Movie Preview: “LOVE AND MONSTERS”

Joel and Aimee and a Jeep and “The Monster Uprising.”

Kinda goofy, kinda gonzo. Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick and of course, Michael Rooker — in the Woody Harrelson role — are the stars.

“D’ja ever hear of a fool’s errand?”

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Movie Review: Great cast, grim subject, “Blackbird”

A family gathers at the parents beach house for a not-quite-holiday get-together in “Blackbird,” a downbeat but arresting and intimate melodrama based on the Danish film, “Silent Heart.”

Daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska) and their families are here for an early Christmas with Mom (Susan Sarandon) and Dad (Sam Neill). They “celebrating” now because mother Lily won’t be around Dec. 25. She’s terminally ill.

And at the end of this weekend, she’ll be taking a drug cocktail that ends her life, while she still has the capacity to do that on her own.

Sarandon’s Lily is a feisty sort. None of this soothing classical music that husband Paul prefers. Oh no. She’s aware of how long it takes her to get a bathrobe on, and doesn’t want to be hovered over as she does.

“Go f—–g DO something,” she barks, for not the last time. Lily is out of patience and almost out of time.

Organized adult daughter Jennifer is aware that she’s in pain, because “She lies just badly enough that you know she’s lying.”

Her pedantic husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) can make historical anecdote small talk with the best of them. Pass the salt.

“You know the Indian independence movement started” with salt protests, he begins. It’s no wonder Jennifer’s testy, “fragile” younger sister Anna calls him “Mr. Dull.”

She has her own issues, which Jennifer lists for her every moment she gets her alone.

Lily’s best friend (Lindsay Duncan) is here for support. But only Jennifer and Michael’s doted-on/nagged to excellence teen son (Anson Boon) has the tactlessness to be direct.

“When’s it happen?” And later, with his grandpa, a stoic pillar of equanimity, he’s even more blunt.

“How’re you going to do it?”

Director Roger Michell (“Venus,”Notting Hill”) cast this well and earns stellar on-the-nose performances from Sarandon, Wilson, Duncan and Wasikowska. Pairing her opposite Winslet turns out to be inspired, as their characters are highly-strung flipsides of the same coin, making for some splendid fights. Each knows where to stick the dagger.

Sarandon’s Lily has the sarcastic bravado common to end-of-life movies of this sort, from “Whose Life is It Anyway?” to “Me Before You.”

“You up yet?” she shouts at the kids. “I’d DEAD soon. You coming down?”

Neill’s Paul might be the most accessible character, simply by virtue of his “get through this with a little ordinary grace” ethos. But how are YOU doing, Paul?

“A little tired of people saying ‘And how are you?'”

The conflicts come from the usual corners, the twists have a pre-ordained feel. But the players, the setting (West Sussex, UK, doubling for Long Island?) and Michell’s sure-handed way with sensitive material get “Blackbird” airborne, and keep it there, from beginning to not-remotely-bitter-end.

MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug use and brief sexual material

Cast: Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, Sam Neill, Rainn Wilson, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Anson Boon and Lindsay Duncan.

Credits: Directed by Roger Michell, script by Christian Torpe. A Screen Media/Fathom Events release.

Running time: 1:37

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Netflixable? Coming home leaves a DC filmmaker with “Residue” to deal with

I tend to look askance at movie-making nepotism, but Merawi Gerima’s debut feature, “Residue,” has me rethinking that.

“Residue” is an immersive, impressionistic sketch of a Black DC expat coming home to a place he swore he’d put in his rear-view for good fifteen years before. It’s a memory play steeped in social upheaval, pointed, politically-aware and beautiful to behold.

And among the films it resembles is the model-visits-a-slave-trading fort drama, “Sankofa,” a memorably gorgeous and dark dreamscape, a landmark indie film by Ethiopian-American director Haile Gerima, whom I got to hang with at a film school he was visiting some years back.

So, “Chip off the old block?” Oh yes, and in the most flattering ways.

Jake (Obinna Nwachuwu) shows up on Q Street in his pickup, a mattress in the flatbed, ready to stick around for a while. He’s working on a script about the old hood — “Eckington,” which the callow yuppies moving in and “gentrifying” have re-dubbed “NoMa” (north of Massachusetts Ave.).

A narrator questions Jake, in his head — “Did you sense that our obliteration was just around the corner? You thought a FILM could save us?”

Jake reconnects with his parents (Melody A. Tally and Ramon Thompson). He hooks up with the beautiful Blue (Taline Stewart). And he starts mingling, chatting up the few people who might remember him, asking where his childhood bud Demetrius is.

Nobody wants to talk about that. Not Mike (Derron Scott), and especially not Devonte (Dennis Lindsey).

“Gentrification” is seen at its ugliest here, fake “eviction notice” threats slapped on doors, endless calls from predatory real estate flippers.

And the endless provocations presented “back home” are a genuine threat to Jake, who has flashbacks to the neighborhood violence he witnessed during his childhood, and whose anger management issues will be severely tested by hassling cops, obnoxious urban (white) homesteaders and young bloods out to prove how “hard” they are — when they’re with their gang.

The white folks among them, not picking up after their dogs, “are the decoys,” his mother warns. Don’t take the bait. Don’t give them the chance to call the cops on you.

“How many people do we know whose lives were wasted like that?”

It’s the same with his endless Demetrius search. Dion? “He’s still in.” This guy or that one is “under the concrete.”

Gerima uses a hand-held camera, tight shots and splashes of dialogue blended in with dimly-lit, sometimes grainy/sometimes blurry flashbacks to create this chiaroscuro.

But the most impressionistic scene is of Jake’s chat with one old friend. They’re in the woods, chuckling and remembering, enjoying nature, Jake apologizing for all the letters he never replied to. An off camera voice barks, “OK, that’s it.” It’s actually a prison visit, sobering and sad and institutional. And it’s just beautiful.

The bleak outlook of this story won’t be to every taste. But “Residue” brings a painful beauty to a real-life “whitewashing” of a city that will never let you look at gentrification from a realtor’s point of view ever again.

MPAA Rating: TV-MA

Cast: Obinna Nwachuwu, Melody A. Tally, Ramon Thompson, Taline Stewart, Dennis Lindsey, Derron Scott

Credits: Written and directed by Merawi Gerima. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:30

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Movie Preview: Olivia Cooke goes Irish in a caper comedy,” “Pixie” — with Alec Baldwin

This looks fun, in an early Guy Ritchie but in Ireland sorta way.

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Movie Preview: Oscar bait for Anthony Hopkins? “THE FATHER”

That the buzz, raging against the dying of the light

Dec. 18.

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Netflixable? Mexican BMX girl holds casting call — “Dad Wanted (Se busca papá)”

Blanca loves her BMX bike. Mom might arrange a ride share to get her to school, but to Blanca, that’s just to transport her backpack.

She’ll race Señor Uber to school, taking shortcuts, doing jumps and dodging traffic as she does.

And heaven forbid she spies bullying on the school bus she races in that home stretch. Skinny-mini or not, tweenage Blanca (Natalia Coronado) is down to throw-down.

If Mom, a widowed film producer (Silvia Navarro) only knew. She despises and fears bicycles. But she’s a bit frazzled — problem solving, coping with divas on the set, mainly her director (Luis Ernesto Franco).

Mom can never know, but Blanca wants to enter the Big BMX race at the end of the month. Pal Laura (Victoria Viera) figures she’s a cinch to win. Even the boys want tips from her.

“You’re not cut out for it,” she sniffs. But how can she sign up for this dangerous race without parental consent? Wait, Mom’s a producer. Let’s hold a “casting call,” find a guy willing to pose as her dad. It turns out, that drive-share grey fox (Juan Pablo Medina) used to be a movie star. If only his agent (Roberto Quijano) can convince him to “audition.”

From that summary, you’ve guessed exactly where this thing is going. But “Dad Wanted,” aka “Se busca papá” lurches from bizarre twists to rank sentiment so often that maybe you don’t.

“The Big Race” is the finale, sure. But street mime and magic? Driver/actor Beto’s “secret grief?” And that “What’s a non-relative 40something hanging around with a 12-year-old?” “ick” factor’s got to be addressed.

Coronado is an adorably fresh-faced starlet who sulks well, big and small screen veteran Medina suggests the air of a man who “used to be somebody,” but who doesn’t want to “act any more.”

Among the cast-to-be-funnier-and-more-frenetic co-stars, Viera stands out — worldly enough to conjure up a voice synthesizer so she and Blanca can fool auditioners into thinking they’re adults casting a movie, quick to dissolve into tears if an adult raises her or his voice to her.

That audition sequence is far-fetched, but adorable and inventive (hiding the girls via bright lights and a screen, masking their voices).

Little else in “Dad Wanted” stands out. The “wacky” agent isn’t, stern ball-buster Mom may be a Mexican Michelle Monaghan, but has too few fuming moments to play. The sentimental stuff that takes over the third act beggars belief.

It’s harmless enough. Still, the only reason to watch it is if you and/or the kids need to brush up on your Spanish.

MPAA Rating: TV-14

Cast: Natalia Coronado, Juan Pablo Medina, Silvia Navarro, Victoria Viera, Roberto Quijano, Luis Ernesto Franco

Credits: Directed by Javier Colinas, script by Victor Avelar, Paulette Hernandez, Fernando Barreda Luna and Javier Colinas. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:42

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Movie Preview: Kathie Lee Gifford, Elizabeth Hurley and Craig Ferguson — in Scotland — “Then Came You”


This comes our way Oct. 2. Apparently, Scots super host Craig Ferguson set the house afire doing a co-hosting gig a few years back with Kathie Lee Gifford, and she made sure this movie came of it. Wee bit daft, love the old Triumph “motorcar” they put them in.

Yes, I shamed Vertical into releasing the bloody trailer.



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Movie Preview: A German POW, “a Nazi,” could save their team as “The Keeper”

We do love our sports here in the West. It’s always been so.

Here’s a WWII story about Brits willing to ignore the fact that the “keeper” who can save them from “relegation” is “a NAZI!”

And you wonder where Alabama, Clemson and Florida State get that myopia from.

“The Keeper” is in goal Oct. 2.

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Netflixable? French “Cuties (Mignonnes)” grow up entirely too fast

Whatever gifts French writer/director Maïmouna Doucouré brings to the table, “subtlety” isn’t included. Her challenging, provocative hot-button Tween Girls Gone (somewhat) Wild drama “Cuties” (“Mignonnes” in French) slaps you in the face–hard — and not just once but repeatedly.

It barrels through a Senegalese girl’s transition from Muslim immigrant in a patriarchy to twerking, stripper-in-a-rap-video sexually-“woke” in a breakneck fashion.

Doucouré (“Maman(s)” is her best-known credit) grabs “growing up too fast in the West” and rides that message with a vengeance, eschewing smooth, natural transitions in favor of shocks to the system.

It’s as jarring as it is unsettling, crosses lines she doesn’t need her to cross to make her points, and abandons religious hot buttons she seems too timid to wholly engage.

When we meet her, Amy (Fathia Youssouf) is a wide-eyed innocent. She’s 11, dutifully looking after two younger brothers, one in diapers. She is on the cusp of womanhood within her emigre community, listening in on the Muslim women’s ministries’ entreaties to “obey your husbands,” and “fear Allah.”

But her mother (Maïmouna Gueye), keeping the family together by herself, has gotten troubling news. Her husband has found a second wife, and is bringing her back to France to marry and move into their apartment. Mother Mariam had no say, and doesn’t have to articulate the betrayal this feels like.

After all, they left Senegal for Western Europe. Is polygamy even allowed there?

Amy has just absorbed this news when she spies a classmate shaking her groove thing and ironing her long hair in the apartment complex’s laundry room. Amy is transfixed. She watches, admires and envies. She would love to be in with Angelica’s (Médina El Aidi-Azouni) crowd.

They’re a brash, brusque and tightnit quartet that wants to compete in the big dance-off coming up. Amy is entirely too square, too unskilled, too socially awkward and plainly-dressed to crack in with blonde bully Jessica (Ilanah Cami-Goursolas), pushy Coumba (Esther Gohourou) Angelica and Yasmine (Myriam Hamma).

Besides, they’re already a quartet. Sure, she can video them rehearsing. But “I can learn” to dance won’t mean a thing if they don’t alter their lineup.

At home, Amy starts acting out. Her mother understands why she won’t talk to her father on the phone, but is totally unaware she’s stolen an uncle’s phone and her mom’s money, and has utterly immersed herself in the hyper-sexualized Western culture that the Cuties represent. Adults are totally out of the loop with this crowd.

Amy neglects her babysitting duties, hides her new, makeup-and-coochie-cutters/halter top look and makes it her business to imitate her more “mature” peers in every way — flirting with boys, imitating the vulgar displays of underclad music video dancers, and backing up her sisters in her new gang.

Doucouré jerks Amy, and us, through every stage of this transition. One scene, she’s still the demure but curious immigrant. The next she’s Nicki Minaj and Sherri Moon Zombie, a bumping, grinding, pouty-mouthed sex object, totally tarted-up if not quite aware of exactly what it is she’s impersonating.

Youssouf plays Amy as an open-book wonder, eager to “fit in” — numb or just stunningly naive when it comes to recognizing how out of line her behavior is in the culture she’s been raised in.

At several points in the film’s third act her “We-need-to-act-older-than-11” peers recoil, and say “You’ve gone too far” to our heroine. It’s not out of line to think our director has committed the same sin. If a guy had filmed this (As if!), he’d have to hide out in the Polanski Pedophile Precincts of Switzerland.

But it’s not really messaging or Doucouré hitting her points too hard that took me out of “Cuties.” It’s the many abrupt transitions, the too-sudden conversion Amy undergoes, the avoidance of showing stark repercussions within her Islamic community and the unbelievable way Amy comes to understand what she has become and its personal, sexual and moral consequences.

The kid is 11, we keep reminding ourselves. Doucouré seems to occasionally forget.

Doucouré brings a much-needed new perspective and new voice to the cinema. But this doesn’t have the depth or grim impact of a “Kids” (1995) or “thirteen” (2003). And signing on with Netflix, where “M.I.L.F.” and “An Easy Girl” are just the French entries in the streaming service’s race to find a young-younger-youngest sexual “edge,” is no way to pick up one thing her storytelling desperately lacks.


MPAA Rating: TV-MA, sexually suggestive content, slap-fight violence, profanity

Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Myriam Hamma and Maïmouna Gueye

Credits: Written and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:36

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Classic Film Review: “Death on the Nile,” the 1978 Agatha Christie adaptation

Zut alors! Could it be, that this earlier version of an Agatha Christie novel is now on assorted streaming TV channels? Taking advantage of the fact that this story will return to theaters under the care of Sir Kenneth Branagh anon?

If I was a gambling man, I’d put money on the fact that this 1978 Christie adaptation, the second starring the great Peter Ustinov, was the one that inspired Branagh and the studio then-known as 20th century Fox to revive Hercule Poirot and this old-fashioned whodunit franchise.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is the most famous Dame Agatha title, at least as far as the big screen goes. It’s a good story to stuff with an all-star cast and introduce Christie’s obnoxious, all-seeing/all-knowing sleuth and gourmand, a “proof of concept” franchise opener.

That was good enough for Ustinov and director Sidney Lumet and Paramount back in 1974, and good enough for Branagh and Fox in 2017. But the film that really sells the character, the series and the way these movies should be approached is the timelessly campy “Death on the Nile.” All these decades later, and it holds up. It’s still gloriously campy fun.

Lumet was one of the great directors his era, with “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Prince of the City” among his career highlights. But “Nile” director John Guillermin? He did “The Towering Inferno” and “King Kong” and “Skyjacked” (also “Bridge at Remagen”). Here was a man who could fill the screen with stars, give each her or his moments, and make the trains run on time.

And damned if he didn’t have a lot more giggles with Poirot & Co. than Lumet did. That’s what having Anthony Shaffer (“Sleuth,” “The Wicker Man” and Hitchcock’s “Frenzy”) as your screenwriter will do for you.

The dull opening credits — over a shot of river water — don’t hint at the acrid, hammy fun to come.

Let’s start with casting — Ustinov as Poirot (he played him many times on the big screen and on TV), David Niven as Col. Race, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Mia Farrow, her “Great Gatsby” co-star Lois Chiles (onetime Bond girl), a somewhat miscast George Kennedy (not awful), a seemingly more miscast Jack Warden, playing a German-Swiss doctor (he grows on you), and Olivia Hussey and Simon McCorkindale.

And none of them, not a one, has nearly as much fun as Angela Lansbury, cutting loose as a lush and best-selling romance novelist, Salome Otterbourne, floridly and drunkenly prattling on about “the calumnies of life!”

Her arrival, some 20 minutes in, is when the stodgy whodunit takes off and her co-stars let their inner ham run free. Pairing up Bette Davis, as a maybe-not-super-rich old lady, with Maggie Smith as her butch assistant and back-talking masseuse? Inspired.

“How would a little trip down the Nile suit you?

“There are two things in the world I can’t abide — It’s heat and heathens.”

Ustinov wraps his tongue around many a plummy turn of phrase. To the embittered, ditched Jacqueline (Farrow), who lost her man (McCorkindale) to her richer and prettier best friend (Chiles) — “Do not allow evil into your ‘eart. Eet weeel make a home there.”

“If love can’t live there, evil will do just as well!”

There’s all this old-fashioned national prejudice on display (the setting is the mid’30s), cracks about fetching “that Hun doctor” and the like. Poirot is the butt of many of these insults, a reminder that the Brits invented most of the world’s racial, national and ethnic slurs.

“You perfectly foul French upstart!”

Belgian upstart, please, madame.”

“You damn froggy (French) eavesdropper!” “Belgian! Belgian eavesdropper!”

The costumes are period perfect, the setting — on a river steamer heading up the Nile, past pyramids and the like — gorgeous.

And the whodunit mystery still plays, over 40 years later. As a genre, I find those to age particularly poorly. Not here.

“Death on the Nile” is freely-adopted from the Christie novel, and I dare say Sir Ken & Crew will tinker with the story and alter it further.

For my money, the bar was low in remaking “Murder on the Orient Express” — so many versions, so few that hold up. The real test of this as a franchise, and any hopes 20th Century Studios has that new owner Disney will open the purse strings for new films, will be how much fun they wring out of “a little trip down the Nile.”

Right now, the new “Death” is slated for Oct. 23. I can hardly wait.

MPAA Rating: PG, violence and blood

Cast: Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, Lois Chiles, Mia Farrow, George Kennedy, Jack Warden, Simon McCorkindale, Jon Finch and Maggie Smith.

Credits: Directed by John Guillermin, script by Anthony Shaffer. A Paramount release, now on Pluto, Amazon, etc.

Running time: 2:20

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