There are lots of new films this week, in theaters, streaming or at the two big documentary festivals. From light entertainment to bracing reality with some fan celebration mixed in, we have these from that long list ...
The Fall Guy: 3 stars
The Idea of You: 2 ½
Jeanne du Barry: 2 ½

Star Wars: Tales of the Empire: 3
Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story: 4
The Real Superstar: 4
A Man Imagined: 3 ½

THE FALL GUY: There's quite a bit in here to enjoy, if you're not too demanding about two big movie elements: story and character relationships. You get stars, Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in top form in the lead, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Hannah Waddingham (of Ted Lasso fame) impressive among the smaller roles but a weak script connecting them. Gosling plays a stuntman crashing cars and yes, falling, in action scenes for the movies. Early on, he's smitten with a production assistant (Blunt) and full-on in love with her when he comes back from a long injury-caused break and she has risen to be a director. Of a blockbuster no less, which she terms a “sci-fi romance.” Probably like it, their own potential love affair isn't much explored.

Courtesy of Universal

The story is weak too. The star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) goes missing and Gosling has to try and find him. That's similar to the 1980s TV series the film is based on where the stuntman was also a bounty hunter. Here though, the plotline is so convoluted that it's hard to follow what's happened to the actor. No problem really. It's the visual excitement you've come for; the many stunts played out spectacularily for us, including falls off buildings and out of a plane and a record-breaking car-roll-over sequence. The film is by David Leitch, a former stuntman himself, who now directs. He helmed the first John Wick. And Gosling is as likeable as he was playing Ken. Now with added action-movie chops. (In theaters) 3 out of 5

THE IDEA OF YOU: This is pure contemporary fantasy but with some serious issues at play. Imagine a 40-year-old divorcee and mother falling into a romance with a 24-year-old pop star. Unlikely, sure but Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine make it work in this film directed by Michael Showalter (of the recent Big Sick) and based on a popular novel by Robinne Lee. The unlikely story is set up well enough to be possible. Solène, the mom, has to take her daughter to a music festival because her ex- backed out even though he had bought a meet-and-greet for her with a superstar boy band called August Moon. The daughter is now over them; she's into “aggressively talented female songwriters” but mom so charms the lead singer, Hayes Campbell, played by Galitzine, that he sings directly to her from the stage. Then he shows up at the art gallery she owns and buys everything. He invites her on tour and they're off to Paris, Rome, Barcelona and a house in the south of France. Fantasy, yes.

Courtesy of Prime Video

Age gap is a big issue. “I'm too old for you,” she says. “You're not,” he replies. The aging of women is another. “You’re not even a person till you’re 30,” says a friend . “Then you spend the next 10 years figuring out what kind of person you want to be.” Celebrity is a third, not only the attraction the fans feel, but what it does to the celebs when the photographers are hovering and the internet trolls are spouting. “Cougar” they call her. A big star who came out of the band New Direction may be the inspiration here and an early writer of songs for them wrote all the ones here. So they and the big stadium concerts feel genuine. Some of the harsher stuff from the novel is dropped out of the film making this a sweet and easy to take charmer. (In theaters) 2 ½ out of 5


JEANNE DU BARRY: Seems far out: Johnny Depp as King Louis XV of France. But he does fine in the role. Apparently he can speak French and the script helps him out by requiring him to say only a line or two (or less) at any one time. The dialogue coach probably had time to train him for every one. His character is remote though as the focus is on Jeanne who was the king's last mistress. French actress Maïwenn plays her and directs the film as quite a self-promotion. She saw the character in the Marie-Antoinette film and had to tell more of her story. Curiously though, not all of it.

Courtesy of Vertical

Jeanne was an ambitious country girl who was offered to the king by her lover. He got personal recognition and money. She discovered how to be a woman while remaining free. That's what the script has her saying and it's with that touch of feminine self-affirmation that the movie presents her. She sleeps with the king, offends his daughters and others at his court (you know, a commoner) and has to sidestep their intrigues. In putting a positive spin on her character, the film disregards a lot of negatives, including her extravagance. She dotes on a black boy the king gave her as a present but later, when he was grown up, was denounced by him. On-screen information at the end said he cited her “spite.” That's not evident anywhere in the film. She's a woman making her way in the world, “worthy of the royal bed” according to a doctor and the antidote to the king's depression. That angle is too sketchy. The film is lavish with its costumes and décor (filmed at Versailles) and is flavored with comic digs at protocol and pretensions. One gag is repeated over and over though. (In theaters) 2 ½ out of 5

STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE: Disney keeps the Star Wars series coming. Star Wars The Bad Batch has just ended and tomorrow this new one starts. There are only six episodes so far and they're short—15 minutes or less—and you'd better be a deep fan if you really want to get it all. The background is complex and reaches back to several previous series, particularly The Clone Wars. The Republic has been defeated; and the Empire re-established. Two women have to navigate this new reality. They're susceptible to being drawn to the darkside as we learn in these six episodes presented in sharp animation. A lightsaber battle looks great.

Courtesy of LucasFilm

Morgan Elspeth (voiced by Diana Lee Inosanto) is part of an order called The Nightsisters. She's a magistrate and drawn to an Empire leader Grand Admiral Thrawn but is seeking revenge. Bariss Offee (Meredith Salenger) is a former Jedi Knight who became disillusioned and has turned against them. Fans have been asking for some 10 years to get more of her story. Dave Filoni, the creative executive over at LucasFilm complied. It's one of his techniques to expand on stories from the past. Bariss had bombed The Jedi Temple, blamed it on someone else but served time in prison. So, she's bitter. Jason Isaacs is The Grand Inquisitor. It's the same good vs evil arc of all Star Wars and an eminently watchable series even if you don't know all that came before. (Disney+) 3 out of 5


ANY OTHER WAY: THE JACKIE SHANE STORY: This fascinating musical biography has one more play at Hot Docs in Toronto and will be the closing film at DOXA in Vancouver. It brings a very modern theme along with its character, the R&B singer who came from Nashville, became a star performer in Toronto in the 1960s (Montreal was too controlled by mobsters for her liking) and then, in 1971, disappeared. Rumors said she was dead or kidnapped, but the filmmakers Michael Mabbott and Lucah Rosenberg-Lee found her 40 years later living as a recluse back in Nashville. Before she died, they got her to tell her story in a series of phone conversations, parts of which we hear, and dug up recordings, a rare TV appearance and whatever else they could for the film They filled in the gaps with animation.

Courtesy of the NFB

Shane had immense vocal talent but was also trans, having been born a boy, endured an abusive childhood and kids calling her a “sissy” and escaped the prejudice by coming north. She developed a strong following singing in a Yonge Street bar. She opened for big name artists like Etta James and The Temptations in concert. And she was something of an icon for the LGBQ crowd because she was candid and blunt. “They have no right to force their way of life on us,” she insisted. And this: “there's nothing more important than keeping your peace of mind intact.” And several times this: “Live and let live.” She turned down The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand on principle, released a few singles and one remarkable live album which we get to sample and, in a way, she's been brought back. It's Executive Produced by Elliot Page, the former Ellen. (Hot Docs + DOXA) 4 out of 5

THE REAL SUPERSTAR: Amitabh Bachchan is his name. If you're a Bollywood fan, you'll know him already. He's almost 82 years old, has made over 200 movies and has 14 more coming. It's said that people in India revere him like a god. This documentary doesn't say that but supports it. There's no narration, just an experimental approach to a biography by the young French director Cédric Dupire. He tells it all through his work, in a montage of clips from his movies. Something like the segments you see on Oscar broadcasts but longer, 69 minutes.

Courtesy of DOXA

You get a great overview of his work and the wide range of characters he plays from warm dads to stern cops to ferocious rebels. “Revolution” he yells repeatedly as his character is tortured with barbed wire for rebelling against British rule. He speaks up for the underpriviledged in several scenes and in one sequence seems to be encountering doppelgangers of his character over and over. It's all beautifully edited and shows his life in his work becoming his work in his life. There are dozens of clips from his films. They're a fine tribute to a very good actor you should get to know if you don't already. (Saturday at DOXA in Vancouver) 4 out of 5


A MAN IMAGINED: Also at DOXA is this bracing visit with a homeless man. Most of us don't stop to talk to them but the filmmakers Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky did. They met Lloyd when they volunteered at a shelter in Montreal, found him intelligent, willing to talk and revelatory. They also see what his life is like when they follow him outside and he dumpster dives, tries to sell things he finds (coffee maker, $5?), warms himself at a building's heat exhaust pipe or sleeps among the blossoms in a park in the spring.

Courtesy of The NFB

“What makes you happy?” they ask him. “Talking to people,” he says. Clearly he craves connection (“I wish I had a girlfriend”) but he's also a loner. How long has he been on the street? “All my life.” Gradually we get his story but it becomes so strange you wonder how much of it is real and how much is an hallucination. Dad spanked him as a child. Years later a friend helped him escape his influence. How that happened is hard to believe, but it has left him with a strong feeling of regret. He insists he's not a schizophrenic, which makes you wonder some more. He's had a hard life, hates the government and doesn't want to be remembered. Thought-provoking stuff. (DOXA this coming Wednesday) 3 ½ out of 4