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Patricia Arquette, Angela Bassett, Felicity Huffman

“OTHERHOOD” My rating: C+ (Available on Netflix)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Thank God for Patricia Arquette, Angela Bassett and Felicity Huffman.

These three classy thesps  make “Otherhood” bearable and intermittently entertaining.

The premise of Cindy Chupack’s film finds three old friends in upstate New York lamenting the indifference with which  their sons ignore Mother’s Day.

Thus the film’s title: once mothers, these three women now find themselves “others.”

But the gals aren’t gonna take it.  They load up an orange Volvo station wagon and tool down to NYC to surprise their errant offspring.

Carol (Bassett) discovers that her son Matt (Sinqua Walls) is the art director of a “lad” magazine (aimed at horny single guys) with a different girl every night.

Gillian (Arquette) finds her son Daniel (Jake Hoffman) struggling not only with a stillborn writing career but a breakup with his longtime girlfriend (Heidi Gardner).

Helen (Huffman) swoops down on the gay-centric apartment of her kid Paul (Jake Lacy) and throws a few hissy fits that alternately amuse and appall Paul’s roomies.

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Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Al Pacino

“ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD”  My rating: B+

161 minutes |MPAA  rating: R

Crammed with alternately bleak and raucous humor, a palpable affection for Tinseltown’s past and peccadilloes, and enough pop cultural references to fuel a thousand trivia nights, “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood” is a moviegoer’s dream.

Here writer/director Quentin Tarantino eschews his worst tendencies (especially his almost adolescent addiction to racial name-calling) and delivers a story that despite many dark edges leaves us basking in the sunny California sunshine.

Each scene has been exquisitely crafted with every element — art direction, costuming, cinematography, editing, acting — meshing in near perfection.

In the process Tarantino rewrites history, blithely turning a real-life tragedy into a fictional affirmation of positivity. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

The heroes (??) of this 2 1/2-hour opus are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a star of TV westerns who now (the time is 1969) sees his career circling the crapper, and his stunt double, the laconic tough guy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who not only steps in to perform dangerous feats on the set but serves as Rick’s best bud, Man Friday and chauffeur (Rick’s had one too man DUIs).

Tarantino’s script finds the  alternately cocky and weepy Rick (DiCaprio has rarely been better) lamenting his fading status in the industry (he’s been reduced to playing villains in episodic TV) and contemplating the offer of a semi-sleazy producer (Al Pacino) to make spaghetti Westerns in Europe.

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate

Cliff, meanwhile, picks up an underaged hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) who takes him to one of his old haunts, the Spahn ranch, an Old West movie set now occupied by one Charles Manson and his family of hippie misfits.

Newly arrived at the home next to Rick’s on Cielo Drive is director Roman Polanski and his beautiful actress wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Tate is a sweetheart, an all-American beauty radiating an almost angelic innocence and positivity. But we can’t help twitching in anxiety…after all, everybody knows that in ’69 she and her houseguests were the victims of a horrific murder spree by Manson’s brainwashed minions.

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Jakob Dylan and band (foreground) play a tune by the Byrds

“ECHO IN THE CANYON”  My rating: 

82 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: I may not be the ideal individual to review “Echo in the Canyon,”  Andrew Slater’s doc about the musicians who lived and created in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon from 1965 to ’67.

We’re largely talking about the  Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, two groups with which I’ve been semi-obsessed for more than 50 years. So, yes, I’m a fanboy and “Echo…” is like a dream come true.

That said, I don’t think you have to be of any particular age to appreciate this narrow but flavorful slice of pop music history. Divided almost equally between talking heads and musical performances, this doc is tuneful, insightful and, yeah, awesomely nostalgic.

Our guide is musician Jakob Dylan (yep…Bob’s son) who in 2015 produced a tribute LP of songs from the Laurel Canyon era and followed that up with a concert of the same material.

He interviews lots of folk — producer Lou Adler, musicians like Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, John Sebastian, Ringo Starr, Graham Nash and Tom Petty — for their memories and impressions.

Among the artists who re-interpret the classic songs are Fiona Apple, Beck, Norah Jones, Cat Power and Regina Spektor.

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Andrew Garfield

“UNDER THE SILVER LAKE” My rating: C (On Amazon Prime)

139 minutes | MPAA rating: R

David Robert Mitchell’s “Under Silver Lake” looks so good while evoking a palpable aura of dread (despite its sunny setting) that it pains to report that the movie makes no damn sense.

If you had to categorize it, “Silver Lake” might fall in the “amateur sleuth” category — a twenty something Los Angelino goes looking for his missing neighbor (an eroticism-radiating beauty, naturally) and discovers things he was never looking for.

To be charitable, Mitchell’s screenplay is much more about the search than the solving; still, after nearly 2 1/2 hours of wandering through a world of pointless parties and bizarre developments it’s a disappointment not to get some answers.

Sam (Andrew Garfield) is jobless and aimless. He’s facing eviction and the repossession of his car, but doesn’t seem overly concerned. Instead he eavesdrops on the female residents of his apartment complex. There’s the lady who tends to her pet birds topless. And especially there’s the gorgeous blonde who likes late-night swims.

Her name is Sarah (Riley Keough…Elvis’ granddaughter); she’s obsessed with classic movies and while swimming likes to strike poses that mimic those of Marilyn Monroe in a famous poolside photo shoot shortly before her death.

Sam is invited to her apartment to watch one of her faves (“How to Marry a Millionaire” with Marilyn, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable). The evening ends chastely, and the next day Sam is puzzled to find the apartment empty. Sarah is missing; so are her roommates, all the furniture. All that’s left behind is a box of snapshots.

And the chase is on. Continue Reading »

“THE LION KING” My rating:  B-

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The original 1994 “Lion King” was classic Disney animation featuring hand drawn backgrounds and characters — or if  computers sometimes were used, at least the final product appeared to be hand drawn.

A quarter century later we get a “Lion King” redux done in a live-action format…though one cannot begin to figure out what (if anything) is live and what rendered through the ones and zeroes of digital animation.

There are moments, especially early on, when Jon Favreau’s updating of the beloved yarn offers such a sumptuous  visual feast that the eye and mind struggle to take it all in.

Against an absolutely believable African landscape lifelike lions, elephants, impalas, hyenas and other creatures do their things.  Your senses tell you that these are real animals filmed in action (after all, the great Caleb Deschenal — “The Black Stallion,” “The Right Stuff,” “The Passion of the Christ” — is credited as cinematographer)…except that invariably these creatures do something no animal ever could.

A lion tamer with years to refine his act could never get actual big cats to hit their marks, strike perfect poses and execute complicated action sequences. Not to mention move their mouths to utter dialogue in human voices.

Indeed, I have no idea how this was done. Were live animals filmed and then digitally diddled to make them do the impossible?  Do the backgrounds even exist? Or were they built entirely in the computer?

Let it be said up front that “The Lion King” is one of the most amazing-looking films of all time. The work Favreau did a couple of years back on the similarly-rendered  “Jungle Book” looks a bit  primitive by comparison.

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Jesse Eisenberg

“THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE” My rating: B-

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Martial arts build character, hone physical strength, enhance self defense skills and instill discipline and obedience.

That’s the sales pitch, anyway.

But as we learned from the thuggish dojo rats who tormented Ralph Macchio in  “The Karate Kid” (not to mention the Bushido-inspired atrocities of World War II-era Japan), those attributes also make martial arts a fertile breeding ground for fascism.

In “The Art of Self-Defense” writer/director Riley Stearns delivers a deadpan black comedy that turns the whole self-improvement scenario inside out.  A milquetoast wimp (Jesse Eisenberg, always the very essence of cinematic wimp) trains so that he can stand up to bullies; in the process he becomes that which he hates.

Casey (Eisenberg) is a sad, lonely misfit.  He’s an accountant at a firm where the other employees regard him as an odd duck (if they take notice of him at all). His sole relationship is with his sad-eyed Dachshund. He dreams of going to France and in fact is studying the language, but even there he anticipates defeat. Currently he’s working on the phrase “I don’t want any trouble, sir. I’m just a tourist.”

Nearly beaten to death by a gang of cycle-riding assailants, Casey takes indefinite sick leave and retreats to a life of booze straight from the bottle and failed masturbation attempts (he can’t do it while his dog’s watching).

He fills out the paperwork to purchase a handgun, but before he can pick it up he stumbles into the strip mall dojo run by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola in what may be his best role ever).

Sensei (real name Leslie, but we won’t learn that until much later) talks nonstop martial arts platitudes. Karate, he bloviates, is a language, a way of communication. “We form words with our fists and feet.”

With his mix of serene philosophy and physical menace Sensei comes off as the love child of the Dalai Lama and a Marine drill instructor. The wonder of Nivola’s blowhard performance (and Stearns’ writing) is how those woo-woo banalities slowly but surely shift into  threatening machismo. The entire film is a slow-building study in insanity.

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Jessie Buckley

“WILD ROSE” My rating: B

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The struggling young artist with an impossible musical dream has been a movie staple since the advent of sound.

Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose” recycles many of the usual tropes before putting a distinctive spin on the genre; above all else this Scottish film heralds the arrival of Jessie Buckley as a major talent.

We’ve seen the Irish-born Buckley before. In 2013’s “Beast” she played a withdrawn girl who falls for a boy who may be a serial killer; she was terrific but the movie was too much of a downer to create much buzz.

This is not the case with “Wild Rose.”

We meet Buckley’s Rose-Lynn on her last day in prison on a drug conviction. Outfitted with an ankle monitor (which she hides inside a pair of white cowboy boots) she returns to the two young children she left behind — though not before a quick shag in the park with her ex and a visit to Glasgow’s version of the Grand Ole Opry, a country music emporium that was once her home base.

The homecoming is strained. Her son and daughter have all but forgotten her and her mother (the great Julie Waters), who has been caring for them in Rose-Lynn’s absence, is more than a little dubious of her errant daughter’s commitment to responsibility.

Here’s the thing: Rose-Lynn isn’t just an accomplished screwup (though she is); she’s also  a country music fanatic whose forearm bears a tattoo reading “Three chords and the truth,” her explanation of country music’s essence. All her life she has dreamed of singing professionally…but a Scottish country singer? C’mon.

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