Movie Preview: Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon Levitt pair up for “Project Power”

Another “magical pill” moral dilemma thriller of the sci fi “evolution of the human species” genre.

Have we seen a few of those? With Bradley and Ryan et al?

But this is from…NETFLIX.

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Documentary Review: “Father Soldier Son” portrays a military family’s struggles

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For a film as understated as it is, “Father Soldier Son” tackles a lot of issues and does a lot of explaining.

The touching, intimate documentary is about tradition, legacy, masculinity and most importantly, I think, choices.

That “camo mania” that you see in huge swaths of Middle America and rural counties in these fractiously-United States? It’s not all about “Duck Dynasty,” and it’s not necessarily even about patriotism, no matter what folks say.

As Brian Eisch, the Wisconsinite Army sergeant we meet in this New York Times-produced film points out, “There aren’t many jobs” in rural America. “Even the nuclear power plant’s closing” he says at one point during this decade-long chronicle of his and his family’s lives.

In big chunks of the United States, filmmakers Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn show us,  the military is “a way out,” or at least the best employment option after school ends. Signing up has become a rural white American family tradition, one wrapped in the flag, anchored in “tradition” but flowering in a lack of opportunity.

Brian’s dad “wanted at least one of” his sons in the military. And after he gets out, he lets his kids know — directly and indirectly — he sees that as their best option, too.

Their ruggedly handsome Dad is still serving when Joey, his seven year-old, tells the filmmakers “He said if he’s not doing this right now that we’ll have bullets flying over our heads at night.”

Five years later, Joey’s all-in. “I wanna run around, shooting guns, doing fun stuff.”

An endless Afghan war and other deployments overseas keep that opportunity alive.

Those are the major themes of “Father Soldier Son.” We see snippets of Brian’s combat duty, and what his deployments do to his youngest, Joey, and Isaac, five years older. Growing up in the care of a uncle because their mother checked out of the family when she ended the marriage, the strains are visible on both kids.

And after Brian’s service ends — cut short by serious wounds that cost him a leg — his sons manifest the stresses the family, their childhood and their very identity are under.

Perhaps only two female filmmakers would have thought to take the film in this direction. But when you see one-legged Brian, unable to truly coach his youngest in the family sport — wrestling — just shouting encouragement from off the mat at a weeping kid who doesn’t have the aggression in him, you get it.

“My Dad was a wrestler. Now I am.”

When you note all the many shots of the other son biting his nails, struggling between a desire NOT to be in the military and yet without the focus or grades to realize other options, it can be heartbreaking.

“It’s a lot easier being a platoon sergeant than it is raising two boys,” Brian says, still in uniform. But without that military career, with the life limitations now facing him, sucking away his motivation, we see him distracted, depressed and “pissed off,” as Maria, the new woman in his life notes.

Brian doesn’t see what the camera sees. “I got some mentally strong boys,” he boasts, taking them out hunting and fishing. But we can see the trials to come. And we know that “Thank you for your service” isn’t going to make this world right.

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“Father Soldier Son” can be compared to the controversial Vietnam era doc “Hearts and Minds,” as well as the sober WWII’s aftermath “The Best Years of Our Lives,”in its focus, its intimacy and its politics.

It won’t be shocking to the Middle America “American Sniper” fanbase that the New York Times (which produced it) and these two women behind the camera suggest “toxic masculinity” as part of what’s going on here, that they let the question “Was it worth it?” hang in the air and over their film.

Don’t let that frighten you off. Yes, this family and these people are patriots, serving their country and taking satisfaction in that. Narrowing the focus to just these three, with Maria, but not showing us much of her children from a previous marriage or the community that they all live in doesn’t cheat us because we know that world, in real and political terms — conservative, traditional, self-reliant.

What “Father Soldier Son” suggests is maybe the coasts surrounding “flyover country” should take a hard look at the limited lives facing those left behind in dying small towns. And maybe the folks in those small towns should take a hard look at “traditions” that aren’t getting them much more than “Thank you for your service” in the bargain.

3half-star

MPAA Rating: R, for language (profanity)

Cast: Brian Eisch, Joey Eisch, Maria Eisch, Isaac Eisch

Credits: Directed by Leslye Davis, Catrin Einhorn. A Neflix release of a New York Times film.

Running time: 1:39

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Movie Review: “Easy Does It” makes everything look hard

“Easy Does It” sets out to be a pleasantly jokey and junkie homage to the “on the lam” road trip thrillers of the ’70s.

It’s got the period music (cover versions), two yahoo partners in crime, the ’60s vintage Mustang, the cheesy split-screen editing covering the chases (not really) and the various protagonists, something we saw in ’70s movies from “Vanishing Point” and “Sugarland Express” to “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.”

Linda Hamilton shows up with gold-tooth and braided hair as a fearsome small town rackets boss named King George.

But try as they might — and they never let us forget they’re trying too hard — co-stars Ben Matheny and Matthew Paul Martinez, with Cory Dumesnil as a nerdy-goofy “hostage” in tow, can’t get this clunker across one state line, much less all the way across the country, from BFE, Mississippi to San Clemente, Cali-forny.

Jack (Matheny, who co-wrote the script) and Scottie (Martinez) are a couple of bungling hustlers who can’t even “fix” a bare knuckle back-alley fight in their little corner ’70s Redneckiana.

They wash dishes down at a greasy spoon, live in an old and under-sized Airstream and dream of getting out, and getting out from under King George, whom everybody in the county seems to owe money.

“Lazy white (trailer) trash” they may be — “Hey, I’m half APACHE!” — and flat broke, to boot. But a cryptic postcard from mumble-mouthed Big Talker Jack convinces him his momma’s left him something, a treasure maybe, way out in San Clemente, where Richard Nixon is about to go into exile.

There are no secrets in Aberdeen. So they have to lie their way out of the “You skipping out on me?” run-in with King George. But how can you drive a ’60s Mustang 2100 miles with no cash money?

“We’re good people. They’ll help us out,” Jack opines.

So, “gas’n dash” at the local Stump’n Pump, for starters? Only it goes wrong. And this meddlesome carless customer, Collin (Dumesnil) gets in the middle of it.

“Let us gas-up or the dork gets it!” or words to that effect ensue. And they’re off, bluffing and bungling and crime-spreeing their way West.

Inept law enforcement is on their tails (not really). But so is King George’s enforcer, the fearsomely butch Blue Eyes (Susan Gordon), who happens to be the King’s daughter.

Snippets of a period-correct (sort of) documentary about what yokels think “American dream” means are intercut with the misadventures. Fireworks and firearms play their part.

“Round here, due process is a bullet” might be the best line.

We catch the voices of John Goodman and Harry Shearer as drawling radio ball game  announcers.

And here’s what I laughed at. King George turns up in the back seat of their Mustang, full of threats and driving instruction way back in Aberdeen.

“Use yer GOD-d—–d TURN signal!” she barks.

That’s it, the comic highlight of the picture, and it’s early in the first act. Hamilton’s character turns up in asides, or “meanwhile, back in Aberdeen” updates, which justifies her billing.

I guess that career-bounce from “Terminator the Last” didn’t take. At least she got this movie noticed and into a lot of minor film festivals.

There may have been funny lines from co-writer and co-star Matheny, but his articulation is so bad I couldn’t make out much of what he says after the first act. And I grew up in the South.

So, all due respect to filmgoers at the Rockport (Illinois) Film Festival, who named “Easy Does It” “best narrative feature,” but you all need to get out more.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, mayhem etc.

Cast: Ben Matheny, Matthew Paul Martinez, Cory Dumesnil, Susan Gordon and Linda Hamilton.

Credits: Directed by Will Addison, script by Will Addison, Ben Matheny. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:35

 

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Movie Review: Regal Deneuve, fiery Binoche, laid-back Hawke glow in “The Truth”

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We can tell, in an instant, that “The Truth” is going to be a lot less consequential than writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s previous film, the Oscar-nominated “Shoplifters.”

That had crime and mystery and side of Japanese life that few filmmakers there show, but which Koreeda has brought to the world at large through such films as “Our Little Sister” and “After the Storm.”

“The Truth” about movie stars, who have been known to bend it, distort it and sacrifice it for their craft, their fame and their egos.

But the star in question here is played by Catherine Deneuve, the serene and regal queen of her generation of French actresses. And as she makes her latest film, does interviews about the release of her memoir (titled “The Truth”), squeezing in time for the visiting family of the daughter (Juliette Binoche) she has never made time for, she is forced to consider her choices.

And at one moment, she pulls out “the dress.” It’s supposed to be from a key moment in her character, screen legend Fabienne Dangeville’s  past. But any film fan will recognize it in an instant. It’s the dress from the role that made Deneuve an international star, 1968’s “Belle de Jour.”

Koreeda, and Deneuve, have made a movie inviting us to see what it takes to get there, the narcissism and selfish choices, the cutthroat cruelty, a focus so intense and so internal that one cannot help but see it as self-absorbed callousness.

Daughter Lumir (Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, queen of the generation of French actresses after Deneuve) is a New York screenwriter who shows up with her actor-husband (Ethan Hawke) and little girl (Clémentine Grenier) in tow.

A reckoning is coming. We can feel it. Don’t ask Lumir to go fetch wine. “I hate the cellar,” she tells little Charlotte. “Grandma used to lock me in it.”

She reads to the child from her favorite book from her own childhood, about witches.

“Is grandma a witch?” Charlotte wants to know. “Yes, some people used to call her that.”

That becomes a running gag in the movie, one the pleasantly-disdainful “Fabi” embraces for her granddaughter.

But the only real explosion is over the book, of which Lumir complains (in English and in French, with English subtitles), “I can’t find ANY truth in it!”

Fabi has written out her agent/manager (Alain Libolt) entirely. He politely announces to her his sudden decision to retire, mid-movie, mid-book PR tour. He will spend time with his grandkids.

“You have grandchildren?” “Yes. You’ve met them.”

She has misrepresented her relationship with her daughter. And she has played down the fellow actress who was more of a mother to Lumir than Fabi ever was, a woman whose career Fabi “stole,” a woman whom the star (Manon Clavel) of this sci-fi time travel drama Fabi  is filming resembles and is earning comparison to.

When Fabi pulls out that “Belle de Jour” dress, maybe she’s considering everything her daughter and others are hissing at her, even if she just rolls her eyes or shrugs it off as they do.

 

Deneuve has a showcase here that allows her to play off her iconic status — her face was used as the new model of “Marianne,” the national personification of France (Think Uncle Sam) in the ’80s — and her career.

The people around Fabi talk about the great French actresses who were her contemporaries. Watch the semi-eyeroll Deneuve’s Fabi uses to dismiss any mention of Brigitte Bardot.

Giggle at the way she looks down on Hank, Lumir’s self-described “second rate TV actor,” how she fills his wine glass when he’s said he no longer drinks.

She isn’t quite rude, but “dismissive” enters into every exchange. She uses the word “crap” to jokingly describe footage and scenes she isn’t in. A man within earshot lightly protests.

“Oh, you’re the director?”

Yes. Yes he is.

Watch the way she side-eyes Manon, the star of the film, as she pulls camera attention, upstages and IMITATES elderly Fabi in her performance. Others don’t see the affront. Fabi does.

It’s a glorious star turn, certainly good enough to get Deneuve considered for the Oscar Binoche has but she does not. Fabi, we know, would hold an epic grudge over that.

Binoche has to carry the film’s emotional baggage, a daughter trapped (while she is in France) in orbit around “the star.” Hawke’s laid-back charm is put to great use, especially in scenes with children. We can see what Lumir saw in him.

No, there’s little in the way of fireworks and it’s not “stop the presses” news that film actresses have to be fiercely self-absorbed. But a film-lover’s movie like “The Truth” gets at the vulnerability that comes with that in cute but cutting, sly and subtle ways. Thank Deneuve for that.

“I could play this role dead drunk!”

Damn right she could.

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MPAA Rating: PG for thematic and suggestive elements, and for smoking and brief language

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Manon Clavel, Alain Libolt,  Ludivine Sagnier, Roger Van Hool and Roger Van Hool.

Credits: Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.   An IFC release.

Running time: 1:46

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Movie Preview: Jay Pharoah shows us “How to Fake a War”

There’s a little Kanye cray cray at play in this Aug. 21 release.

Pop/hip hop star with delusions of grandeur gets bent when peace breaks out BEFORE his big charity concert. And he –Jay Pharaoh — ain’t having it.

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“Marley,” the definitive Bob Marley doc, returns to theaters and streaming

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On July 31, Scottish director Kevin Macdonald’s 2012 documentary “Marley” returns to theaters and streaming to celebrate what would have been the Jamaican reggae singer/songwriter’s 75th birthday. Check your local art cinema website to see if they’re showing it.

Below, find my 2012 profile of me old mate Kevin Macdonald, Scotland’s greatest Bob Marley fan long before he made “The Last King of Scotland.”

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Bob Marley remains, as his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography attests, “reggae’s foremost practitioner and emissary.” More than 30 years after his death at 36, his estate still earns millions from sales of his music — his “Legend” greatest hits disc has sold more than 20 million copies, and counting — and the omnipresent T-shirt that bears his image.

“People love to listen to him at the beach, to hear ‘Three Little Birds’ or ‘One Love’ in parties,” says filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland,” “State of Play”). “‘Stir It Up’ plays in elevators, supermarkets. He’s become background music, background noise actually.”

And that’s what Macdonald, who did documentaries such as “Being Mick” before breaking out in narrative feature films with “The Last King of Scotland” and “State of Play,” wanted to change.

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“I wanted to rescue Bob from that fate. If you become ubiquitous, you become invisible all over again, like at the beginning of your career. I wanted to understand Bob, understand his music, hear his music afresh.”

“Marley” is Macdonald’s critically acclaimed new documentary about the Jamaican reggae icon. The native Scot filmmaker was drawn to Marley’s music as a teenager and vowed to spend years tracking down the people who never talk about Marley — friends, relatives and estranged band mates — to make the definitive film portrait of the singer/ songwriter/ Rastafarian prophet.

“Bob really is the only Third World superstar,” Macdonald says. “Elvis grew up in poverty, but he grew up in the richest country in the world, at its richest time. The Beatles grew up working-class poor, but they had working TV sets in their homes. Bob Marley slept on a dirt floor, quit school at 12 and lived in REAL poverty — rural Jamaica.”

Making his film, Macdonald marveled at how Marley’s laid-back, mystical pot-smoking image, “the Bob Marley of myth,” stood up to only so much scrutiny.

“He gave much of his money away, and sacrificed everything to get his music out there, heard, because to him, he was on a religious mission,” Macdonald says. “So he wasn’t a hypocrite. But he was driven, a real martinet with his band, The Wailers, rehearsing them 18 hours a day. He could easily have ended up a laborer, building roads in Jamaica. But his talent and his drive wouldn’t let him.”

Macdonald found Marley’s first teacher, talked to his widow and surviving children and his mistresses. He got band mate Bunny Wailer to talk frankly about the man’s genius and his faults.

“I didn’t want to talk to talk to the people you expect to see in a Bob Marley documentary — Bono, (Eric) Clapton, Mick Jagger, all those people who might go ‘Oh, he was so wonderful.'”

The filmmaker was going for something “more rounded,” filling his film with blunt assessments of Marley’s personal shortcomings and uncomfortable chats with a record company exec who signed him at a bargain-basement price, causing Peter Tosh and Bunny to bail out of The Wailers.

 

Macdonald started planning to make the film after shooting his Oscar-winning drama “The Last King of Scotland” in Uganda in 2005. “Maybe in the U.S. and the U.K., we’ve kind of tuned Bob out. But in Africa, Uganda, his music and his image are everywhere. He’s an icon. You see dreadlocks, see the T-shirts, and you realize he still lives on as an inspiration to the developing world. They don’t know Elvis in the Congo, or the Beatles in Indonesia. But they know Bob Marley. Maybe we should take another look at him, too.”

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Movie Preview: Anna Shields looks for the truth and finds “Monstrous” Bigfoot

Hey, whoa, the horror movies of August, amIright?

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Documentary preview: Rescuing Russian hockey? “Red Penguins”

Early August, the fun and the fear come to light.

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Movie Review: “Deany Bean is Dead,” but is she funny?

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You can’t grade movies on the curve, as much as filmmakers wish you would. It’s all about story, and characters and performance and entertainment value.

Budget, “degree of difficulty” getting it made don’t matter.

But if they did, that might be the tipping point for “Deany Bean is Dead.” It’s the sort of movie critics “root for,” a little no-budget affair of the type one can throw together in Los Angeles, just based on the available “idle” talent there.

Actress-writer Allison Marie Volk (she had a small part in “The Lone Ranger”) concocted a deadpan “cringe” comedy for herself, and it darned near comes off.  And even though it never quite gets there, it passes the time lightly, if darkly.

Deanna (Volk) is stalking her ex-fiance’, in person and on Facebook. That’s a distraction she doesn’t need, as her harridan of a boss (Wendy Wilkins) is already riding her for being “an idiot.”

She  tries to cope with her misery, grief and jealousy through a “spiritual meditation trauma support group.” It’s California, so it’s a thing. Not that it’s helping.

And maybe she shouldn’t be hooked on “The Murder Macabre” podcast, whose storyteller narrates our “scorned lover” tale, and quite luridly. HE’s the one seemingly giving her ideas about what “the vengeful knife” looks like as she’s shoving it “deep into the course of your greatest pain.”

That would be the ex, Tom (Christopher Glenn Cannon). Or maybe it’s the woman she’s nicknamed “Yahoo” (Sarah Siadat), whom Tom just ran off to Peru with and asked to marry him.

Her sassy officemate (Pauline Lule) is all “You should just get a dildo and move on with your life.” But before she even has a chance to do that, Deanna faces another chewing out by the harridan, and the temptation of the boss’s ever-growing list of “food allergies.”

Safety tip — never scream at and abuse the person you put in charge of your lunch every day if you have to keep an epi pen in your purse and hope somebody around you knows how to use it.

As our narrator podcasts about “What to do with the body,” Deanna — “Deany Bean” to her ex — decides to bury the woman in her trunk in her ex’s yard. Only he and “Yahoo” are back from Peru, throwing a little dinner party, and Angela, aka “Yahoo,” interrupts her. Not knowing who Deany is or her connection to her fiance (at first), she invites her in.

Let the awkward evening, which includes that ex, a “very rude” guy Deany met at meditation (Colin Taylor Martin) and other people who don’t want to see her any more than she wants to see them.

 

The script has coincidences and twists that just pretzel-up the awkwardness. The direction is perfunctory, lacking the extreme close-ups that deliver bigger laughs — the Coen Brothers/Barry Sonnenfeld Rule.

There’s enough here to provoke a smirk, here and there — maybe a chuckle. And one of the tiny surprises shows us how charming this all could have been.

But “Deany Bean is Dead” never quite lands a laugh the way it never quite lands a punch. It’s pleasant enough, but there’s not much substance, and none of the characters pulls you in.

We kind of watch every appalling thing happen at a distance, hoping we’ll get more than a giggle out of what comes next. And we never do.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Allison Marie Volk, Colin Taylor Martin, Wendy Wilkins, Christopher Glenn Cannon, Sara Siadat and Paulina Lule.

Credits: Directed by Mikael Kreuzriegler, script by Allison Marie Volk. A Global Digital release.

Running time: 1:24

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Bingeworthy? “Japan Sinks: 2020” gives us an anime apocalypse

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They don’t carry around that California fear of “The Big One” in Japan. Earthquakes have always been a fact of life, and what we see on the news and from experts there shows a resolve, an ability to live with the danger via social unity and preparedness.

“Japan Sinks: 2020” pokes holes in that image. Based on an acclaimed sci-fi novel by Sakyo Komatsu, it takes its handful of Tokyo survivors through the trauma of Japan’s “big one,” which sinks Okinawa in a flash and causes land masses to collapse along the eastern coast of the islands.

Within hours after the quake and tsunami, Japanese people recognize their plight from the silence. “I don’t hear sirens from ambulances or fire trucks.” Cell service may be back, Big Media isn’t. The power goes out.

Anarchy sets it, an every woman and man for himself — bickering over food and water, what course to take to safety — mistrust followed by social Darwinism of the ugliest kind.

“Trivial laws don’t matter any more,” laughs a tipsy truck driver as he tosses his latest bottle out the window.

The situations in this anime series are conventions of the genre — four members of the Mutoh family face “The Beginning of the End” separately, with their first frantic thoughts being to reunite to face this apocalypse together.

Mother Muri (Grace Lynn Kun) is on a flight, returning from the States. It ditches in Tokyo Bay, buffeted by the shock wave of the magnitude seven quake.

Her husband is a lighting contractor, temporarily dangling from his harness at a stadium work site. Little boy Go is finally distracted from his video game — having taken shelter under a table because he knows the drill — when the walls crash around him.

And track star Ayumu (voiced by Faye Mata), our narrator? She’s trapped with her team on a subway platform. When she leaves them there, bleeding, trapped and dying, in panic, we know we’re in for a grim ride.

The story jumps along in a not-quite-nonsensical travelogue. Dad (Billy Kametz) pushes them to go to higher ground, to the west, through emptied towns and up mountainsides where springs provide fresh water.

But don’t get too attached to any character. And don’t expect the teen narrator to be rational, altruistic or cope with survivor’s guilt with grace and dignity.

Death, when it comes, is sudden and often grisly. Some people behave with honor and compassion, most do not.

The plot, conventional as it is, may bring us to “Japan Sinks” and keep us watching, all the way through its ten episode story. The animation, however, is nothing to write home about.

It’s flat, faces and characters and locales with little definition or depth. The color palette is washed out and the action TV “on the cheap” jerky, far more pronounced than you see in high quality, more elaborately animated anime.

This is more a series, like most anime made for TV, that you listen to rather than watch closely. It has the look of a hastily-drawn comic book hastily flash-animated for TV.

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MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, blood, attempted rape, profanity

Cast: Faye Mata, Grace Lynn Kung, Ryan Bartley, Aleks Le, Billy Kamatz

Credits: directed by Masaaki Yuasa and Pyeon Gang-ho, animated by by Science Saru, based on the novel by Sakyo Komatsu. A Netflix release.

Running time: 10 episodes @ 25 minutes each

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