Documentary Review: What comes “After the Murder of Albert Lima” is, at times, hilarious


The opening moments of “After the Murder of Albert Lima” are where the confusion begins. A Tampa area personal trainer is talking to a couple living on an island in the Caribbean. He puts them on speaker phone.

He’s asking about borrowing guns. They’re offering to give him Haldol so that he can knock somebody out. Maybe they’ll even do the injecting themselves. He mentions plans to “stuff (their quarry) in a suitcase.”

Hells’ bells, what criminal mischief are these rubes cooking up? I mean, “Murder of Albert Lima” is billed as a documentary. Are we watching a mockumentary?

It’s not, though. Filmmaker Aengus James has been invited to listen in as a bunch of amateurs work out the logistics of something that “the movies” make look simple, easy — especially when the “professionals” do it.

But the “professionals” here, a “tracker” (Art Torres) and a “bounty hunter (Zora Colakovic) project the confidence of the delusional. In their own minds, they’ve got this. But we can sense it in their bravado, signs we recognize in the daily public (political) examples of “the very best people” who cannot hide their rank incompetence.

We can meet Paul Lima, the personal trainer setting this caper in motion, and hear his story. It’s the tragic account of the murder of his Tampa lawyer father on the lawless Honduran island of Roatán (“paradise” for scuba divers, among others). We can see the grisly crime-scene photos, a man shot and dumped in the woods in a place where even if the police cared, they’re ill-equipped to bring the killers to justice.

Paul can tell us of his 13-year quest for justice, the corrupt Honduran court system that let the killer go free for the right bribe. We can hear about accomplices, one of them a friend of his father, killed, and of the good-faith loan (to keep a bakery open) that went bad and triggered all this.

But at the end of the day, ordinary people trying to get justice or revenge or closure on their own, or providing that as a paid service that they’re ill-equipped to deliver, is damned funny.

It’s what the talk show host/philosopher Steve Allen said — “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Time has passed. And there is nothing funnier than delusions of competence.

There are fraught moments, secret cameras trying to capture efforts to get close to the killer, Oral Coleman. Paranoid men with pistols and shotguns stand between our team and their quarry. The American couple, the Krims, who want to help, are under death threats themselves. The island is overrun with unsolved murders of Americans.

But when your personal trainer-leader is talking about how they will “‘Weekend at Bernies’ this guy,” when he’s trying to hire a charter fishing boat to smuggle them all to the mainland (on camera) and NOT telling the captain what they’re really up to, with every moment this conspirator or that one dons his “C.S.I.: Miami” sunglasses, with every stakeout that ends with one of the “professionals” getting drunk and passing out, with every accidental discharge of a gun, “After the Murder of Albert Lima” becomes less tragic, more farcical.

“Rookie mistake,” one character will admit. “We’re not prepared for this” another finally confesses.


Filmmaker James has to be lumped in with everybody else, as his filming and “crew” give the would-be kidnappers cover. They’re all making “like a National Geographic kind of documentary.” If this comes off, or goes wrong, there will be blood on James’ hands, too. Or egg on his face.

Fake accents are trotted out for phone calls, nothing goes off “like clockwork” because in the real world life is messy and random, unscripted and not routine.

I’d love to get a gander at the release forms James cooked up for this project. Because as sincere as one and all are — especially Paul, who seems genuinely gutted and often outraged by his inability to get justice (he even got Congress to authorize money to have murders of Americans in Honduras investigated and prosecuted) — the payoff is a movie in which everybody comes off, at least at times, as an idiot.

And good sports or not, who’d agree to let a movie show them in that light?


MPAA Rating: unrated, violent images

Cast: Paul Lima, Art Torres, Zora Colakovic, Cindy Krim, Kent Krim, Judy Lima

Credits: Directed by Aengus James. A Gunpowder & Sky release.

Running time: 1:37

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Netflixable? “The Most Hated Woman in America”


If you’re a fan of historical biographies on the big screen, you realize that they’re rare enough to make you wince when one goes awry. So no other filmmaker will, in all likelihood, ever get a shot at “getting it right.”

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was, as the Look Magazine cover said, “The Most Hated Woman in America.” And she comes to furious, foul-mouthed life in Oscar winner Melissa Leo’s performance of her in the film of that title.

Casting Josh Lucas as the ex-hustler/ex-con and ex-employee who kidnapped her to steal her cash is spot on, too. Adam Scott plays the only newspaper reporter who cared enough to look into her “disappearance,” Vincent Kartheiser her estranged son, Juno Temple her devoted granddaughter, Sally Kirkland her religious, long-suffering mother.

And in what would turn out to be one of his last performances, Peter Fonda plays a popular TV preacher and foil for America’s most famous — and infamous — atheist, the woman whose lawsuits pushed the encroaching doctrinaire Christianity that had been brought into schools and government more recently than those who screamed “It’s tradition! We’ve always had prayer in schools!” would have you believe.

The right players were in place, but the movie is a choppy, incomplete biography built around a one-note — shrill to the point of shrieking — performance.

And the director “An American Crime” and “Ella Enchanted” turns the third act into a grim snuff film that cannot help but give perverse pleasure to those who hated her and threatened her life for over 30 years.

Baltimorean Madalyn Murray was a born “non-conformist” from the start. Raised in a religious household (Ryan Cutrona plays the father she curses out at some point during every religious debate), she’d had her son out of wedlock in an era where that wasn’t tolerated. She had a law degree, but found finding suitable employment impossible in 1950s Baltimore.

Whatever she was before we meet her in the movie, that experience helped turn her into a zero-tolerance misanthrope. But her anti-racism stance got her on TV, and that led to social work — odd, for a misanthrope.

Taking her boy to school and walking in on his class reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” set her off and set her life’s path.

“What the HELL’s going on in here?”

The lawsuit that first showed America that “freedom of religion” also meant “freedom FROM religion” made her name. And by the mid-1960s she was litigating Nativity scenes on government property and Papal visits to U.S. National Parks. Her American Atheists organization was drawing donations and her place in the culture secured for decades to come.

Co-writer/director Tommy O’Haver frames her life within events that ended it, her 1995 kidnapping by an ex-employee (Lucas) and a couple of minions, men who wanted the money she had been hiding in offshore accounts.

She doesn’t know this when she barks, “Jerry FALWELL put you up to this?” to her captors. She’s sure the cops will be onto the kidnappers in a flash.

“I don’t think ANYone will be looking for you, Madalyn!”

That’s what one of her aides discovers when he tries to call the police. “Publicity stunt.” It takes some convincing to interest an Austin, Texas newspaper reporter (Scott).

Much of the tale is told in flashbacks, her respectful and (somewhat) respectable appearances on talk shows, the cynical, lucrative “put on a show” debates with New Orleans’ “Chaplain of Bourbon Street” preacher Bob Harrington (Fonda), and the fateful day she hires a man she comes to find out served time in prison.

That’s almost a running thread here, her uncanny inability to see “trouble” in the men in her life — baby daddy, cheating ex-husband (father of her second son, Garth, played by Michael Chernis).

Skipping over her most public years in montage form seems to be a strategy to condense her life to one of fury and unpleasantness. And while Leo does well by the putdowns, tantrums and confrontations, it seems one-dimensional. Accurate? Not as much as one would hope.

What one can say is how excruciating the finale is, how the film seems to make her arguments unreasonable simply because SHE was unreasonable. That can’t be intentional (O’Haver’s first film was the gay romance “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss”).

The O’Hair virtues depicted here are that she was brave, defiant and when the need arose, articulate. And if history has taught us nothing, it’s that she was ahead of her times and probably right most of the time.

One has to see through a pretty ugly movie to glean that, though. This is an ugly portrait, perhaps unfairly so.


MPAA Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, profanity

Cast: Melissa Leo, Josh Lucas, Juno Temple, Adam Scott, Vincent Kartheiser and Peter Fonda.

Credits: Directed by Tommy O’Haver, script by Tommy O’Haver and Irene Turner A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:32

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BOX OFFICE: “Ford v Ferrari” wins with $31 million, “Angels” bomb, “Good Liar” clears $5

A very good weekend for a guys’ picture, a very bad one for a rebooted and female empowered “Charlie’s Angels.”

Heck, “Midway” on its second weekend slipped past the middling first action movie on Elizabeth Banks’ directing resume. That Roland Emmerich WWII epic is doing decent business, heading towards a $50 to $65 million take once it’s finished its run.

“Angels” didn’t ever reach $10 million, a weekend long critically-dismissed free falling flop. About $8 million? Ouch.

“The Good Liar” outperformed expectations, clearing $5 million.

The doc “No Safe Spaces” hasn’t cracked the top 30, for those insisting it’s the film phenomenon of the fall. Nope.

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Documentary Review: Gibney’s history of Russia, Putin and “Citizen K”

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Filmmaker Alex Gibney’s latest deep dive into complex and troubling history is another “How we got here” saga.

The director of “Taxi to the Dark Side,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief” and too many authoritative biographies, histories and exposes to list here, grapples with Russia, oligarchy, “Putinism” and government by gangsters allied with the super-rich in “Citizen K.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was one of those Russian “entrepreneurs” who gamed the system as they navigated the shifting sands of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He came to be one of the seven oligarchs who held most of Mother Russia’s wealth when the sands stop shifting, or at least shifted a little less.

Just how dicey Khodorkovsky, now living in exile in London, is as the “hero” of the film can be gleaned by what the filmmaker leaves out in this two hours+ trip through 30 years of Russian history.

Somehow, this son of working class engineers who went to chemistry school because “all my life, I’ve been interested in things that explode,” came up with the cash to start Russia’s first post-Soviet collapse commercial bank. We’re not told, explicitly, how he got from the batter’s box to third base before he headed for home.

Because that banking operation allowed him to buy up the stock vouchers given out (at American suggestion) to every Russian citizen for all the state enterprises that the West rushed the Evil Empire into privatizing when communism collapsed.

Seven men bought up those vouchers for pennies on the ruble. They took over utilities, oil fields, TV stations, food production, basically “the works,” and went from rich robber barons to oligarchs — men with the power to run the country and bend its fledgling democracy to benefit them financially.

Sound familiar?

And from that rank corruption, “gangster capitalism” propping up the drunken and failing hero of the collapse, Boris Yeltsin, the table was set for a ruthless nobody, KGB functionary Vladimir Putin, to come to power to “clean up.” Or “drain the swamp.”

Gibney’s film takes us from the “Wild West” of mob hits among those “gangster capitalists” angling for an edge while a socialist nanny state’s citizens starved — their currency worthless, their jobs no longer paying them enough to survive as the economy went from total state control to a Darwinism decreed by global banking and endorsed by those who had already looted everything of value — the oligarchs.

Khodorksky moved into oil in a big way, “streamlining” and updating the infrastructure of the company he took over, Yukov, but laying off and impoverishing thousands in Siberian cities and towns where its facilities were located. A mayor who opposed his actions was murdered.

Putin’s projected image as a strong-man is traced to his early PR move, a self-financed documentary “Power,” and through to the moment when some oligarchs — not all — became his targets for a crackdown.


Among them? Khodorksky. He was arrested on tax fraud and embezzlement.

It wasn’t that mayoral death (it’s uncertain who killed him) that did him in. It was showing up Putin at an anti-corruption conference that was nationally televised (“Putin hates being ridiculed,” he notes, in Russian with English subtitles). It was Khodorksky pursuing a merger with Exxon/Mobil at a time when Russian oil was Putin’s only bargaining chip in the face of growing Western alarm at his crackdowns, totalitarianism, and Western sanctions.
Khodorksky’s years in prison give him insight into the Russian system, the “election theater” staged for TV (free for all shouting match “debates”) to prop up the illusion of democracy, the “criminal thinking” that Putinism operates under.

“Everything is built on force,” the exiled oligarch says. With Putin, the only thing respected is being powerful enough and willing to fight back.

Gibney, seen in glimpses interviewing Khodorksky, his lawyer, Russian media figures and British reporter and Russia expert Martin Sixsmith (he did the reporting and wrote the book on which the Judi Dench/Steve Coogan movie “Philomena” is based), paints a picture of Putinism that 40% of America seems to have forgotten.

Vladimir Putin is murderous, ruthless, corrupt, a figure who you can only confront and attempt to contain until he dies and the hapless Russians let some other strong man take the reins of power. Coddling him, for personal real-estate or national interest reasons, only leads to disaster, death and international unrest.

It’s an authoritative take on “How we got here.” And it’s a lot to take in, almost too much at times. But “Citizen K” serves up these insights — from an admittedly tarnished “hero” who has used his exile to attempt to induce change — in Gibney’s usual arresting style. We’re meant to be appalled, edified and forewarned.

And if “Citizen K” turns up dead on your evening news one night under Epstein-styled circumstances? You can’t say you didn’t see it coming.


MPAA Rating: Unrated, scenes of violence

Cast: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Putin, Leonid Nevzlin, Tatyana Lysova and Martin Sixsmith

Credits: Written and directed by Alex Gibney. A Greenwich release.

Running time: 2:05

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Netflixable? Sniper comes home to MMA challenges, “Blackbear”



“Blackbear” opens as a not-quite-convincing Marine snipers captured in Afghanistan thriller and transitions to a melodramatic mixed martial arts “I gotta fight to pay for my buddy’s VA care” tale.

Taliban fighters (dressed as ISIS, but in the Shati-Kot Valley of Afghanistan) speak in the lurid, verbose threats of Bond villains.

“You cannot die too soon. You would ruin our FUN” and “my EXPERIMENT,” the torturer sneers. He injects our captured sniper team, Bear and Cowboy (Scott Pryor, who also scripted this, and Darrin Dewitt Henson).  This is the GOOD stuff, he purrs.

She will be your greatest lover…and your WORST enemy. Your love for her will never go away!”

So even escaping from the captors won’t be enough. Months later, Cowboy is still in the hospital, suffering from a slow poisoning of that day. He needs to get on an experiemental treatment program, or he’ll die.

Bear? He’s using, sleeping on the streets, trying to pick up with the girlfriend he ditched years ago (Sara McMann), hoping to make up with her dad at least.

Because “Dad” is Coach Bronx, played with his usual relish…and chili, onions, mustard and ketchup — ALL the fixin’s — by Eric Roberts.  Coach was Bear’s mixed martial arts coach. And he won’t train him again. He won’t. Nope.

“You can’t be SERIOUS about fighting again!”

Bear needs the cash from underground cage matches to save Cowboy. He’s got to get clean, get back into shape and get out there in The Basement, where the off-the-book brawls are staged.

He’s got to WIN, you understand me? Or throw the fights when the need arises!

The scenario is pro forma, the dialogue trite and the fights often staged at walk-through speed. Some of the performances are achingly amateurish.

As we’ve seen a version of Afghanistan that has hardwood live oaks and scrub pines and looks like South Carolina, we shouldn’t have gotten our hopes up.

The picture was originally titled “Submission,” which makes more sense. That’s what happens when you’re about to choke out, or give in to a higher power to save your friend.

“Blackbear” is the white guy. “Cowboy” is the black Marine. They went with those nicknames just to dodge stereotypes?


MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, substance abuse

Cast: Scott Pryor, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Lorynn York, Ovince Saint Preux, Sara McMann and Eric Roberts

Credits: Directed by J.M. Berrios, script by Scott Pryor. A Gravitas Ventures/Netflix release.

Running time: 1:34

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Documentary Review: “To Kid of Not to Kid” is THE question for the childless


Maxine Trump is a documentary filmmaker who filmed “To Kid or Not to Kid” to justify, in her mind and perhaps ours, her decision to remain childless.

“Well,” you think, “surely that’s her own business, and who does she have to justify herself to? In this day and age? I mean, really!”

But you’d be surprised. OK, shocked. The pressures, in the media, from “the baby economy,” from friends and relatives, from GOVERNMENTS, is out there. And it’s not subtle.

“To Kid or Not to Kid” is an engaging personal essay documentary about not having children, complete with interviews, arguments, hard data and sound reasoning coming from both sides of the debate. It’s all aimed at figuring out what Trump — no relation — will decide as she is now in her 40s and “the clock is ticking.”

She opens with a summary of how she’s lived her life — globe-trotting, living close to the edge, finding filmmaking — and how children never entered her mind. She bears the scars from the removal of a gangrenous fallopian tube in her teens, shares the news that she was told she might have a few miscarriages, should she choose to get pregnant, and reveals that she and her sister feel they held their mother back when she had them “too young.

But she’s married, and she and husband Josh Granger haven’t had “that talk.” “To Kid or Not to Kid” is about that conversation, the schism her earlier outspokenness caused with a friend and the societal pressures to procreate that some see as a strain a crowded planet hardly needs these days.

“Selfish” is the word she confesses she used that cost her the friendship of a new mother she’d been close to forever. It’s a word bandied about a lot by “both sides” of this discussion.

But when Pope Francis says “The choice to not have children is selfish,” when a running montage of TV chat and “news” shows echoes it, with “Fox and Friends” declaring “Childless women can never be happy,” you see where the heat is really coming from.

Oh, and your Holiness? Look in the mirror.

Using the internet to research the subject takes her to Megan, a young woman trying to get approved for tubal ligation/sterilization surgery, against the apparent will of the medical establishment she is dealing with in the UK.

Trump finds her way to the “Summit for Women Without Children” and finds fellow true-believers, more witnesses for the “pronatalism” bent our culture and our global economy push on women.

A Danish public service announcement urging procreation is played, and such PSAs air in Italy, Hungary and India of all places.


Snippets of female comics’ stand-up acts, with jokes about being childless, and a clip from “The Handmaid’s Tale” play under data about the percentage of countries that restrict birth control.

Stigmatized politicians — women who lead or have led Britain, Germany and Australia — face questions and attacks for not having kids.

And still Trump is on the fence, or not really.

“I could lose my identity if I have kids,” and “What if I regret NOT having a kid?”

Will she or won’t she? Her film is serious about the subject, but it looks for and finds the odd moment of humor in her “journey.”

A frank admission that she and Josh have “just had (reckless) sex” scores the biggest laugh of “To Kid or Not to Kid.” “Morning After” pills make her sick, Trump confesses. Well, it’s “better to be sick for a day than sick for twenty years” she jokes.

Well, if THAT’S how you feel about it…


MPAA Rating: unrated, adult subject matter

Cast: Maxine Trump, Josh Granger, Bryan Caplan

Credits: Written and directed by Maxine Trump. A Helpman release.

Running time: 1:16



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Documentary Review: “No Safe Spaces” smirks through conservative “free speech” victimhood


They’re not wrong, of course, this comic “men’s movement” podcaster and the conservative activist and writer who call their tour, and the movie about it, “No Safe Spaces.”

Even if they’re inclined to cherry pick their examples. Even if they “straw man” their opponents. Even as they mis-characterize the debate on their own terms and flood the screen with white “free speech experts,” irate conservative speaker’s fee junkies who see their livelihoods threatened (like our hosts, and Ann Coulter) and hurt and wounded young, white female and male College Republicans who are on the receiving end of boycotts, protests and even riots over the folks they invite to speak on certain college campuses.

There are corners of academia and the kids who inhabit it now who are almost certainly crossing lines about free speech, ignoring the value of civil debate in a free society in their determination to not be offended, insulted or “triggered.” It’s a shout-the-other-side-down era, and if you don’t think “both extremes do it,” you’ve never walked by a Proud Boys rally. Not that “No Safe Spaces” mentions that.

It’s just that mutual admirers Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager, two smug, smirking jerks having a conservative ‘free speech” circle smirk, aren’t the guys to host such a debate and give it a high-minded fair hearing in this most divisive of eras.

“No Safe Spaces” is a documentary that incorporates mockery into its mutually admiring web phenomena hosts — assaults on everything from affirmative action to “cultural appropriation,” making its case with a peppering of clips from speakers on the left (Bill Maher, Obama, Cornel West) and a much larger sample of those on the right, a faux “Schoolhouse Rock” defense of the First Amendment and an action cartoon ridiculing “social justice warriors.”

It’s all to make the case that free speech itself is being menaced by “fascists” on the left toting “Bash the Fash” (fascist) signs as they protest appearances by free-speech enemy Peter Thiel (rich guy who destroyed Gawker Media), Brit polemicist and alt right poster boy Milo Yiannapoulos, right wing firebrand Ann Coulter and others.

There’s stuff meant to be funny, but didn’t even summon a chuckle from the aged white target audience I saw the film with. Perhaps they were satisfied in other ways.

There’s no attempt to engage with or get the actual point of view of those speaking out against “hate speech” and its most successful purveyors, just shrill and often dimwitted college kids having shout-offs in public spaces at Yale, Berkeley, etc.

Carolla suggests this mass silencing is “unAmerican,” and that it defeats the purpose of free speech, which is where “everybody” gets to speak and “the best idea wins.”

That’s disingenuous at best. A racist is in the White House, spreading lies with his every public moment. A Jewish white nationalist is in charge of U.S. immigration policy. TRUTH and FACTS are what’s under attack. You’re not going to get a lot of either of those from the “victimized” speakers here.

That includes our hosts. What is their “No Safe Spaces” tour but a safe space for conservative “snowflakes” to hear their unfiltered, unrebutted opinions that everything they hate about “The Other” from Fox News is true and an outrage?

Look over the audiences glimpsed at their events shown here. Not a diverse crowd.

Prager ticks off a list of every name/label slapped on him, taking particular issue with “Nazi.” “I’m JEWISH” he declares, listing his (Israeli born) bonafides.

Again, Stephen Miller, white nationalist in the White House setting immigration policy — Jewish.

Prager brings on famed lawyer and Fox News fave Alan Dershowitz, presenting him (at Dershowitz’s insistence, no doubt), as a “liberal.” This undercuts every other political label the film doles out to its “experts.” Perhaps Prager should be more concerned with the label “liar.”

There is a seriously flawed assumption at the heart of “No Safe Spaces,” that these screeching women and men (many of color, in the clips shown) are silencing public debate with their ill-conceived protests. The idea is that a great debate is being avoided.

That’s naive. This isn’t the 1960s, when Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley squared off on network for a generally civilized discourse on the politics of left and right.

And it’s not like Adolf Hitler toured Germany in the Weimar ’30s, defending National Socialism in on-stage arguments with liberals, communists, Christian conservatives and capitalists.

Conservatives don’t want debate. They want “safe spaces” where they can deliver their “message” without rebuttal, ridicule and fact-checking on the fly. The echo chamber of this film underscores that.

There I go, characterizing the other side for them, Dennis Prager’s straw-man bread and butter.

But as I’ve said, it’s a shrill time with an awful lot of shouting going on. And in no way does this lopsided, BS “safe space” coveting agitprop contribute to fixing that.

Sometimes, shouting is the only way to burst the bubble you’ve blown around yourself. And if tens of thousands of baseball or mixed martial arts fans make Trump cry when he finally hears the boos of a country that hates him? Not a bad thing. “No Safe Spaces” cuts both ways, doesnt it?


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and brief violence

Cast: Adam Carolla, Dennis Prager, Bern Shapiro, Dave Rubin and Van Jones

Credits: Directed by Justin Folk, script by John Sullivan. A Dangerous Documentaries release.

Running time: 1:35

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Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage in a “Being Nic Cage” comedy?

nic.jpgThis could be our Peak Nic Cage moment, a “meta” movie about the real Nicolas Cage caught up in some Nic Cage movie style nonsense. Debt, sleazy operators, an Oscar winner reduced to taking any gig he can get. All here.

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BOX OFFICE: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ takes $28 million checkered flag, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ visit Purgatory

Give the people a great movie that isn’t a franchise, that has nothing to do with grown women and men in tights, and is over 2 and a half hours long, and the people will come.

IF it is an “event,” IF it has a dazzling pair of leads and impressive support, IF it is a prestige picture that might be the Best Picture of the year, that is.

“Ford v Ferrari” is all of those things, an it is opening at an impressive $28 million. Not “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” money, but it should have have a nice long fall into winter run.

“Charlie’s Angels,” rebooted again after 20 years, have passed their expiration date. Kristen Stewart and two nobodies star in a competent and empowering but joyless Enterprise, as I said in my review.

Audiences could smell the cynicism and are staying away. It every Girl scout troop in America goes on Sat. and Sunday, it might clear $11. Right now? Elizabeth Banks has directed a bomb.

“The Good Liar”;opened wide, which is I guess a strategy for making your money off a dull and predictable Big Con thriller starring the great Dame Helen and the Great Sir Ian. It may clear $3.

A platformed release can’t save a misfire. Variety was naming it as a best picture and best director contender, sight unseen, as late as last weekend. Nope.

“Midway” will earn another $8 million and should hold screens throgh the end of the month. Somethin to take Dad to over Thanksgiving, if “Ford v Ferrari” is too long of an investment.

“Doctor Sleep” is still snoozing. Word of mouth didn’t help it or “Last Christmas” or “Playing with Fire” survive their second weekend.

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Netflixable? “Klaus” gets Netflix into the holiday animation business with style


A common pitfall of animation start-ups is spending their money on famous names as voice actors instead of higher end animation and better gag writers.

But Netflix upends that standing rule with its first animated feature, “Klaus.” Casting Jason Schwartzman as the voice of the lead, a postman from the past who “discovers” Santa and helps invent the holiday tradition of writing letters to Santa for presents delivered on Christmas, was inspired.

This isn’t one of those one-liner loaded Dreamworks cartoons. But Wes Anderson pal Schwartzman, with his quirky line-readings, eccentric pauses and the like, makes every line funny or at least light-hearted enough to come off.

In the old country in the fairytale early 19th century, Jesper is the lazy son of the postmaster general of the Royal Post Office.

“You know how long it took to PRESS this uniform? I don’t either, but SOMEbody took the time…”

Dad sends Jesper away to prove himself, to the furthest reaches of civilization — snowy Smeerensburg. He’s got to get the post office there up and running, and deliver 6,000 letters before he can even consider getting promoted back into the real world.

And those 6,000 letters never look more out of reach than the minute he is dropped off by the smart aleck ferryman (Norm MacDonald). Nobody here writes. The whole town is wholly consumed by an ages-old feud.

Everybody fights everybody else. Constantly. The factions are led by Mrs. Krum (Joan Cusack) and Mr. Ellingboe (Will Sasso). They all have mailboxes, but near as we can tell, they’ve never been used.

Jesper has to trick a small child into buying a stamp just to MAIL back a drawing the child made that blew out of a window and into the wannabe postman’s hands.

And that little act of, well, extortion sets our whole story in motion. That first “letter” falls in the hands of the inhabitant of The Woodsman’s Cabin, a hermit’s house Jesper stops at trying to drum up some business.

The woodsman (J.K. Simmons) is a hulking, white-bearded figure who loves his axe and has filled his trees with birdhouses (“Totally normal…not a symptom of mental illness in ANY way.”) and his cabin with toys he’s carved, hammered, painted and stored. And he gives Jesper a package to deliver to the lonely child whose forlorn drawing touched him.

Boom! There it is, Santa’s “Origin Story,” just like The Joker’s — without the facepaint.

The little boy gets the first-ever gift in Smeerensburg. His peers see it and want a toy of their own. Who do they write to, again? And hey, “We don’t know HOW to write! Who can teach us?”

The postman isn’t the only useless civil servant in Smeerensburg. Alva (Rashida Jones) was hired to be a teacher.

“I took a teaching job at a place where people don’t send their kids to school!

She makes ends meet as a fish monger.

“Can we open a window in here? I can’t…really pretend…any longer…”

So the teacher is reluctantly recruited to teach the kids how to write letters to this woodsman, “Klaus,” and the postman has to convince this Klaus fellow to donate his toys. And Klaus, naturally, wants to come along for the deliveries.

The postal coach has to lose its wheels to become a sleigh, the tired nag pulling it replaced with reindeer, and bit by bit, Jesper adds to the myth. Gifts are left next to the fireplace. Maybe in a stocking you hang from the mantel.

Bully writes for a toy? Maybe we just drop lumps of coal in his stocking.

“‘Naughty list’ he calls it.” And whispering, “TRUST me. You do NOT want to be on the naughty list!”

The back-engineering of the holiday traditions are ingenious and offbeat. Anybody over the age of five will jump just ahead of the story, here and there, seeing “Oh, THAT’s going to be Santa’s Workshop,’ and ‘THIS is where Santa gets his helpers in the workshop.”


The look of the animation is an angular, broad and slightly under-animated hybrid of Chuck Jones and Tim Burton’s styles. “Klaus” is closer to old TV specials animation than the lush CGI of Pixar, Sony, Blue Sky or Dreamworks.

It’s not remotely as polished as the earlier contenders in the animated children’s film field, but “Klaus” is good enough to have earned a theatrical release, on a par with MGM’s “The Addams Family,” in any event.

An annual holiday classic? Probably not. But you can count on a return visit from “Klaus” every holiday season, as long as there’s a Netflix.


MPAA Rating: PG

Cast: The voices of Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones, J. K. Simmons, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso and Norm McDonald

Credits: Directed by Sergio Pablos, script by Zach Lewis, Jim Mahoney and Sergio Pablos. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:38

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