Netflixable? Would it land a laugh in Mexico? “This is Not a Comedy (El comediante)”

Kudos to whatever outsourced functionary working for Netflix who changed the title of the Mexican film “El comediante” to “This is Not a Comedy” for Norte Americano consumption. That’s truth in advertising. And I’m just guessing here, but I’ll bet she made that switch after watching it.

There’s a scene in this rambling, shapeless, shrug of a movie about a hapless and mopey “comic” who gets his script — OK, it’s a disorganized “idea” for a script — critiqued by “Cannes prize winner” Atom Egoyan. The Canadian director of “Sweet Hereafter” and “Ararat” is played by some Euro-accented actor named Thorsten Englert.

“That doesn’t sound like a movie to me,” he says to Gabriel, the comic we see few people laughing at in his stand-up bits. “It sounds like an anecdote.

As the actor playing Egoyan is speaking to the co-director, co-writer and star of “This is Not a Comedy,” Gabriel Nuncio, that moment has a “meta” quality. Because if nobody else alerted this cabron to this simple fact, at least he scripted somebody into his movie to state the obvious.

“Not a Comedy” follows Sad Sack “Gabo” through desultory stand-up sets, which might have a laugh or two about his “loca” girlfiend — Leyre (Cassandra Ciangherotti). Not that such laughs are captured on camera.

She’s ukulele-playing flake from Madrid who insists she’s about to be taken off by aliens. And she doesn’t take being mocked from the stage well. Perhaps if the bit had actually been funny she’d have been more forgiving.

Gabo is broke, can’t pay his bills, has this cute other friend (Adriana Paz) who is ready to have a baby, but who wants his “sperm” and “nothing else” (in Spanish, with English subtitles).

“But I could be a daddy!”

He has the hope of getting his “not a comedy” screenplay critiqued by Atom Egoyan as part of this competition. A friend controls the script selection process, and finally, a spot opens up.

“What happened to the other writer?”‘

“He died. The jerk.”

“Not a Comedian” follows Gabo through his days, visiting a dying uncle he hasn’t seen in years, correcting every single person who thinks he moved to Mexico City from Monterrey. Tampico?

He has to lie when he speaks with the uncle who dies after chatting for less than a minute. The uncle’s last words were “notes” on the dope’s script — “Make sure it has a happy ending.”

Everybody he meets gives him notes on that unwritten script, except for the locksmith he keeps calling when he locks himself out. Mr. Locksmith offers furniture re-arranging tips because Gabo’s feng shui is all effed up.

To prove himself to the sperm-craving friend, Gabo impulsively adopts a dog, which he names something “offensive.”

To prove himself to Atom Egoyan, and doesn’t accept the critique. “I disagree.”

I got next to nothing out of this movie, which features dream sequences of Gabo re-imagining his script in sci-fi terms, taking into account what Leyre babbles on about. There’s a gay breakup he’s forced into the middle of, and a ritualistic lakeside funeral he takes in.

He tinkers with his stage act, which doesn’t perk up as Gabo adds music and a puppet to his stage act. This Nuncio fellow may be a laugh riot in Viejo Mexico. If so, pretty much everything that would prove that is lost in translation.

If there was a chance at a saving grace in “El comediante,” it might have been in talking the real Atom Egoyan into playing an arrogant and “Cannes award-winner” version of himself. They couldn’t even manage that.

Take the title at its word.

Rating: TV-MA, adult situations

Cast: Gabriel Nuncio, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Adriana Paz, with Thorsten Englert as Atom Egoyan.

Credits: Directed by Rodrigo Guardiola and Gabriel Nuncio, scripted by Gabriel Nuncio and Alo Valenzulea. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:46

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BOX OFFICE: “Scream” may clear $30 million, snow and sleet be damned

A bracing opening weekend for Paramount’s reboot of “Scream,” which is coasting on a pre-snowstorm $30.6 million, $35 million over the MLK holiday projected opening.

It did well under $4 million Thursday night, but a big $13 million Friday pointed to this opening weekend take for “Scream.”

As theaters are closed all around me as I visit family in the snowy Va./NC borderlands, I wonder how much of a hit the weather will through at the “requel.” The actual box office figures tallied from receipts, not estimates, will be lower.

“Spider-Man” will surpass “Black Panther” and take over the fourth spot in all time domestic BO by end of business Monday. It took in another $20 million over the weekend.

“Sing 2” is still taking it in, pulling down another $8.2 million.

“The 355” has opened and closed on the space of a week. $2 3 million this time around.

“The King’s Man” took in $2.1.

The anime sci-fi fantasy feature “Belle” opened wide this weekend, a GKids release that did a healthy $1.6/$2 million three-day/four day with the niche audience.

“Matrix” winds down it’s run with another $815k. A $35 million take makes it a North American bust.

Figures from Exhibitor Relations.

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Movie Review: “Old Strangers” reunite for a Creature Feature

Old Strangers,” a thriller awkwardly resembling a “creature feature,” and even more awkwardly labeled a “thriller,” falls somewhere on the student film/relatives-wrote-me-checks-so’s-I-could-make-a-movie spectrum of ineptitude.

The fact that it’s listed as the third film, stretching back over 15 years, of writer, director and producer Nick Gregorio, just doubles down on disheartening. It’s not scary. It’s poorly-acted. There are no-budget-film continuity blunders. Why-oh-why was this picked up for release?

It’s about three college pals — Ted Evans, Madeleine Humphries and Colton Eschief Mastro — who celebrate the end of quarantine by meeting up at a cabin at Big Bear Lake, the over-filmed mountain forestland well inland from LA.

Mikey (Evans) is “kind of more of an IN-doorsman,” Sarah (Humphries) has an Only Fans page devoted to people willing to pay to see her feet and Danny (Mastro) is the one who allegedly has outdoor skills.

They fill the quiet forest with blithering banter, hike in the few spots that show any hint of snow (a radio ski report underscores the drive up) and stumble into what they take to be “insect” eggs, or “somebody’s art project.

It isn’t. Somebody gets stung. And not heeding the plea “Don’t TOUCH it” means “If this is a horror movie, YOU’RE dying first.”

“I think my favorite moments are when we get a tiny taste of effects “explaining” where these “eggs” came from, and a moment when Sarah (Humphries) scrunches up her eyes to concentrate ever-so-hard so that she can remember every “clue” from the scattered (flashback) bits of foreshadowing so that she can understand it all.

Bless her heart.

Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity

Cast: Ted Evans, Madeleine Humphries and Colton Eschief Mastro.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Nick Gregorio. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:02

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Classic Film Review: The Michael Caine that Got Away — “A Shock to the System (1990)”

It came and it went, without most anyone noticing.

“A Shock to the System,” a deliciously dark comedy in a minor, murderous key, is one of the many minor gems on Michael Caine’s cinema resume.

But what those of us old enough to recall seeing it in a theater was how lucky we were. The distribution was haphazard, at best, and we only knew about it because Siskel & Ebert championed it from the bully pulpit of whatever TV show they were doing at the time.

Caine plays Graham Marshall, a Brit in American marketing, a husband in a dysfunctional marriage and a man with a murderous interior life.

The Jan Egleson film, based on a Simon Brett novel, opens with Graham in the basement of his rail-commute Jersey suburb, grabbing a pipe to steady himself as he turns on a light, and getting a serious jolt.

It’s like an epiphany to him. Here he is, on his umpteenth attempt to restart the power after his monied ditz of a wife (Swoosie Kurtz) has popped it off with her latest stairmaster, trapped in a big mortgage with two giant poodles, depending on a long-overdue promotion to get right.

And when that promotion doesn’t come, that epiphany takes shape in his interior monologues.

“He’d always fancied himself a sorcerer.”

It’s 1990, and the younger subordinate (Peter Riegert) with computer tracking ideas he barely understands gets promoted over Graham. The “vibrant and youthful” Benham is always going on and on about his sailboat, popular and a bit of a kiss-up. Until the promotion. Graham’s very bad day includes hearing his old boss and confidante (John McMartin) is out, and that instead of using his shiny gold lighter to torch old George’s cigars, it’s Benham who expects that form of kowtowing.

Graham is in no mood to be panhandled on the subway, and a rash moment has him shoving a homeless man in front of a train. He thinks. He can’t be sure that even happened.

But when the spendthrift wife brown-noses the new boss for him, and cluelessly crosses some other line, Graham’s murder-my-way-to-the-life-I-deserve spree begins.

Elizabeth McGovern is the fetching office assistant who lets him know, in no uncertain terms, that she’d welcome the pink-hued Great Brit twice her age’s advances.

And Will Patton is the curious, not-entirely-overmatched cop who asks a few questions after the first mysterious death in Graham’s life, and gets more blunt after the next.

“You know, sudden death hasn’t been all that bad to you.”

Seeing this film again, decades later, one might be struck by Graham’s tendency to go nuclear — loud bursts of Michael Caine barking at the wife, the new boss. He’s a dangerous character from the start, and if we’re rooting for him, it’s because Graham is played by Michael Caine. There’s just enough “plotting” in his interior monologues, and the grin he wears when he gets the phone called “news” of his wife’s death is wicked fun.

The script has a jerky quality, as does the film. Riegert’s evil-new-boss character is painted in subtle shades that make him a fitting, if perhaps not-entirely-deserving object of Graham’s wrath. The whole Caine/McGovern thing is believable, thanks to her efforts. It’s still icky on several levels.

“Shock” is the lone highlight of Egleson’s resume, novelist Simon Brett is strictly a genre writer and screenwriter Andrew Klavan morphed into a sort of right wing crank, author of the anti-abortion screed “Gosnell” and host of podcasts.

But the film came along at a time when Caine had lost his box office/leading man status, adrift in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Mr. Destiny” and “Noises Off” flops, almost a decade before his “Cider House Rules” comeback. The reason Siskel & Ebert championed it is still relevant. Given anything at all interesting to play, the man always delivered the goods.

As Caine’s working life winds down — He’s not REALLY doing “Now You See Me 3,” is he? — “Shock” is worth dropping in on to remember Caine’s work ethic, his willingness to take chancy material and attempt to elevate it and the fact that he so often succeeded.

Rating: R, violence, profanity, smoking, sexual situations

Cast: Michael Caine, Elizabeth McGovern, Swoosie Kurtz, Peter Riegert, John McMartin and Will Patton.

Credits: Directed by Jan Egleson, scripted by Andrew Klaven, based on a novel by Simon Brett. A Corsair release on Tubi, Amazon etc.

Running time: 1:28

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Today’s DVD Donation? Is “Sobo” up for “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy?”

Today’s Roger DVDseed donation — in which I donate a disc to a public library I pass by, spreading fine cinema across America, one disc at a time — is a movie I just reviewed, now on BluRay via Film Movement.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” is one of two films by Japanese auteur Ryûsuke Hamaguchi released last year. The longer “Drive My Car,” about an actor/director rehearsing a play in the Japanese hinterlands, reconsidering his life and marriage on daily rides to the theater in which a young chauffeur is contracted to drive his beloved Saab 900 Turbo, is getting a lot of Best International Feature Oscar buzz. But the shorter “Wheel” makes a fine companion piece and introduction to Hamaguchi’s slow, talky and contemplative cinematic style.

Today’s lucky library? It’s the newly-built version of the small-town library I grew up with. South Boston — the one in Virginia — was a provincial tobacco-and-textiles town when I lived there. Culture was pretty hard to come by.

But after school, I could duck into an oasis of books, and a collection of magazines that I tore through once I discovered the film reviews of Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffman and (in book collections) Andrew Sarris.

Many of the movies they reviewed might not be remotely accessible in that pre-Internet, pre-DVD, pre-VHS era. The local cinema was closed for years at a time, but re-opened intermittently enough for me to get bitten by the movie buff bug. Visiting the library afforded me the chance to read interesting criticism about all the movies small towns like mine would never see…until technology intervened.

So, as I say in all of these “donate a DVD to a library” posts, we all owe libraries a lot, me more than most. Pay’em back in DVDs.

Let’s hope somebody here in “Sobo” checks out this new BluRay and a little light bulb goes off for them the way it did for me.

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Netflixable? A Dominatrix is dead? Alyssa Milano’s on the case, and “Brazen” about it

We’ve figured out where the murder mystery/thriller “Brazen” is going long before our heroine finds herself in the presence of the murderer in the “explain it all” talk talk talk finale. Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of surprises in this slow-pokey Alyssa Milano star vehicle for Netflix.

When you’ve cast the beautiful “Charmed” and “Insatiable” alumna as a murder mystery novelist whose sister, a school teacher who moonlighted as an on-line dominatrix and was murdered, there’s plenty for the viewer to take for granted.

The novelist will somehow wrangle a way to “contribute” to the case, preferably with the hot police detective neighbor (Sam Page of TV’s “The Bold Type”), even if it’s the D.C.P.D. we’re talking about and not some suburban “Murder, She Wrote” sheriff’s dept. And considering what her sister (Emilie Ullerup) was up to in her spare time, in her spare room/streaming video studio, you can pretty much start the countdown on when Milano will vamp up in vinyl and give a whip and a push-up bra a workout.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to “Brazen” is that Milano, director Monika Mitchell and three credited screenwriters tried to get something lurid and sexy out of a movie with a Hallmark Channel (TV-14) rating. Failing to accomplish that is no surprise at all.

Novelist Grace Miller has “an instinct for motivation, it’s why my books are so successful.” Her specialty?

“You make a fortune writing about women getting murdered,” her sister Kathleen cracks. Sis has barely summoned Grace “home” for a planning session on a child custody fight she’s about to wage and Grace has barely flirted the evening away with hunky/handyman Det. Ed (Page) who lives next door, when Grace walks in to find Kathleen dead on the floor.

The gulping, wordless meltdown Milano plays in that scene is her best acting in the movie and perhaps the most defensibly logical moment in it. It’s how anyone would act.

Much less logical is the way she tries to arm-twist that detective and his partner (Malachi Weir of TV’s “Billions”) into letting her in on their investigation. Even if their boss (Alison Araya) is a fan, Grace the fiction writer rules herself out with her reasoning for inclusion.

“It’s real, and it’s personal.”

“Brazen” proceeds thenceforth from three points of view. We follow the cops and Grace following her “instincts” to serve them up a list of suspects (the ex husband, any creep who knew the real identity of online dominatrix Desiree, as her sister called herself). And occasionally we see what the web-savvy is up to, a person fond of hoodies and capable of charging in on a victim mid-“session” for the attacks.

Victim’s cause of death? “Strangulation.”

Every attempt in the script to make this all seem logical plays like cut-rate Agatha Christie — dated, quaint and a tad ludicrous. And Milano’s Grace, given the lines she delivers and the mostly-obvious (or contrived) clues she uncovers, is no Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.

Still, our star isn’t just TV famous. She’s a Twitter activist with a huge fan base. The instinct to “Let’s build a murder mystery around her for Netflix” is defensible. Maybe she’ll come off better in one with more charm, intrigue and edge to it next time. Titling a thriller about a dead dominatrix “Brazen,” and working for aTV-14 rating? Might as well be making a “Christmas prince” movie for the gift card channel.

Rating:TV-14

Cast: Alyssa Milano, Sam Page, Malachi Wier, Emilie Ullerup

Credit: Directed by Monika Mitchell, scripted by Edithe Swenson, Donald Martin, Suzette Couture. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:36

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Classic Film Review: Is “Slap Shot (1977)” still “The Greatest Sports Movie” of them all?

It’s been accepted wisdom for much of my adult life that “Slap Shot” is “the greatest sports movie of all time.”

A rude, bloody and irreverent 1970s story of minor league hockey, it was the last time director George Roy Hill teamed up with his on-screen alter ego, Paul Newman. As their other two collaborations were “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting,” this sports comedy is in good company.

Hill made “A Little Romance” and took a shot at “Slaughterhouse Five” and “The World According to Garp,” so if he’s “underrated” among that era’s top directors, it’s not because he wasn’t trying.

“Slap Shot,” which I hadn’t seen in years — my first exposure to it was when I was projectionist for a screening at the huge, carbon-arc/16mm projector auditorium at my undergrad school — remains a great snap shot of late ’70s American “malaise.” It’s set in fictional Rust Belt Charlestown in the heart of hockey country. Smoke stacks fill the (Johnstown, Pa.) skyline, Old Style signs decorate the bars.

And the Charlestown Chiefs are the only pro game in town, a Federal League team that’s seen better days. Newman plays Reggie Dunlop, the grey-haired player-coach of a losing team, a seen-it-all skater transitioning to “the front office,” his general manager (Strother Martin) assures him.

But the young-yet-jaded “star” of the team, Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) is the one who sees the writing on the wall. When word gets out that “the mill is closing,” the Chiefs are not long for this world.

Reg is slow to catch on, missing the GM’s phone chats about selling this or that — the team bus, for instance. Braden and a couple of others may have slim hopes of getting called up to the NHL. But for most, in a down economy, even blue collar job options seem delusion.

“Back to the f—–g Chrysler plant!”

The womanizing Reg — Jennifer Warren plays his big-haired hairdresser wife, the one he can’t let himself divorce — comes up with a plan. He plants a rumor (M. Emmett Walsh plays the local sports columnist) that “some retirement community in Florida” wants the team. All it’ll take is a winning streak, a spike in attendance and finding out who actually owns this damned team, and maybe that rumor will come true.

Avid fans of “Slap Shot” know what’s coming, what to wait for in the story. It’s the arrival of The Hansons, three dopey, bespectacled arrested-development Canadian brothers (Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and David Hanson) who join the club, cheerlead from the bench and slotcar race in their hotel room.

“I wonder if they show ‘Speed Racer’ here?”

They tape aluminum foil onto their fists and patiently wait for coach to stop saying “These guys are RE—ds!” and give them them the “OK guys, show us what you got.”

Turns out, they’re just the goons this team was looking for. Brawls, cheap shots, penalties and wins follow, with only Braden resisting this sudden change in their fortunes.

“I’m not gonna ‘goon it up’ for you.”

I never realized this was the debut of screenwriter Nancy Dowd, who scripted “Coming Home,” “Swing Shift” and the Richard Dreyfuss horse track comedy “Let It Ride” over the course of a career in which she was often uncredited for her rewrites “(Ordinary People”) or wrote under a male nom de plume (“Let It Ride”).

The nom de plume thing becomes more understandable when you dive into the films. You can’t just blame the boys-will-be-boys director for something you can see in a lot of her scripts. Dowd had a gift for reducing women characters to “types.” The sexism of “Slap Shot,” with the ex who won’t hear of a reconciliation, the “I’ve been sleeping with women” side piece wife (Melinda Dillon, of “Close Encounters,” “Christmas Story” and Newman’s “Absence of Malice”) of an opponent, the smart, crusty and not-as-tough-as-she-looks spouse (Lindsay Crouse, who would marry pre-fame playwright/screenwriter David Mamet later that year) Braden dismisses. Dowd wrote interesting female characters, but had a real gift for women who didn’t measure up to the male ones.

“Slap Shot” proved so tempting to imitate that you can see pieces of it in decades of sports comedies to follow — “Major League,” “Bull Durham,” “Semi Pro,” “The Replacements.” There’s even a whiff of it in the whole owner/coach dynamic of “Ted Lasso.”

But what smacks you right in the face watching this beloved, overlong and uneven picture now are how it reliant it is on slurs for laughs.

Sure, it was a different era. And at least, with its hockey milieu and all-white Rust Belt towns settings, they aren’t racial slurs. It took a long time for most of America to abandon the homophobic and mentally-challenged language that this film pounds away at. I always take into account that my hero James Garner’s Jim Rockford drops the “f-slur” in the pilot of his 1970s TV series when considering “how far we’ve come” in such instances.

But Hill & Co. RELY on these phrases for more of the film’s humor than most of us remember. Sure, there’s a goofy small-city TV interview-with-the-French Canadian goalie (Yvon Barrette) to kick things off. Mooning fans of opposing teams from the windows of the team bus is a timeless laugh. And the damned Hanson Brothers are a hoot in every way and in every scene.

A referee threatens/warns the Hansons about what won’t be tolerated, but makes the mistake of doing it during the national anthem.

“I’m listening to the f—–g song!

Much of the humor is shock-value profanity. We’d never heard Paul Newman talk like this in a movie, and it could be bracing and hilarious.

Other laughs come from Reggie’s play-the-angles manipulations, and the Godawful plaids and brown-leather leisure suits fashions on display. Probably not as funny back then? Sure.

But strip away the slurs and a lot what you/we have laughed at in this comedy over the decades is gone.

And watching it now, the clunkiness of the plot and the meandering story-telling style are thrown into sharper relief. It was hard to chase guys (or have them chase the camera) on the ice when the 35mm cameras weighed that much. There’s one dazzling bit of skating/fight choreography early on, and everything that follows seems geared to hiding just how fast — or slow — the cast (most of them) were on skates.

Crouse would go on to work with Newman again (“The Verdict”) and star in the films of her husband (“House of Games”). Dillon would make a bigger mark in the films she made following “Slap Shot,” ones in which she was allowed to keep her shirt on. Walsh became one of the most beloved character curmudgeons of the cinema, and Paul Dooley — as a manic play-by-play man calling an on-ice/in-the-stands fight — was immortalized in “Breaking Away” and “Popeye.”

I became a bigger hockey fan after seeing “Slap Shot,” and going to a college hockey power for grad school, I became a lot more discriminating about the action and how games were depicted. Frankly, “Cutting Edge” and other later films had better skating (and editing). For me, the all-time best hockey movie is “Miracle.”

And I’m still waiting for something to surpass “Bull Durham” as the savviest, silliest and most gloriously sentimental sports movie of them all. Real-life jock turned director Ron Shelton, and Costner, Robbins, Sarandon & Co. managed a lot more laughs than “Slap Shot” with nary a “fa—t” or “re—d.”

That film is aging pretty well. But the more time passes, the more this “Slap Shot” seems wide of the net.

Rating: R, violence, nudity, profanity, homophobic slurs

Cast: Paul Newman, Michael Ontkean, Lindsay Crouse, Strother Martin, Jennifer Warren, Jerry Houser, Brad Sullivan and Melinda Dillon.

Credits: Directed by George Roy Hill, scripted by Nancy Dowd. Now on Amazon, Tubi, etc.

Running time: 2:03

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Movie Review: Paths taken and not taken, “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Gûzen to sôzô) “

With all the awards season attention coming to Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car,” it’s worth catching up with his earlier films, if nothing else to see how his style evolved in a way that emphasized patience, the “slow cinema” that allowed him to get a three hour movie out of a short story.

“Happy Hour” (2015) hinted at the quintessentially Japanese subtlety of his storytelling, a near real-time (over five hours) visit with three 30something women reevaluating their lives after their fourth divorces and moves on.

But last year’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” is a far more easily-consumed and digested trip to Hamaguchiland, a collection of three short stories entertaining the idea of paths taken and not taken. It’s patient and engrossing and beautifully-acted. And it won’t eat up a whole day of reading subtitles (it’s in Japanese) as you’re plumbing the depths of what these characters are going through.

The stories begin with “Magic (or Something Less Assuring),” and we follow Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) , a cute, seemingly carefree model who catches up with her friend Tsugumi (Hyunri) on a long, real-time taxi ride across town. “Gumi” has just met this “hottie” who may be a “player,” so she confides about how intimate, erotic and chaste their first date went.

The details Gumi shares should be enough to make the cabbie blush, but East is East, I guess.

Meiko takes it all in, banters and asks questions, and after dropping Gumi off, returns to the neighborhood where she picked her up. She visits an ex-beau (Ayumu Nakajima). She recognized the man Gumi was describing — perhaps from his come-on lines, but more likely from the tender, broken way he talked about his “ex,” the one who cheated on him and left him emotionally gutted. That would be Meiko.

They reminisce and argue and things take a turn toward ugly. What will Meiko, whom we’ve had to reconsider and reevaluate, do with this information, this connection that she hasn’t told her smitten friend about?

“Door Wide Open” is a college tale about a housewife (Katsuki Mori) and SOTA — student older than average — meeting her undergrad lover (Shouma Kai) for a tryst, only to have him continue the seduction with a post-coital pitch for her to help him humiliate a professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) who ruined “my whole future.”

Will Nao set a “honey trap” for the brooding, introspective Professor Segowa, a novelist who just won a major literary prize for his frankly-racy and sexually revealing book? He’s a patient, poker-faced man who always takes care to keep his office “Door Wide Open” to avoid any hint of abuse or impropriety.

And “Once Again” is a mistaken-identity/or-not story of two 40ish women (Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai) who cross paths when they pass each other on a train station’s escalator. They recognize each other, meet for tea and share their lives — one came out as gay after high school, the other married — and start to wonder if each is who the other thought she was.

The stories share a beguiling, meditative strangeness that draws us in. Hamaguchi sets up our expectations, then upends them with this revelation about a character or that wrinkle in the plot.

One even has an epilogue, a “five years later” coda set in a time after a computer virus has turned life back into its letter-writing, email free analog past.

I can’t say I find Hamaguchi the most inviting Japanese filmmaker. His long, humorless, somewhat repetitive and generally-downbeat take on talk-talk-talkies isn’t for the impatient. There’s a naturalism to the performances, the parameters of conversation and “real time” in these films that is both unique and a tad maddening.

You try reviewing a film where characters never do that movie thing of identifying each other by name, something that happens every day in everyday life. That takes away the viewer’s bearings and perhaps forces us to bear down on the conversations, gleaning the meaning in every nuance.

Having seen a few of his films, I’ve parked Hamaguchi in an arm’s length pigeonhole, someone whose movies are distinctly his, with characters whose psyche is peeled away, ever-so-slowly, scene by patient scene. They’re interesting, but even digging that deep into people, the films about them are chilly, remote and entirely too “patient” and monotonous for my tastes.

I even found myself wracking my brain over the familiar piece of classical piano music that introduces each story. It’s Robert Schumann’s “Dreaming (Träumerei).” Apt? Perhaps. But your point?

Rating: unrated, frank sexual discussions

Cast: Kotone Furukawa, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Katsuki Mori, Shouma Kai, Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai

Credits: Scripted and directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 2:01

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Movie Preview: Mel Gibson plays a “black out drunk” actor accused of murder in “Last Looks”

We all know who and what Mel Gibson is, has been and can be. There’s a reason he was “canceled” and shows up in C-movies and bit parts in Bs like this one.

I take something more like a Jodie Foster “That’s not ALL that he is” approach to him. She was loyal and more considered in her response to his behavior. I remember Robert Downey Jr. telling me in an interview related to the movie that brought him back from addiction and the tomb Hollywood had consigned him to, “The Singing Detective.” Nobody would hire him, but out of the blue and at the future Iron Man’s darkest hour, “Mel calls me up and says, ‘I’ve got this movie I’m gonna make. And you’re gonna star in it.”

You have GOT to hear the accent, the “Three Musketeers” Van Dyke, the nutso “Playing more of myself than I should” vibe that Gibson brings to this action comedy, “Last Looks,” which streams/premieres Feb. 4.

Charlie Hunnam’s the burnout hired to help “explain” or clear the man, with Lucy Fry, Morena Baccarin, Dominic Monaghan, Method Man and Clancy Brown also in the cast. This looks kind of nuts, or at least twisted.

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Movie Review: Pierce Brosnan is Louis XIV with Kaya Scodelario as “The King’s Daughter”

“The King’s Daughter,” a lush and lavish period piece based on the Nebula Award-inning novel “The Moon and the Sun,” is a film with its own history. You don’t have to have ever heard anything about the production to get a sense of that. There’s too much money evident on the screen for this picture to arrive almost unannounced in the wasteland of January movie releases.

It features stunning locations and production values, provided by some of the artisans who made “The Great Gatsby.” The director is best-known for the sweet and moving “Soul Surfer,” the lead screenwriter won an Oscar for co-writing “Rain Man.” “Daughter” was partly filmed at Versailles, with Pierce Brosnan as “The Sun King,” Louis XIV, who made the palace the gaudy showplace it is today. It co-stars Oscar winner William Hurt with Kaya Scodelario (“”Crawl” and the last “Resident Evil” movie) in the title role. Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing is also here, and the fairytale-like fantasy is narrated by another Oscar winner, Julie Andrews.

But “King’s Daughter” was finished, more or less, in 2014. Here’s a link to a story that sums up the film’s unusual, but far from unique, tortured path to the big screen. Do we hold that against it? We do not. It’s not half-bad.

“King” is worth the price of admission just to see the ex-James Bond swanning around the Hall of Mirrors in glorious wig and the stylish raiment of Louis XIV and his trend-setting court.

It’s a fairytale about the Sun King’s search for immortality, a mermaid (Bingbing) and a spirited, spunky illegitimate daughter raised in a convent, a cellist of some talent who has no idea who her father is, even when he summons her to musically enliven his court.

There’s a cruel, favor-currying court physician (Pablo Schreiber, excellent), a patient palace padre (Hurt, good) and a dashing pirate captain (Benjamin Walker) blackmailed into taking the job of fetching a siren of the sea to spare “the longest reigning monarch in history” the inconvenience of death.

The “daughter” must fend off an arranged suitor (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), the callous doctor and the vain king’s blasphemous desire to live forever in an attempt to save the mermaid, who wordlessly calls out to her, one musician to another.

The mermaid effects, credited in part as one reason Paramount never released this film, more than pass muster in this version. The performances are never less than adequate, with flashes of wit — Brosnan and Hurt as Louis and his priest/confidante sharing “confession” on the foot of his scandalized bed — and heart.

Yes, some engaging angles to the story are under-developed. Rachel Griffiths lends some spark to the daughter-in-the-convent scenes as the prettiest Mother Superior ever, the whole “music” tie between the cellist/would-be composer and mermaid thing never gets its due and the palace intrigues have a seriously low stakes feel.

The mermaid is the orca in this version of “Free Willy.”

Even the countdown to a solar eclipse, this story’s Big Metaphor for the Sun King and “ticking clock” element, leaves a lot to be desired. “Daughter” is not quite camp, never quite as “magical” as you’d hope.

“Lost” or “abandoned” film, there’s barely a hint of anything “commercial” about this, with its Chinese investors despairing over a tax-evasion scandal involving the big Chinese name in the cast.

But it’s gorgeous, with a spirited fight scene or two. And there’s just enough fun spinning around Louis, “a light cast for all France,” the always-plucky Scodelario’s feisty turn and the “forget princes, the ladies always fall for pirates” presence of Walker for “King’s Daughter” to merit a look.

Rating: PG for some (gun) violence, suggestive material and thematic elements

Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, William Hurt, Fan Binbing, Benjamin Walker, Pablo Schreiber, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Rachel Griffiths, narrated by Julie Andrews.

Credits: Directed by Sean McNamara, scripted by Ronald Bass, Laura Harrington and Barry Berman, based on the novel “The Moon and the Sun” by Vonda N. McIntyre. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:3

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