Preview, “Hal” tells the story of the filmmaker who gave us “Being There,” “Shampoo” and the cult classic “Harold and Maude”

“The Last Detail,” “Shampoo,” “Coming Home,” “Bound for Glory,” “Harold and Maude” and being there — Hal Ashby was every bit as important to film in the ’70s as Scorsese and Allen, Altman and Coppola.

He was, as those testifying in “Hal” note, a guy who “hasn’t gotten his due.” Now here’s a documentary that sees to it that this Oscar winner does.

But I have a hunch why he hasn’t been lauded, and I am guessing “Hal” glosses right over it. There’s the story Bette Midler once told me about her awful experience on the “boy’s club” of the bomb “Looking to Get Out.” They didn’t use hashtags back then, but #MeToo comes to mind.

Hal liked to imbibe on the set.

Read any good Peter Sellers bio about how Sellers went to his grave knowing Ashby had cost him his best shot at an Oscar, putting outtakes at the end of “Being There.” Sellers sent him pleading telegrams, “It breaks the SPELL. Do you understand. It breaks the spell!” Sellers was right. Funny outtakes, but pointless. And they broke “the spell.” Ashby wouldn’t be dissuaded.

There were people who worked for him who hated his guts. Apparently, more than a few. Maybe with good reason. Judd Apatow, testifying here and obviously a fan (I’m one, too.) never worked with him.

But the films speak for themselves, and a couple — “Harold and Maude” and “Being There” — dazzle, even today. “Shampoo” is as good a history of the ’70s as “Nashville,” “Last Detail” is top drawer Jack Nicholson and “Bound for Glory” was David Carradine’s finest work. Yes, I’ve seen “Kill Bill 2.”

“Hal” opens Sept. 7 in select cities. Worth asking for at your neighborhood multiplex, I say.

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Movie Review: “Hidden Light”

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A novel milieu and an understated turn by Jack Jovcic, playing a mobster turned priest, give the otherwise dour Australian drama “Hidden Light” a fighting chance.

Writer-director Aaron Kamp set his story in the Serbian Orthodox community of Perth, Australia, folding the tragedies of two lives into that of our troubled, guilt-ridden priest, Jovan.

When we meet him, the burly man with the impressive tattoos is scourging his flesh, atoning for his life of drugs and violence. His mother is dying in hospital, and Jovan seems to figure his past and her fate are connected.

He’s the priest that the more streetwise members of the community come to for council. Drago (Troy Coward) is a highly-strung street dealer who knew Jovan in his previous life. Now, he’s got a pregnant girlfriend (Vivienne Marshall) and a motivation to get out.

Only his boss, Jovan’s old partner (Jag Pannu, who looks and sounds like a war criminal, which fits) won’t hear of it.

“I’ll get it sorted,” Father Jovan vows.

Big time real estate agent Jacob (Jeremy Levi) knows what Jovan used to be, as well. When he stumbles upon his wife’s body, dead from an overdose somebody she picked up in a bar gave her, he approaches the priest — “You used to know how to handle these situations…Someone needs to pay!”

Jovan is never more holy than in the simple, righteous and common sense question he poses with a single word — “Why?”

The priest might be able to solve both these problems by going to the police. Maybe it’s his vows that prevent him. Maybe it’s the vows he took in his previous life, “back when I WAS somebody,” that keep him from naming names.

These crises in others’ lives become Jovan’s dilemma, his cross to bear.

Kamp floods the score with dramatic music and fills the screen with a plot that advances like lava cooling off too fast to be a threat. The settings — a church, a bar, a drug lord’s apartment, a junkyard, and Jovan’s car.

That’s where he has the talk with a couple of longtime expats who knew his late father, back when they defended a monastery back in the old country together. They speak to him in the mother tongue, admonish him to do right — “You help people,” they say (via subtitles). “That’s what’s important.” And they may exist (in their native costume) wholly in Jovan’s bouncer-bald head.

Truthfully, the magical realism of the car chats with old Serbs are the only charming moments in “Hidden Light.” It looks right, at times, blazing sunlight through stained glass windows of a church. The bar scenes are lit like a teacher’s lounge. No wonder the chanteuse Amber (Sharyna Thompson) can’t draw a crowd.  My favorite “We made this with no money” moment is Jovan, sitting down to dinner in front of a TV while the sound of the RADIO version of “The Lone Ranger” wafts out of it.

No tragedy is small to the person living through it, but these play like melodrama — the drug dealer looking to get out, the cuckolded, grieving husband hunting for review, the priest who wasn’t always pure and who still likes his wine.

The dialogue, like the situations and the strident score, can seem played out. Rare is the line that takes one by surprise.

“Don’t give me one of your lectures, Jovan! Not today!”

We don’t see how good the mobster is at preaching, a serious omission.

But Jovcic has a soulful quality, a big man who used to be a violent man, trying to honor his renunciation of that life, trying to help desperate people find peace, wondering what it will cost him in the process.

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MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast:Jack Jovcic, Sharnya Thomson, Jeremy Levi, Troy Coward

Credits: Written and directed by Aaron Kamp. An Indie Rights/Small Voice release.

Running time: 1:31

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Preview, “Cruise” parks Emily Ratajkowski with a Bad Boy car thief in a bad decade for cars — the ’80s — “Cruise”

So we’ve got this faux ’50s Italian-American greaser (Spencer Boldman) who swipes cars and car radios on 1980s Long Island, and this Jewish Girl Who Wants to be Bad (Emily Ratajkowski) who takes a tumble with him over the course of a summer.

Vertical has it slated for limited release Sept. 28, and Ms. Ratajkowski has a following, so this Stray Cats era nostalgia should see the light of day. “Cruise” was written and directed by Robert D. Siegel, who did “Big Fan” and scripted Darren Aronosky’s “The Wrestler.”

 

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Preview, Aubrey Plaza, Jemaine Clement and Craig Robinson go screwball in “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn”

A Sundance farce that looks madcap, slapstick, surreal and Jemaine all at once.

A guy known for screwball horror (“The Greasy Strangler”) is behind it, Emile Hirsch is also in it.

Plaza’s reliably hilarious and should do nothing but make indie pics, one right after the other, from now until she’s Parker Posey’s age.

“An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn” will have its day in the sun — or on a few screens — Oct. 19.

 

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Weekend Movies: “Crazy Rich Asians” won’t get crazy rich, “Mile 22” may mark Wahlberg, “Alpha” won’t be top dog

crazyThe Wednesday opening of “Crazy Rich Asians” came in at $5 million, not the $6 million originally projected (Deadline.com has walked its numbers back). 

Thursday night’s “Mile 22” money wasn’t all that.

And “Alpha” was always going to be a hard sell, a somewhat tough-minded prehistoric boy and his wolf/dog movie launched after the kids have gone to school.

Box Office Mojo is projecting that “Alpha,” undersold and arriving in that August hole where movies without hype wither and die, will earn only $6 million in the U.S. Saturday/Sunday will tell, but lacking matinee Monday, Friday’s not going to help it.

Box Office Guru and everybody else figure that “Crazy Rich Asians” will own the weekend. I do wonder if the advertising has lowered its ceiling — perhaps emphasizing “Asian” too much, “Rich” as well. The earlier $30 million+ suggestions (I was sure the hype would pull in the curious, putting $35 million Wed.-Sun within reach) are gone with the wind. Maybe $27 million sayeth the Guru, $25 is the BO Mojo guess. Maybe $27 Deadline.com concurs.

“Mile 22” is a Mark Walhberg/Peter Berg thriller dumped in the Black Hole of August, pounded by critics and yet its Asian action-nonsensical Hollywood plot mashup could make $16, Box Office Mojo says, $18 million according to the Guru. Wahlberg has had good luck with off-season fare, owning a few Januaries in recent years with smarter action pics than this (“Contraband” for instance). He’s intensely unlikable in “Mile 22,” and his limp “Daddy” comedies and godawful “Transformers” paydays have devalued his brand. This won’t help.

“The Meg” did not fall off a cliff during the week, so the weekend could register another $20 million at the box office. It could conceivably win the Fri-Sunday frame with that, if “Asians” doesn’t hit the sweet spot and land closer to $30. “Meg” will have cleared $85 by midnight Sunday. $100 million is in reach, mark this $130 million Chinese-financed production in black ink. It’s done well all around the Pacific Rim.

“Mission: Impossible–Fallout” is closing in on $175, but won’t stick around to reach $200.

“Equalizer 2” won’t be in the top ten, and is losing so many screens it will fall short of $100 (low 90s, all in).

Disney may yet get to $65 million with “Christopher Robin,” though nobody’s that happy about it.

And “BlackKklansman” will enjoy a decent second weekend. Figure Jordan Peele’s producing help in and Spike Lee’s picture could hit $25 million — eventually.

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Movie Review: Thriller gets lost long before “Mile 22”

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Forget “Alpha,” here’s the REAL “dog of August” at the movies — “Mile 22” — an antic, nonsensical and bloody B-movie amped up by Mark Wahlberg’s motor-mouthed character and the savage, sadistic martial arts stylings of  Iko Uwais.

Wahlberg’s go-to director, Peter Berg, has spent a lot of Chinese production money on a Hollywood-ized version of the Indonesian action pic “The Raid” or “The Raid 2,” which starred Uwais.

It’s a big ol’swing and a miss of a movie, a thriller whose frantic, crazy-quilt editing can’t hide how static and motionless it often feels, whose laptop-loads of  punchlines don’t cover the inanity of every sentence.

“You think you know about election hacking? You think you know the definition of ‘collusion?’ You know nothin’.”

Wahlberg plays Silva, a faster-than-fast-talking team leader of “Overwatch,” an elite off-the-books team of ex-CIA “problem solvers” who only exist in the movies and the fever dreams of a delusional public speaker whose every paragraph ends with “Believe me.”

“Diplomacy is ‘option one,'” Silva breathlessly blurts through in a mission debrief that frames “Mile 22.” “Option two is military. We’re the third option. We solve problems on short notice.”

Such as when nine pounds of radioactive cesium disappears in a country-not-named Indonesia. A rogue cop, Li Noor (Uwais) shows up at the U.S. Embassy with a coded gizmo that reveals the locations of the “discs” of the “dirty-bomb” ingredients. Fly him out of the country and he’ll give you the code.

Oh, and the info? It will self-destruct in mere hours. His information will recover the cesium AND “bring down a government.” Whose?

Get him from the embassy to a disused airstrip twenty-two miles away, and spirit him to safety. Simple, right?

With a team of cyber-wizards directed by “Mother” (John Malkovich) to tap into everything from the power grid to every blueprint for a building on the planet, hackable cars stuck in traffic and CCTV cameras, drone over-views, all of it inter-linked via radio, Silva’s squad (Lauren Cohen, Ronda Rousey, Carlo Alban among them) should be able to convey this “package” to the plane.

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Except that locals, led by the sadistic Axel (Sam Medina), have legions of…wait for it…motorcycle assassins. And SUVs stuffed with henchmen armed to the teeth,  all of whom have other plans.

It’s just that we’ve seen their first attempt on Li’s life. Handcuffed to a gurney or not, the guy is a Beast from the Southeast (Asia). Killing him is going to be no easier than transporting him.

Those are the keeper scenes, here, not the shootouts, the epic moments of “sacrifice” from the team, the endless torrent of Wahlberg wisecrackery. Uwais delivers breathtaking action beats via his epic beatdowns, insanely violent fights helped along insane editing.

The guy makes a great take-no-prisoners sadist. Assaulted in a car, Li busts the villain’s head through the car window, then DRAGS his neck across the jagged glass remains of that window. Back. And forth. And back again.

Berg made Wahlberg do shots of Red Bull before every take, creating an out-of-his-comfort-zone “performance” (“Manic? Narcissistic? Bipolar?”) that is simply exhausting, not exhilarating. Endless blasts of banter, pithy one-liners to his “team,” generally hurled at inopportune moments.

“You’re never gonna do something WRONG until die!”

“Try that Jesus guy, they say he’s very FORGIVING.”

“Didn’t they teach you ANYthing about cesium at Harvard?”

Wahlberg makes you wish the movie was finishing up with every breath-gulping line. The pace of his high-pitched barking contrasts with the slow-moving film. When you have the bad guys pause, every so often, to give the “heroes” a breather, you never get where you’re going.

It smells like the classic “franchise” that’s died of crib death — “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins,” “Alex Rider: Stormbreaker,” etc.

There’s no conviction to any of this, and the mad scramble of words suggests they’re firing all these jibberish pronouncements over the heads of people impressed by antic, nonsense tweets, a movie with a “great game” subtext (Russian villains, yet Americans CAUSING Russian malfeasance) that strains to muddy the waters with misinformation and murkiness where the world sees clarity, and leaves a seriously sour taste in its mouth. Yes, there are news clips of Trump hinting at  the existence of suicide squads like this, which only exist in the movies.

He’s confused. As you will be.

Because aside from its myriad other sins, whose side is this dog on, the Chinese financiers? The Russians? The Russian Apologist in Chief? QAnon?

1star6

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko UwaisJohn Malkovich, Sam Medina, Ronda Rousey

Credits:Directed by Peter Berg, script by Lea Carpenter. An STX release.

Running time: 1:35

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Preview, Michael Caine remembers his career and “My Generation” in this new doc

It’s now on VOD and is almost certainly worth tracking down. A bit of Michael Caine autobiography (he narrates), a lot of Swinging London. I have a call in to Gravitas to see if I can get my hands on it.

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Preview, Danny McBride has a psychotic reaction to the bursting of the housing bubble in “Arizona”

Danny McBride does “out there” better than most anybody.

Rosemarie DeWitt, David Allen Grier, Luke Wilson, and a murderous wack-job who isn’t that keen on the promises of realtors and the future that didn’t happen for him. Comedies don’t get much darker than this.

“Arizona” is coming soon, in limited release. How soon? Not sure. Great use of its titular pop song, in any event.

 

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Documentary Review: “Quiet Heroes” celebrates healthcare givers who battled AIDs in the middle of Mormon Country


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As AIDS swept across America in the 1980s, the country and its many distinct subcultures were sorely tested in figuring out how to confront it.

Confusion and misinformation, prejudice and superstition, genuine fear and revolting callousness all bubbled up during the disease’s deadliest early years.

The culture wars got wrapped up in a public health crisis and all manner of “not discussed in public” subjects burst into the light.

The main battlegrounds of this war have been carved into history — San Francisco, New York, Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control, remembered and documented in films such as “And the Band Played On,” “Silver Lake Life,” “Threads,” “Positive.”

But what about Utah, with its Mormon heritage and Church of Latter Day Saints hostility to homosexuality? Yes, “Angels in America” announced from the Broadway stage that gay Mormons do exist and did it decades ago. Still, how did a state that back then and later went on to stealth-back California’s infamous “Proposition 8” “(“Prop hate”) cope

The neglect, bigotry and contempt were as bad as anywhere in the U.S., with LDS officials openly inveighing about “The Gay Plague,” some families believing “their sons got what they deserved” and almost everyone forced to choose between embracing a doomed child or throwing in with their faith and the state legislature giving voice to crackpot, inhumane gay “leper colony” ideas, bans on marriage for people suffering from AIDs, almost daily.

“Quiet Heroes” is a documentary that remembers that time and those extremes, but celebrates a handful of almost angelic healers. We meet a lone infectious diseases specialist, her physician’s assistant and recall the Catholic Hospital and its heroic nurse-nuns, all of whom created “an island in a sea of fear” in Salt Lake City in the ’80s and 90s.

Utah State Senator Jim Dabaki remembers taking friends (he’s gay) for treatment and being ordered out of waiting rooms. Dr. Kristen Ries faced a circumscribed practice, thanks to her willingness to take on a disease that sent her nothing but the dead and dying, and sometimes infectious, for 15 lonely years when nobody else in the city was willing to fight the unfolding disaster.

The nuns of Holy Cross Hospital eschewed social judgment (hard for most to do, back then) and took in the sick, comforted them when in many cases, even the patients’ families would not.

Filmmakers Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga and Amanda Stoddard talk to survivors, show home movies and archival TV footage of dead activists and simple, unheralded human victims of disease. A psychotherapist (Paula Gibbs) bluntly describes the work all of them faced back in the deadly ’80s — “We helped them die.”

Ballet dancer now Ballet West director Peter Christie tears up as he remembers Dr. Ries and PA Maggie Snyder “never wore rubber gloves…they would touch your face, give you hugs” as a time when understandable fear kept laymen and women from doing that, and less understandably, doctors who should have known better avoided it.

“Quiet Heroes” packs a quick AIDS history into its 78 minutes, marking the benchmark moments in treatment — AZT in 1987, the “triple combo” of drugs, protease inhibitors, that finally bought victims remission and their lives back (1995). This is not new material, just a reminder of what happened.

Mostly though, the film (premiering on LOGO Aug. 23) touchingly celebrates physicians who take their calling seriously, and with compassion, even as it recalls how far we as a culture have come in the 37 years since AIDS was discovered. It makes us flinch at how publicly, fearlessly wrongheaded some people were, and not that long ago, either.

And Holy Cross Hospital? They lost so much money fighting this humanitarian public health crisis they had to be sold, with new owners eschewing the doctor, her patients and the practices that made the institution famous.

No compassionate viewer can hear that news and not think, “That’s the most righteous use of red ink, ever.”

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MPAA Rating: unrated, adult subject matter

Cast: Dr. Kristen Ries, Maggie Snyder, Elizabeth Clement, Peter Christie, Jim Dabaki, Sister Bernie Mullick, Ben Barr

Credits:Directed by Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga, Amanda Stoddard. A Vavani/Verite release –on LOGO.

Running time: 1:18

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Next screening? “Mile 22”

A little mid-August action for your cinema going pleasure.

Alas, STX chose not to screen “Mile 22,” a Mark Wahlberg/Peter Berg picture, for critics. Reviews are popping up today, and I’m catching it the first showing in the small town I am visiting.

August has produced some passable films with audience appeal — “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Alpha” dress up the major studio release slate for this, a dumping ground month for movies which could not compete in summer and might get lost among the films of fall.

But one certainly feels that when STX has this star and his go-to director for an action pic, they’d be showing it in advance if they thought it was any good. Review to come shortly.

 

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