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A few themes are spread across the new films this week. Space aliens figure in three, old age in two and one film combines both. Two others feature very low-class humor.
I've got reviews of most of them but not of two with space connections, Landscape with Invisible Hand or Blue Beetle. I didn't get to preview them. Warners not providing Blue Beetle is interesting because the film is from their DC division which needs help. Three of its recent films didn't do well at all.
Warners, doing so well with Barbie, hardly needs my support but I offer a bit anyway: a very positive review of the next episode in the history of the studio's 100 years.
But I start with a film that some expect could knock Barbie out of first place this week. Could. I hope not.
STRAYS: I wouldn't let a child within a mile of this one. Somebody got the twisted idea to take a talking animal film and pepper it full of foul language and sex talk (and acts: squirrels in a daisy chain?) and expect people to get great yuks out of it. There are laughs but a lot just make you cringe. That's too bad because behind them there's a story that could delight, except that this is not like The Incredible Journey or Milo & Otis. It only parodies their like. And brings in a lot of good comic actors, Jamie Foxx, Will Ferrell, Sofía Vergara and others to do the voices of a pack of computer-generated but very real looking dogs who demonstrate how cruel the world can be.
Ferrell voices Reggie who is eternally happy and believes his owner (live-action Will Forte) loves him. Case in point: those long games of fetch-the-ball that he enjoys so very much. When an extra-long one gets him lost in a big city he's forced to confront the truth: they've actually been attempts to abandon him. So he's told by the stray dogs who find him: a terrier (Jamie Foxx), an Australian shepherd with a great sense of smell (Isla Fisher) and a former-police dog (Randall Park). He doesn't believe them at first, refuses to accept that he's a stray too but then suddenly switches and wants revenge. More startling is what he wants to do: “bite his dick off.” That's typical of the humor you get here. The message is good; the film's methods pretty low. (In theaters) 2½ out of 5
JULES: This is the film that combines those two subjects, space and old age, and it's a delight. It's totally earthbound and deals with issues down here but stirs them together in a fanciful bit of imagination with an alien. "An illegal alien?" That's asked afew times. No, a space alien, whose flying saucer landed in the backyard of a senior (Ben Kingsley) in a small Pennsylvania town. That messed up his flower garden but a 911 operator can't take his report seriously. Government agents are looking but Ben doesn't seem to know of that and invites the silent, white clad space alien (Jade Quon) who he calls Jules into his house and two friends (Harriet Sansom Harris and Jane Curtin) over to meet him, although they think he's more of a Gary.
The film is rife with gentle humor like that and gradually evolves into a meditation on old age, loneliness and the need to connect. It seems a stretch but under Marc Turtletaub's direction, Gavin Steckler's writing and the cast's fine acting it works. The three friends speak to the alien about their issues, in effect using it as a sounding board. It has very understanding eyes, they say. The facts are secondary now, that no neighbor noticed, that the agents haven't found them, a bizarre saucer repair job. The big theme is acceptance and light and charming is the tone. (In a few theaters) 4 out of 5
THE ETERNAL MEMORY: Actually, sometimes it's not eternal. This film warns about the dangers of forgetting. It brings together two examples to make that point: losing your personal memory like the central character has under Alzheimer's and as his nation, Chile, is said to be doing about its history of repression under the Pinochet regime. Not connected? Writer/director Maite Alberdi makes them fit and support each other. It's a documentary and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year.
We get intimate scenes at home, taken from both original footage and home movies, as Augusto Góngora and his wife Paulina Urrutia deal with his fading capabilities. He has to ask who she is and doesn't know the man he sees in the mirror. Later he moans where are his friends. "I want to see them. They should be here. Please help me." It's a very touching vision of dementia and it's contrasted with archival footage of a younger him when he was a TV journalist and reported on what he called the "return to joy", the recovery from the Pinochet years. He also wrote a book about it saying "Those who have memory, have courage." He died earlier this year but his message "No memory, no identity" is there and powerful in the film. (In theaters, brought by The Impact Series) 3 ½ out of 5
100 YEARS OF WARNER BROS. The third episode of four in this celebration of the powerhouse Hollywood studio continues the nostalgia factor in surveying the more recent years, the 1980s and 90s. The films are beloved from The Goonies, which kicked off an amazing run of them, to The Color Purple, which Oprah Winfrey says made her feel “emboldened”, Goodfellas, which recalled the studio's history with gangster films, Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood's masterpiece, JFK by Oliver Stone, Batman by Tim Burton. The list goes on and on. Selena, Dangerous Liaisons, Driving Miss Daisy. All significant, some requiring courage from the studio heads. As before, perfectly-chosen and perfectly-placed clips add to this very lively history.
The episode starts with a financial crisis and ends with a cliffhanger. An “identity crisis” is coming, it says. Gotta see that. (The series streams on the Hollywood Suite site) 4 out of 5
BACK ON THE STRIP: It's a Black version of The Full Monty of sorts. That is it goes through a very similar plot line, adds a seperate but dull story, dresses it up with very rough language and hobbles it with low humor. And it assembles a terrific cast to do all that. Some of them might be embarased to have it on their resume. Tiffany Haddish you've done better than this. Wesley Snipes? I guess you miss being on top. And Kevin Hart? You're only a cameo here and not many will remember. The lead is Spence Moore II who has done a lot of television. He plays Merlin, Tiffany's son, a want-to-be magician, who performing in Las Vegas accidentally drops his pants and exposes himself. That gets him noticed for his appendage down there and invited join a pack of strippers called the Chocolate Chips. They're re-grouping after many years.
Snipes, as Mr. Big, is leading them. J.B. Smoove as Slim Sexy is now a pastor but still up for the show. Three others want change. “Da Body” has grown fat, “Da Face” is a house husband, and “Dr. X” now a plastic surgeon says being white is boring. Back then he pretended he was Black. As they learn to dance as a unit again contrived dramas show up. One guy's coffee with another's wife. That sort of thing. Merlin's appeal to his former girlfriend over her new man. And many low jokes about body parts, including a gross one near the end spoken by Haddish herself. It's a minor film. (In a few theaters) 2 out of 5