Preview: A MUCH more revealing second trailer to “Rocket Man”

It’ll probably take some of the same hits “Bohemian Rhapsody” did over sexuality.

Yawn.

But Taron Egerton does his own singing, and the story arc to the May 31 Paramount release “Rocket Man” becomes much clearer in this second trailer.

Looks good, and that it’ll get lost in the blockbusters of summer, if they’re not careful. A fall movie if ever I saw one.

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Preview: Charlize for President, Seth Rogen is the “Long Shot” from her past who could help

This May comedy from Lionsgate parks Oscar winner Charlize Theron in the lead as an accomplished politician and stateswoman — former Secretary of State — running for president.

Not that Bob Odenkirk can figure that out.

Seth Rogen is the bearded, scruffy reporter whom she used to babysit and who now finds himself in the presence of, and in the employ of, a woman totally out of his league.

Again.

“Long Shot” has the feel of the “Knocked Up” sequel that Seth and Heigl never got to make. It opens May 3 and features Alexander Skarsgard, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Andy Serkis in support.

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Preview: Elisabeth Moss has a hint of Courtney Love, especially “Her Smell”

Sorry, the headline’s my best shot.

Moss plays a messed up post-punk singer/guitarist/songwriter.

Cara Delevigne, Virginia Madsen, Dan Stevens and Eric Stoltz are also in the cast.

“Her Smell”“Her Smell” rolls out March 29 — wider in April.

 

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Movie Review: “Fighting with my Family” a winner on points

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In fight classifications, “Fighting with My Family” is a featherweight  — a no-strain showing comedy that’s easy to pin, even easier to like.

It’s fun.

British funnyman Stephen Merchant steps out of his pal Ricky Gervais’s shadow, writing and directing this WWE-approved “true story” of a British wrestling family with goals of Wrestlemania glory.

Merchant, who also has an amusing bit part in the picture, maintains its inherent Englishness while appeasing the talent behind it — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — tailoring it for American audiences and American versions of the British as punchline.

So a needy, skinny wrestler earns an “Oliver Twist” zinger — “Please sir, can I have some more?” The pale, teen heroine of the piece earns “dropout from Hogwarts” lines, Ozzy Osborne references and that old American stand-by put-down, her “English dentistry.”

Yes, the jokes are mostly low-hanging fruit, and quite a few of them you’ve seen and heard in the trailers. But they’re still funny. And Merchant didn’t let the trailers give away the whole movie. Not by a long shot.

“Fighting” is about the Knights, a group of grapplers from “Norwich,  the mustard capital of England!”the mustard capital of England!”

Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey, never funnier) have raised their kids in the family business, their low-rent World Association of Wrestling.

Even as tweens, if Zak had a beef with Saraya, settling it had wrasslin’ rules.

“He’s CHOKING me!” might earn a scolding from dad, “THIS is how you choke her out,” and a stern “What are you gonna DO about it?” for “princess” Saraya. She was a quick learner. She had to be.

In the mid-2000s, they drag a ring, ropes and a few wrestling colleagues into tiny English venues that hire them for a pittance to put on a show. Zak Zodiac (Jack Lowden) and Brittani, as Saraya (Florence Pugh) bills herself, are the stars of this “family feud.”

They may take garbage can lids to the face and hard tumbles against the turnbuckles, but their dream is stardom with America’s WWE.

Shockingly enough, they get their shot when a coach and scout for the entertainment company shows up told auditions during a WWE event in London.

Hutch (Vince Vaughn, terrific) knows every Harry Potter putdown even as he dangles the big dream in front of his prospects. He’s looking for “that spark,” and that cockiness that WWE wrestlers and their trash-talking TV patter are famous for.

And he wants to know “if you see yourself as a six inch action figure,” one of the perks of fame.

Zak, who has dreamed such dreams since he was three, doesn’t have whatever “it” is. But Saraya, the pierced Goth girl daughter of a burly ex-con (robbery) and a high-mileage recovered junky, does.

“Fighting With My Family” follows her pursuit of the family dream and her questioning of whether it is truly HER dream as she is sorely tested at WWE boot camp in sunny, scenic Orlando.

“Before you leave Orlando, at least one of you will be a stripper,” Hutch cracks, as he puts beefcake men and towering, busty ex-cheerleader “divas” — and Saraya — through his training wringer.

Merchant, who plays the father of Zak’s fiance, introduces all manner of wrestling and personality stereotypes into the script, and then punctures them. He rubs the edge off almost every one — mean girls, callous coach covering his own personal pain, the works.

And he works the film’s producer and bankable star, Johnson, into some cute, funny and pivotal scenes that are all part of the image burnishing that’s a subtext of this WWE production. Johnson knows his way around a one-liner and lends his sparkle to the proceedings.

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We pick up on “the script” for matches, the “soap opera in spandex” that plays out, negotiations that go on between promoters and wrestling providers (“How much for a bowling ball to the balls?”) and gain an appreciation for the danger and precision choreography involved. And we are encouraged to buy into the notion that winners and losers aren’t pre-ordained.

“Fighting” also offers just a hint of the blood and staged mayhem of the bottom rung of the wrestling ladder, which Mickey Rourke’s “The Wrestler” dwelt in.

Pugh, of TV’s “The Little Drummer Girl,” has both star quality and an underdog’s build that makes her portrayal work. She’s shorter and thicker than the ex-models she’s competing against to become a “Diva,” and she manages the film’s emotional tugs with ease.

Lowden, of “Dunkirk” and “Mary Queen of Scots,” does a fine job of conveying bitter disappointment that Zak wants, more than anything, to hide.

Vaughn has grown more subtle with age, and nobody is better than Johnson at playing The Rock.

But Merchant’s canny casting of Frost, Simon Pegg’s better half in movies like “Hot Fuzz” and Headey, best known as the fiery/sexy queen of Sparta in “300,” is what really makes this formulaic “fight picture” sing.

Frost makes Headey funnier, simply by proximity. And she makes him sensitive just in the way she plays off him, a needy, frank ex-addict and who reveals mothering instincts and ring ambition that you’d figure never took hold in Julia.

Whatever happens with Saraya, it takes her many encounters with her folks to make her realize the stakes, to give substance to “the dream” and make all those “frog splashes,” “diving DDTs” and “reverse Frankensteiners” worth it.

And that makes this fighting “Family” a contender.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content

Cast: Florence Pugh, Dwayne Johnson, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Jack Lowden and Vince Vaughn

Credits: Written and directed by Stephen Merchant. An MGM/UA release.

Running time: 1:48

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Preview: Harrison Ford brings grumpiness to “Secret Life of Pets 2”

OK, Harry Ford lands a laugh.

Whatever else “Secret Life of Pets 2” (June 7) has going for it, it’s got gruff and grumpy Harrison Ford as the top of the barnyard dog.

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Movie Review: “Greta” seems ever so sweet, ever so French and scary?

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Silly Chloe Grace Moretz. Did you never see the French drama, “The Piano Teacher?” Scared of movies with subtitles?

If you had, you’d have dashed for the door the MOMENT Isabelle Huppert sat at the keyboard and launched into Liszt’s “Liebestraum.”

“Love Dream” or not, that petite French sixtysomething is not to be trusted in that “teacher” guise, or as “Greta,” the Social Security-eligible, piano-playing stalker in this quiet, chilling thriller from the director of “The Crying Game.”

Its suspense is of the lull-you into complacency variety. The jolts are real-world shocks, a recent college graduate/NYC waitress (Moretz) who realizes the sweet, lonely widow she just returned a lost-purse to has “lost her purse” more than once, has charmed and engendered pity from other young women before her.

And once Greta Hideg has taken a shine to you, she will, as Glenn Close once put it, “not be ignored.”

Rich girl Franky and rich Smith College classmate Erica (Maika Monroe) share a tony loft in Manhattan, where Erika spends Daddy’s money and does a lot of yoga and Franky gets her Manhattan feet wet by waiting tables at a swank restaurant.

Franky is no small town girl. She’s from Boston. So Big Apple-wise Erica’s “This city’s going to eat you alive,” seems a tad unjustified.

But Franky is a trusting soul, insisting on returning the purse she finds on the subway, submitting to the friendly entreaties of its owner, Greta, who lives in a rundown brownstone and apparently has a daughter she misses.

Franky misses her mom. She died less than a year ago.

Shared meals, a visit to the pound to find Greta a shelter dog to ease her loneliness, it’s all a bit much for the roomie, who abruptly accuses Franky of adopting “this woman as your surrogate mom!”

Franky? “Where I’m from, this is what we do” — be nice, polite and compassionate.

It takes no time at all for Franky to figure out the jaded New Yorker was right, that there’s something creepy about Greta, clingy beyond clingy.

And tearing away from the woman she promised she’d stick with, as friends, “like chewing gum,” proves damn near impossible.

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Jordan, who made his name on the big screen with 1986’s “Mona Lisa,” and most recently gained notice for TV’s “The Borgias,” isn’t known for thrillers. He does like his twists, though. And violence. And he always gives his actors the close-ups that close the deal on us making our minds up about characters.

Moretz sells Franky’s instant alarm bells and rising discomfort at how Greta can inject herself into her life, regardless of whether she’s wanted there.

Greta knows where she works. She can figure out where she lives and has a good idea of who she lives with. Things are about to get real.

All-knowing Erica has warned Franky and us that “The crazier they are, the harder they cling.” And Greta clings hard. She’s got leverage, too. Franky worries about what she’ll do, and about the dog she just took in. As do we.

The money shot in “Greta” would be when Huppert turns that “like chewing gum” line around on us all — chewing away, coldly letting Franky know that “We need to talk” and no, she’s not going anywhere until they do.

The plot, co-written by Jordan, is conventional to the point of elemental. Jordan introduces the cops into the situation early, teases us with possible easy resolutions to this living nightmare and teases us again when those turn out to be red herrings.

But Huppert makes Greta scarier than she has any right to be. Moretz makes us believe that there are “Mommy Issues” driving her fear of this stranger.

And Monroe, Moretz’s “Fifth Wave” co-star (best-known for “It Follows”), has just enough edge to make Erica a New Yorker newcomers to the city might want to listen to when she barks out a warning, even if it’s hard to take somebody this into yoga — and yoga pants — that seriously.

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MPAA Rating: R for some violence and disturbing images

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea

Credits:Directed by Neil Jordan, script by Ray Wright and Neil Jordan. A Focus Features release.

Running time: 1:38

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Next Screening? Let’s go see if “Greta” gets it done, shall we?

A thriller about a college-age kid (Chloe Grace Moretz) who falls under the gaze of a French lady stalker (Isabelle Huppert).

Maika Monroe plays the best friend, and we ALL know what happens to best friends in thrillers — they either buy the farm, or save the day.

“Greta” opens March 1.

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Documentary Review: Marines in action, unfiltered in “Combat Obscura”

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It always looks so neat, clean — pristine even — in combat movies or in TV news coverage.

The grainy video shows the guided bomb or missile hurtling straight into its target — a direct hit.

The commandos charge into action, squeezing off rounds into “enemy combatants,” somehow avoiding “collateral damage.”

And the soldiers? Clean cut, brave, patriotic and all about “the mission,” Semper Fi and all that.

Military myth-making dies hard in “Combat Obscura,” perhaps the most unfiltered account of American boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Miles Lagoze was a Marine Corps combat videographer, shooting combat and off-duty on-base footage for Marine Corps videos, Armed Forces Network and American TV “pool coverage” of our men and women fighting overseas.

But Lagoze, in titling his movie with a pun on “camera obscura” (a primitive pinhole camera with a tiny field of view), points out that the sanitized and controlled “official” version of what happens in a war zone, is wildly inaccurate.

With a small RCA camera not unlike one a lot of newspaper journalists like me were issued at that time (2011-12), Lagoze shot on-message footage that turned up on CNN and other places.

“We filmed what they wanted, but then we kept shooting,” he relates on an opening credit to “Combat Obscura.” And so he did, and with that footage, a lot of the myth-making and image-varnishing that the “official” record took on, gets dashed to pieces.

The myth of the “surgical strike” disappears in a flash, a cloud of smoke and BOOM just across the village from where Lagoze and the Marines he was with were calling in artillery fire.

“Was that not the WRONG building?”

“That WAS the wrong building! Yeah BOY!”

Profane hoots and hollers all around.

The Marines curse the natives in English, like generations of Jarheads and GIs before them, curse words the Afghans don’t understand.

“Why you so angry? Cheer up? ” jeering at the locals, leering at underage Afghan girls.

“Come over HERE kids. We wanna have a rock fight with you!”

Hearts and minds are thus “won” in a combat zone. Well, that, and games of soccer with kids which the Marines are almost sure to lose.

Soldiers stand-off from an Afghan man as they make him strip, at gunpoint, to see if he’s armed and dangerous — not uncalled for, and nothing wrong with that.

But admitting, “Well, we can’t really torture people” maybe hints that there are guys who will cross that line. Jokingly “painting” a kid with a laser sight for laughs?

“You’re not recording THAT, are you?”

A couple of guys start checking an enemy combatant’s body “just like a deer,” rolling the man over, pointing to the bullet wounds.

Only, “He didn’t have a gun.”

“This his shop? Oh man, we killed a shopkeeper.”

Time for quick thinking. Let’s move the body.

“This is no good for anybody to see.”

Off-duty, we watch hashish crumbled into cigarettes, a Pringles chip can turned into a bong.

“Luckily for us, Afghanistan’s a hash farm!”

Off-camera, Lagoze jokes, “I’m gonna put it in the movie!” Which he does.

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There’s blurry action of Lagoze and whoever he is following that day caught in “the adrenaline rush” of firefights, shouts of “Sniper SNIPER,” men graphically wounded in the head, “gut shot,” shouts into the radio of “We’ve got a sucking chest wound, here!” Alarm all around when a comrade is hit, all efforts re-centering around keeping him alive until the airlift out arrives.

The men themselves don’t have their faces blurred, though you’d have to know who you were looking for to positively ID these combat veterans from seven years ago in the footage. Or post stills to Facebook.

Lagoze struggles with the men he has to sit down and talk to on camera, and those who don’t “get” the process.

“Get the f— outta my shot. I’m interviewing him.”

Soldiers recite rote quotes about mission, duty, the work, etc., with Lagoze begging, “Could you maybe say it in your own words?”

All that said, “Combat Obscura” is no more “negative” a portrayal of infantry life than the first modern cinema verite account of fighting men in action and on R&R. “The Anderson Platoon” was filmed during the Vietnam War, and many combat documentaries that have followed stuck to its mix of violent action, the tedium of being “in country” and the bizarre things that happen in “The Fog of War.”

An image from that 1960s movie that sticks with me is that of a chopper accident in a drop zone. No enemy fire, just a pilot’s miscalculation of how close that palm tree was, and CRASH — injuries, the works.

War is like that, that film, “Restrepo” and scores of lesser-known documentaries point out. It’s messy, it’s tense, guys are “over it” in a hurry and tend to be over-the-top when they’re drinking or smoking, rapping or dancing back in camp.

“Surgical strikes” are, like neat, conclusive firefights with a guerilla force any where in the world, a myth.

And the soldiers? Not clean-cut, All American “squared-away killers,” as one Marine confesses to the camera with a grin. “These are the most messed up people I’ve ever been around.”

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MPAA Rating: Unrated

Credits: Directed by Miles Lagoze. An Oscilloscope Labs release.

Running time: 1:10

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Movie Review — “How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World”

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The production design is impressive and the animation manages to put clearly visible peach fuzz on the hero’s CGI face.

And director and screenwriter De DeBlois aims for the heartstrings with a finale that ties up the whole “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy.

But everything that isn’t production design or sentiment in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is more stultifying, of dubious entertainment value for anybody over the age of 7, or uninterested in the film’s licensed plush toys — whichever age restriction applies.

This tale of Vikings who have reached a rapprochement with the bane of their raping and pillaging existence, dragons, is less Scottish and thus utterly mirth free — witless, with virtually no laughs.

With nothing particularly funny for their characters to say, the likes of Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill are wasted on characters who need childish sight gags (and rather poor ones at that) to seem amusing.

Wasting the great F. Murray Abraham‘s villainous turn, as the infamous dragon hunter of the dark ages Grimmel, is almost as criminal as writing a check to his fellow Oscar winner, Cate Blanchett, to voice the thankless role of mother of the now-colorless hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, sounding bored and over it), who who probably should get around to proposing to the warrior princess (America Ferrera, meh) he’s sweet on.

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Any “magic” in the notion of a dragon whisperer and Dark Ages inventor who talks a Night Fury, “The Alpha” among all the dragons that torment their world, into living peacefully with no-longer-as-Scottish Vikings on The Isle of Berk, is long gone.

“The Hidden World” is all about dragon rescue raids, epic CGI combat between righteous Vikings and dragon-nappers who have their own reasons for wanting large collections of the fire-breathing fliers, about “running away from a fight” and about puppy love — dragon style.

It’s not just the Scottishness that takes a backseat this time. Hiccup’s symbiotic relationship with his Night Fury pal, Toothless, is no longer about two disabled creatures making each one unstoppably stronger whole.

Grimmel (Abraham) is brought in to take trap Toothless by the dragon snatchers, and uses a female white Night Fury that we’ll just call a “Light Fury” — because they do — as bait.

Hiccup has to wholly take charge as chief by the authority of birth. His dad was Gerard Butler, remember. Dad’s old pal Gobber (Ferguson) may call Hiccup “the generation that’s supposed to lead us into the future,” but the boy needs to man up and marry Astrid (Ferrera), “Hang up those (dragon) saddles” and settle the succession, already. You crazy kids.

The assaults of Grimmel — involving knock-out bolts from a crossbow — lead Hiccup to a command decision, seeking “some way to make (the dragon-hating) Them leave us alone.” Let’s run away.

And there was this magical place where “all dragons come from, a hidden world” blah blah blah — borrowed “The Land Before Time” movies and “Ice Age.”

The dialogue has no snap, crackle or you-know-what, the dragons are better defined but aren’t really the focus here. Director Dean DeBlois, who co-directed “Lilo & Stitch,” turned the Stitch-headed Toothless into a cocker spaniel in these movies, never more than in this one — puppy mating sniffs, playing fetch, panting, drooling bouncing and prancing in behavior that’s adorable in any dog park in America.

That’s cute enough, but aside from that, “Hidden World” leans heavily on the blandly-voice-acted leads, and Baruchel and Ferrera don’t have enough to play or do — in animated form — to carry the picture between “Mommy, can I have THAT dragon doll?” moments.

It’s positively sleep-inducing. All these enthusiastic reviews are, one suspects, based on the warm fuzzies the picture delivers in the finale. Yawn.

There’s no sense unloading on something plainly for tiny tots, but if they’re insisting on making three of these when one sufficed (they used up all their ideas there), Universal/Dreamworks deserves the ridicule. After all, there were 13 “The Land Before Time” movies, and there’s a dire need to make them stop before we spiral down that drain with them.

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MPAA Rating: PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor

Voice cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig, F. Murray Abraham and Gerard Butler.

Credits: Written and directed by Dean DeBlois, based on the Cressida Cowell books . A Universal/Dreamworks Animation release.

Running time: 1:44

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Next Screening? “How to Train Your Dragon 3”

Are you pumped? I know I am.

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