Tag Archives: Actor

Infinitium: Subject Unknown

[3 stars]

Infinitum is an impressively delivered indie on the verge of greatness. I don’t even have to handicap it for how it was filmed nor the cameos by Ian McKellen (Animal Crackers, Good Liar) and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones, Herself). The delivered result is a surprisingly polished, one-woman bravura performance by the relatively unknown Tori Butler-Hart. And that was an unexpected gift as, I will fully admit, I rented this movie because of McKellen and Hill, not realizing they were such a small part of it.

Butler-Hart and her husband, Matthew Butler-Hart, wrote and directed this 90 minute, trippy tale of parallel worlds. Taking advantage of the empty streets of the pandemic and the improved technology of iPhones, they and their family delivered a tense story of woman lost in a world and circumstances she doesn’t understand. McKellen and Hill provide a small amount of framework explaining it to us, but we have to discover it along with her…well, until near the very end when we’re spoon-fed an answer.

I imagine that those that care about the science, if not the specifics, underpinning the plot could debate the ending for quite some time. But this story provides a view not often shown in this sub-genre. And it works, or did for me, because it is delivered with complete conviction. And, more importantly, the two main talents of the Butler-Hart clan have intrigued me enough to seek out their previous and forthcoming projects.

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Dating & New York

[3.5 stars]

Like Broken Hearts Gallery, this first feature by Jonah Feingold delivers on almost all levels. They both aim at Millennial love connections and struggles. And both made me realize how much things have changed about dating… and how much they’ve really stayed the same. Dating & New York is a bit less polished than Broken Hearts, and it’s more unapologetically aimed at a younger audience, but there is plenty there for all ages to sympathize and recognize and laugh with (and at).

From the moment it starts we know we’re about to enter a sort of satirical view of old romance films, but done with both love and affection. It isn’t making fun of those fantasies so much as updating them. And the main couple in this modern romcom comes to wonderful life with Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale (Stranger Things). The energy and easy nature of both are completely engaging. And their friends, Catherine Cohen (The Lovebirds) and Brian Muller, bring some framework and balance to what we know just has to get messy eventually, no matter how civilized and above-board it all starts.

Feingold keeps the pacing unrelenting…exhausting even, at times. The story is entertaining. The ending is honest and romantic. The gender flips he does are nicely turned. And, OK, absent one character, I never had any idea how any of these people supported themselves, but that wasn’t the focus of the story. Having found out he filmed it all in 15 days, this movie is sort of amazing.

This is a romantic comedy for both those that like romantic comedies and those who scoff at them. It’s an honest romantic comedy. Well, mostly honest. Mainly, it’s believable where it needs to be and wry where it threatens to get too syrupy. Above all, it’s fun and funny.

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Brand New Cherry Flavor

[3 stars]

It’s hard to turn away from this unexpectedly magical, dark, and twisted Hollywood-meta horror ride. It not only echoes so much of what has come before (and current affairs), but builds its own mythos and little corner of hell. And Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) and Catherine Keener (Incredibles 2) are wonderfully matched as they share and spar.

It’s also easy to see why both of these women took on their roles. Salazar gets to grow up and command the screen. Keener (Incredibles 2) took the challenge of trying to make the truly weird and fantastical into something accessible and believable. And she rides that line beautifully.

There are a few men playing in their world. Jeff Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as a naif pulled into the maelstrom and Eric Lange (Wind River) as the catalyst and Weinstein stand-in. But one of the more unexpected, though his role is rather small, was Manny Jacinto (The Good Place, Nine Perfect Strangers). Jacinto proves again what a chameleon he is; every role his sense of age, even of height, seem malleable.

If you like the weird and dark, The ride of Cherry Flavor is worth every minute you get to spend with it. It’s sense of dread and magic, power and control as it all shifts and is explained is compelling. The ending…well, let’s just say they wimped out. Yes, it sort of completes, but they left it wide open for a sequel. Honestly, I would have preferred a solid ending. But that is only the last few minutes of an 8 episode dark epic that grabbed me and pulled me along, even against my will at times. It isn’t for everyone, but it is very well crafted and wonderfully acted.

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Cruella

[4 stars]

Oh, what a wonderfully unexpectedly deep and dark confection. And from Disney no less. Who knew they could do psychopaths and still keep it all PG? To be fair, Emma Thompson’s (Last Christmas) Baroness is more a psychopath while Emma Stone’s (Zombieland: Double Tap) Cruella is really a sociopath, but why split dog hairs? Both performances are nearly flawless.

There is something for everyone in this story: mystery, surprises, fashion, music (seriously, a heck of a soundtrack from the 60s-80s), snark, heists, and cuteness (even if mostly CGI’d). However, it is a bit dark for the wee ones, so it is more of a 3 quadrant flick rather than a full family affair.

Part of the real brilliance of this story is that it not only provides a backstory for one of Disney’s more heinous criminals (from the kid’s stories) but it also builds out the origin of the henchmen Jasper and Horace in the guise of Joel Fry (benjamin) and Paul Walter Hauser (Songbird) respectively.

The story also manages to shim up with everything we already knew about 101 Dalmatians in a quite wonderful, if rather forced, way.

If I have any real criticisms on the execution of the story by director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) it was around the critical shift for Stone’s arc. There is a moment (it is obvious), that she is forever forged as the criminal we grew up to fear. But, sadly, it isn’t crisp visually. It’s a story beat but we don’t really see the final transformation. The movie quickly sweeps on and you forgive it, but it’s the one element that I felt he missed amidst the opulent cinematography and framing that carried the swift and biting comedy along. It really is a dark and wonderful surprise of a film.

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Home Before Dark (series 1 & 2)

[3.5 stars]

Though based on a real story, this is the Nancy Drew update that we really needed and deserved, as opposed to the silly supernatural weirdness the CW served up. And Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) is the perfect embodiment of that literary staple. She balances a truly adult drive with the inexperience and naiveté of a young tween who sees the world as the simple place we all wish it were. And through that, and despite her struggles, comes away with a resolve that provides an example for all those around her.

There are some wonderful supporting roles around Prince. And without them, she could not have succeeded, but this is her show through and through, despite the subplots and deep personal tragedies that unfold over the first two seasons.

Among those adding the scaffolding, Michael Greyeyes (Rutherford Falls), Jim Sturgess (Hard Sun), Reed Birney, Abby Miller, Aziza Scott, and particularly her young, fellow detectives Deric McCabe (A Wrinkle in Time) and Jibrail Nantambu stand out over the 20 episodes as her drivers and supporters.

Series creator Dara Resnik never loses sight of the core of what makes this series work: it’s unending optimism in the face of opposition and complacency. Which isn’t to say it’s Pollyannaish, it most certainly is not. Though some of the plot jumps along a bit too easily and quickly, it does so in service to the wide audience it is aimed at and to be able to cover as much ground as possible in each 10 episode series.

The first two seasons are a nicely interlaced diptych. And, at the end of it all, there is an indication of the way forward. I went into this show with a huge dollop of uncertainty, but it won me over almost instantly and carried me with it through to the end of this most recent season. I definitely recommended it for older kids, but there is plenty in there for adults, especially parents, who have many plotlines of their own running in parallel.

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Bosch (series finale)

[4 stars]

There is nothing more wonderful for a show than to go out on a high, and Bosch most definitely did. In many ways, this was their best season yet, though it stood and relied on all the underpinnings of the previous 6.

Titus Welliver (Escape Plan 2: Hades) embodied Connelly’s detective. He created a tough, thoughtful man, driven by justice more than rules, but very specific about when he’s willing to color outside the lines.

Supported by Jamie Hector as his slightly messed up partner and Amy Aquino (The Lazarus Effect) as his strong but besieged Captain, he’s navigated multiple crimes and corruption, joy and tragedy. Lance Reddick (Sylvie’s Love) as the Chief of Police certainly contributed to both sides of that equation over time. And, as comic relief (often with more than a little edge) Troy Evans and Gregory Scott Cummins as the OG detective partners in the room make the best old married couple on TV.

Madison Lintz grew with the show as Bosch’s daughter. We got to watch her find her feet as an actor and a character. By the end, she has found her footing, with the surprising help of Mimi Rogers, and has blended the best of Bosch and her mother.

There is little doubt where the series had to end, given some of the changes that were made when it was adapted. Both readers and watchers will feel a sense of completion with the arc, regardless of how they came to it. Despite a number of parallel threads running through the season, all are tied up nicely (and one perhaps a bit too conveniently, but was necessary for dramatic effect). And there is still room for it to go forward if they execute on the rumors that are circulating. Suffice to say, if you enjoy police procedural, this is one of the best done in a long time. It is, in some ways, the male counterpart to Prime Suspect, but with a very different perspective and a very different set of flaws.

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Hacks

[3.5 stars]

First, let me take a moment to praise the great Jean Smart (Superintelligence) who, after 5 decades in the business, is still enjoying success and delivering wonderful performances. And this latest dark and off-color comedy, with her partner-in-crime Hannah Einbinder, is a great escape as well as a fun musing on generational change and differences (and samnesses).

Broad City trio, Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky have found a great balance between the two main characters and their perspectives. They, obviously, find themselves learning more about each other as time goes on and, through that, about their own lives and choices. That’s the formula. But sharp edge of the dialogue and the bare honesty of the business they are in is entertaining as hell.

Hacks constantly evolves as it progresses, each episode peeling back layers of artifice and assumption. But through it all are funny moments and snappy dialogue. The main female duo dominate, but the help of Christopher McDonald, and Carl Clemons-Hopkins shouldn’t be overlooked.

It still has a couple episodes to go, so you can jump on the train and catch up before it finales. And, given the trip so far, I’m willing to get ahead of the finale to recommend it now. In case you’re worried, it’s already been renewed for a second season, so you’re not making an investment that will leave you hanging.

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Supernova

[3.5 stars]

Better known as an actor, Harry Macqueen wrote and directed this quietly intense story that should be recognizable to anyone who has ever been, or ever wanted to be, in a long-term relationship. Despite its framing, it isn’t a story about a gay couple, it’s a story about two lovers in crisis and holding on to one another as they navigate the issues. And he manages to do all this through quiet dialogue and without losing tension.

It’s worth every minute of this movie to follow Stanley Tucci (The Witches) and Colin Firth (Mary Poppins Returns) across the English countryside as they struggle to help one another accept the latest phase of their marriage. Both are wonderfully subtle actors, and the depth of their connection is undeniable.

It’s hard not to watch this and not compare it to The Leisure Seeker. Despite the radically different temperaments of the two movies, they tread the same ground in many ways; that of a deep and abiding love facing mortality. But unlike Leisure Seeker, little happens in this movie and few secrets are revealed. It really is a story about the two talking to each other and their friends. But, thanks to the clever direction and editing, it isn’t in the least boring.

This is definitely one to curl up on the couch with your nearest loved one and consider what it means to spend a lifetime together.

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Coda

[3 stars]

This is one of those small, quiet films that manages to grab you. It is also, possibly, the best depiction of the crippling pain of stage fright I’ve ever seen captured.

Patrick Stewart (Charlie’s Angels), as the aging pianist extraordinaire, is not only credible but he brings a quiet depth and gravitas to a story that is often only hinted at; something Stewart is truly great at. Katie Holmes (Logan Lucky) and Giancarlo Esposito (Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Unpregnant) form his support, and create the story structure around his return to the stage. While there are other characters in the story, this film is really just a three person play.

First-time director Claude Lalonde orchestrated Louis Godbout’s script deftly. The story never lags and never slips into histrionics or forced romantics. While certainly enhanced, it feels very real and human, which is how it manages to touch you right up till the end. Make time for it when you want something a bit more down-to-earth or if you just want to see Stewart flex his acting muscles outside of the characters that have dominated his career.

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The Human Voice

[3.5 stars]

Tilda Swinton (The Dead Don’t Die) is one of those singular individuals in look and style. She also happens to be incredibly talented. And thanks to Swinton’s intensity and brilliant timing, Pedro Almodovar’s (Julieta) take on this Jean Cocteau play is riveting.

The 30 minute short follows Swinton though, primarily, a one-side phone conversation that sounds like anything but. To watch her masterfully make that conversation come alive is worth the short investment of time alone. But the story and commentary itself, on life and love, is also impactful.

Almodovar freely, as he puts it on screen, adapted the story. While the presentation harkens to Cocteau’s theatrical roots, the story and color pallet reflect Almodovar’s opus. In fact, Laws of Desire, in particular, gets picked up more than once directly and indirectly.

The short film is more than a little self-conscious, but that is the Cocteau coming through more than anything else. The story and sentiment are wholly recognizable, and the resolution, in many ways, releasing. Definitely make time for this at some point… for the time cost of a cheap sit-com you can have something to really sink your teeth into, not to mention bearing witness to an amazing performance.

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