Movie Reviews: Toy Story 4, Child's Play, Anna, Pavarotti | Buzz Blog

Friday, June 21, 2019

Movie Reviews: Toy Story 4, Child's Play, Anna, Pavarotti

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Hampstead, Papi Chulo

Posted By on June 21, 2019, 11:54 AM

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click to enlarge Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman and Chucky in Child's Play - ORION PICTURES
  • Orion Pictures
  • Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman and Chucky in Child's Play
Anna **
Noted French pervert Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Lucy) is back with another story of a badass woman who happens to be everything a horny screenwriter could want her to be: avidly bisexual, eager to sleep with men she works with, doesn’t talk a lot. This loopy chunk of Eurotrash stars Russian model Sasha Luss as a lethal operative working with both the KGB (led by Helen Mirren and Luke Evans) and the CIA (hello, Cillian Murphy) in Paris ca. 1990. Besson keeps things ... well, if not interesting, then at least confusing by presenting a series of events that makes little internal sense, then jumping back “3 years earlier” or “2 months earlier” to explain the context. (There are at least five instances of this, including one 10 minutes before the movie ends.) One scene of mayhem in which Anna messily dispatches numerous henchmen with the broken shards of a dinner plate is thrilling in a John Wick sort of way, and there are moments of cheesy absurdity that can’t help but make you smile and shake your head. But most of it is bland and pointless, the nonlinear storytelling designed to obfuscate the story’s weaknesses. Opens June 21 at theaters valleywide. (R)—Eric D. Snider

Child's Play **1/2
There’s nothing sacred about the origin story of the original Chucky, but as effective as this movie occasionally is as grinningly gruesome horror, it’s hard not to ask the question: Why call it Child’s Play? This remake keeps a few basics from the 1988 film, including a kid named Alex (Gabriel Bateman) who receives a birthday gift from his single mom (Aubrey Plaza) in the form of a large, creepy doll (voiced by Mark Hamill). But instead of being possessed by the soul of a serial killer, this Chucky is a “smart toy” stripped of his safety programming and obsessively attached to Andy. The prologue setting Chucky’s origin at the hands of a disgruntled Vietnamese sweatshop worker promises something more savagely satirical about modern consumerism than this movie ever tries to be, even as it dabbles in anxieties over devices controlling all aspects of our lives. And despite a few creatively bloody death scenes in the scream/chuckle spirit of the original films, it’s just weird seeing the demented villain doll we know and love turned into an almost-sympathetic mix of A.I.’s David, 2001’s HAL 9000 and an Alexa. Opens June 21 at theaters valleywide. (R)—Scott Renshaw

Hampstead **
For a movie that’s dedicated to the unconventional lifestyle of the man who inspired its male lead, this whimsical romantic comedy sure takes the point of view of its female lead. That would be Emily (Diane Keaton), a widowed American living in London still struggling with the financial mess left by her husband’s death a year earlier. She meets Donald (Brendan Gleeson), who has been squatting on unused land in Hampstead Heath, which becomes a problem when that land is targeted by real-estate developers. It’s delightful seeing Gleeson get a rare chance to be a romantic lead, and he plays Donald’s dedication to his off-the-grid principles with simple, quiet integrity. Yet behind the farcical elements and the courtroom drama over whether Donald can keep his self-made home is a focus on Emily’s economic anxiety, which Keaton never quite sells as more than a minor frustration. The script, however, doesn’t know what to do with the conflict between Emily’s desire for security and Donald’s perspective that such security is a trap. When it comes time to deliver a happy ending, there’s no room for any real revolutionary thinking. Opens June 21 at Megaplex Gateway. (PG-13)—SR

The Last Black Man in San Francisco ****
Director Joe Talbot’s first feature focuses on the relationship between Jimmie (Jimmie Fails, with whom Talbot wrote the story) and the house his grandfather built—and which his father lost in the 1990s. Jimmie and his friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) diligently show up at the house each weekend to do repairs, to the dismay of the current (white) tenants. When the tenants lose the house because of a family squabble, Jimmie and Montgomery move in as squatters, enjoying the beautiful woodwork, high ceilings and pipe organ in the front hall. The movie’s other big relationship, between Jimmie and Montgomery, eventually frays because of the house—but The Last Black Man in San Francisco has bigger ideas than the friends we make and lose, including ruminating on the things that make us us, and what we choose to define us. It’s also a love letter to the city of the title, but it’s a bittersweet letter, acknowledging San Francisco’s history of racism and its current war on the anything-less-than-affluent. Lyrically written, beautifully acted, directed within an inch of its life (in this case, that’s a compliment) and with a wonderful woodwind-heavy score by Emile Mosseri, it’s a must-see. Opens June 21 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—David Riedel

Papi Chulo **
Los Angeles TV meteorologist Sean (Matt Bomer) has a breakdown on air, and is ordered to take some time off. But apparently work has been the only thing keeping him together in the wake of a nasty romantic breakup—or so we gather from accumulating clues—because he falls further down a depressive rabbit hole when he hires day laborer Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) to do handyman work around his house, then ends up appropriating the poor man’s time and attention in a sort of pseudo-therapeutic faux friendship. Bomer is effective as a man truly, deeply heartbroken and lost, but there’s something disconcerting in writer-director John Butler’s seeming obliviousness to the inequities of the relationship he hopes to craft as earnest and honest, yet which is only an uncomfortably clueless portrait of societal privilege taking advantage of financial desperation. If the film evinced any awareness of the emotional and economic disparities in security between Sean and Ernesto, maybe even tried to compare and contrast them, that might be something. But it wants to see charm in them, rather than discomfort. It fails at this. Opens June 21 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—MaryAnn Johanson

Pavarotti **1/2
Ron Howard directs documentaries much the same way as his fiction features: reliably competent efforts that keep you engaged while rarely moving to the next level of engaging an audience. His profile of celebrated operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti takes a cradle-to-grave approach, from his childhood in wartime Italy through his early success and later years dedicated to philanthropy before his death from pancreatic cancer in 2007. Howard is fairly successful at using archival material to capture the essence of the man—a gregarious, playful personality bantering with people at an audience Q&A session, or getting U2’s Bono to write a song for his charity concert by cozying up to Bono’s Italian housekeeper. Yet while the film doesn’t exactly shy away from Pavarotti’s flaws—particularly the affair with the woman who ultimately became his second wife—he does remain stubbornly at a slight remove, a figure here held up more for admiration of his talent than for real insight. It’s hard to resist the gifts on display when Pavarotti explodes into the climax of Turandot’s “Nessun dorma” aria, but a straight concert film could have accomplished the same thing. Opens June 21 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (PG-13)—SR

Toy Story 4 ***1/2
See feature review. Opens June 21 at theaters valleywide. (G)

About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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