You'd never know COVID made the movies suffer. The blockbusters are drawing crowds again (one of today's new ones may also) and the flow of debut titles keeps coming in all those various formats.

Like these …

Lightyear: 3 stars

Jazz Fest a New Orleans Story: 3 ½

The Lost Girls: 2 ½

Spiderhead: 2 ½

Guidance: 3

The Phantom of the Open: 2 ½

Brian and Charles: 3 ½

LIGHTYEAR: The best films from Pixar all have beautiful animation, excellent story telling and a big bonus: emotional content. But there's almost none of that extra in this film. It's a straightforward space adventure, with a main focus on duty and pushing yourself. It feels like Top Gun at times. What it does have though is a clever device to create an add-on to a beloved series. Recall that in the first Toy Story movie Andy got a Buzz Lightyear action figure/doll as a birthday present because he loved the movie it came from and presumably a TV cartoon series that followed. This film is said to be the movie he watched back then. It's directed and co-written by Angus MacLane, a Pixar veteran.

Courtesy of Pixar and Disney

Buzz is a “I'll do it my way” kind of space ranger (voiced by Chris Evans) who crash lands on a planet and then has trouble getting back off. Insects and snake-like vines threaten his crew, who struggle to create a new power source. When they finally get back to earth a time paradox has made shown up. Buzz has hardly aged at all, the people he returns to are much older. One friend's grandaughter (Keke Palmer) is now grown and married (to a woman, a fact that's not big in the story but does have the film banned in many countries). Buzz joins with her and a new group of rookie space rangers to battle the dark Emperor Zurg (James Brolin). The story is familiar, the time-travel elements are obscure and both the humor and poignancy are skimpy. (In theaters everywhere) 3 out of 5

JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY: It's been playing already in Toronto (2 weeks) and Montreal (one week), starts Monday at the VIFF center in Vancouver and then goes wider. If you're a music lover, don't miss it, even though I have a few reservations about it. The biggest? Give me more of the music.(Full disclosure: I've been to New Orleans and the music from there is among my favorite).

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In this film co-directed by Frank Marshall you get a good sampling of the main strains that are popular down there. It's the birthplace of jazz, and in that context the film refers to New Orleans as sacred ground. There's also a rich blues tradition that morphed into rhythm and blues and added a unique rolling beat. From outside the city there's Cajun and Zydeco. You get archival film with Professor Longhair and live songs by eternal stars like The Preservation Hall Band, Irma Thomas and Al Green. There are newcomers and also several bands from Africa, digging further back into the roots. They were all filmed at the 50th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival the year before COVID shut it down for a year. Bruce Springsteen and Katy Perry performed and surprisingly didn't feel out of place. The music scene is that accomodating there. It's said more than once in the film, the festival and the city bring people with different tastes together. This is an enjoyable film. 3 ½ out of 5

THE LOST GIRLS: Peter Pan's story has been interprited once again, this time with a a feminist slant. Too bad it's so obscure and meandering. I can't make out it's really trying to say. Not for sure anyway. This is from a young adult novel in which three generations of Wendys in the Darling family are enraptured by Peter and the free life he espoused out there in Neverland. Allegorical? Meant to address issues that young women face growing up ? Better be. That's all I can make of it.

The original Wendy (now very old and played by Vanessa Redgrave) loves to tell stories of her trip to Neverland. She also tells any other Wendy, that Peter will come for her too? Young love arriving to young women, it seems. But she has a caution: he'll be so nice and plaintively ask for help. He'll want you to cook and care for him. One of the Wendy's (played by Joely Richardson) didn't want that and just left.

Courtesy of Photon Films

Peter is indeed handsome, as portrayed by Louis Partridge, and the two cavort through lavender fields. His big offence seems to be telling Wendy to never grow up. Big deal, but it grates on her. At the same time Hook (Iain Glen) comes around, leering and trying to kiss. Staying wary of that lecherous sort makes sense. The other male, not so much. Wendy, played in one configuration by Livia De Paolis , who also directed, may or may not be imagining all this. Part of growing up, I guess. But why Neverland affected these women that much and what the advice really is, escapes me. (Available VOD) 2 ½ out of 5

SPIDERHEAD: Here's a sci fi thriller about the drug industry. Big pharma, if you will, which, we can see, tantalizes with big hopes but can just as easily be a menace. At least that's the situation in this film based on a fictional story that appeared in the New Yorker. Prison inmates get a reduced sentence if they agree to try out some mood-altering drugs. One, being tested, may cut down violent tendencies and bring on feelings of love. You can imagine it could get to that, judging from the drug ads you see on American TV.

Courtesy of Netflix

Chris Hemsworth plays the drug researcher. He administers the medicine via a phone-like gadget that activates a device strapped onto a convicts' back, just above the belt. Different intensities can be sent of different types with code names like N-40, leading up to an ultimate called I-16, or Darkenfloxx. Miles Teller plays a convict who objects loudly to that one because he's become sweet on a woman inmate ((Jurnee Smollett) and wants to protect her. The film raises issues like free will but gets far too overwrought to be a sane discussion of the issues, valid though they are. Good trivia though: the director is Joseph Kosinski, who also made the new Top Gun movie, in which Miles Teller also has a key role. And Chris Hemsworth has got his next big Thor movie ready to come out. This is a side gig for them all. (Netflix) 2 ½ out of 5

GUIDANCE: Surprise. Here's another one this week about what drugs can do for us. Or to us. Imagine a pill that can make it impossible to tell a lie. How? By making every aware when you're lying. They can call you on it; you'd soon find its not worth lying. A fantasy, sure, though some people who are so good at reading your body and facial signals that they know you're not telling the truth. Maybe a pill could boost that ability for everybody.

Courtesy of EG PR

In this film from China a young couple go for a relaxing weekend at a rural hotel. It's not long after a great war, which a drug mogul says was caused by lying, as all wars are. He developed a drug he calls Guidance to prevent that and thereby create better people. The couple take it and rather than smooth their relationship with it, get into extreme bouts of jealousy and arguing. Has he been cheating on her? She spent six hours alone with a man and is trying to say nothing happened? The pills give them internal voices to speak to them but why did he give his voice the same name as a former girlfriend. And so on, arguments swell just like they can in real life without pills. A shocker of a revelation comes out and the film concludes its examination of human nature with this: “We are an unforgiving species”. The film by Neysan Sobhani is stylish, dreamy and wishful in its thesis. (Streaming on many platforms like Shaw, Apple TV and Google Play). 3 out of 5

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN: The great Mark Rylance is in one of his lesser films with this one. Still, the Brit makes a good show of it as an incompetent golfer who dares to try for the top, or as he says “Aim for the stars.” It's a true story. He entered the British Open Golf Tournament, was accepted in a clerical error because he put “professional” on his entry form, and astounded with his terrible play.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Weekend golfers will enjoy all the things that go wrong. He forgets his best iron in the car. Tees his first shot very high, and short. Hits the water and sand traps. And more. But on the telly he's watched closely. People in pubs around the UK cheer for him. Newspapers call him the worst golfer on earth and “the Phantom of the Ocean.” But that's about as far as it goes. Nothing deeper. He regrets nothing. His wife (Sally Hawkins) supports him and the tournament bosses eject him, though they fail to recognize him when he returns in disguise. Apparently, he entered three more times under fake names. That could have been explored. As it is, the film is light, mildy funny and best when he has to face sneers and condescension from the sport organizers. (Select theaters in Toronto and Vancouver) 2 ½ out of 5

BRIAN AND CHARLES: Here's another British comedy, set in Wales this time and with a science fiction theme. A small-town inventor and scavenger of discarded items goes beyond his usual level (“egg belt” or “flying cuckoo clock”) and builds a robot out of a washing machine. Sounds silly, but Charles as he calls him comes alive. He speaks and recites everything he learns about his surroundings.

Courtesy of Focus Features

He's intelligent, demanding and has ideas about how things should be at home and in the garden. For the lonely Brian, who's ever optimistic (“One door closes, another opens.”), he's a bossy companion. He wants what sees on TV (“Can you teach me how to waterski?”). Their interactions and a short trip to the village store are entertaining. Then the film veers off into a familiar story line. A bully with two thieving daughters takes an interest and wants to buy the robot (for no good purpose we soon find out). Charles, who has become bored, wants to fight. He's stolen, though, forced to work and pleads to go home. A big raucous crowd event ensues. The film, which is extended from a short, is structured like a documentary and is a fun and quirky take on the subject fo free will. (In select theaters, like Vancouver's 5th Avenue and Edmonton's Landmark) 3 ½ out of 5