie is giving us two tame versions of “meet cute” — Jenny and “Boot,” getting off on the wrong foot, but with the writer eventually charming the suffocated society wife, stealing her heart and unleashing her passion, and the far “cuter” “meet cute” of Ellie getting over her foul-mouthed annoyance at this fellow Rory blocking access to all she wants to find out about “J” and “Boot.”

“Last Letter” takes us through the present day research and the ill-fated affair that preceded the accident that took away Jenny’s memory.

The mystery-solving part of this plays a bit like “Letters to Juliette,” for those who know their epistolary screen romances. Jones makes this half of the story sweet and fun, although she has to do most of the romantic heavy lifting, and every time she describes the letters as being “so rich in feeling” we have to wonder how repressed the pretty English reporter is herself.

Woodley has to look comfortable in upscale ’60s fashions — evening wear with diaphanous capes, a sailing dress that looks “Mad Men” secretarial, with even midriff-baring casual wear requiring gloves and those little pillbox hats of the era.

Wealthy Jenny is hardly the 20something product of Swinging London. But would she really be this conservative? Did no one notice how Jackie Kennedy dressed for a day of sailing? Capri pants, etc?

And Woodley’s Jenny has to suggest timid compliance with a dismissive, interrupting husband and a willingness to swoon over a reporter who doesn’t exactly swagger into her life. She does, but the romance seems a personality/charisma mismatch, something the film’s leaden pacing forces us to notice.

The leads make this tolerable. The ’60s pop soundtrack of Melanie, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood duets and the like and scenes set on the Riviera seem borrowed from a sunnier movie than the sad-faced, charisma-imbalanced slog that “The Last Letter from Your Lover” is.

MPA Rating: TV-MA, sex, profanity

Cast: Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Joe Alwyn,
Nabhaan Rizwan and Ben Cross.

Credits: Directed by Augustine Frizzell, script by Nick Payne and Esta Spalding, based on a novel by Jojo Moyes. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:50

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BOX OFFICE: “Old” underwhelms, edges “Snake Eyes” — “Space Jam” gets stuffed on weekend 2

A resurging pandemic in parts of the country, and very weak new releases are adding up to a blase weekend for the movie box office.

Well, that and the “streaming/theatrical” model that so many films are opening under these days. Why go to a cinema and subject yourself to sitting next to slobs who may or may not be vaccinated, and whom all the evidence suggests have gotten back to their careless, not washing up or even flushing (public cinema) toilets ways?

Deadline.com is calling “Old” this weekend’s winner. M. Night Shyamalan’s critically shrugged-off thriller did about $1.5 million Thursday night and enough money Friday to manage a $15 million or so opening weekend.

“Snake Eyes,” the Paramount GI Joe “origin story” action outing starring Henry Golding took a beating from critics and yet matched “Old” in its Thursday night take, only to tail off a bit on Friday. It’ll finish the weekend between $14 and $15, Exhibitor Relations and Deadline insist.

As the movie cost about $90 million, they’d better hope Paramount+ gets a lot of mileage out of this “content.”

Last weekend’s top picture, the family-oriented “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” is taking a second weekend plunge, down 68% to about $10 million. I should add that Deadline historically underestimates “family” titles’ Saturday take, so it could be that Lebron dunks on ScarJo again and bests “Black Widow,” which is on track to do closer to $11 million.

“Black Widow” will catch “F9” and “A Quiet Place Part 2” by the end of next weekend in terms of total box office take. They’re all in the $150-160 range now, with “Widow” the one with legs.

Mark Wahlberg? Sign that deal with Netflix and call it a day. Roadside Attractions, the “witness protection program of theatrical distribution,” didn’t promote “Joe Bell” and Walhberg isn’t a draw any more and that’s that. It won’t clear $700,000 OR CRACK THE TOP TEN despite being on over 1,000 screens.

The Anthony Bordain doc “Roadrunner” outran it, and it’s already been out for a week.

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Movie Review: 19th century French “open-mindedness” — “Curiosa” and “Curiosa”

A not-exactly-torrid, not particularly romantic “torrid romance,” “Curiosa” takes us back to 19th century Paris, when the camera and indoor plumbing were new, and sexual mores seemed in a mad rush to catch up.

This French melodrama, loosely based on the surviving writings and photos of its two principals, takes its title from a term of the day. A “Curiosa,” an opening title tells us, “is an erotic object or photograph.”

Marie, played by Noémie Merlant ( “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,”), is the oldest of three sisters, and the great beauty of the trio that includes Louise (Mathilde Warnier) and Helene (Mélodie Richard).

Family friend Pierre (Niels Schneider), flirts and keeps them under his lusty gaze, which the sisters, especially Marie, notices.

“Girls to be wed put on a show, like houses for rent awaiting buyers,” she teases (in French with English subtitles). “We can be visited. Boy not every floor.”

All of the “gentlemen” of their acquaintance fancy themselves poets and writers. Pierre’s lifestyle of the idle rich includes photography, “candid photography,” as the old Monty Python sketch winked. Pierre takes photos of nude women, and rakishly makes a point of finishing the seduction that lured them to his studio with sex.

Pierre is what they’d have called “a bounder” or “cad” in Victorian Britain. In Paris, he still flings around the word “gentleman” as if it applies to him. Marie doesn’t pick up on this, as she’s got a crush on him like every other young woman he meets.

But when stodgy, conservative and wealthy Henri (Benjamin Lavernhe) out-maneuvers Pierre when the rake is out of town, Marie is married off not to Pierre, but to one of his many “friends.” And the way the “gentlemen” handle this unpleasantness is for Pierre to have an affair with Marie, mostly at her instigation.

She runs to his arms and his bed. But as she submits to being photographed, she gradually absorbs what Pierre promises to “teach you vices you can’t even conceive.” And trying on each other’s clothes is merely the start.

But as a man who disappears on “travels” and returns with a gorgeous Algerian prostitute (Camélia Jordana), who bandies the idea of menage a trois with Marie and shows off his photo diary of “The Female Posterior” with his pals, whom he also shares his Algerian with, we wonder what Marie will sacrifice in transitioning from “conventional” to “modern.”

Lou Jeunet, who works mostly in French TV, serves up a “Madame Bovary” without the morality or tragedy of Flaubert’s novel. She and her co-writer play up the sex scenes, and although this never quite descends into “a young woman’s ‘awakening'” softcore of the “Emmanuelle” variety, that’s the general direction of things.

Pierre is something of an artist, but as he does nothing with these “candid” shots, it’s really all about sex and the pursuit of it. Marie’s in love, but miserable.

Jeunet is intent on showing a little of the kink of a stodgy belle epoch that wasn’t as moral and unsophisticated as it might have appeared.

The trouble is, that’s a given. Paris all but invented modern porn, Parisians kept their mistresses, Pierre is quick to admit “Of course I have others,” and there’s not enough of the “poor cuckold” Henri or anyone else damaged in this promiscuity to give this story a tragic edge.

It’s all very civilized and oh-so-French. But frankly, for all the posh settings and lovely costumes, all the lovely nudes and copulation, “Curiosa” is a chilly, unemotional drag. And the performances do little to warm things up.

MPA Rating: unrated, nudity, sexually explicit

Cast: Noémie Merlant, Niels Schneider, Benjamin Lavernhe, Camélia Jordana, Amira Casar, Mathilde Warnier, Mélodie Richard

Credits: Directed by Lou Jeunet, script by Lou Jeunet and Raphaëlle Desplechin. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 1:40

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