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Charlie Plummer

“LEAN ON PETE” My rating: B+ (Opens April 20 at theTivoli, Glenwood Arts and Town Center)

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Lean on Pete” will leave audiences emotionally wrecked.

This despite the miscasting of a couple of key roles.

At first glance the latest from Brit writer/director Andrew Haig (“45 Years,” “Weekend”)  may look like a-boy-and-his-horse story.  But no.  The equine Pete of the title is less a character than a symbol of everything that the movie’s young human protagonist lacks.

When we meet Charley (Charlie Plummer, last seen as John Paul Getty II in “All the Money in the World”) he’s living in borderline poverty with his loving but generally hapless father Ray (Travis Fimmel). Early on they discuss Ray’s latest squeeze over a breakfast of Fruit Loops (which are kept in the fridge to frustrate the roaches).

Charley: “I like her better than Marlene.”

Ray: “Marlene was smart for a stripper.”

Virtually by accident Charley falls in with Del (Steve Buscemi), who might best be described as a used car salesman of the horse set.  Del has a small stable of nags he runs at nickel-and-dime tracks around the Pacific Northwest. He puts Charley to work grooming the exercising the animals, and the kid soon picks up that Del isn’t above scamming or cheating to make a buck, leading occasionally to quick dead-of-night getaways.

Still, the kid loves working with the  horses, especially the aging Lean On Pete, who becomes  his personal favorite.

“You can’t think of them as pets,” warns Bonnie (Chloe Savigny), the young woman who is Del’s in-house jockey. “They’re here to race and nothing else.”

Indeed, Del is no sentimentalist when it comes time to cull the herd.  Thus when Charley, already reeling from a tragedy at home, learns that Lean on Pete is “going to Mexico” — Delspeak for being sold to the glue factory — the kid puts the horse in a trailer, revs up Del’s junker pickup truck, and heads out for parts unknown. (more…)

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Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer

“FINAL PORTRAIT” My rating: B (Opens April 20 at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Genius marches to its own drummer, expecting mere mortals to keep time. And if we can’t maintain the pace, genius will  blithely leave us behind.

Stanley Tucci’s droll “Final Portrait” depicts a real-life encounter between genius in the form of artist Alberto Giacometti and a young man whose idol worship will come back to bite him in the posterior.

Based on James Lord’s 1965 memoir A Giacometti Portrait, the terse film, punctuated by deadpan comedic moments, depicts a 1964  incident in which Lord, an American journalist who often wrote about the art scene, agreed to pose for Giacometti in his Paris studio.  At the time the artist — known worldwide for his elongated sculptures — was concentrating on painting.

Lord is played by Armie Hammer as a handsome but bland young man, probably gay, who jumps at the chance to spent time in the presence of greatness. Giacometti, portrayed with rumpled self-absorption by Geoffrey Rush, says the sittings will take only a couple of days.

Maybe he honestly believes that. In any case, the three-day sitting turns into a three-week slog, with Lord dutifully showing up every day to sit while Giacometti paints, chain smokes, curses, repeatedly starts over and finds numerous opportunities to lay down his brush for alcoholic and sexual diversions. What started out as an art fan’s thrill turns into an existential dilemma.

Time after time Lord must cancel the plane tickets for his return to New York. He detects a recurring pattern in the artist’s  reluctance — refusal even — to finish a work, and begins playing mind games to nudge Giacometti toward completing the portrait.

All this unfolds in the artist’s studio, a cellar-like dustbin right out of “La Boheme” filmed in desaturated hues that cloak everything save human flesh in a gray pall.

And there are other players here. Like Giacometti’s brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub, almost unrecognizable), an artist in his own right who spends most of his time puttering around the edges of his older sibling’s environment and vaguely commiserating with Lord.

There’s Mrs. Giocametti (Sylvie Testud), who is not thrilled that her husband has become so obsessed with a local prostitute (Clemence Poesy) that he buys her a spiffy sports car.

 

(more…)

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Joaquin Phoenix

“YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE”  My rating: B- (Opens April 20 at the Town Center and Alamo Drafthouse)

89 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A brutal character study encased in an overripe — some might say rancid — melodrama, Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really There” offers Joaquin Phoenix at his moodiest.

Depending upon your point of view, that will be either a warning or an enticement.

When we first meet Joe (Phoenix) he’s cleaning up a hotel room where something very nasty has occurred.  He’s wrapping a bloody hammer in plastic and rinsing gory items in the bathroom sink.  There are also insert shots of someone — it’s hard to say just who — struggling to breathe with their head wrapped in a plastic dry cleaning bag.

Joe — who has the graying beard and long hair of a ’60s Jesus freak and seems to be about 50 pounds overweight — is not, as you might think, a serial killer.  Nor is he a hit man, exactly.

His specialty is retrieving lost children — kids who have been snatched or sold into sex slavery. It’s hard to say whether he’s in it for the money, for the sake of the kids, or because it gives him a good excuse to go Neanderthal on some really despicable people.

Job completed and fee collected, he shuffles off to the Bronx house he shares with his invalid mother (Judith Roberts), with whom he shares a love/hate relationship.  There are moments of genuine  tenderness here.  There are also flashbacks to Joe’s tormented childhood; apparently he spent lots of time locked in a closet while Mom entertained.

Other brief blips from Joe’s past reveal him to be a veteran who fought somewhere in the Mideast. (more…)

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Celia Imrie, Imelda Staunton

“FINDING YOUR FEET” My rating: C 

111 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

I won’t say I hated “Finding Your Feet,”  the most recent in a string of films (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” “The Hero”) depicting love amongst the geriatric set.

But I just barely tolerated it.

Despite a solid cast of veteran British thesps — Imelda Staunton, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie, Joanna Lumley, David Hayman, John  Sessions — the latest film from director Richard Loncraine (“Brimstone & Treacle,” “Richard III,” “My House in Umbria”) shamelessly panders to its blue-haired target audience. In its own way it’s as derivative and contrived as a Frankie and Annette beach party movie — except you don’t want to see this cast in bikinis.

Sandra (Staunton) is stunned to discover that Mike, her titled husband of 40 years, has been having an affair for nearly that entire time. So it’s splitsville, not only from Mike but from Sandra’s privileged, cash-intensive (and politically conservative) lifestyle.

On the rebound she washes up at the door of her estranged sister, Bif (Imrie), a septuagenarian hippie whose life of adventure and close friendships are diametrically opposed to Sandra’s stunted outlook.

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Bel Powley

“WILDING” My rating: C (Opens April 20 at the Screenland Tapcade)

92 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Before it bogs down in overcooked horror film cheese, Fritz Bohm’s “The Wildling” pulls a clever narrative con job on its audience.

It’s one of those cases where you’re pretty sure of what the movie’s about until you realize you have it all wrong.

In a prequel Daddy (Brad Dourif) tends to his precious little girl, Anna. Except that there’s something odd going on here…Anna is never allowed to leave  her room and Daddy fills her with tales of the evil Wildling that lives in the woods outside their home and would like nothing better than to snatch and eat such a delightful child.

So, yeah, the kid grows up weird.  When Anna hits puberty Daddy starts giving her daily injections apparently meant to retard menstruation and other signs of maturation.

And then one day Daddy puts a gun to his head and BLAM. It’s pretty clear that he snatched Anna as a young girl and raised her in secret. Now he’s overcome by regret.

Discovered by neighbors who heard the shot, young Anna — now a young woman played by Bel Powley — is rescued by the authorities. The local chief of police, Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler), takes the mysterious and befuddled girl (she’s never been outside her bedroom) into her own home with the intention of filing for full custody.

The sheriff’s  younger brother, Lawrence (Mike Faist), lives with them and befriends Anna, attempting  to guide her through the minefield of high school.

So the screenplay by Bohm and Florian Elder is all about this innocent learning to cope with real-world conflicts after a sheltered childhood, right? (more…)

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Jon Hamm

“BEIRUT”  My rating: B-

109 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Beirut” is a decent LeCarresque thriller that doesn’t live up to its advance hype.

It’s O.K. Not great. It features  a solid central performance by Jon Hamm as a boozy former diplomat with a bad case of existential angst, and Moroccan locations that fill in nicely for the war-ravaged city of the title.

But too often this effort from writer Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “Rogue One”) and veteran TV director Brad Anderson feels overly familiar. The plot, characters and situations offer a well-produced retread of material we’ve already seen many times before.

Gilroy’s screenplay begins in Beirut in 1972.  American diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm) is presiding over a cocktail party in his residence overlooking the city known by many as the Paris of the Mideast.

Civil war is brewing, but Mason has dedicated his diplomatic skills to averting armed conflict among Lebanon’s native Muslims and Christians, not to mention the Palestinian refugees who are flooding the country and the Israeli military presence hovering at the  border.

It says much about Mason’s liberality that he is married to a Lebanese woman and the couple have taken in a teenaged Palestinian refugee named Karim.

In mere minutes, Mason’s world falls apart. CIA thugs show up to snatch Karim, having just discovered that the boy is the younger brother of a known terrorist. At the same time Karim’s sibling shows up to grab the kid. In the ensuing mayhem Mason’s wife is gunned down.

A decade later we find Mason back in the states using his negotiating skills to settle labor disputes. His heart really isn’t in his work, though. He’s a lush with nothing to live for.

 

(more…)

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Emily Blunt

“A QUIET PLACE” My rating: B

90 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

A big idea will take you farther than a big budget. That was the lesson of last year’s “Get Out” and, on a somewhat more modest scale, of the creepily claustrophobic “A Quiet Place.”

Co-written and directed by John Krasinski, who stars with real-life wife Emily Blunt, “Quiet…” is an intimate post-apocalyptic tale that examines the dynamic of a besieged family. It was made with limited resources; happily talent was not one of the rationed goods.

We first meet the clan — I don’t believe their names are ever mentioned — as they quietly pillage through the remains of an abandoned town.  Emphasize the “quietly” part.

Some sort of alien invasion or government experiment gone bad has unleashed nasty spider-like creatures (we don’t get a good look at them until late in the proceedings) who have an insatiable appetite for mammalian blood.  Only three months after these creatures made their appearance, the human race is teetering on the edge of extinction.

This particular family — Mom (Blunt), Dad (Krasinski), Big Sister (Millicent Simmonds) and Little Brother (Noah Jupe) —  have survived in large part because Big Sister is hearing impaired and the other family members are fluent in sign language. They are able to silently communicate with their hands (what conversation the film offers is rendered in subtitles) and this has allowed them to elude the marauding invaders, who are sightless but have  a finely developed sense of hearing.

After a jarring prologue we find the characters living on a farm, spending much of their time in a basement bunker. They don’t wear shoes (bare feet make less noise) and move with slow deliberation.  They have laid paths of sand around the farmstead…sand absorbs the sound of footsteps. (more…)

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