In Hearts Beat Loud, the summer before a Brooklyn girl heads off to college in California, she joins a band with her widowed father. They create a song that goes viral online, which complicates the separation process. This familiar (but updated) storyline is made workable by the fine ensemble acting, the sing-along original music, and the honest reality inherent in Brett Haley’s screenplay and direction.
The man who services our water softener admits “I’m not into kid movies...but Incredibles 2 is something else.” He’s spot on. Brad Bird and everyone else involved in this winner from Pixar knows that “It’s the story, stupid,” and they spent years getting it right. Building on the Mr. Mom concept, Elastigirl (aka Helen) takes a new job, so Mr. Incredible (aka Bob) must assume the Super Dad persona and cope with the 24-7 challenges of a teen daughter, faster-than-a-speeding-bullet son, and a multi-talented, fire-flaming, laser-vision, disappearing baby who defies the laws of physics. Be sure to see this intelligent, brilliantly animated, fun for everyone kind of movie about a family a lot like ours (well, maybe not exactly like ours but still instantly identifiable to any parent trying to decipher “New Math” homework with their kids).
One of the fallouts of the “have your DNA decoded” craze is the secrets of your ancestry you may not want to know about, and the family in Hereditary sure has its secrets. Newcomer Ari Aster skillfully parlays the “less is more” trope into a master class in tension-building. Soon after the family matriarch dies, her dollhouse miniature making granddaughter’s off-the-wall behaviors become more and more violent. While her parents (Toni Colette, Gabriel Byrne) search for causes, the audience begins piecing the puzzle together to form an unsettling picture of what is really going on.
For those of us who want to shout at the movie screen to make characters tell each other what’s important, this may be the most distressing film about miscommunication ever made. On Chesil Beach continues to perpetuate the mythology that British people (at least those living back in 1962) may pine for each other, but believe that actually having sex is to be something avoided at all costs. The handsome couple at the center of this beautifully filmed drama are both virgins on their wedding night—and are likely to remain so. Events onscreen unfold like a seminar in sexual dysfunction with premature ejaculation, and disgust of bodily fluids that prompt accusations and recriminations enough for thirty films. Primarily set in the honeymoon suite, flashbacks and flash-forwards set up the “whys” of what happens before and after that fateful night, but doesn’t hide the sadness that underlies the tale.
In an unlikely mix of cultures, a Chinese-born filmmaker, an injured Lakota Sioux bronco rider, a paralyzed bull rider, the horseman’s emotionally supportive sister, and his hard-edged (and hard-drinking) father live their lives in a scripted, but real-life, film starring the real people using stage names. Brady Jandreau is the centerpiece of The Rider. With a life-threatening brain injury, he is warned of possible death if he continues to ride and train the wild horses that are his life. Depressed after his father sells his favorite horse to pay the bills, he begins work at a Wal Mart. But the mystical connection with horses remains his core, and there is one must-see sequence where Brady tames a wild horse. Chloe Zhao instructed cinematographer James Joshua Richards to “let the camera roll.” Edited down to a three-minutes of visual poetry, we watch with amazement as Brady gentles a violent, bucking, and very dangerous wild animal to the point where the now trusting horse lets Brady ride him and dismount smoothly. This astounding movie is a must-see (especially for wanna-be filmmakers).
In Tully, the title character (played by Mackenzie Davis) is the night-time nanny which an overwhelmed post-natal mother of three says she doesn’t want or need (but is nonetheless grateful for a full night’s sleep). Oscar-winning screenwriter (for Juno) Diablo Cody collaborates once again with director Jason Reitman and actor Charlize Theron to create a timely tale of what life is really like for American females as they grow through the different stages of life. Everyone involved is at the top of their game, and the result is an instantly identifiable, and very realistic portrait of the inner and outward challenges inherent in the “Super Mom” mythology.
A decade of Marveldom culminates in he “lets throw everybody together” film, Avengers: Infinity War, where the superheroes “battle for the universe itself.” If you take a moment to ask “didn’t they already do that?” then you spoil the buzz that brings almost everybody else on the surface of the planet to a theater. I’m stoked because my favorites get the best one-liners before things turn deadly serious. Once there, the shocks to our belief systems collide together in spectacular set pieces from which some of good guys don’t seem to survive. But what do we know? The Marvel Universe seems to be endlessly expanding, and marvelous things could happen in the future version already dubbed Part II. NOTE: The credits take over ten minutes before the “top secret reveal” for the next film appears. So unless power/temperature technician Christopher O. Brooks is your brother and you have to stick around to see his name scroll past, you have plenty of time for a much needed trip to the restroom (after all, the movie is almost 2 and 1/2 hours long!)
Director Stanley Tucci knows how important the absence of words can be for some critical scenes. So do Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush and Emmy-winner Tony Shaloub. So when this threesome creates their magic within sculptor/painter Alberto Giacometti’s casually littered Paris studio, the result is sublime. The film’s Final Portrait title refers to a black, silver-grey, and white portrait of American-born author James Lord where the eyes peer sphynx-like from a figure posed like the famous seated statues of Ramses II. In contrast to Rush and Shaloub, Armie Hammer’s performance as James Lord seems like he was more comfortable hiding behind the Lone Ranger’s mask which he wore in the film where Johnny Depp overacted in the Tonto role. So forget Hammer and revel in watching Geoffrey Rush create a larger-than-life portrait of a different kind.
Although his polio-induced paralysis prevented young Itzhak Perlman from attending Julliard, he did appear as a 13-year-old on the Ed Sullivan TV show. His talent as a “fiddle player” is legendary, but what Alison Chernick’s endearing documentary, Itzhak, reveals is how much fun Itzhak has everyday. We get to see him play the National Anthem at a Mets game, tag along on a visit to Tel Aviv, and delight in the joy involved in ordering pickles by phone.
John Krasinski, who most people remember as the “nice guy” from The Office TV show, is the talented actor/director/producer/co-writer behind the creepy and very original sci-fi horror film A Quiet Place. The family at the center of the movie communicate with sign language, creep about barefoot, and have even created a sand-covered path to town for the sole purpose of remaining as quiet as they can. So instead of talking heads, the movie is filled with the ambient sounds of the house and surrounding woods—or no sound at all when we see through the deaf daughter’s POV. We learn the underlying reason for all this stillness is one of simple survival. The BEM’s (bug-eyed-monsters) who have invaded Earth may not see very well, but they they utilize their helluva sense of hearing to track and eat whomever happens to make noise. I don’t want to reveal anything else except to say that Emily Blunt’s version of wife and mother steals the film.