Movie Review: “Leap!” gets by on sweet


In this, the summer that broke Hollywood animation, we take our small blessings where we can find them.

And The Weinstein Co. found its smallest of blessings in the French/Canadian ballet cartoon “Leap!” It’s a sweet, sentimental gotta-dance tale that finds a few laughs — mostly in the international language of fart jokes — but finds just a hint of magic in that ballet dancer’s wildest dream — to grand jete your way to fame in Paris.

It’s about a poor orphan — Mon dieu, is there any other kind? — who dreams of escaping Brittany — the Province, not the Spears — and dancing in Paris.  Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) has an accomplice, the smitten inventor orphan Victor (Nat Wolff).

She will go earn her slippers, and he will invent things that make his fortune in the Paris of Monsieur Eiffel. The Eiffel Tower is under construction, the Statue of Liberty is being fabricated, and they barely escape the warder of the orphanage (Mel Brooks) who chases them on what would have had to have been the world’s first motorcycle.


Victor’s unrequited love drives his inventions and his ambition. His “chicken” wings need perfecting, and Eiffel’s 1885 workshop is as good a place as any to make his way in “The Windy City” (sic).

Felicie preaches “We should never give up on our dreams,” but she has about as much chance cracking into “The Nutcracker” as a housemaid — which is what Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) does for a living, a limping one-time dancer who reluctantly takes Felicie on as an assistant and dance pupil.

The mean girl ballerina (Maddie Ziegler) who lives in the house Odette cleans lords it over Felicie, labeling her “Little RAT.” “You’re nothing. I’m a star! You’re just orbiting around me!” Her Cruella-ish mom (Kate McKinnon) is worse.

But then there’s a purloined invitation to try out for the school of the Ballet de Paris, and Felicie cheats her way in. There’ll be no stopping her….if the gawky girl can learn the five pose positions of the classical ballerina, gain command of the barre, and actually learn how to dance. In, you know, a day or two.

There are temptations by the prettiest Russian boy in ballet school, a rowdy dance interlude or two, some slow-motion fart jokes and a couple of sharp observations about the nature of dance training.

“It’s when you’re tired that you start to progress,” and “To pirouette you must become mistress of your dizziness!”

It’s more sweet than silly, and while the period Paris backdrops are grand, the animation is kind of Pixar 3.0 in terms of mastering human facial expressions — years behind what Hollywood’s best are producing these days.

That said, it’s not a leap to call “Leap!” perfectly watchable, if entirely too bland dull for the very young — especially the hyper-active.


MPAA:PG for some impolite humor (fart jokes), and action

Cast: The voices of Elle Fanning, Carly Rae Jepsen, NBat Wolff, Mel Brooks, Kate McKinnon

Credits:  Directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, script by Carol Noble, Laurent Zeitoun and Eric Summer. A Weinstein Co. release.

Running time: 1:29


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Two comic giants, Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis, pass away the same weekend.

DickDick Gregory 1967, Chicago, USADick Gregory was a very funny man — a comic who broke out just before Bill Cosby, and turned his attention toward social issues as the decades passed. A fairly thorough summary of his life and work is in this Hollywood Reporter obituary. 

I got to chat with him the ’90s when I was working in Winston-Salem, N.C.  He was having a laugh about coming to the Heartland of Big Tobacco for a show, I think connected to the National Black Theater Festival. Cigarettes had become one of his favorite objects of satire and mockery. I mentioned to him that RJ Reynolds had just gotten in trouble for poisoning the pigeons that roosted all over their HQ in town. He laughed, and said “There’s gotta be a joke in THAT.” Yeah, I says, “I guess the Camel Unfiltereds weren’t working FAST enough.” He roared, and I says, “You can USE that,” and he says, “Oh I WILL.”

Biting, incisive, generations of comics — especially African-American ones — could look to him as the font, the guy who made comedy and social commentary work together in one act. Hannibal Burress, Larry Wilmore, they may talk up Richard Pryor. But Gregory opened the door for Pryor. He will be missed and remembered.

Jerry LewisJerry Lewis did pratfalls and funny voices, made childish hit comedies for the big screen and insisted on crooning on TV when he had a show — or a telethon — to star in. He took on Broadway and took himself and his craft awfully seriously for such a silly man.

But to generations of kids, he was the definition of “hilarious.”

About a dozen years ago, Jerry Lewis did a tour on behalf of this medical supply/medicine pump company, Medtronic, that brought him through Orlando. He was checked into the Westin Grand Bohemian, where I went to pay my respects. As in, “You know, the newspaper has had me write and update your obituary two or three times the last couple of years.” His comeback? “Me, too.” And then, “You weren’t the ONLY one,” and then “That’s the best YA GOT?”

Lewis said that Medtronic had a pain pump that gave him a pain-free back, and gave him full use of his legs back from the decades of back pain he’d suffered since a TV pratfall, sliding off a piano, in the mid-1960s. He was puffy, comically gruff, in a wheelchair, making a big show of punching the son that was to keep him on schedule. HARD.

But funny. In his bones. One of those obit drafts I wrote I gathered Chris Walken (made his showbiz debut on an early Lewis TV show) and Oliver Platt quotes. Walken — “I was a kid…and in AWE.” Platt played Jerry’s son in the under-rated British comedy “Funny Bones.” I think I was interviewing Platt at about the time Peter Hedges’ “Pieces of April” was coming out. And Platt graciously stopped, gave a moment’s thought to a question off topic, “a Jerry Lewis obituary remembrance.” And he said, “The whole damn movie was about Jerry Lewis. That’s what ‘funny, in your BONES’ means. Him.”

A controversial man, famously unpleasant at times, loved holding forth on topics he could be politically-incorrect about, loved holding a grudge.

But funny. In his bones.


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Movie Review: Murder, most foul, committed by “The Limehouse Golem”


A serial killer mystery set in the bawdy music hall world of 1880s London? With the suspects including assorted performers, a monster of Jewish folklore, a murder victim and old Karl Marx himself? And the Scotland Yard sleuth working the case from “in the closet?”

“The Limehouse Golem,” based on Peter Ackroyd’s novel, has the makings of a corker of a thriller. A solid British B-list cast animate it, and they bring this world to life and find intrigue (under-developed) a few thrills (not enough) and plenty of pathos and more or less pull it off.

The tale is framed within a stage presentation, “a shocker,” as the genre was labeled back in the day. A cross-dressing star (Douglas Booth of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) purrs, “Let us begin, friends, at the end.”

That end is a poisoning. A journalist (Sam Reid) has died, after seemingly burning all his papers and leaving his grieving widow (Olivia Cooke of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Ouija”) with nothing.

Save for a mouthy maid (Maria Valverde) who fingers her mistress to the cop (Daniel Mays of “Vera Drake”) sent to investigate.

But the Lizzie Cree case isn’t all Officer Flood has on his plate. A string of mutilated murder victims have been found in the same area as a notorious slaughter from 70 years before. The press has labeled the crimes monstrous, and given the killer a monster’s guise — “The Limehouse Golem.” Flood is brought on to assist Detective Inspector Kildare, played by the tall and soft-spoken Bill Nighy.

Kildare is to be “the scapegoat” when that case isn’t solved. He’s been passed over for promotion for decades because “he’s not the marrying kind.” Yes, a gay cop is to take the fall when the public’s appetite for blood isn’t sated with a suspect.

But Kildare is a smart, well-dressed (a Nighy trademark) cookie — “To the library!”

And it is there that the two cases become truly intertwined — a book on Jewish mythology with a gruesome hand-written “journal” by the killer scrawled in the margins, a reading room where the late Mr. Cree hung out with the likes of Karl Marx, clues that lead to victim profiles and store ledgers and library sign-in sheets that produce a list of suspects.

“It’s not my place to have an opinion,” Kildare declares. “I just follow the threads.”

Jame Goldman’s script throws three threads of story at us. In court, and in questioning, we learn of the horrific life of poor Lizzie Cree, a girl “from the docks” who found her way into music halls, where she caught the eye of her future husband, a man in search of a “damsel in distress.”

There’s the investigation-proper, where Kildare teases out flashbacks of Lizzie’s past, and takes pity on her, all the while imagining the crimes as they might have been committed, narrated in an indistinct/disguised voice by each would-be murderer.

And there’s the music hall, where Dan Leno (Booth) is the toast of the town, a cross-dressing vamp so successful he runs his own theater, and was once in a position to give poor Lizzie an escape from her plight and put her on the stage.

The leads are all compelling, with Cooke giving Lizzie pathos with a touch of furious resignation. Life’s been awful, men have always mistreated her and she’s just had to put up with it. Nighy makes Kildare’s sympathy — that of a gay man misused and underestimated — perfectly plausible common ground with Lizzie.

American-born director Juan Carlos Medina (“Painless”) loses himself, as do we all, in this milieu, The Ripper’s London, with seedy backstreets, rampant crime and a lowbrow theater scene that he had the most fun populating.


A Who’s Who of British character players show up. Just when you think, “Where’s Eddie Marsan, the Prince of Brit Character Players,” there he is — a jovial music hall proprietor with plenty of menace in his manner. David Bamber of the classic TV “Pride and Prejudice,” is flashy as the sneering prosecutor condemning Lizzie’s upbringing, class and associations in making the state’s case against her.

The solution to the mystery feels like a cheat, and that’s the only sequence that takes on any urgency. “Limehouse” is more a fascinating world to be immersed in than a dazzling telling of a morbid tale.

But the players bring that world to life, and if we care enough to know the solution to the mystery and who is guilty, who is innocent and who will come out of this the hero, it’s thanks to them.


MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, sex crimes

Cast: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Eddie Marsan, Sam Reid

Credits: Directed by Juan Carlos Medina, script by Jane Goldman, based on the Peter Ackroyd novel. An RLJ Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:48

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Box Office: “Hitman” hits, “Logan” not lucky at all

boxIt’s not a blockbuster, by any means. But package two fan favorites — professional smartasses associated with Marvel franchises — in a sass-off/shoot-out action comedy and you might have a hit.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is number one with a bullet, a bullseye with a big bodycount, churning toward a $21 million weekend, based on late previews Thursday and a big Friday. $21 million+, per 

Nick Fury and Deadpool, aka Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds, turn out to be a winning formula in these dying days of the generally underwhelming summer of ’17.

Much has been made about Steven Soderbergh’s inventive financing and marketing for “Logan Lucky,” a movie his script has a character dismiss as “Ocean’s 7-11.”

It was going to break out in “the flyover states” of “NASCAR country,” with its “Let’s rob Charlotte Motor Speedway” plot and “Magic Mike meets James Bond” casting.

Cluelessly upbeat reviews missed the same thing that Soderbergh (a Georgia native who should know better) and his generally alien-to-the-South cast did. I’ve rarely felt more disconnected from the critical community than with this one. But I knew what they seemed to have missed. The “hicks” in the “sticks” don’t like to be caricatured. Nobody does. NASCAR cooperation or not, this isn’t as funny as SS thought. So no “flyover money” for you. $7.2 million is below even the lowballed opening weekend estimates. Soderbergh’s marketing went bust.

“Annabelle: Creation” did another $14, “Dunkirk” is besting “Logan Lucky” in its FIFTH week of release — close to $8.

“Wind River” opened wider and is in the low $3 million range.

“Valerian” and “Wonder Woman” lost most of their theaters and join “Apes” and “Baby Driver” in the “made all we’re going to make” category.

“Spider-Man” is still selling tickets, as is “Emoji Movie,” but “Dark Tower” is fading out, and “Glass Castle” drops out of the top ten on its second weekend of release.

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Movie Preview: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Colin Farrell’s found a home with the folks who gave us “The Lobster.”

Here’s a horror tale without ghosts, zombies, vampires or the supernatural.

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” smacks of malpractice — or malpractice practiced on a medico. Farrell’s the surgeon with a “sinister” teenage boy (Barry Keoghan) problem, with Alicia Silverstone playing the kid’s mother.Nicole Kidman is caught up in the spiraling events toward horror. Cryptic? Did you SEE “The Lobster”? Oct. 27 is when we’ll decipher the mystery.


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Box Office: Summer finishes its walk of shame with “Hitman’s Bodyguard” and “Logan Lucky”

logan1The box office has fallen, and it won’t be getting up before the holidays. Yes, last year was a stellar one in terms of ticket sales. But this year, driven by a summer where the rich got “Wonder Woman” fat, “Spider-Man” stuffed — and a whole lot of movies underperformed — is down — 2% for the summer, 10% or more overall.

So down that a cheesy horror sequel is set to own another weekend because Hollywood doesn’t have much to get people out of the house.

How bad is it? Well, Hollywood is hanging its hopes on a Stephen King remake, “IT,” pulling in $60 million on Sept. 8-10 to right the listing ship.

If swooning reviews were driving this train, another weekend of at least one or two grossly over-rated “instant classics” would be filling theaters. But audiences have shrugged their shoulders at another digital “Apes” epic, and won’t be lining up for “Logan Lucky” either. Reviews for Steven Soderbergh’s “comeback” picture were laughably out-of-proportion — a clumsily plotted caper comedy in the “Ocean’s Eleven” vein with a lot of AWFUL Southern accents and assorted Southern stereotypes. The “new” generation of critics swamping Rotten Tomatoes laughed their hipster heads off. Just as they took the vapors over “Alien” and “Spider-Man” and “War for the Digital Apes” and so on.

But everybody involved in making “Logan” knew this wasn’t much. Daniel Craig signing on to do another Bond picture just before it comes out? That’s a touch of career panic. It didn’t do much Thursday night in paid “previews” — “Hitman” tripled its business. The Samuel L. effect.

Sneaking the director-produced and financed cur into the dog days of summer gives it a chance to make coin. They’d only need $15-20 to have a shot at breaking even. Box Office Mojo says no way.

Box Office Guru raises an eyebrow at Mojo’s $10 million prediction and laughs, “Yeah, right.” $8 million says he. 

The other wide release is also flawed, and offensive in a totally different way. The comic body count for “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” the groan-worthy inclusion of romantic banter into the faux “Pulp Fiction” pairing of Samuel L. and Ryan R., left me a little cool.

But hell, the action beats are epic, the chases right up there with mid-level Bond stunts. And Reynolds and Jackson do make a decent pair of “buddies.” Got to hope Ryan R. ad-libbed that “ruined Mother-f—er for EVERYbody” line about Jackson — er, Jackson’s character. Weak reviews for this one, but it could earn between $11 and $15. projects closer to $20, based on what “Atomic Blonde” and its ilk–guy-oriented action pics.

That latter wide release is the only film with a prayer of unseating “Annabelle: Creation.”

A direct-to-video prison picture starring a “Game of Thrones” hunk — “Shot Caller” — opens in a few cinemas. I got some of the most shocking hate comments I’ve gotten in years over this not-even-good-enough-to-warrant-a-real-release dog.

The summer’s biggest hit was “Wonder Woman,” finally fading and losing most of its theaters as fall creeps up on us. “Girls Trip” (which just cleared $100 million yesterday) was the sleeper hit, “Dunkirk” the lone Oscar contender (and I’m including animation, because every cartoon of the season sucked). “Dunkirk” is still sitting at #2 during the week, with only each weekend’s new releases pushing it down — temporarily — before it pops back up weekdays.

“Apes” loses most of its screens this weekend, “Valerian” stands tall at the biggest bomb of summer, though “Mummy” and “Alien: Covenant” didn’t come out smelling like roses, either.

There’s at least one more iffy animated picture due out next weekend, and assorted limited-release or un-previewed major studio pictures figure into the last two weekends of August.


But basically, that’s all she wrote for Summer Cinema 2017. Let’s hope fall has more going for it.

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Movie Review: “The Only Living Boy in New York”


A woman bedding both a father and a son has long been a staple of romantic melodramas, and even romantic comedies.

So is there any edge left to it, anything new Hollywood can bring to the table on this subject?

Not really.

“The Only Living Boy in New York” takes its title from a Simon & Garfunkel song, its director from “(500) Days of Summer” and its screenwriter from “Just Go With It.”

Sure, Marc Webb’s two takes on “Spider-Man” — the Andrew Garfield ones — were middling. But the real problem is Allan Loeb’s at-least-its-not-another-Adam-Sandler-comedy script.

Throw a cast that includes Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale in full temptress mode, Cynthia Nixon doing “damaged” and Pierce Brosnan cast for his dash at a screenplay with the odd pithy truth about life and love and at its best moments, it has the feel of Woody Allen-lite.

The rest of the time? It barely fits the description of the leading character’s writing talents, a description which suits the leading man himself (Callum Turner of “Queen & Country”).


Jeff Bridges narrates the thing, and plays a world-wise/world-weary alcoholic neighbor to our young hero, a man with artistic ambitions, artistic connections and no direction.

The chatty, inquisitive neighbor meets Thomas Webb at low ebb.

“I’m having a bad day.”

“What’s her name?”

That would be the winsome artist Mimi (“It” girl Kiersey Clemons of “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” and TV’s “Transparent”). She’s sentenced gawky, rich, didn’t-finish-college Thomas to “the friend zone.” And the older man would love to help.

But Thomas has many issues. He’s “boring,” by how own admission. And there’s his fragile, broken mother (Cynthia Nixon).

“Dinner parties are how Mom medicates,” which means she, her husband (Pierce Brosnan) and son are surrounded by arty wits (Wallace Shawn, Debbie Mazar, Tate Donovan) who, like our narrator, lament the “safe” New York of today, the “new New York,” where CBGBs and the porn shops and other legendary corners of seediness have been scrubbed and upscaled. Thomas and his not-a-girlfriend appear to have missed “the good ol’days.”

Dad’s in publishing, and he’s decided that the way to recapture the past is with an affair. Thomas stalks the mistress (Beckinsale) and things turn a lot less “boring” as they do.

Characters spout daily affirmationisms like “The farthest distance in the world is between how it is, and how it was going to be.” “Let life take over.”

It’s all rather like the literary-minded lyrics Paul Simon labored over in his youth. That music, with a touch of Dylan, fills the soundtrack under the crusty observations that “It’s safe here, now. Urban decay migrated to dinner parties.”


It can be maddening, like the portentous pap Loeb churned out for ” The Space Between Us.”  And Turner, a sort of gawky, younger version of the angularly asexual Eddie Redmayne, seems more  a pity date/copulate than the object of awkward desire he’s presented as here.

Beckinsale never makes us believe she’d be remotely tempted by this annoying boy who catches her in mid-affair with his dad.

But all that said, Bridges gives a magnificently rumpled reading to his character, Nixon has the second-best lines and does brittle ever-so-well.

And Webb captures the essence of why New York movies set in the fall seem so right. Slightly overcast, melancholy, wistful, it’s a cinema season for affairs. And that makes “The Only Living Boy in New York” feel right, even when it isn’t.

It’s not Woody Allen. But then Woody Allen hasn’t been Woody Allen in 20 years.

“Serviceable,” the stinging critique of a young man’s potential by his publisher/father, fits.


MPAA Rating: R, profanity, sexual situations, drinking and pot use

Cast: Callum Turner, Kate Beckinsale, Jef Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kiely, Cynthia Nixon

Credits:Directed by Marc Webb, script by Allen Loeb. An Amazon Studios release.

Running time: 1:28

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Movie Review: The future will be analog and typewritten according to “California Typewriter”


Smith-Coronas had this delicate touch. Rush your words and the keys would clump like gravy going wrong in the pan.

Underwoods, Royals? You could pound those behemoths with passion, forcing out angry words that threatened to punch through the page.

And IBM Selectrics would sit there, humming impatiently, waiting for you to get on with the business of creating at the keyboard.

Some people, like avid note and memo-writer turned typewriter collector Tom Hanks relish the “tactile” feel of putting fingers to keys and hearing the pop as a letter magically appears on a page of paper.

The late playwright, actor and one-time drummer Sam Shepard spoke of the “percussion” of the process.

And pop singer and hipster John Mayer refers to footage of Bob Dylan typing as Bob “sitting at the altar” of this “confessional,” recalls a visit to the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame and seeing pages of scribbled, jotted and typed first drafts of rock classics and realizing he’s never written on anything but a computer, and no — NOBODY is parking old hard drives on display at the Hall of Fame.

“California Typewriter” is a most engaging documentary about the latest wrinkle in the Return of Analog. After “Slow Food” and the revival of vinyl LPs and turntables, it’s typewriters that hipsters have taken to hunting down in flea markets, thrift stores and the shrinking number of shops that service and sell them.

Not that John Mayer will admit to that.

Doug Nichols’ film takes its title from a Berkeley (of course) family business that’s been fixing Royals, Voss, Underwoods, Smith-Coronas and the like since 1949. But as the film begins, Herb Permillion III, his daughter Carmen and his employee Ken Alexander are staring down the barrel of obsolescence. They don’t even have a website (they do now), an analog storefront in an eBay world.

Owner Herb and sculptor Jeremy Mayer prowl flea markets together — Herb, hoping to find instruments worth saving, fixing and reselling, Jeremy looking for the write-offs — typewriters Herb can’t fix, but that Jeremy can scavenge parts from for his typewriter sculptures.


Sam Shepard did all his writing on his Swiss Hermes, Hanks sings the praises of the lovely, lightweight Smith-Coronas in his 250 typewriter collection.

And serious collector Martin Howard pursues his Great White Whale — a model of the first successful typewriters marketed, a Sholes and Glidden, from the 1870s or ’80s. Howard tells the history, runs his hands across “spectacular” design and “build quality” and marvels, like John Mayer and others, than this seemingly “perfect” gadget ever went out of fashion.

Shepard and others wax philosophical about the changing relationship between humans and machines. Composer/writer Mason Williams remembers the famous 1967 art-book project he wrote for Edward Ruscha’s photographs of a Royal typewriter they tossed out of a car going 90 miles an hour — “Royal Road Test.”

And historian David McCullough relishes the sense of “making something with your own hands” that no iPad can give you. Poet Silvi Alcivar sees the entire act of typing an art form.

It’s all a little too much — the film is too long, for starters — and those of us who don’t miss the jams, ribbon changes and typos (the smell of Whiteout/Liquid Paper) aren’t likely to go back to the way words were written in Olden Days and the vast forests sacrificed for “art.” I did my earliest writing on an Underwood, using teletype rolls of paper like Jack Kerouac to punch out radio and TV news copy and essays. But typos don’t turn up on the radio.

“California Typewriter” still makes some fascinating observations about our connection to technology, about what is sometimes sacrificed in the name of efficiency and speed. And if Brother (newer models) and Smith-Coronas start turning up in every hip dorm or hipster apartment, at least they’ll keep the flea markets busy, and businesses like California Typewriter going.


MPAA Rating: Unrated, PG-worthy

Cast: Sam Shepard, Silvi Alcivar, Tom Hanks, John Mayer, David McCullough, Jeremy Mayer, Mason Williams

Credits: Directed by Doug Nichol. An American Buffalo release.

Running time: 1:43

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Movie Preview: Peter Dinklage goes gumshoe in “Rememory”

Here’s what I remember, sitting poolside at the Hotel Intercontinental in Toronto, trying to get through an interview with the breakout “new” star of the movie “The Station Agent” during the Toronto Film Festival some years back.

And we kept getting interrupted — all these gorgeous women kept coming up, giggling, touching Peter Dinklage, flattering him, complimenting his work and well…

It was a scene, man.

I was tickled to see the stardom that came from “Game of Thrones,” even if I never warmed to the series. And I’m quite impressed with the trailer to what could have been another gimmicky “gadget plumbs your memories” thriller, about a scientist (Martin Donovan) whose research helped Dinklage’s character. So when the scientist is murdered, Peter D. is on the case on behalf of the widow (Julia Ormond)  — hunting the killer through memory research.

It’s the last time most of us will see Anton Yelchin on the big screen. He died in June of 2016 and this appears to be the last performance he had in the can at the time of his tragic accident.

“Rememory” is “An August movie,” meaning they don’t have high box office hopes for it, but are willing to try jump starting the fall by unleashing a serious picture (still a touch of summer sci-fi) early. It’s from Lionsgate and opens Aug. 24.

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Movie Review: “Brigsby Bear”


Kudos to Kyle Mooney, who used his “Saturday Night Live” fame to make a movie that’s nothing like your typical “Saturday Night Live” movie.

“Brigsby Bear” may be slight and gimmicky, but it’s nothing like the goofball character contraptions that Lorne Michaels has long produced for his revolving door of comic sketch artists. Mooney called in favors, brings on board SNL castmates and other big names. And they made a movie about an adult, raised in isolation with only his parents, math, animatronic animals and this cheesy ’80s-style children’s TV show for company.

An underground desert home was all James (Mooney) ever knew. The locks kept out the world, the geodesic domed observatory didn’t let in “the poison air.” So James just obsessed about the show — a sci-fi fantasy with actors in bear and duck costumes, cheap effects and unsubtle life lessons (don’t litter) shoved in, produced a video blog with plot summaries, and occasionally tackled an unsolvable math equation.


But all this was because those “parents” (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams) kidnapped him as a baby and raised him that way. The day the cops come and free him, James is sent back to his birth family and faces a world that is utterly alien to him, a world that has never heard of this fake TV show, “Brigsby Bear.”

“It’s a different reality,” he tells a reporter. “Everything’s very big!”

The novelty of a 30ish guy experiencing his first Coca-Cola, his first movie, his first party (with much younger sister Aubrey–Ryan Simpkins), his first beer, bong-hit and sexual encounter, isn’t that novel or hilarious.

“Thank you for what you’re doing! It feels very good!”

Still, the character and the film’s naive charm carries it along. Greg Kinnear plays the detective and one-time actor who befriends James and tries to help with the adjustment. Claire Danes shows up as a shrink, with Matt Pope and Michaela Watkins playing the indulgent but traumatized parents who take this stranger back in.

They all want James to acclimate, adjust and move into this new life. But all he can talk about is that damned bear and his TV show. His obsession comes off as kitschy, and that’s why Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is drawn to him. He’s a high school classmate of Aubrey, and he convinces James to make Youtube videos about the bear, and to make a movie to “finish” his adventure.

No, there’s not a lot of novelty to DIY moviemaking movies either — see “Be Kind, Rewind” or “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” If you want true originality in this arrested development vein, check out “Dave Made a Maze.” Now THAT’s out there.

Mooney’s scruffy, weathered looks serve the character well, and the odd fish-out-of-water line adds goodwill to a picture that skates by on that far too often.

“My parents stole me when I was a baby, but I still think they’re pretty cool.”

The third act has moments of tenderness and warmth that belie the featherweight film they’re tucked into. And any movie that lets Hamill show off his malleable voice-over skills, and play a human being, is to be treasured.

It’s not as odd as it’s advertising suggests, and it’s a comedy where the laughs aren’t big, with unironic irony delivering more grins than chuckles. The overkill casting doesn’t add much, either. It just shows that Mooney (as co-writer and producer) has a solid contacts list.

But as slight as it is, “Brigsby Bear” still adds up to “pleasantly diverting,” which is more than too many of its SNL alumni comedy predecessors can manage.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying

Cast: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Jane Adams, Ryan Simpkins

Credits:Directed by Dave McCrary, script by Kevin Costello, Kyle Mooney. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:35

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