Film Shorts // January 5-11, 2022


OPENING

 

American Siege (R) Yet another cop thriller starring Bruce Willis, this is about a small-town sheriff fighting a militia that takes a wealthy doctor hostage. Also with Rob Gough, Timothy V. Murphy, Johann Urb, Anna Hindman, Trevor Gretzky, and Cullen G. Chambers. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Commando (R) Mickey Rourke stars in this thriller as a PTSD-suffering federal agent who has to protect his family during a home invasion robbery. Also with Brendan Fehr, Michael Jai White, Jeff Fahey, John Enos III, Donald Cerrone, and Gianni Capaldi. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas Fort Worth)

The Legend of La Llorona (R) Yet another horror movie based on this Latin American legend stars Autumn Reeser and Antonio Cupo as a couple vacationing in Mexico whose son’s disappearance is related to the supernatural curse. Also with Danny Trejo, Josh Zaharia, Fernanda Aguilar, and Zamia Fandiño. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas Fort Worth)

Poupelle of Chimney Town (PG) This lively Japanese anime film is about a monster made of garbage (voiced by Tony Hale and Masataka Kubota) who mysteriously appears in a city where chimney smoke obscures the sky, so he teams up with a young chimney sweeper (voiced by Antonio Raul Corbo and Mana Ashida) to clear away the smoke so that everyone can see the stars. The movie’s opening hour moves along and lays out the conditions of this town quite well, throwing in some weird details that keep viewers from tuning out. The trouble crops up in the last third, which is entirely too drawn out. Still, the visual imagination of director Yusuke Hirota and writer Akihiro Nishino (whose children’s book this is adapted from) keep this engaging. Additional voices by Stephen Root, Shinosuke Tatekawa, Misty Lee, Eiko Koike, Hasan Minhaj, and Shingo Fujimori. (Opens Friday)

The 355 (PG-13) This thriller stars Jessica Chastain as a CIA agent who has to team up with agents from other countries to keep a secret weapon out of terrorist hands. Also with Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan, Francisco Labbe, and Edgar Ramírez. (Opens Friday)

 

NOW PLAYING

 

American Underdog (PG) This has much better acting than your typical Christian football film, and better production values, with real NFL teams lending their stadiums and logos. These things make a difference, just not enough of one. Zachary Levi portrays Kurt Warner, an undrafted quarterback out of Northern Iowa University who stocks shelves at a local supermarket before catching on with the Arena League and then leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title. I would have liked more on what made the Rams’ offense so revolutionary and what it was like for Warner as a QB with a scant resumé to step in and lead a group of pros who had scant knowledge of who he was. The second half has too many inspirational speeches strung together. Still, Levi and Anna Paquin (as Warner’s wife Brenda) make this go down much more easily than other movies about faith. Also with Hayden Zaller, Ser’Darius Blain, Chance Kelly, Bruce McGill, Simeon Castille, Adam Baldwin, Steven Chester Prince, and Dennis Quaid. 

Dune (PG-13) This second attempt at adapting Frank Herbert’s mammoth science fiction epic offers a much smoother storytelling experience than David Lynch’s 1984 film. Timothée Chalamet stars as the young prince who’s forced to flee into the desert on an alien planet after his father (Oscar Isaac) is overthrown as the installed governor there. Director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve ends the story well short of the end of the book, which makes the film’s alien cultures and worlds feel more lived-in, but also keeps it from being a satisfying stand-alone film. Villeneuve gives you buckets full of spectacular vistas, and at its best, the film is sublime in the old sense of making you feel small. Too bad he overdoes it, feeling the need to underscore the epic quality of every scene. Whatever intimacy he doesn’t beat out of the story, Hans Zimmer’s music takes care of. Ultimately, this is like a beautifully presented and cleverly conceived restaurant meal that leaves you wanting to hit the nearest McDonald’s afterwards. Also with Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Golda Rosheuvel, Roger Yuan, Charlotte Rampling, and Javier Bardem.

’83 (NR) This Indian sports drama hits all the predictable story beats, but if you don’t know cricket, you might be intrigued to find out about the 1983 Cricket World Cup team that had never won a single match at that tournament before a magical run that saw them win the whole thing for the first time. Ranveer Singh portrays team captain Kapil Dev while Pankaj Tripathi portrays the PR officer who doubled as the coach of a team that few people gave any chance to. This film was shot and scheduled to come out before the pandemic, and no expense has been spared in depicting the team’s journey through the host nation England in the ’80s. The greatest Indian cricket movie remains Lagaan, but this is an agreeable version of history. Also with Deepika Padukone, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Jiiva, Saqib Saleem, Jatin Sarna, Chirag Patil, Nishant Dahiya, Dinker Sharma, Harrdy Sandhu, Sahil Khattar, Adinath Kothare, Ammy Virk, Boman Irani, and Mohinder Amarnath. 

Encanto (PG) One of Disney’s better musical efforts, this animated film is about a refugee family in the Colombian mountains who all possess magical powers except for one granddaughter (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), who turns out to be vital to saving her sisters’ and cousins’ powers after they start fritzing. The cast is solid rather than containing any spectacular performances, and the songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda are consistently clever while lacking a genuine showstopper. The Colombian setting gives the animators chances to draw all manner of flora, fauna, and food that we don’t often see at the multiplex, while the script makes references to South American magical realist literature. The tasty family drama that has almost everyone hiding something makes for a family film to savor. Additional voices by María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow, Diane Guerrero, Angie Cepeda, Mauro Castillo, Carolina Gaitán, Rhenzy Feliz, Adassa, Maluma, and Wilmer Valderrama.

Eternals (PG-13) This is like the Marvel Comics movies’ version of The Tree of Life, and it should be much worse than it is. The main characters are 10 ageless beings who came to the Earth 7,000 years ago to assist in developing human civilization. In the present day, they find out they’re meant to assist in humanity’s extinction, and some of them decide to prevent it instead. Fresh off her Oscar win for Nomadland, Chloé Zhao brings all of Disney’s resources to re-creating Babylon in the 6th century B.C. and the Aztec empire. This is amazing to look at, and she films a Bollywood dance number like it’s something she’s always wanted to do, but her transition from her previous films to the maximalism of this one has its rough patches. Even so, the movie has its moments of inspiration when its characters dwell on the human race’s accomplishments over time. Messy as the film is, it’s hard not to admire the crazy ambition of this effort by the world’s reigning movie franchise. Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lia McHugh, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff, Don Lee, Kit Harington, Harish Patel, Bill Skarsgård, Haaz Sleiman, Patton Oswalt, and Harry Styles.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (PG-13) This movie gives the fans everything they want. And it sucks! It sucks ectoplasm. It doesn’t start out so bad, to be fair, as Egon Spengler’s bankrupt and estranged daughter (Carrie Coon) receives news of his death and moves her teenage children (Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace) to his badly kept farm in rural Oklahoma, where the kids discover who their grandfather used to be. Jason Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the movies in the 1980s. The younger Reitman is too good not to come up with some good lines as the family tries to put down roots, but he’s the wrong filmmaker for this project. He’s good at finding humor in ordinary everyday life, not at combining jokes with supernatural horror. They had 36 years to think of a different storyline, and instead they played back the exact same one as the original movie. That’s the sign of a filmmaker who’s too afraid of the fans to move. Also with Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bokeem Woodbine, J.K. Simmons, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Sigourney Weaver.

House of Gucci (R) Ridley Scott takes an irresistibly soapy subject and films it like High Art, and the result is as lifeless as a department store mannequin. Lady Gaga portrays Patrizia Reggiani, who marries fashion heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) in the 1980s and then has him murdered in the 1990s when he tries to divorce her. The star has better instincts about what this film should be than the guy who’s been directing movies for 45 years. She’s the only actor in this cast stuffed with Oscar laureates who brings any sense of fun to the enterprise, as she dances with Maurizio’s cousin (Jared Leto) to gain his support and swears “Father, Son, and House of Gucci.” Scott has forgotten that movies are supposed to be entertaining and chisels a monument out of stone. The movie is too serious to take pleasure in its fashions or anything else, and so there’s little pleasure to take from it. Also with Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Camille Cottin, Reeve Carney, and Salma Hayek.

A Journal for Jordan (PG-13) Denzel Washington makes pure pablum out of this real-life inspirational story based on journalist Dana Canedy’s account of her marriage to a soldier and subsequent bereavement. Michael B. Jordan portrays the soldier who writes a diary to his son whose birth he’ll never live to see, and Chanté Adams plays his New York Times reporter wife, who has to raise their son (Jalon Christian) by herself. As director, Washington unfurls this story with all the urgency of a Hallmark movie, and our protagonists are so bereft of any interesting qualities that there’s nothing to catch our attention. The main character is killed in the Iraq War, and the movie is so bent on making something comforting out of that that it has no impact. Also with Tamara Tunie, Robert Wisdom, Susan Pourfar, Vanessa Aspillaga, Johnny M. Wu, Samuel Caleb Walker, and Joey Brooks.

The King’s Man (R) Matthew Vaughn tries to go all somber with this origin story, which is a huge mistake. The spy agency’s roots are shown to take place in the 1910s, when a pacifist English lord (Ralph Fiennes) tries to prevent war by setting up his own intelligence agency and conducting backdoor diplomacy. The director of Kick-Ass as well as the two preceding Kingsmen films aims for the seriousness of 1917 when World War I breaks out and the lord’s son (Harris Dickinson) enlists in the army. Vaughn can’t balance this with the parts of the movie that are supposed to be entertaining. The historical fiction has been painstakingly researched so that the filmmakers can throw in an evil cabal that controls both Lenin and Hitler. The resulting movie can’t decide what it wants to be. Vaughn’s irreverent sense of humor has taken a powder at the worst possible time. Also with Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Daniel Brühl, Alexandra Maria Lara, Tom Hollander, Ron Cook, August Diehl, David Kross, Charles Dance, and Stanley Tucci.

Licorice Pizza (R) After the death grip he kept on his last few movies, Paul Thomas Anderson adopts a looser and more charming approach to this coming-of-age story. Cooper Hoffman stars as a 15-year-old working kid actor in the San Fernando Valley in 1973 who falls in love with a young woman (Alana Haim) who’s 10 years older and who works as an assistant at her dad’s portrait photography business. The plot is really just a prop to hang their comic misadventures in the Valley, as Anderson creates some great, hair-raising set pieces like one with our characters trapped in a moving truck rolling out of control down a hill, or trying to deal with a coked-up Hollywood producer (Bradley Cooper). Hoffman (the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) is good, but the real star turn comes from Haim as an insecure young woman seeking her own path. This isn’t one of 2021’s best movies, but it’s quite likable. Also with Sean Penn, Tom Waits, John Michael Higgins, Yumi Mizui, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Skyler Gisondo, Christine Ebersole, Harriet Sansom Harris, Benny Safdie, Joseph Cross, Moti Haim, Este Haim, Danielle Haim, Maya Rudolph, and John C. Reilly.

The Matrix Resurrections (R) The original Matrix trilogy felt new back in the early 2000s, but Hollywood moved on from it, and Lana Wachowski hasn’t. Keanu Reeves returns as Thomas Anderson, who is back in the Matrix as a superstar video-game creator when characters he coded into his games start turning up in his life and telling him that he must rescue Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who has been taken prisoner by the machines. There is one good fight sequence in a grimy public restroom between Reeves and Jonathan Groff as Thomas’ boss, but everything else is ruined by uninventive choreography and the lack of the Wachowskis’ energy of old. The romance between Reeves and Moss has never been enough to carry the series, and other Hollywood movies since have treated the subject of cyberspace more fruitfully. Also with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Lambert Wilson, Andrew Lewis Caldwell, Toby Onwumere, Max Riemelt, and Christina Ricci. 

Nightmare Alley (R) The original 1947 film is really good, and so is Guillermo del Toro’s remake, in a lusher and different vein. Adapted from William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, this stars Bradley Cooper as a con artist who joins a traveling carnival in 1939, learns the tricks of appearing to read minds, strikes out on his own as an entertainer, and becomes entangled with Buffalo’s power elite. This may look too good in the sequences set among the marginal types in the carnival, but Del Toro’s willingness to go in for gore saves his movie from being overly tasteful. The psychological depth here is impressive, with Cooper’s charisma in fearsome form as an abused kid who’s applying his skills at reading people. This tragedy about a man who doesn’t know when to stop builds to a ruthless conclusion that the old film-noir masters would have admired. Also with Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, David Strathairn, Willem Dafoe, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, Mark Povinelli, Peter MacNeill, Holt McCallany, Jim Beaver, Clifton Collins Jr., and Tim Blake Nelson.

Pushpa: The Rise (NR) The first of a planned set of two films, this Telugu-language thriller stars Allu Arjun as a low-level truck driver in Andhra Pradesh who begins smuggling rare red sandalwood logs to a crime syndicate that ships them to China and Japan. Some of the action sequences are good, like the one where Pushpa and his fellow lumberjacks throw several tons’ worth of logs into a river to avoid being caught by police. The opening rap number in the forest, “Daakko Daakko Meka,” is actually rather badass, too. Still, the plotting is bog-standard, the romantic plot with a beautiful woman (Rashmika Mandanna) is pretty nasty, and the hero is yet another swarthy Indian superman who’s tougher than any human could possibly be. Also with Fahadh Faasil, Dhananjay, Sunil, Anasuya Bharadwaj, Shatru, Ajay Ghosh, Rao Ramesh, and Samantha Ruth Prabhu. 

Red Rocket (R) Sean Baker continues to treat sex work like just another job in his fourth feature film about them. Simon Rex portrays a washed-up porn star who returns home to Texas City and immediately starts dealing weed and plotting his return to L.A. when he meets Strawberry (Suzanna Son), a horny local teen whom he’s convinced will become the next great porn star. Rex is excellent as a motor-mouth who always has a litany of excuses about why he’s fallen into his latest round of trouble, and he’s matched by the incandescent Son. Baker finds the comedy and the tragedy in his protagonist’s life, as his nonstop hustling and lack of sense condemn him to a life of climbing out of womens’ windows and running down the street while wearing not enough clothes. Also with Bree Elrod, Brenda Deiss, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez, Shih-Ching Tsou, Ethan Darbone, and Parker Bigham.

Shyam Singha Roy (NR) Wow, this one is bad! This Telugu-language romance stars Nani as an aspiring filmmaker in Hyderabad who auditions actresses for his short film for two months before spotting his ideal woman (Krithi Shetty) on the street and pursuing her in a creepy way. She falls in love with him for some reason, the short film becomes a feature that scores a massive box-office hit, then he’s arrested for plagiarizing his scripts just as he’s being announced as Bollywood’s next big director. And then he’s revealed to be the reincarnation of a writer who died in the 1970s, whose works he turns out to have unconsciously rewritten as screenplays. Oh, and the guy drinks massive amounts of alcohol whenever he’s creatively blocked, and every time he does, the movie runs an anti-substance abuse disclaimer at the bottom of the screen. This is Indian cinema at its most inept. Also with Sai Pallava, Madonna Sebastian, Jisshu Sengupta, Murali Sharma, Leela Samson, Anurag Kulkarni, and Rahul Ravindran. 

Sing 2 (PG) An improvement on the original, in the sense that drilling a hole in a tooth is an improvement on a root canal. Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) takes the gang to the big-time, playing the biggest theater in the entertainment capital of this animal world that we’re in. Only problem is, he promises to coax a bitter, reclusive former music star (voiced by Bono) out of retirement for the show without knowing whether it’s possible. The characters from the original all have their own subplots, and the sequel introduces a thuggish entertainment mogul (voiced by Bobby Cannavale) and his spoiled daughter (voiced by Halsey) who horns her way into the show. These have potential, but they all play out in disappointing ways, and there aren’t any memorable musical performances like the first movie had. Additional voices by Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Garth Jennings, Jennifer Saunders, Chelsea Peretti, Nick Offerman, Eric André, Letitia Wright, Pharrell Williams, Edgar Wright, and Wes Anderson. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home (PG-13) Fanservice done more or less right, this movie has Peter Parker (Tom Holland) trying to reverse time and instead creating portals to parallel universes where villains from other Spider-Man movies (Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, and Jamie Foxx) line up to fight him before realizing that he’s not the same Spider-Man that they faced earlier. The real reason they’re all brought together is so that all these great actors can get in the same room and bitch at each other, which they do to great comic effect. Peter does indeed pay a heavy price for messing with the time-space continuum, and if the storytelling only occasionally reaches the heights of Into the Spider-Verse, it does retcon some fixes for the previous movies about the web-slinger. Not a bad trick to make its predecessors seem worthier in retrospect. Also with Marisa Tomei, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Tony Revolori, Hannibal Buress, J.B. Smoove, Martin Starr, Angourie Rice, Benedict Wong, Charlie Cox, J.K. Simmons, Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire, and an uncredited Tom Hardy.

West Side Story (PG-13) The 1961 film of the musical won the Best Picture Oscar, but Steven Spielberg’s version is better, not least because it makes plenty of changes. Screenwriter Tony Kushner considerably fleshes out the supporting characters, and the propulsive force of Leonard Bernstein’s music forces the director to keep things moving. The fatal rumble takes place in a warehouse amid giant piles of salt, and “Cool” is staged (by choreographer Justin Peck) as Tony (Ansel Elgort) trying to keep a gun away from the other Jets. Elgort’s dancing makes Tony seem like a special guy in this neighborhood, Rachel Zegler (as Maria) displays operatic range, Ariana DeBose (as Anita) almost steals the film away, and Mike Faist (as Riff) makes the character into something hard and unforgettable. This classic is made new for our sensibilities. Also with David Alvarez, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James, Iris Menas, Josh Andrés Rivera, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Mike Iveson, and Rita Moreno.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

Swan Song (R) Mahershala Ali stars in this science-fiction drama as a terminally ill man in 2040 presented with the chance to have an exact copy of himself manufactured to replace him with his family. Also with Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Adam Beach, Lee Shorten, and Glenn Close. 

 





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