Netflixable? “The Outcasts” take over from the Mean Girls, but can it last?

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Well, we all needed Victoria Justice to play one last tormented teenager. We all needed to hear her blurt out “What the F?” like Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel wasn’t there to tell her not to.

“The Outcasts” unleashes Justice, Eden Sher of “The Middle” (aka Mayim Bialik, The Next Generation) and assorted TV teens on a PG-13 high school comedy about bullying, bully baiting, boys, revenge and blowback.

You’d expect no less from the kids at Richard Milhous Nixon High, suburban land of “self-segregated cliques and stereotypical angst” — in movie terms, a sea of pretty, white or at least almost entirely non-black faces.

Justice plays Jodi, a senior who sounds, dresses and seems to think like a 20something wishing she was playing “the cool chick just out of college” or something, anything more removed from “Victorious” than “The Outcasts.”

Sher is narrator-Mindy, MIT-bound while Jodi, daughter of a widowed-dad (Frank Whaley, remember him?) is headed “for a minimum wage job so that I can join the 21st century’s version of serfdom.”

“When did you start speaking like Trotsky?”

Mindy has goals and expectations, and Mr. Samuels, a supportive science teacher. Jodi? She’s seeing the real world through her postal-carrier dad, whom she calls “Herb.” She sings her self-penned songs to a non-existent online audience and fumes.

So she’s NOT the one who suggests, “I think we should ask Whitney (“Queen Beeyotch”) to stop torturing us.” And that “cool kids” party they’ve been invited to? Admiral Ackbar knows, and so does Jodi.

Blonde Whitney (Claudia Lee, wicked) did not get to be queen without mastering the epic, unprovoked burn. Of the Beautiful People, only Dave (Avan Jogia) with the rock star hair seems irked at “Adolf Whit-ler’s” hatefulness. Every generation needs its non-WASP Andrew McCarthy.

“Big Bang Theory” and her “frizzy-haired lapdog” cannot be Whitney’s equals. Not having it. Thus begins the “beating those fascists at their own game” where they “overthrow generations of ingrained high school social strata” to have their revenge.

The plan? “Unionize the outcasts.” Just like legions of such comedies before them.

I’m quoting lots of snippets of dialogue here because that’s a strength of this otherwise lowbrow-slow-going formula teen comedy.

“How’s it going, guys?”

“Well, we haven’t been roofied, yet.”

Kudos to screenwriters Dominique FerrariSuzanne Wrubel for giving the ladies, at least, something funny to say — which Justice, with her bangs and deep voice not cannot hide the fact that she’s 25 and too sitcom-stilted to not hit the comebacks, punchlines and pithy aphorisms entirely too hard. 

They people the “outcasts” with the usual mix of too-pretty but ignored, overachiever, black revolutionary, emos, band nerds, goody two-shoes and virginal misfits these movies ALWAYS serve up.

No, not all the outcasts are the same. But in the movies, they’re all “types,” the same types. Here, with rare exceptions, they all live “like rich white people.”

Asian “how to get rich by 18” stereotypes, “angry black girl” stereotypes, bespectacled sci-fi nerds, bearded “fantasy cosplay” kings, we’ve got’em all. And they must be recruited in their native “tribe” and habitat. Kind of funny. Even if the scenes are too on-the-nose and hit their laugh-lines entirely too hard.

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Virginia, the over-achiever with tech savvy, is played by Ashley Rickards of “Killer App” and TV’s “Awkward. “Ted McGinley is Principal Whitmore because, of course he is.

Nothing too deep here, even though the writers could have angled for homophobic cruelty or anti-Semitic ostracizing. I mean, our heroines are named Shellenberger and Lipschitz — sounds like a Boca Raton law firm, or an NPR co-hosting team.

The payoffs, instead, are bland, perfunctory and cutesy. Big sports movie speeches, fist-bumps of acknowledgement, and we’ve got ourselves an Emo/Goth/Nerd/Smart Kids Rebel Alliance. A bullying in progress? Who you gonna call? Um, text?

Then the Mean Girls (lots of Tina Fey shoutouts) Strike Back. And then “We’re becoming the things we used to hate,” which to be fair, teen comedies like this usually leave out. Not always, but usually.

The sentiments and the story arc are perfectly supportable, the execution? Slow, slack, humorless and lifeless. “The Outcasts” stops dead in its tracks at the midway point and never recovers.

There are film formulas, and then there are production line scripts like “The Outcasts” — scene by scene, character by character cut-and-paste jobs, add “fill in up to the minute snarky dialogue,” and start filming.

“The Outcasts” climaxes early, and heads to prom late. Because of course it does. Whatever sentiments it reaches for feel shoehorned in.

One last gripe, there ought to be a law against opening/establishing shots of yet another pillared portico entrance of Anytown High School for high school movies. Seriously, 40 years and hundreds of versions of it, enough.

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MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for crude and suggestive content, language and some teen partying

Cast: Victoria Justice, Eden Sher, Ashley Rickards, Katie Chang, Avan Jogia, Claudia Lee, Will Peltz, Peyton List

Credits:Directed by Peter Hutchings, script by Dominique FerrariSuzanne Wrubel. A Red Granite/Netflix release.

Running time: 1:34

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Netflixable? “Immoral Tales” revisits the kinky and the quaint sides of The Sexual Revolution

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Return we now to the early 1970s, the Golden Age of softcore porn, the days of “The Story of O” and “Emmanuelle” and ooh lah lah — “Immoral Tales”

 

Days when the cognoscenti could say, “Oh, that’s not obscene. Its FRENCH.”

“I’ve been craving your mouth for SO long,” the gawky-young Andre barks at “gamine” Julie, sharing an intimate if not romantic moment on the rocky, chalky cliff beach in Normandy. He’s played by Fabrice Luchini, who enjoyed a long, leonine career in French films (“The Girl from Monaco,””Potiche” are two more recent credits of note). She is Lisa Danvers, who only made two films. Alas, France is as sexist about women’s screen careers as Hollywood.

Andre is commanding and demanding, and he over-explains what he’s going to do to her “untouched” lips, entreating her to fantasize over “What I will give you” (in French with English subtitles), urging her to become “a gourmand,” to think of the ebb and flow of  “The Tide.” He’s loudly, poetically calling for oral satisfaction — a BJ on the Beach.

And he’s her older brother.

The gulls caw, the waves lap, the hands wander, the tide comes in and young people get teach each other about sexuality and French hair removal practices of the ’70s.

“We didn’t come to the rocks to have fun,” Andre hectors. Not for her, anyway.

“Immoral Tales” is an anthology, a collection of episodes about desire and sexual practices, but also a movie memoir of objectification, sexism and the sexual inequality of its day.

“Therese the Philosopher”  is about a 19th century village girl Charlotte Alexandra), in petticoats and parasol, who explores the icons and artifacts of her church, hearing the voice of God as she caresses robes, statuary, the organ and the altar, “I am here,” he intones. “I shall not leave you.”

“Show me your weaknesses,” suggests where this conversation with the Almighty is going.  That earns her a whipping and getting locked, hysterical, in the attic back home. But leaving her to her own devices allows her to fondle dolls, to dally in a little dress-up and stumble across nude postcards and a book about “Therese the Philosopher,” illustrated with Old School depictions of sexual practices of the past.

And she prays and slowly strips and loses herself in sexual fantasy.

“Erzsebet Bathory” is about a countess (Paloma Picasso, you-know-who’s daughter) in 17th century Hungary, interrupting a village where cows are being milked, coleslaw is being squished, chickens are copulating and milkmaids are making love to goatherds.

The Countess is recruiting girls “pure and humble,” offering maidens the chance to “touch her dress.” But she’s not asking for them to accompany her – she’s ordering. And after ritual group showers (24 nude women), anointing with oil and serving some sort of spiked wine, the countess comes among them in a splendid bejeweled dress.

Which in a frenzy, the maidens tear off her — for the jewels. There’s a “blood of virgins” motive in here somewhere.
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And then we get to the Borgias of Italy. All the other predilections and perversions seem so…amateurish when compared to this lot.

The acting ranges from competent to indifferent, the imagarey striking in that Bergmanesque Euro-film of the era style. Extreme close-ups, semi-erotic displays of female nudity, women reduced to body parts.

The “Bathony” story as the most unconvincing fistfight/wrestling the cinema as ever seen.

Visuals tell the “stories,” but not in any sort of brisk, engaging way. It’s a ponderous, dated and obscure male wish-fulfillment fantasy — women as objects in the sexual service of men, the ultimate “girl’s locker room” scene, assorted lesbian moments designed to titillate.

And then the Borgias sow up and the grotesquerie of even the most benign moments is thrown into sharp relief.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, sexual perversion, etc.

Cast: Florence Bellamy, Fabrice Lucchini, Charlotte Alexandra, Lisa Danvers, Lorenzo Berinzini, Jacopo Berinzini

Credits: Written and directed by Walerian Borowczyk, based on the  André Pieyre de Mandiargues story collection. An IFC/Argos Films release.

Running time: 1:43

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Netflixable? Striking but daffy Brazilian B-Western “O Matador” aka “The Killer” repulses and perplexes

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The brute simplicity of “O Matador/The Killer” makes it feel like an over-budgeted student film, at times.

This Brazilian B-Western as has a striking, alien setting — the desert lands of Pernambuco — and the story and style of storytelling are downright primitive.

But don’t go into it with the idea that you’ve found the font from which the next “Spaghetti Westerns”  will spring from. The acting is soap operatic, the action is sluggish and static and even the sound effects rob the shoot-outs — murders, actually, as most of the protagonists are hired killers of the Brazil of the 1910s to 1940s — sound like popguns.

And the story? So many characters, threads, murder after murder in a lawless land, endless parenthetical victims, killers, killer’s bosses, hookers and the like.

There’s even a pause for a duet, sung by a town boss (Etienne Chicot) and his wife (Maria de Medeiros), in FRENCH no less.

Hell, I’ll watch anything with horses and bad hombres (“Homa mal” in Portuguese). But this? Crikey.

It’s sort of an “Outlaw Josie Wales” tale, about Cabeleira, a foundling plucked from the desert by Seven Ears and raised to hunt, survive and kill.

Until that day Seven Ears (Deto Montenegro) doesn’t come back from “The City of Men,” which is actually a village. That’s when the unnamed foundling comes to town, comes to call himself Cabeleira, and comes to have a taste for the coin of the realm for killers in these parts in these hard times — gemstones.

Cabeleira (Diogo Morgado of the recent faith-based film “Son of God”) becomes a killer for hire, shooting and outsmarting the likes of Dry Mouth, The Peruvian, The Gringo, Sobral and The Monkeys. Head shots, tongue-cuttings and rapes abound. The film’s treatment of women is so retrograde as to be hateful and misogynistic to North American eyes.

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The entire tale is told by a cowboy taken by surprise by two bad hombres (Homens maus), a lazy framing device that leads to lots of voice over narration, which doesn’t really make the story move any faster or more sensibly.

If you’re going to watch it, take the time change your Netflix settings to endure it with subtitles. I tried a half hour of the dubbed version and it is excruciating. The dubbing is done by the most sissy-voiced Portuguese speakers available, so in order to take this the least bit seriously you’ve got to watch it with subtitles.

I could see a Western working in this setting, maybe even with this star (Morgado as screen presence). But “The Killer” or “O Matador” if you prefer, is a bit woebegone, grim going pretty much from start to finish.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: graphic violence, much of it directed against women, explicit sex

Cast: Diogo Mordado, EtienneThais Cabral, Etiene Chicot, Will Roberts, Deto Montenegro

Credits: Written and directed by Marcelo Galvão. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:39

 

 

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Preview, another version of the fantastical Escape from Devil’s Island tale, “Papillon”

My favorite book as a teen was “Papillon,” written ex-con Henri Charriere detailing his years in the French penal colonies of South America — French Guiana and Devil’s Island off its coast.

Nicknamed “Papillon,” French for “butterfly,” after a tattoo on his chest, he repeatedly escaped from these inescapable hells, endured the unendurable, found a little piece of paradise and “escaped” that, too.

And lived to tell the tale and write a best seller about it. I must have read the damned thing five-10 times. The 1973 big screen version starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, and wasn’t bad. Just epic enough.

As you can see from the Wikipedia entry, the book is now called an “autobiographical novel.” He borrowed adventures from some, made others up. Barely true enough is my guess about its veracity.

Bleecker Street is advertising this remake as “the incredible true story,” but Charriere’s tale was widely discredited shortly after it came out, and more thoroughly in the decades since.

Still, a ripping good “yarn,” and Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek make an interesting pairing. No McQueen/Hoffman, but they’ll do. Danish director Michael Noer isn’t the most experienced hand at feature film directing.

It’s being dumped at the end of August, sadly. And this is Bleecker St., after all, which “couldn’t market merlot to a wino.” But might be worth hunting down right around Labor Day. If it’s still in theaters.

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Movie Review: Plummer pins the “cute” meter as an aged dad with few “Boundaries”

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Is there an actor in the history of film who’s enjoyed a better third act in his career than Christopher Plummer?

Rhetorical question, of course there hasn’t. An Oscar, his choice among all the roles available to actors of his vintage able to deftly manage curmudgeon, eminence grise or guff, cuddly codger, he’s constantly employed and always a pleasure to watch.

In “Boundaries,” he lights up a seriously lightweight road trip farce, playing the aged hippy pot dealer who passed on his “issues” to a semi-manic self-diagnosed neurotic single-mom (Vera Farmiga) and her “weird” passive-aggressive teen (Lewis MacDougall).

Laurie set an alarm as her phone ringtone from her father, alerting her that these are the calls she’s not going to answer. And he calls. A lot.

“He has a condition,” is all she’ll tell her shrink. So she won’t talk to him, avoiding bringing back up “years of disappointment.”

“You set boundaries,” the therapist is relieved to hear. Then she spies the kitten in Laurie’s purse.

“I thought you weren’t going to pick up any more strays this month?”

Laurie has a “condition,” too. She’s filled her house with stray dogs and cats, covering the bed, rubbing themselves over whoever’s sleeping with her and driving them away.

Which suits her sullen son Henry (MacDougall, of “A Monster Calls”). He has a tendency to draw anatomically insulting nudes of whoever he doesn’t like — mom’s beaus, teachers at school. He’s “special” and they kick him out after one incident too many.

And mom’s ditzy rich employer — she’s an “executive assistant” — is no help. Maybe it’s time to listen to her sweetly flaky LA sister (Kristen Schaal, of course) and take the Old Man’s calls. Because whatever retirement home he’s being kicked out of this time, Jack Jaconi always has money.

“My side venture” sees to that. But hell, pot’s being legalized here, there and everywhere. “Takes all of the fun out of it.” He’ll go stay with Laurie. No? Her sister, then. And not by plane. That’d force him to leave behind is ancient Rolls Royce (A gold 1970s Silver Shadow, maybe?).

And that would deprive the “dying” old man the chance to bond with daughter and “accomplice” grandson, and this Shana Feste (“Country Strong,” “Endless Love”) road picture of its road.

Funny thing about that, “Boundaries” was filmed mostly in and around Vancouver. So all the stops they make along the way — wouldn’t be a road picture without Jack insisting on “detours,” to catch up with old pothead pals (Christopher Lloyd), Buddhist retreat customers and Laurie’s ex (Bobby Cannavale) — are in ports, coastal evergreen forests and the like. They don’t ID the locations because it looks like a 20 hour drive down to LA on the map. That would make this a 50 minute movie.

“Cross country” they call it, and that’ll have to do.

Jack cutely explains his livelihood to the kid with a “Your grandfather’s got a green thumb.”

The wary kid makes a “cute” cutting crack about how he’s “too old to molest.” The old man isn’t offended.

“You couldn’t get molested with a bow in your hair!”

We suspect the old coot is lying about not having “much time life.” And we, like the writer-director, have a hard time getting a handle on Laurie’s manic personality, her bizarre connection to her on-the-spectrum ex (Cannavale), though her need to create “family” by filling her life with strays earns the Psychology 101 treatment. Critters approach her at gas stations, etc., all along the route, drawn to her by instinct and plot device.

“You’re like the Pied Piper of mange!” the old man chortles.

The dialogue and performances are far more interesting than the lazy, cliche-ridden story Feste cooked up.

The kid character is underdeveloped, Farmiga’s Laurie is like a needs-help/gets-help/self-help caricature.

But Plummer’s ready twinkle makes “Boundaries” (June 22) go down easily, even if he’s old enough to be Farmiga’s granddad, even if Lloyd is the more on-the-nose casting choice if you’re looking for a ’60s stoner in his dotage.

Feste may be building a career out of reaching for sentimental, easy laughs and tugs on the heartstrings. But even she knows that would have been too on-the-nose.

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MPAA Rating: R (for drug material, language, some sexual references and nude sketches)

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall, Kristen Schaal, Bobby Cannavale

Credits: Written and directed by Shana Feste. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:44

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Movie Review: Tragedy, heartbreak, education and a colorful life help “Mary Shelley” create Frankenstein

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God help me, but I’m a sucker for a good literary screen biography, and the more period perfect the better.

The likes of “Becoming Jane,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Last Station” might live by formula, a “this inspired that” conceit. But if it’s done with style and a little whimsy, I’m there.

“Mary Shelley” is in essence “Becoming Frankenstein,” the story of how a British teen had the education, talent, life experience and literary ambitions thanks to the salon she was a part of, to create one of the seminal novels in the history of horror.

The luminous Elle Fanning plays Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, a morbid, writerly teen raised by a free-thinking father, whose scandalized proto-feminist mother died when she was born. Dad (Stephen Dillane) educated her and taught her that “to love reading is to have everything within yourary uses that as an excuse to goof off, reading ghost stories in the cemetery were her mother is buried. “I was the one who killed her, after all.” Her siblings revel in it, but stepmum (Joanne Froggatt of “Downton Abbey”) does not approve.

Being sent off to stay with relatives in Scotland only encourages her ambitions, and exposes her to the sort of scandal her parents used to create. She falls in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth of “Romeo & Juliet”). He’s forward, and she, even at sixteen, gives as good as she gets.

“Just how old ARE you, then?”

“Old enough to know why you’re asking.”

The affair is torrid, by the PG-13 standards of Austenesque Georgian Britain. Only meeting the man’s wife puts a damper on things, and that is but temporary.

They’ve met and discounted the talents of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but when actress-sister Claire (Bel Powley) tumbles for the tippling wit Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge of “Far from the Madding Crowd”), they’re off to Switzerland to absorb the mercurial man’s attention and challenge one another, during a rainy spell, to write a really good “ghost story.”

“There are witches in the wind,” the high-born drunk purrs.

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Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour revels in the costumes, the cast and the words so much that “Mary Shelley” loses the sense of forward motion, here and there. But she gives Fanning’s Mary time to absorb the body-blows of a lost baby and a feckless mate, which she expresses in Austenesque sarcasm to Percy, who wishes she was as into swinging 1810s Britain and free love as he is.

“Are you not cold?”

“My hypocrisy keeps me warm,” she sneers, “as does my cloak of disappointment.”

Booth makes a splendid Percy, Dillane (“The Hours,” “Game of Thrones”) a believably reluctant-to-judge but disapproving father and Sturridge a reasonable facsimile of the dissolute intellectual brute Byron.

Fanning merely as to hold her own with this lot, and after an opening voice-over that sounds like a British accent lesson run amuk — “The DE-mon cahst his buhnning STAHR upon huh” — settles into a marvelously period-perfect woman with education, ambition and the talent to be affronted that no one will believe a woman, much less one of her tender years, could write a tale so horrific and layered.

It’s not as brisk or funny as the best films of the genre, reasonably romantic but never quite as heartbreaking as you’d hope. But “Mary Shelley” renews our acquaintance with an important writer and the world who molded her, and adds even more range to the collection of characters Fanning — The next Saorise or Mia Warsikowska? — can pull off.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality and thematic elements including substance abuse

Cast: Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Tom Sturridge, Bel Powley, Stephen Dillane, Joanne Froggatt

Credits:Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, script by Emma Jensen and Haifaa Al-Mansour. An IFC release.

Running time: 2:00

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So who does this new Han Solo remind you of?

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“A Star Wars Story” — Greedo, is that you?

Is the Han Solo stand-alone storyline re-opening an old George Lucas recut and messed up “A New Hope” debate?

Maybe. Probably.

And is one character from that debated scene glimpsed in the climactic brawl?

Maybe.

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Movie Review: Can “Star Wars” fly “Solo”?

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So much for the hope that the back-engineered “prequels” in the “Star Wars” universe would rescue these space operas from the bloat and boredom that J.J. Abrams and friends have given them.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a two hour and fifteen minute salvage job, with director Ron Howard coming in to add a little life and a few laughs to whatever original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“22 Jump Street,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) struggled to provide.

And the answer to that is “not enough.” The damage had already been done, mostly with casting, and entrusting the script to Hollywood nepotism, the great has-been Lawrence Kasdan (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” etc.) and his actor-turned-not-very-good-writer son, Jonathan.

Alden Ehrenreich (“Hail, Caesar!”) is the young Han Solo in this origin tale, suggesting not so much a young, tall and hunky Harrison Ford but a young, short, grinning-until-his-eyes-squint-shut Jon Cryer or Ethan Embry.  From his first moment, his first line in the picture, he’s off.

Han is enslaved on the shipyard planet Corellia, declaring himself a pilot and trying to swipe and hustle up enough cash to get him and his smarter (as usual) girlfriend Qi’ra pronounced Kyra (Emilia Clarke) free. He’s a bit bruised up, and she’s concerned.

“You should SEE them,” Ehrenreich brags, implying “You should see the OTHER guys,” and totally hitting the line-emphasis wrong.

It happens again and again in Ehrenreich’s clumsy, nebbishy, chuckle-headed take on the future swashbuckler Han Solo. Because, apparently, there are no re-takes in spaces.

We see how Han got his surname (all alone in the cosmos, no family, he’s an Imperial recruit). We watch him meet Chewbacca, a hilarious scene reminiscent of Luke’s tangles with assorted beasts in assorted arenas in the original trilogy, and a big joke moment from “Thor Ragnarok.”

And we’re there the night he meets “ol’pal” Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), elaborately described as a “retired” smuggler, “sophisticated,” “charismatic” “and attractive, too.”

Billy Dee Williams’ ears must be burning, even though they left out “sauve” and “debonair” from that standard-description of Williams in general, and the character he first made famous. Glover is mostly up to the task, suggesting a worldly card player who gambles with his ship at Intergalactic poker and his life as “the Kessel Run” with Han.

Han is separated from his first love, Qi’ra, and takes up with his second, the Millenium Falcon, to win her freedom from the Crimson Dawn gangster Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany as more whimsical and mercurial than menacing. He’s just…wrong.

The casting they nailed is giving Woody Harrelson the role of a pistol-twirling smuggler and thief named Tobias Beckett, and making the smart and sexy Thandie Newton his demo expert, second-in-command lover. But let’s screw up the gang with a four-armed digital frog thingy who acts and sounds (Jon Favreau did the voice) like a PG version of Rocket Raccoon from “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

It’s not stealing if it’s all under the Disney umbrella, kids.

The gang has to slip the clutches of the just-expanding Empire, outsmart the Hyperfuel mine owners and shippers, pull off a train heist and evade the “Marauders” bent on stealing from them them as they do.

On the plus side, the diverse cast feels organic and not forced into the “universe,” no Death Stars, no light saber duels, no “Force” and no original cast members were harmed in the making of this. Original characters’ legacies, on the other hand, take a bit of a licking.

It’s an underlit picture dominated by gloomy, shadowy visuals, visceral fights and shoot-outs and what feels and sounds like dialogue from a TV quickie “prequel” cranked out for The Disney Channel. This is the least quotable “Star Wars” movie ever.

Clarke, of “Game of Thrones,” is Qi’ra, here to sex up this spin in “A galaxy far, far away.” She has little chemistry with Ehrenreich, none of the heat that was called for and none of the adult pathos and passion that Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher brought to their PG love scenes, way back when.

The chases are same-old/same-old involving the Falcon, Tie Fighters and some space phenomenon that isn’t the asteroid or debris fields of early “Star Wars” movies. The picture opens with a dull surface-speeder pursuit that doesn’t raise the pulse-rate at all.

There are more card games than “Battle Bots” competitions (look for Ron Howard’s brother Clint, there), more filler Falcon flying sequences than moments where anybody seems in genuine peril.

The stakes, gravitas, wit and great actors demonstrating great acting of “Rogue One,” the best of these new LucasFilms, are sorely missed.

A couple of times, Howard gets things to play as giddy — that first Han/Chewie encounter, a climax built around the sass of the newest robot character L3, a ferrous feminist voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. And it’s always interesting, visually, seeing the exotic settings, exotic costumes and tech of this universe. Visiting Lando’s cape closet is a hoot.

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The rest of the time the accountants, Disney and Howard himself seemed to say, “OK, we’ve achieved adequate,” which gives the viewer a sense of relief that it’s not worse. Since we aren’t seeing the original directors’ vision, just their (and J.J. Abrams’ casting), we can only guess how bad things were going beforehand.

But “adequate” is not what we want or expect from a “Star Wars” story.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence

Cast:Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Wood Harrelson, Thandie Newton, paul Bettany

Credits:Directed by Ron Howard, script by Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan. A Disney/Lucasfilms release.

Running time:  2:15

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Preview, “Shock and Awe” gets at the journalism that unraveled the Bush Big Lie

It’s about the run-up to the Iraq invasion, it stars Tommy Lee Jones, Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich, James Marsden, Woody Harrelson and Rob Reiner, who also directed it.

Yes, Reiner’s an outspoken liberal and thus a critic of Bush and his ilk. And no, he’s not really a filmmaking heavyweight any more. Vertical Entertainment is not one of the major studios.

But there are names here, and it’s a journalism tale that seems theatrical. Maybe. Just a bit.

July 13, we find out if that’s true. 

 

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