Movie Review: “Acts of Desperation”

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“Acts of Desperation” is a helluva title for a dark comedy.

“Dark?” People are shot, people die. “Comic?” It’s positively drowning in goofy characters.

There’s the police chief (Paul Sorvino) who wears four stars on his lapel and is introduced, in EVERY scene, singing Italian opera or “O Sole Mio.”

How about the two 40something stoner/extortionists (Chris Coppola, Vince Lozano) living in a perfectly restored 1960s VW Microbus? One (played by Coppola (of “those” Coppolas) has seen and heard that voice-altering technology used on so many TV shows and in movies where the villain is disguising his voice. He decides he can DIY that — not on the phone, not on video, but in PERSON, when he’s meeting the guy they want to extort.

“We meet AGAIN Glenn Klose!” Yes, that’s the name of their “mark.” His partner wants to stop this Darth Vadering voice thing, but Stu isn’t having it.

“I’M the one who read ‘Art of the Deal,’ correct? ZIP IT!”

But whatever promise “Desperation” might have had — and really, I’m not completely sure that dark comedy was what they were going for — is dithered away in other characters folded into this interconnected series of lives/stories, most of them not funny enough to make the cut in a 100 minute movie that cries out for heavy editing down to, say, 70 minutes.

This whole other series of interconnected characters and plot points, played by actors who don’t seem to be in on the joke, deflate “Desperation.” Jason Gedrick of “Backdraft” and TV’s “Major Crimes” and “Trouble Creek” is a cuckolded cop whose bombshell photographer wife (Neraida Bega) is evading admitting that she’s stepping out. Detective Grillo probably is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), since he’s been shot. And he’s being cheated on. And he has a terrible temper.

That gets him called into the chief’s office, time and again, interrupting the boss’s repertoire of Italian folk songs and arias.

But he’s needed to track down the grinning goof (Treva Etienne) with the name Glenn Klose — yes, his name sounds like that of Ms. “Fatal Attraction.” He’s a Brit-accented bank robber who believes “Remember your manners” is the first rule of robbery. And he knows that road flares can be made to look like dynamite, and that ditzy California bank tellers can’t tell the difference.

“It looked like a bomb, you know. Like you on the ‘Looney Tunes,” one says as Det. Grillo grills her.

But Glenn Klose’s career in crime is interrupted on the way home from his latest heist when he spies a woman about to jump off a bridge. The talk-her-down conversation goes like this.

“I’m Glenn. Glenn Klose,” he says to Morgan (Kira Reed Lorsch).

“I think you should just leave, Glenn.

“That’s not really an option now, is it? We’re pretty much friends.”

Before you know it, she’s in his car (decorated with dream catchers and the like dangling from the rear view mirror) and telling him her troubles.

Before he knows it, those two stoners who were eating “a ton” of pancakes in the diner where Glenn, wearing the fakest white mustache and eyebrows in existence, was casing the bank across the street, are trying to blackmail him.

Stu (Coppola is hilarious, I must confess) is SURE they’re seated next to “Hey Morgan…MORGAN FREEMAN” at that moment. You know, the actor from “Fences” (That was Denzel.), from “This is CNN” (James Earl Jones). No, impersonating Freeman’s voice doesn’t help Glenn get over his confusion at their mistaking him for someone else.

I get what they were going for, here, with Grillo searching his wife’s “sex hook-up” online profile on the “Maddy Ashley” website, etc.

But when you open your film with slo-mo blood spurts, gunshots and somebody falling to his/her death, you kind of wreck the tone that your flashback is supposed to have.

It’s not funny enough to clear that high “dark comedy” bar, even though there are amusing flashes, here and there. Did they ask Sorvino to sing? Probably not. Coppola probably brought his Morgan Freeman misidentified riffs to the set himself, too.

This thing just ambles from slow scene to slow scene, losing track of funny characters to introduce LESS funny characters and story threads.

Comedy is quick, with a hint of desperation about it. “Desperation” is meek, shy, unhurried and unworried.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Jason Gedrick, Paul Sorvino, Kira Reed Lorsch

Credits:Directed by Richard Friedman, script by Nathan Illsley. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: Travolta mixes it up on the track and off, “Trading Paint”

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“Trading Paint” is a laid-back ode to the transformative gravitas of a letting a beard go grey and the competitive pleasures of Big Time NASCAR’s “small time” — Super Late Model dirt track racing.

There’s not much to it, and frankly, that’s a problem. We need more “movie” here — more emphasis on conflict, more generational stresses, more obstacles to romance.

It’s about a racing son trying to break free of his daddy’s cut-rate team and then having to race the old man in the dirt, as the track announcers say, “like a true Southern soap opera.”

But when those same announcers enthuse, “Hell, you can’t WRITE this any better!” we know better. Yes. Yes you can.

Still, it’s a solid un-embarrassing B-movie vehicle for John Travolta, who lets himself take on a drawl and some age even as he clings to that fake hairline like grim death itself.

He plays “Sam the Man” Munroe, a legend of local dirt track racing in and around Talladega, Alabama. The area might be famous for being home to a NASCAR “superspeedway,” but next door Eastaboga has a dirt track also home to “Talladega Nights,” and Sam made his name there, and where he’s passed on his passion to son Cam (Toby Sebastian of “Game of Thrones”).

But Cam is tired of going out, risking his neck, “trading paint” (colliding, or at least rubbing fenders) with the field, always losing to Bob Linsky (Michael Madsen) in the end because Dad’s motor lets him down.

“What’choo wan’ me t’do?” he drawl-complains to his baby mama (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, also of “Game of Thrones”). “Be a loser all mah life?”

So when Linsky purrs in his ear sweet nothings about wanting to help, being his friend and all, Cam listens.

Daddy blows his fuse, but hell, there’s a new schoolteacher from “Up North” who’s moved in next door. She’s played by Shania Twain and widower Sam? He feels “Like a Woman” right about now.

The budding couple spill their “stories” at a lakeside picnic — she’s divorced, his wife died in a car accident which Sam doesn’t say was his fault. But he’s haunted by it as if it was.

She wants to know about his “hobby.”

“Racin’ ain’t no hobby.”

There’s just a hint of the colorful blue collar world captured in last year’s terrific recent star car racing documentary, “The Last Race,” about the only track left in that hotbed of NASCAR glory, Long Island, New York.

“Hobby” or not, this sport is eating up all Sam’s cash. The deal he has to make to score a new car (with a veteran of TV’s “Gunsmoke” bargaining with him) is small-time and folksy, like most everybody here.

Kevin Dunn is the obligatory limping mechanic named “Stumpy,” and makes a cornpone character feel lived-in.

“Who put the buzz-kill bee in YOUR bonnet?”

The equally obligatory trip to a favorite waterin’ hole where some jerk figures he’s up for a little needlin’ Sam over his racing failures and has-been status begins, unfolds and ends exactly the way you figure it would.

There’s nice detail to Sam’s life — a garage that looks as if it’s used as a garage, the old wood frame house with a wraparound porch and a vast collection of racing trophies and memorabilia that he lives in, the ’70 Boss Mustang that he keeps tucked under a car cover (The collectible car that his wife died in, maybe?).

But what I mean by “Trading Paint” requiring “more movie” is in the father-son relationship, where the kid might blame Dad for mom’s death, or be bitter about being “held back” by the old man’s crummy race cars.

The movie doesn’t get into that.

You spent the money getting the great Michael Madsen as your heavy. Give his “history” with Sam more baggage, more hurt, more edge.

And the love story? Fuggedaboutit. The delicate way Travolta hugs Twain as if he’s afraid of catching the Lyme Disease she contracted years ago and leaves heat, sexual or romantic attraction out of it.

Love Travolta, but that’s never been his strong suit on screen.

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He’s long been one of my favorite actors, always been the most pleasant movie star to interview. But as JT settles into this C-movie phase of his career, with titles like “Gotti,” “Speed Kills” and “I Am Wrath” barely warranting release, a fan just hopes for a picture that doesn’t embarrass him.

“Trading Paint” accomplishes that. But the director, screenwriters and production leave too much in the garage and not enough on the track, to borrow an analogy. There was a better movie in this story, this setting and this cast.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for language

Cast: John Travolta, Shania Twain, Toby Sebastian, Barry Corbin, Kevin Dunn, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers

Credits:Directed by Karzan Kader, script by Gary Gerani, Craig R. Welch. A Saban Films release.

Running time: 1:29

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Family Movie Review: “Wheely” is “Cars” without the Pixar touch

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Imitation in the sincerest form of flattery, so the producers of Pixar’s tedious “Cars” movies should be flattered to the point of blushing by “Wheely.”

It’s a straight-up “Cars” knock-off about racing and a race car who escapes his pedestrian “retired” life  as a taxi when he falls for an exotic Italian supercar.

It opens on a desert southwest road course, features talking vehicles and co-stars a buck-toothed Italian-accented Vespa where the “Cars” pictures had ‘Mater the bucktoothed hillbilly tow truck.

Comedy legends Cheech and Chong should be flattered, too. The producers of “Wheely” invented their own bantering/bickering “Big Bambu” II.

The full title of this CGI animated kiddie comedy is “Wheely: Fast and Hilarious,” as it has a caper that has a hint of “Fast & Furious” about it.

But “Fast” and “Hilarious?” It is neither.

Wheely begins the movie about him (Chris Jai Alex provides the voice) as a race car, sort of a Porsche/Mitsubishi Evo looking racer who hopes to dethrone Joe Flow (Khairil Mokhzani Bahar), who looks like an ’80s vintage Buick Grand National.

The cars in the picture are sort of homages to Camaros, Nissan GT-Rs, Aston Martins, Austin Healeys, VWs, Ferraris, Jeeps and Corvettes. You see the starting point even though the designs are just shy of copyright infringement.

Wheely crashes, and a year later is working as a taxi, living with diner-owning Mama (Tamyka White). He saves a spokes-model Ferrari look-alike named Bella (Frances Lee), ruffles the feathers of her rich British beau (Thomas Pang) and runs afoul of the saw-toothed demo-truck Kaiser (Brock Powell), who runs a chop shop on a Jamaican-accented cargo ship (Chris Jai Alex again).

The dialogue is hokey and generally unfunny. Even if you say this in the Vespa (ish) accent of Putt Putt (Gavin Yap), it’s hard to grin about it.

“Eet’s OK to look in the past, Mr. Wheely. But you most not staaaare.”

Same with “See you later, Tail-Gater!”

Wheely’s favorite swear word is “Bolts!,” a step up from the “nuts” jokes cracked in the “Cars” franchise.

As our heroes motor from Gasket City to Torque Town, the Cheech and Chong impersonators (Armando Valez, Raymond Orta) almost find a laugh, an Indian cabbie chews out our hero and “Wheely” scores one important win over the cartoon franchise it’s imitating.

Gosh, we realize. Those “Cars” movies were awfully, um, white. And whitebread. Maybe that’s another part of disgraced Pixar chief John Lasseter’s legacy.

“Wheely,” if nothing else, has a diversity of voices and accents.

The animation is polished and pretty, on a par with the Pixar standard they were copying.

The filmmakers knew they were riffing on a Disney-released series that had perhaps more value as merchandise than it ever did as filmed entertainment. And they knew what they were doing when they had their cars show up at the drive-in (of course) for a movie.

“Ugh. ‘Car Wars,’ for the 86th time!”

That friends, is a great cheap shot at ANOTHER property owned by the company that controls Pixar. And the cruder animation of the “Star Wars” imitation which the cars of “Wheely” watch is easily the funniest bit in the movie — a Millennium Falcon that looks like a modified hyper-car, a dark muscle car growling “I am your FAAAAther” to his hatchback kid.

If the rest of “Wheely” had been this conceptually silly, they might have had something. Something at least as good as “Cars,” anyway, which produced the weakest movies in the Pixar canon.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild action and rude humor

Cast: The voices of Ogie Banks, Gavin Yap, Frances Lee, Tamyka White, Chris Jai Alex, Armando Valez, Raymond Orta

Credits:Directed by Carl Mendez, script by Keith Brumpton, Yusry Abd Halim and Peter Hynes. A Blue Fox/Kartun Studios release.

Running time: 1:29

 

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Movie Review: French Canadian teen aspires to be a “Slut in a Good Way”

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Charlotte and her pals Mégane and Aube spend an afternoon hunting through the sex shop for bustiers. She’s dying to find something to turn on Samuel, her beau, and she won’t let Aube’s naivete (she’s a virgin) or Mégane’s anti-romantic/anti-capitalist cynicism deter her.

Because she’s just 17, and as the Beatles sang… But it’s OK, because the girls are French — well, French Canadian, anyway.

“Slut in a Good Way” is a funny, thought-provoking teen romance/sex comedy in French, a light romp that never quite romps and doesn’t quite touch or delight. Smart, sexy and sassy, it’s a movie which director Sophie Lorain keeps at arm’s length from the viewer — partly because of the austere and frankly “adult” black and white cinematography, partly because of the subtitling (for non-French speakers).

Only in the “Bend it Like Beckham” closing credits does this funny-but-potentially-hilarious picture achieve “giddy,” and kind of makes us wish she’d figure that tone out a lot sooner.

Charlotte (Marguerite Bouchard) sees her predicament begin in that lingerie department as Mégane (Romane Denis) shows off sexy French maid costumes and Aube (Rose Adam) toys with le dildos.

The bustier — Charlotte only found out they exist on “Youporn” — doesn’t do the trick. Samuel is, it turns out, gay. As she weeps and wails and tries to get her friends to see that she’s 17, in love, and they can still work things out, her mates look to distract her.

Ducking into a vast toy store, Toy Depot, does the trick. It’s not the floor-to-ceiling kiddie games, dolls and baubles that get their attention. It’s the young, cute college-age guys who scoot by on skateboards and make yummy eye contact as they stock the shelves.

Three applications later and the girls are hired for the holidays, job-shadowing the very guys that they found so appealing just a day before.

Aube longs for the attentions of Olivier (Vassili Schneider). Mégane dismisses the idea of “falling in love” there, and the urge to “be too productive on our first day. That leads to exploitation!”

Charlotte? She shadows Guillaume (Alex Godbout ) and coyly lets him flirt in a non flirtatious way with her. She’s all set to ignore Mégane’s warning about “falling in love” when her second day of job shadowing puts her under the spell of dark, handsome and handsy Francis (Anthony Therrien).

That’s how she begins the wide swath she cuts through male staff of Toy Depot in just a matter of weeks.

She’s become obsessed with Maria Callas crooning Bizet’s “Habanera” from “Carmen” — “Love me not, then I love you; if I love you, you’d best beware!”

It’s the consequences of living and loving like that, or of indeed of Callas — used by men all of her professional and personal life — that wakes Charlotte up. It’s not the pregnant colleague (Mary Belugou) who, just two years older, confesses “My life is over!”

It’s peer pressure. Toy Depot is a veritable petrie dish of young love and young lovers, and she’s busting up couples and peeing in the pool everybody swims in. She’s caught in the middle of a war, with the males competing to see who beds the most females.

Maybe Aristophanes had the answer.

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The world depicted here — teen vulgarians utterly free of parents or adults of any kind — is bracing and a little unsettling. Left to their own devices, the girls cadge free sixpacks from a guy with a rush on Mégane, who is cagey enough to make us wonder what she’s hiding, or hiding from.

Méganeis a budding communist who could be formulating a political philosophy that combines Che Guevara with Gandhi ….except she’s working 15 hours a week for $130 (Canadian) in pay! Miss Instant Attitude Problem complains — LOUDLY — in front of the customers and calls for the Revolution to begin in Toy Depot.

“Why shouldn’t we start giving everything away?”

Aube just pines away, getting nowhere with the boys, ungainly and tall and insecure enough to lie about her sexual experience.

And they’re both trapped in the shadow of Charlotte, who isn’t smarter or prettier than either of them. She’s just more sexual, and not bothered by being “easier.”

The lack of adults in this world means the younger kids are schooled by slightly older co-workers, male and female.The girls come down on Charlotte hard, but it’s Guillaume’s offhand remarks in their banter and slower courtship that let her see what her “reputation” is costing her.

He figured she was just having a rebound fling, “beaucoup rebounds!” She recoils at that realization.

The young cast here is game for whatever rude or crude (sexual or scatological) trick the filmmakers throw at them, with Bouchard walking a fine tightrope between worldly and sexualized, and just a kid with no perspective and little of the guile it takes to hold your own in the Battle of the Sexes.

Denis makes Mégane so interesting she deserves her own movie.

 

Where “Slut in a Good Way” comes up short is in the romance, not giving us a romance we can root for. Warmth all around is lacking, and it might have helped to give more screen time to the two friends’ love lives, allowing them character arcs.

There are scattered laughs, but even at her most hedonistic, Charlotte and her experiences never build up any sort of Amy Schumer head of steam.

“Slut in a Good Way” is promising enough that when Hollywood or English-language indie cinema takes its shot at this story — and you know they will — it won’t take much course correction to make it soar.

3stars2

 

 

MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, drug use, drinking, and language – all involving teens.

Cast: Marguerite Bouchard, Romane Denis, Rose Adam, Alex Godbout, Anthony Therrien, Marylou Belugou

Credits: Directed by Sophie Lorain, script by Catherine Léger.   A Comedy Dynamics release.

Running time: 1:29

 

 

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Preview: Sean Penn, Steve Coogan and…Mel Gibson” “The Professor and the Madman”

“A madman can be redeemed.”

Who is Mel Gibson speaking of, here?

He and Sean Penn are the leads in this all-star cast account of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, compiled by James Murray (Gibson) and Dr. William Chester Minor (Penn), confined to an asylum at the time.

Jennifer Ehle, Natalie Dormer, Steve Coogan and Ioan Gruffudd also don Dickensian attire for this mid to late 19th century story, “The Professor and the Madman” (John Boorman was the original credited screenwriter). It has no US release date, yet.

 

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Preview: Jesse Eisenberg signs up for Karate in “The Art of Self Defense”

A dark comedy — a bleak worldview — a life lived in fear.

Of everything.

Why this guy doesn’t buy a gun (It’s “The American Way”) is anybody’s guess.

But this Jesse Eisenberg vehicle shows promise in its premise, and he’s perfectly cast.

“The Art of Self Defense” is a June 21 release, and being handled by Bleecker Street — nobody will see it.

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BOX OFFICE: Another “Marvel” weekend, “Wonder Park” may reach $20, “Five Feet Apart” $13, “Captive State,” “Nancy Drew” bomb

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The second weekend of Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” guarantees that Oscar winner Brie Larson will never go hungry, so long as their are comic book/movie conventions.

Opening with gusto last weekend was great, but hitting $68 the second weekend means that some are seeing it twice, and word of mouth isn’t scaring anybody off. That’s a healthy 54% drop from its opening.

Paramount Animation may have hit on something revolutionary with its animated “Wonder Park.” It’s to be a TV series on Nickelodeon, eventually. But it’s always been set up to launch as a feature film, a la “Jimmy Neutron.” “Park” has no director –– but “No director? No PROBLEM,” as the weakly-buzzed (among critics, grownups) toon about the dream theme park of a little girl’s imagination is on a pace to hit $17-20, with Saturday’s take determining how high it will go.

Why spend money on a director for animation? I mean, the movie’s joyless — assembly line “entertainment.” But when that pays off…

CBS and its teen romance “Five Feet Apart” is over-performing, hitting the low teens, per Deadline.com.

A Latin Market sequel earning wide release from Pantelion, “No Manches Frida 2,” is out performing the over-edited Focus Features sci-fi flop “Captive State” — $3.9 to $3.0.

Let that be a lesson to you, filmmakers. Editing can “save” a picture. But over-editing into “Captive State” incoherence is a risk in this quick cut age.

The new “Nancy Drew” movie from Warners has the best reviews (not by much) of any of the weekend’s new releases. And it has bombed — not even cracking the top ten. That’s the end of Ms. Drew.

Dwayne Johnson’s Brit-wrestling family comedy “Fighting with My Family” is enjoying its last weekend in the top ten, and is now at over $20 million in the US.

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Movie Review: Julianne Moore COULD have won Best Actress playing “Gloria Bell”

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“Gloria Bell” is the picture of supportive, understanding patience and resilience.

It lets the 50ish divorcée (Julianne Moore) thrive at work, as an insurance claims mediator/adjuster. Maybe it explains how she’s still on good terms with her remarried ex (Brad Garrett). It’s why she holds her tongue when her daughter (Caren Pistorious) falls — hard — for a Swedish surfer.

Who knew there were such things?

Even the paranoid screaming jags of her upstairs neighbor — her landlady’s son, it turns out — earn as much pity as complaint when she calls her.

And it stands Gloria in good stead when she’s out at her favorite 50something bar, traveling solo, meeting men — dancing and even bedding one on occasion.

One of those meet-up/hook-ups kind of flips for her, and we can understand why. She’s outgoing, beautiful, accomodating and yes — understanding. So even if Arnold (John Turturro) is still letting his now-ex wife and clinging, over-dependent adult daughters interrupt their every tender moment with cell phone cries for attention, Gloria practices forbearance. It must be how she was raised.

“Gloria Bell” is a remake of a 2013 Chilean film that practically shouted “Cast Julianne Moore and GET THIS WOMAN HER OSCAR when you remake it in English!” It’s a tailor-made tour-de-force for Moore’s unmatched ability to play empathy, vulnerability and inner resolve beneath a surface that suggests “put-upon pushover.”

She’s played a wide range of characters, but think back to her turns in “Far from Heaven,” “The Hours” or “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio.” Few have captured that bright light consigned to a life in the shadows by circumstance, bad marriages or historical second class citizenship better than her.

Of course, she won an Oscar in the years since that first “Gloria” came out. But it’s worth bringing up the “O” word here because we were just subjected to an awards season of Best Actress contenders — including the winner — whom Moore would have easily overwhelmed with this nuanced, open-hearted, naked (sometimes literally) performance of rising self-awareness and slow-to-assert-itself self-esteem.

This is a crowning moment in a great actress’s run of crowning achievements.

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The supporting cast is proficient and professional in roles that rarely have the showy moments Moore’s Gloria is given. Turturro’s Arnold seems a tad out of her league, and that’s how he plays Arnold — overwhelmed, smitten, but too weak to break decades of bad habits. Garrett gets a fun drunk scene, and Jeanne Tripplehorn and Rita Wilson make the most of concerned, loving but faintly patronizing friends.

If you remember the Chilean film also written and directed Sebastián Lelio, also an acting tour de force, you know the Laura Brannigan song from Gloria’s swinging, clubbing youth is the key to understand Gloria — its reference to the illusion of joy, the appearance of “fun” and the empty life lying behind the delusions.

Here, its arrival on Gloria Bell’s playlist is both poignant and a grand release, a brave acknowledgement of who she is and an acceptance of herself on her own terms. Moore makes this solo moment touching, bittersweet and triumphant.

That she manages variations of that in every scene of “Gloria Bell,” first to last, is all the more glorious.

3half-star

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use

Cast: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorious, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Brad Garrett, Rita Wilson, Sean Astin, Chris Mulkey and Holland Taylor

Credits:Directed by Sebastián Lelio, script by Alice Johnson Boher, adapted from the screenplay to Lelio’s “Gloria.” An A24 release.

Running time: 1:42

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Movie Review: Pay good money for this and YOU’LL be the one in a “Captive State”

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There’s a tipping point to how much editing a movie can sustain before it becomes visually incoherent. It’s a sweet spot in the modern, flood-of-rapid-fire cuts style that sits somewhere between say the Paul Greengrass (Christopher Rouse, editor) “Bourne” movies and the disorienting, dismaying mush of the action beats in the “Transformers” movies.

“Captive State,” a sci-fi thriller about Occupied Earth and starting a revolt against the alien invaders tends towards the “Let’s make a hash of it all” end of the spectrum.

When this sort of cutting is done right, it creates impressionistic action, a dizzying chiaroscuro of characters, plot and a movie in motion. In “Captive State,” it’s a substitute for character development, riveting plot, etc.

The editing ruins a serviceable — if nakedly foreshadowed — story and a properly gloomy post-invasion Chicago production design in a vain effort to make this seem trickier and more sophisticated than it plainly is.

Jumpy, hand-held camera pursuits of unnamed characters played by unfamiliar actors, chopped into tiny slivers of screen time, dark scenes chasing darker scenes, never quite settling on a hero or “hero’s journey,” it’s an intensely unsatisfying viewing experience. Even if the story’s easy enough to follow — again, the resolution is tipped with a BIG wink in the first act — the action isn’t.

Everybody calls the aliens “roaches,” but not to their um, faces. They’re insectoid, shape-shifting porcupine mantises who conquered the planet and persuaded world leaders to submit to an armistice. Humans are forced to work building alien habitats, which look like termite mounds, mining and shipping out the planet’s natural resources hustled skyward in alien spacecraft — which look like mud-dauber wasp nests.

The aliens prefer to be called “Legislators.” They rule every locality the world over, by proxy. Humans and “democracy” ostensibly are still in charge. It’s just that they take orders from below, where the aliens live.

A prologue shows a cop trying to get his family out of Chicago, and failing. His oldest son Rafael became a “resistance” legend, sacrificing himself in a slaughter in Wicker Park. The youngest, Gabriel (Ashton Sanders, of “Moonlight” and “The Equalizer 2”) has grown up to have a job in an electronics factory, a girlfriend (Madeline Brewer) and secret plans with his street-punk pal (Machine Gun Kelly) to flee “across the lake” to the north, and a chance to start afresh.

But the local Special Branch cop, Mulligan (John Goodman) keeps an eye on Gabriel, and on what he thinks is a still-active resistance “cell.” They’re passing messages, he realizes, via classified ads using the wings of a Phoenix as their symbolic signal.

We’re given proof of that cell, as unnamed characters played by James Ransone, Ben Daniels, Caitlin Ewald, Alan Ruck and others, are followed through byzantine plans to stage an “incident.”

There’s a hooker (Vera Farmiga) with a passion for Roy Cohn biographies, Trojan horse sketches and Nat King Cole records whom Mulligan leans on, and a boss (Kevin Dunn) who is the city’s actual go-between with the roaches.

We track Mulligan’s efforts, and Gabriel’s, and in a departure, we spend little time staring at the aliens and figuring out what they are, how they succeeded and how they can be defeated.

Those are details left to the Phoenix folks, and they’re not sharing.

Director Rupert Wyatt (Mark Wahlberg’s “The Gambler”) builds towards a false climax — “Soldier Field” — and stumbles as he drags us to the bigger climax, a frustrating slog through two more acts of “drama” and dull dialogue, arrests, etc., towards the big payoff.

 

 

Goodman is a perfectly cagey and competent villain, but young Sanders seems to have suffered in the editing — a “no confidence vote” in his ability to carry a narrative.

The characters are under-developed —  pure plot devices, given little to humanize them and even less to say.

And yet, that said, “Captive State” might have achieved some sort of screen satisfaction had the straight-forward-with-obvious-twist script not been hacked into tiny image bites, rendering huge passages of it a confused visual mush.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief language and drug material

Cast: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Verea Farmiga, Jonathan Majors, Madeline Brewer, James Ransone, Alan Ruck, Kevin Dunn

Credits:Directed by Rupert Wyatt, script by Erica Beeney, Rupert Wyatt. A Focus Features release.

Running time: 1:49

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Preview: “William” is a new Neanderthal Among Us

Gimmicky? Sure. But cute, clownish? No.

Not even a joke about “We have PLENTY of Neanderthals ALREADY,” not in the trailer anyway.

“William” is about a scientist couple who decide to give birth (via DNA swap) to a Neanderthal (young) man and its consequences to him, his peers and science.

Tim Disney directed it. I knew his dad, Roy.

It opens in limited release April 12.

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