Preview: “Incredibles 2,” a teasing first look

Here you go.

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Movie Review: Bad Hair is a REALLY Big Deal in 1980s Rural Va. in “Permanent”

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Warm in all the most predictable ways, edgy and surprising at times, and always willfully quirky, “Permanent” is an old-fashioned coming-of-age-in-the-hell-of-high-school comedy with a few new twists.

It’s about bad hair in a place (suburban Richmond, Va., THE SOUTH) and time (the early 1980s) when that could be a social death sentence for a white American teenage girl.

That’s Aurelie Dixon’s plight. Kira McLean brings gawky, wimpy Aurelie to life in a breakout performance that will feel oh-so-lived-through for generations of female filmgoers.

The Dixons are new to town, freshly arrived from Washington, D.C. But that’s not going to stand her in good stead at her new high school, even though she could play “the big city sophisticate” card, even though her dad (Rainn Wilson) served three U.S. presidents, and has the autographed photos to prove it.

Dad is retired from the Air Force, but was a steward during his entire enlistment. He was a glorified waiter to presidents, diplomats and potentates. All he has to show for it is a toupee, and a scholarship to a small Christian college where he can begin his pre-med studies, starting over in his 40s.

Aurelie needs something to cling to, some sort of signature, heading into the school year.

“I’m ugly and I feel bad about myself!”

It’s not going to be her odd, ridiculous and taunt-worthy name — “ORALLY?”

She can’t change that.

And it’s not going to be fashion, partly because it’s 1982 (ick), partly because she has no fashion sense and mostly because, as her mother reminds her — CONSTANTLY — “We’re poor. Working poor!”

But long-suffering, fried chicken joint waitress and family breadwinner mom (Oscar winner Patricia Arquette, in top form) hears that “all the OTHER girls look like Farrah Fawcett” complaint once too often and finds a low-cost answer to Aurelie’s request — a small-town “beauty school” run by, well, the only gay in the village.

Before you can say, “My GOD, what have you done?” the drawling klutz who does the deed hollers, “Come check out this permanent I just done did!” And Aurelie’s woes are just beginning.

Writer-director Colette Burson of TV’s “Hung” must know whereof she speaks, because what follows is a spot-on spoof of the upper South fifteen years removed from The Civil Rights Movement, on the cusp of MTV.

Overt racial name-calling has subsided, but the only black girl in this school (amusingly sullen newcomer Nena Daniels) is “stuck in with the RE-tards” by teachers uninterested in her intelligence, and yet not so ostracized that she can’t reject the new kid’s “I’ll be your FRIEND” pleas. Lydia lives every school day in barely-contained rage.

The girls are all bullies, the boys freshman vulgarians.

And at home, Aurelie’s mom is out of patience with her bald-and-fooling-no-one husband, whose sex drive ended with his Air Force career, a dork (as only Rainn Wilson can play him) with an indulgent side he shows their daughter and an ineptly self-important one he shows everybody else.

There’s temptation outside the marriage, small-town imitations of Big City “group counseling,” competent but not top-flight teachers with stock answers/ WRONG solutions to every social woe in the school and the hint of ways Aurelie and Lydia might stand out from this mob. If only they can learn to stick up for themselves.

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The ending is entirely too pat, considering what’s come before. But Burson has channeled her dark memories of freshman year into something that occasionally touches and often tickles, but stings with familiarity, start to finish.

Yes, a bad perm will “relax” and eventually go away. And once the trauma has worn off, someday you’ll look back on it and laugh. Just give it 20-35 years or so.

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MPAA Rating:PG-13 for crude sexual references, language and thematic elements

Cast:  Kira McLean, Patricia Arquette, Rainn Wilson, Nena Daniels

Credits:Written and directed by Colette Burson. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:33

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“Justice League” might not hit $100 million on opening, Suicide Watch at Warners

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OK, I kid. And what do we say? We kid because we love.

I was chatting with a couple of theater managers today about Thursday night’s and Friday pre-sale numbers for “Justice League,” and one said and I quote, “OK, but it’s not like WE KNOW this movie is opening because of the crowds. Not like ‘Star Wars,’ where the place is just packed and buzzing.”

So. Multiply that by a few thousand cineplexes, and damned if “Justice League” didn’t manage a Thursday night and daytime Friday that points to a $93-96 million opening.

Considering the projections from Box Office Mojo and others were $110 million, well, no champagne at the WB this weekend. Maybe Korbel. But not the good stuff.

I saw it as roughly on a par with the spectacularly successful and grossly over-rated “Wonder Woman.” Folks, these movies are long past the point where they share an original idea. “Wonder Woman” was “The First Avenger” — War, Germans, a bomber that “must be stopped.” Seriously.

“Justice League” has a great Jason Momoa take on Aqua Man, a nebbishy spin on The Flash. And that Israeli model Gal Gadot is back as Diana, the “adult in the room” over all those superheroes. Light in tone, utterly generic in plot (structure, villain, etc).

These aren’t serious movies, they’re serious money-makers and the best “Avengers” is not that much better than the worst “Justice League.” So, as Abraham Lincoln once said in a review, “Those who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”

He used that because “I laughed, I cried,” was taken.

On the other hand, “Wonder” is selling out evening showings, my manager friends told me. Sure enough, Deadline.com confirms it’s headed towards a spectacular $27 million plus opening.

“Nobody” is going to see “The Star,” my cineplex folks tell me. Maybe $9 million nationwide by Sunday midnight.

And “Lady Bird,” on just 240 or so screens, cracked the top 10. “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” is in there, too. Quality and Oscar contending is a selling point, too.

One thing working against “Justice League”  which nobody is talking about? Rotten Tomatoes withholding critic-linked reviews of the film until Thursday afternoon, to allow two critics that they’re promoting on a TV show/webcast as their…whatevers.

Warners, part owners of RT, might have been down with hiding reviews for a movie after the “Batman vs. Superman” debacle (which I rather liked for its tone and the fact that is was “about something”), and “Suicide Squad,” where all the reviews (mine was one of the first posted) nuked it.

Remember, fans were raging at RT for killing “Suicide Squad” by simply aggregating all the reviews, which were bad, or at least somewhat negative. RT doesn’t determine what real movie critics say. The new folks on their payroll? Jury’s out on that.

You could go to the much more nuanced and selective (fewer fanboy “critics”) Metacritic and get an accurate take on “Justice.” Not terrible, not at all.  Weak, but workable. Not every movie buff checks Metacritic, though. The fools.

And RT’s “Justice” stunt made it look like they were helping WB hide the film from ticket buyers.

Who, if my staggering readership numbers are an indicator, simply clicked on Metacritic (lots of referral links in my metrics) and saw the movie wasn’t terrible.

RT gave the film the air of something worth hiding. They punched a hole in “Justice League,” just for a chance to launch two young, telegenic nobodies nobody has ever heard of on a TV show where they share their five years of moviewatching experience.

Sorry, sometimes you feel like poking the bear.

Anyway, maybe Saturday will fix this shortfall, maybe Sunday will push those numbers up. Stay tuned. Here.

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Preview: No Wallace, no Gromit, just Aardman doing Cave Women and Men in “Early Man”

Second trailer, fun clash between primitive man and Bronze Age Man.

Great voices (Eddie Redmayne, Oscar winner), Maisie Williams, Tom Hiddleston,  Richard Ayoade, Timothy Spall.

Watch for the “Jurassic Pork” gag.

Feb. 15 for this one. 

 

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Preview: An Infamous moment in Sailboat Racing is re-staged for “The Mercy”

“Around Alone” is a solo sailboat race around the world that’s gone under a variety of names over the decades.

But one name stands out in its history, Donald Crowhurst. And not because he was a winner, either.

Oscar winner Colin Firth and Oscar winner Rachel Weisz plays the Crowhursts — the solo sailor with a lot of bravado and not much else, and the woman who says “Promise me you’ll come home.”

Not sure when “The Mercy,” “The Mercy,” which probably started life as Oscar bait, will see the light of day in the U.S.

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Movie Review: “Wonder” is a Weeper That Earns Its Tears…up to a point

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Tear-jerkers are always manipulative movies, and “Wonder” is no different. But tear-jerkers (weepers, if you prefer) that earn those tears honestly are a cut above mere manipulation.

And “Wonder,” through depictions of the burdens shouldered by its characters, through jolting displays of childhood cruelty and heartfelt moments of compassion, earns that reach-for-the-handkerchief. I’m no ashamed to say it got to me, here and there.

And I’m not above also pointing out that much of the goodwill its touching reality engenders is undercut by a drawn-out, melodramatic “participation medal” of a third act.

Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are the upper-middle-class parents of young August (Jacob Tremblay), our hero and narrator. He’s about to leave the comfort of home-schooling for fifth grade in a private prep school. But “Auggie” is, as he narrates, “not an ordinary 10 year-old.” Not at all. “I just don’t LOOK ordinary.”

A problem birth, which he relates as “hilarious,” left him nerve damage and facially deformed. Twenty-seven operations later, and his scars show, his ears barely look like ears and there’s no symmetry to his face. But hey, his hearing, sight and mind are fine, thank you.

All he’s got to do is deal with peers, for the first time. And that’s got Mom blurting out a prayer to Dad as they drop him off.

“Dear God, please let them be nice to him.”

That turns out to be a bit too much to ask of “them.” “What’s the deal with your face?” is the nice version. “Darth HIDEOUS” (he’s into “Star Wars”) and “Freddy Krueger” are merely the movie fan-friendly putdowns.

“Wonder” presents this story with a team of competent, compassionate adults — parents, and teachers led by the principal (Mandy Patinkin), who knows a good elementary school joke on himself when he hears it.

“I’m Mr. TUSHman. You can LAUGH at that.”

But the children, almost to a one, have an intuitive cruelty that this odd-looking shrimp in their midst brings out. One of the wonders of “Wonder” is the way the movie sets this up, and then slowly makes that wall of hostility and bullying crack.

Director and co-screenwriter Stephen Chbosky, who wrote and directed “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” knows the way to strum the heartstrings — by casting well, and putting good actors in huge, subtle, underplayed closeups.

The novel twist to this “‘Mask’ Before Middle School” is how the adults fade into the background, and we’re given chapter back-stories on not just Auggie, but on others impacted by his life, starting with his older sister, Via (Izabella Vidovic, a revelation). She’s entered high school, and feeling the pain of losing touch with her best friend.

Because in her house, Auggie sucks up all the energy and attention. She’s sensitive to this, but sensitive enough to see that her parents could not bear the burden of one instance of trouble from her. She’s low-maintenance, and great at being a big sister.

“You can’t blend in if you were born to stand out.”

She’s just lonely. Others who deal with Auggie get the benefit of a little back-story, too. This is a movie (based on an R.L Palacio novel) that, in the lessons the teachers impart, the reminders from the ‘good’ parents and the gentle lectures the principal gives not-so-good parents, errs on the side of kindness.

As the old saying goes, “Everybody’s dealing with something.” “Wonder” lets us marvel at that, exult in that “first friend” breakthrough and wince at the ways peer pressure and a popular bully make things hell for those who aren’t ordinary.

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It goes on a little too long, and goes a little astray as it does. Auggie imagines “Star Wars” characters escorting him through school, and being a science and space buff, hides under a space helmet when he’s feeling particularly vulnerable.

But “Wonder” gives us empathy for a little boy with a huge weight to carry, and for those who figure out that to be “the bigger person,” they should help him with his burdens.

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MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Izabella Vidovic, Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin

Credits:Directed by Stephen Chbosky, script by Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad, Jack Thorne based on the novel by R, J. Palacio. A — release.

Running time: 1:53

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Movie Review: “The Star” Struggles to Find Laughs in the Nativity Story

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“The Star” is a tepid comic re-telling of the Nativity Story as seen through the eyes of the talking, joking, saving-the-day animals who accompany Mary and Joseph, and the Three Magi, to Bethlehem.

The animation is stunning as befits the current state of the CG animation art. But the jokes — and yes, it’s supposed to be a comedy — flail and fail at every turn. There’s barely a laugh in it, and take away Tracy Morgan (voicing a numbskull camel transporting a wise man), even that’s gone.

You can sense, on screen, the tension between Sony Affirm, the faith-based studio offshoot distributing this Birth of Jesus holiday story, and Sony Pictures Animation, which KNOWS how to create funny characters, deliver a sight-gag and give a funny voice actor something funny to say.

Maybe the folks at Affirm smothered the comic life out of it. Maybe they got handed the movie when Sony Animation realized “This isn’t funny.”

Either way, as we follow Mary, from the moment the Almighty (a column of light) tells Mary (Gina Rodriguez) she’s going to raise the Son of God — “Thank you! Do I say thank you?” — through the perilous journey from Nazareth to the town with “no room at the inn,” pursued by Herod’s minion and his dogs, “The Star” begs the grownups in the audience to play a game of “Pin a Name on the Voice Actor.”

As in, “That’s Kris Kristofferson (as ‘The Old Donkey”). There’s Ving Rhames (as a vicious tracking dog). And who’s that impersonating Cheech Marin? Gabriel Iglesias! Do your OWN funny voice, Fluffy. No stealing! Christopher Plummer! (Herod). Kristin Chenoweth (as a mouse-like pygmy jerboa, who overhears God’s plan).

Steven Yeun voices “Boaz,” the little donkey who escapes a life of millstone slavery to live with the newlyweds, Mary and Joseph (Zachary Levi), plotting his escape with doltish dove Dave (Keegan-Michael Key, funny-ish) until he realizes Mary’s in danger.

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Meanwhile, Herod’s gotten wind of the “newborn king” about to become a threat and sent his dogs looking for him. The camels (Oprah, Tyler Perry and Tracy Morgan) carrying the wise men? They’re taking bets on where they’re headed.

“Birthday party!”

“Maybe a baby shower!”

“What’s a baby going to do with Frankinsense? BIRTHday party!”

Maybe they’re both right. But only very young children will find anything funnier and more entertaining in “The Star” than that.

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MPAA Rating:PG for some thematic elements

Cast: The voices of Steven Yeun, Keegan-Michael Key, Gina Rodriguez, Tracy Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Zachary Levi, Ving Rhames, Mariah Carey, Christopher Plummer, Kristin Chenoweth, Kris Kristofferson, Gabriel Iglesias

Credits:Directed by, script by . A Sony Animation/Sony Affirm release.

Running time: 1:26

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Movie Review: Pixar finds its Sweet Spot Again with the Enchanting “Coco”

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A Mexican boy needs the help of his ancestors to realize his dream of becoming a famous mariachi in “Coco,” an enchanting musical and the most charming Pixar movie in years.

And how does a Mexican lad confer with, debate and persuade his dead relatives to lift the family’s edict that no Rivera can ever be a singer? By visiting the colorful Land of the Dead on “El Dia de los Muertos,” the fall celebration called “The Day of the Dead.”

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) idolizes the late singing film star Ernesto de la Cruz, taking Ernesto’s motto to heart.

“Seize your moment! Reach for that dream, grab it right and make it your own!”

But “a Rivera is a shoemaker, through and through,” his big extended family reminds him. NO singing. Somebody in the past was a no-good musician who abandoned his wife and daughter. They’re not having any mariachis in their clan.

There’s a big singing contest in the Santa Cecilia town square. Miguel knows, in his heart, he could win it. If only he can get his hands on a guitar, master playing it and sneak away from the family to enter it.

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The contest is on the Day of the Dead, and it is while Miguel is in the cemetery, paying his respects to the remembered dead that he spies an instrument that could change his life. Except that it’s in the locked crypt of the town’s most famous expat, the great Ernesto himself.

And stealing it transports him into the world of the dead, who are lining up to visit the living who remember them on this festival day. Miguel must meet Ernesto, fend off his own dead relatives (who KNOW why the family cursed musicians forever and ever) and negotiate a return to the land of the living in time for the Big Show.

Benjamin Bratt does a Latin Lover purr, and croons a tune or two as the great Ernesto, a silky smooth romancer from the Golden Age of mariachi. Gael Garcia Bernal also sings, as Hector, a desperate, long-dead corpse who must wangle his way back to visit the living so that he’s not forgotten forever.

The songs, by a rotating team of writers, are lilting and fun, especially a tune called “Un Poco Loco” that Miguel (Gonzalez is a marvelous child singer) and Hector perform, on the fly, to win an audience with Ernesto.

Ernesto’s theme song long ago was “Remember Me,” a lightly haunting love song that conveys the movie’s message. The dead are never truly gone so long as some one remembers them.

The colors are as vibrant as you’d expect, considering the subject matter. It’s a Pixar movie treatment of a subject the engaging “Book of Life” used as a setting a few years back, with the standard “Follow your dreams” Pixar messaging.

The afterlife is peopled by skeletons and run like a busy border crossing, a clever touch with a little political edge to it. And the jokes, respectful of the culture the film embraces, rely on the average viewer’s familiarity with all-things-Mexican to come off.

A skeleton sneezes at Miguel’s stray dog (Dante, a Mexican hairless), who has followed him into the underworld.

“I am TERRIBLY allergic.”

“But Dante doesn’t have any hair!”

“And I don’t have a nose. And yet, here we are.”

The whole enterprise is amusing, warm and embracing, so much so that English words fall short of perfectly summing up this enchanting, charming film.

Only a Spanish word will do. “Encantadora.”

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(Read Roger Moore’s interview with “Coco” star Anthony Gonzalez)

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements

Cast: The voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Sofia Espinosa

Credits:Directed by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, script by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich. A Disney/Pixar release.
Running time: 1:49

 

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EXCLUSIVE: “Coco” star Anthony Gonzalez on the film, the songs and “El Dia de los Muertos”

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Anthony Gonzalez is an Angelino child actor whose big break is a movie where he’s A) the leading man, B) he sings and C) that is already the biggest hit in Mexican box office history.

No, we don’t see his face. But he’s every bit as cute as Miguel, his character in “Coco.” And the fact that it’s a Pixar cartoon means this “El dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) comedy will be around forever means that at 13, he’s already achieved a form of screen immortality, just like Miguel’s hero, the legendary mariachi singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt’s voice) in the film.

“Coco” opens in Los Estados Unidos (The United States) on Nov. 22. We caught up with Anthony in Miami.

Q: So, a Pixar movie. You’re starting out on top, right?

Anthony Gonzalez: Hahaha! Yeah. I’ve wanted to be an actor, ever since I was four, and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And part of that dream has to be ‘Be in a Pixar movie,’ if you’re a kid, right? I grew up watching their movies, and it was just incredible to me that I got this chance! A dream come true!”

Q: Did you get to do your scenes with any of the other voice actors there, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Sofia Espinosa? Pixar sometimes does that to make the scenes play more realistically.

Anthony: Oh I wish. I was in a booth alone, just me and director Lee Unkrich (“Finding Nemo,” “Monsters, Inc.”) and (producer) Darla Anderson and Adrian Molina (co-director). They ran lines, and they’re awesome people that I look up to and want to be like someday.

I had no idea what the movie would look like. They’d show me bits of it. Then I saw it, this beautiful, colorful world of the dead! I couldn’t believe I was in it until I heard my voice coming out of Miguel’s mouth. I just cried when I saw it. I’ve seen it four times now, and I’ve cried four times.

Q: So what did you know about El dia de Los Muertos before making the movie?

Anthony: I thought I knew a lot about it. It’s my culture, after all. There are Mexican members of my family. We’ve celebrated it since I was six, because my grandfather, who was very special to me, passed away. He was very supportive of me and my music career. But making the movie, I learned so much more. Being in a movie that shows this wonderful part of Mexican culture makes me proud. Grandfather too, I hope.

Q: The songs (by Adrian Molina, Kristina Anderson-Lopez, Germaine Franco and others) give you plenty of chances to show off your singing. Did you have a favorite?’

Anthony: I have four songs to sing in the movie. And because it’s a musical, the songs share a message. I think I loved ‘Proud Corazon’ (Proud Heart) the most. I sing that at the end. The rhythm, the instruments and arrangements and the message are amazing. And you know, the song that Miguel’s hero Ernesto sings (his signature song), ‘Remember Me,’ is just a beautiful ballad. I got to sing that one, too, and I realized, when we were done, that it’s what the whole movie is about, “please ‘Remember Me’ after I’m dead and gone.”

Q: I cannot imagine young Anthony Gonzalez had mariachi music on his iPod before making this movie. Were you a fan?

Anthony: I started singing mariachi when I was younger, in La Placita Olvera (an LA historic district near Union Station). I love it!

Q: So, you aren’t as self-conscious as most boys your age are about singing in front of people?

Anthony: My siblings all love to sing, and they’d perform in La Placita Olvera. They looked like they were having so much fun. They’d laugh, and everybody would come take their pictures and clap along. I had to try it. You can’t be scared to step on the stage and try something that looks that much fun. That first time I stepped on stage and sang, I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

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Q: Ok, you already had the great singing voice. But like Miguel, do you play the guitar?

Anthony Gonzalez: Haha! Well, I took lessons for a while, but I stopped because I wanted to focus more on my singing. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m going back to taking those lessons. A mariachi has to be able to play!

Q: Record deal yet?

Anthony: Oh I wish! I hope so! Someday.

(Roger Moore’s review of “Coco” is here). 

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Oscar bait — a Peek at “Phantom Thread”

Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis and a holiday season release schedule is all you really need to know about the intentions here.

Yeah. Bring on the nominations. Anderson goes for a British period piece and sexual intrigue thriller? “Phantom Thread” opens Dec. 25. 

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