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Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Bront Palarae

“EDGE OF THE WORLD” My rating: C- (VOD)

104 minutes | No MPAA rating

There’s undoubtedly a great film to be made of the life of Sir James Brooke, the Englishman who in the early 19th century schemed and fought his way into ruling a good chunk of the island nation of Borneo.

Alas, “Edge of the World” isn’t that movie.

Written by Rob Allyn, directed by Michael Haussman and starring a horrendously miscast Jonathan Rhys Meyers, this movie doesn’t succeed even as coherent storytelling.

Brooke was the real-life inspiration for Conrad’s characters from Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness (see also John Milius’ 1989 “Farewell to the King” and Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”), an adventurer out of sorts with traditional Victorian society who went rogue and carved a place for himself on the edge of civilization.

What sort of personality would it take to maneuver his way into such a position of power, to juggle and exploit the antagonisms among local political/tribal factions and to combat attempts to unseat him?

Keep asking. This movie offers little insight. Rhys Meyers’ charisma-free performance suggests a man with a 24/7 migraine and dyspepsia. But as to his moral compass, his motivations, his innermost feelings — we’re out of luck. The film is heavy on Brooke’s voiceover narration, but he doesn’t actually say much.

Dominic Monaghan is unmemorable as Brooke’s right-hand man, while Josie Ho plays the colorless local girl who becomes the white rajah’s bride. About the only fun performance here comes from Bront Palarae as Brooke’s scheming, amoral rival, a local prince who thinks nothing of casually lopping off the noggin of any poor peasant who gets in his way.

Director Haussman comes to features after a career in music videos. It shows. The film often looks good, but the means of presenting an effective long-form narrative elude him.

| Robert W. Butler

Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds, Emily Blunt

“A QUIET PLACE PART II” My rating: B

97 minute | MPAA rating: PG-13

With only two directing credits under his belt, actor-turned-filmmaker John Krasinski has proven himself one of the brightest up-and-comers in cinema.

“A Quiet Place” and its just-released sequel, “A Quiet Place Part II” remind a bit of the Spielbergian splash made by “Jaws” more than four decades ago. Like that seagoing classic, Krasinski’s “monster” movies exhibit a Hitchcockian sense for building suspense.

They have their own look and — perhaps even more important for a franchise about eyeless aliens who use their ears to track human prey — their own sound.

And they effectively mine notions of family and parenthood, with a tiny clan battling indescribable horrors to survive.

“A Quiet Place Part II” is a generally enjoyable thrill ride, peppered with gotcha shock moments and performances that far exceed what we’ve come to expect from the horror genre.

Yet despite the many upsides of this sequel, I found myself a bit let down. Not by the execution, but by the sameness. Krasinski sticks with ideas he introduced in the first film, but I never felt he was advancing them so much as recycling them.

You’ll recall that Krasinki’s character Lee Abbott, died in the first film, sacrificing himself to save his children. The new film (the screenplay is credited to Krasinksi, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) opens with a hugely effective flashback to the aliens’ arrival in the Abbott’s small upstate New York town. It’s got an impressive “War of the Worlds” vibe — and gives us our Krasinski fix before he vanishes from the screen for good.

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Toni Collette

“DREAM HORSE” My rating: B-

113 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The unlikely story of the prize-winning race horse Dream Alliance — bred and raised communally by the residents of a Welsh village — has already been the subject of the sublime 2016 documentary “Dark Horse.”

The new fictionalized version of his life, “Dream Horse,” isn’t nearly as good as the doc; still, it’s a solid example of feel-good cinema.

Dream Alliance was owned by a “syndicate” of two dozen store clerks, CPAs, retirees and other common folk in the tiny mining community of Cefn Fforest. Each chipped in 10 pounds a month for the animal’s care and training, and in 2009 the horse overcame what should have been a life-ending injury to win the Welsh National.

It’s like the very definition of feel-good.

The omnipresent Toni Collette stars as Jan Vokes, who toils as a grocery clerk during the day and a bar maid at night. While pushing pints one evening she overhears a barstool conversation featuring Howard Davies (Damien Lewis), an accountant who once was part of a consortium that owned a race horse.

Long an animal lover, Jan wonders what it would take to own her own race horse. She sucks the equally horse-crazed Howard into her scheme; his number crunching suggests that if enough locals chip in a few pounds every month they can afford to buy a mare, cover the fees to have her bred with a horse of quality, and raise their offspring in Jan’s back yard.

It’s the equine version of hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show.

What nobody expects is that after being farmed out to a professional trainer (Nicholas Farrell) their pony will actually start winning, much to the amazement of racing-world pundits who maintain the sport is only for London millionaires in Saville Road suits, certainly not for local yokels in worn tweed and muddy Wellingtons.

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Angelina Jolie, Finn Little

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD” My rating: B- (HBO Max)

80 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Insubstantial but nevertheless satisfying, Taylor Sheridan’s “Those Who Wish Me Dead” reacquaints us with Angelina Jolie in action heroine mode.

At age 45 Jolie has more gravitas than in her Lara Croft/”Salt”/”Mr. and Mrs. Smith” heyday. So while she might not retain all the physicality of those earlier incarnations, she compensates for it with an inner strength that transcends the overworked action tropes.

Here she plays Hannah, a professional firefighter working Montana’s deep woods. Drinking and carousing with her rugged peeps she’s the good ol’ tough gal. Inside, though, she’s struggling with the emotional fallout of a fatal conflagration…the ghastly incident hinged on an unpredictable change in wind direction, but Hannah blames herself.

Which is why for the current fire season she’s been assigned to a lookout tower situated on such a remote ridge that it can only be reached on foot. (I dunno…maybe they used helicopters to bring in all those girders.) This assignment is meant to keep her safe — physically and mentally — until she can return to normal duty.

Be assured that the screenplay (by Sheridan, Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt) doesn’t allow her much rest.

Across the country in Florida, a forensic accountant (Jake Weber) realizes that his poking around in a vast government conspiracy has put his life — and that of his young son Connor (Finn Little) — in jeopardy. A couple of shadowy black op types (Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult) are eliminating prosecutors — and their families — pursuing a massive corruption case.

Now they’re after the numbers cruncher.

The chase leads them to Big Sky Country, where the father and son once vacationed at a survival camp run by a local lawman (Jon Berthal) and his wife (Medina Senghore). Their plan is to disappear into the wilds with the help of these knowledgable backwoodsmen.

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Anson Mount

“THE VIRTUOSO” My rating: B- (In theaters)

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The hit man movie occupies a curious corner of the noir world. Invariably these efforts center on a ruthlessly efficient killer who finds himself emotionally involved with a target, experiencing twinges of guilt or generally questioning his choice of professions.

 Nick Stagliano’s “The Virtuoso” works a couple of intriguing variations on the usual setup.

The first and most interesting is voiceover narration that dispassionately describes the daily workings of a professional killer. This narration is provided by leading man Anson Mount, and compensates for the fact that on screen his character says almost nothing. So it’s kind of neat that we get to hear his thoughts as he goes about his deadly business.

“You’re a professional devoted to timing and precision. A virtuoso,” our antihero (identified only as the Virtuoso) offers.

Truth is, the Virtuoso appears to be a mystery even to himself. He lives in an isolated cabin. He seems to have no friends or acquaintances apart from the Mentor (Anthony Hopkins), who farms out contracts to our man and other pro killers. He doesn’t even have a pet, although from time to time he sets out a bowl of kibble for the feral dog that lives among the trees.

Early on the Virtuoso executes a murder, but there is collateral damage in the person of an innocent bystander. Apparently for the first time he feels remorse for killing…indeed, he is so unnerved by the experience that the Mentor — who normally communicates only by phone — shows up in person to check on his charge’s emotional state and to give a long graveyard monologue about how he and the Virtuoso’s father served together on an assassination squad in Vietnam. (This is about as much background as we’ll get on our leading character.)

Anthony Hopkins

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Tiffany Haddish, Billy Crystal

“HERE TODAY” My rating: C+ (In theaters)

117 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Billy Crystal’s sincere but ultimately unfulfilling dramedy “Here Today” is a queasy blend of vintage Crystal wise-cracking and dour navel gazing.

That it works as well as it does is largely due to the pairing of the veteran funnyman with Tiffany Haddish. Turns out that in real life they are besties, so the affection that radiates from their screen relationship is the real deal.

Comedy writer Charlie Berns (Crystal) is a legend in the business and though in his late 60s holds down a gig on the staff of a hit sketch TV show wildly popular with millenials. He’s a mentor to the younger writers, serving as a sort of conscience when the kids push things too far and punching up flat sketches with a new line here and a tweak there.

Thing is, Charlie has been diagnosed with dementia. He gets along by following the same daily routine, but increasingly he’s living in the past with memories of his late beloved wife (portrayed as a young woman by Louisa Krause).

Charlie has a grown son (Penn Badgley) and daughter (Laura Benanti) and especially a beloved granddaughter, but he hasn’t shared his diagnosis with them. During his busy prime Charlie was pretty much an absentee father, and resentments still simmer.

His co-workers on the comedy show are equally in the dark.

Enter Emma (Haddish), a jazz singer whose former boyfriend played the winning bid at a charity auction for a lunch with the great Charlie Berns. Emma is too young to know anything about Charlie or his work, but using the lunch ticket is a good way to get revenge on he ex.

Who knew the two would so quickly hit it off?

In its early going, at least, “Here Today” benefits from blasts of Crystal humor. Charlie may be slipping away, but he’s alert and aware much of the time, and still displays impeccable comic skills.

Slowly, though, his forgetfulness and anxiety begin to percolate through his daily existence. And with his children at arm’s length, it falls to his new best bud Emma to become his new caregiver. She doesn’t think twice about jumping into the fight.

Crystal not only writes, directs and stars in the film, he has packed it with celebs portraying themselves (Sharon Stone, Kevin Kline, Barry Levinson). Anna Deavere Smith portrays his neurologist.

And it’s not bad.

But no early kidding around can disguise the fact that “Here Today” will soon mutate into “Gone Tomorrow.” It’s a downer, a constant balancing act between silliness and tears. It only works part of the time.

| Robert W. Butler


Jodie Turner-Smith, Michael B. Jordan

“TOM CLANCY’S WITHOUT REMORSE” My rating: C (Amazon Prime)

109 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Critical reaction to Netflix’s “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” has pretty much centered on the fact that leading man Michael B. Jordan is WAY too talented to be wasted on this sort of superficial action drek.

I cannot argue with that analysis — putting Jordan in this “John Wick”-ish clone is like using a thermonuclear device to get rid of a wasp nest hanging from your eaves.

Yet even mediocre movies can be significant within a larger social context, and “Without Remorse” (a cheesy, generic title) feels like the right film at the right time in our intensifying national discussion about race.

Not that the film overtly addresses race. Outwardly, anyway, it’s color blind. But it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to find other stuff going on.

Clancy’s 1993 novel introduced readers to John Kelly, a Navy Seal who in 1970 is sent on a Rambo-is mission to recover an American intelligence officer from a North Vietnamese POW camp. He uncovers a high-level government plot to smuggle heroin into the US in the bodies of slain soldiers and instigates a murderous cleanup spree.

Eventually he’s recruited by the CIA, changes his hame to John Clark, and goes on to recurring appearances in a slew of Ryanverse novels.

Presumably the John Clark of the novels is white. Indeed, during the many years that the film version was in preproduction limbo, white actors like Keanu Reeves and Tom Hardy were considered for the role.

The ultimate choice of a black actor probably had less to do with ulterior motives on the part of the filmmakers than on Jordan’s widespread popularity. He is a draw for audiences of all colors.

Watching the film — which has shed its Vietnam-era trappings and takes place in the present; about all it has in common with the novel is the title — one is struck by its seeming color blindness. No mention is made of Kelly/Clark’s race. He’s an elite fighter, a devoted husband and soon-to-be father. But race doesn’t figure into it.

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“THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS” My rating: A-

84 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Notwithstanding its title, “The Truffle Hunters” imparts relatively little information about the actual process of hunting for those priceless subterranean fungi so beloved of cultured palates.

Turns out that the crusty old men of the Piedmont would prefer not to give away their truffle-hunting secrets in front of the camera. This explains why directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw rely heavily on extreme long shots of a tiny human figures — and their faithful dogs — rustling through the thick greenery of Italian hillsides.

But if the nuts and bolts of truffle hunting remain mysterious, “The Truffle Hunters” succeeds magnificently in capturing the rhythms of lives spent in the forests, the attitudes and outlooks of old men whose deepest relationships appear to be with the canines on whose sharp noses they rely.

With no narration, graphics or explanation this doc plops us down in the truffle hunters’ world. We see them at home (many of these colorful codgers seem to live as hermits in a largely technology-free setting). We watch them interact with their beloved pets (the pooches have personalities to rival those of their masters).

One fellow passes the time by bashing away on a full drum kit on his porch.

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Glenn Close, Mila Kunis

“FOUR GOOD DAYS” My rating: B+

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Any more it takes something special for a drug addiction drama to ring my bell. A pall of been-there-done-that hovers over the entire genre.

“Four Good Days” has a premise I’ve never seen before. Plus it’s a prime example of mano-a-mano acting from the fierce duo of Glenn Close (whom we’ve come to expect for this sort of thing) and Mila Kunis (whom we haven’t).

And it’s the latest from writer/director Rodrigo Garcia, a genius of cinematic humanism who gets my vote as creator of the best films nobody has seen (“Nine Lives,” “Mother and Child”).

Suburban housewife Deb (Glenn Close) is angry and distressed to find her thirtysomethibng daughter Molly (Mila Kunis) on her doorstep.

Molly is a junkie. Her trips to rehab number in the double digits. On previous visits Molly has burgled Deb and her husband Chris (Stephen Root) to buy drugs. She just can’t stay sober.

Deb refuses to open the door. She’s been burned too many times. She still loves her daughter, but experience has taught her to steer clear if she values her sanity.

Trouble is, next morning Molly is still perched on the stoop. Moreover, she claims to be in line for a medication that neutralizes the effects of narcotics. With no high, what would be the point of shooting up?

But there’s a catch. The wonder drug reacts violently — possibly fatally — to any narcotics in the user’s body.

Which means that after spending three days in rehab to qualify for the program, Molly must remain clean for the next four days before getting her first dose.

Can she do it?

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