Movie Reviews: New Releases for June 17 | Buzz Blog
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Thursday, June 16, 2022

Movie Reviews: New Releases for June 17

Lightyear, Cha Cha Real Smooth, Spiderhead, Brian and Charles, and more

Posted By on June 16, 2022, 11:18 AM

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click to enlarge Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson in Cha Cha Real Smooth - APPLETV+
  • AppleTV+
  • Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson in Cha Cha Real Smooth
Bitterbrush ***
It’s certainly not necessary for a non-fiction film to have some sort of thesis statement to be successful; it does feel as though Emilie Mahdavian’s feature might have packed more of a punch if its observational strengths had built to something. Mahdavian spends a season with two itinerant cowhands—Hollyn Patterson and Colie Moline—as they bring in a cattle herd from the mountains of Idaho. It isn’t merely incidental that our protagonists are women doing a traditionally male job, as some later developments address potential gender-based complications of pursuing this life, but it’s not something that these two mostly-taciturn women dwell on. Indeed, while much of the film is spent reveling in the scope of the landscape that is their workplace, the moments where they open up to reveal a bit more about their personal lives—notably Colie’s comments about her family farm and her mother’s death—are few and far between. The result has a vibe reminiscent of the Ross Brothers’ works, showing respect for simple folks taking pride in a job well-done, with one terrific centerpiece sequence involving Hollyn breaking a colt for riding. The only thing missing is more sense of where this story fits in the scope of something bigger, whether that’s the lives of these women or in the evolution of the kind of work they do. Available June 17 at Megaplex The District; June 24 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

The Book Keepers ***
It’s not always a recipe for success when a documentary filmmaker is too close to his subjects, but Phil Wall crafts both a lovely memorial to his mother, and a thoughtful character study of his father. Dad Dick Wall finds himself in an unexpected position when, after the death of his writer wife Carol from cancer in 2014, he becomes the public face of her first published book—a memoir titled Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening—while traveling the country to bookstores and libraries for signings and speaking engagements. At times the structure feels repetitive, but that turns out to be a smart decision on Phil’s part, as we watch Dick share the same stories and jokes at a dozen different stops, gradually becoming more practiced and at ease in his role as surrogate for Carol. But ultimately this is a story about Dick developing a more complex understanding of Carol’s charge to “take care of the book,” and absorbing the book’s lessons about “how do we graciously slip into Plan B.” This is a different kind of portrait of grief than movies usually show us; there are no dramatic emotional breakdowns captured on camera. The transition from melancholy to healing occurs in a much lower key, in a film that finds its simple emotion in realizing how much Carol’s book was a final gift in a love story. Available June 17 via SLFSatHome.org. (NR)

Brian and Charles ***
Jim Archer’s feature-length expansion of his 2017 short kind of feels exactly like a feature-length expansion of a short, though its charms are enough to make up for a somewhat clunky attempt at imposing a three-act structure on an idea best suited for snippets. Screenwriters David Earl and Chris Hayward, respectively, play the two characters of the title: Brian, a lonely handyman/amateur inventor living in a rural Welsh village, and Charles, the robot he cobbles together out of spare parts to be a companion. The faux-documentary set-up makes for a perfect set-up, as Earl’s good-natured Brian reveals his isolated life and weird creations with a complete lack of self-awareness. It’s also impressive how much comedic mileage the filmmakers get out of Charles’ design—a balding mannequin head atop a washing machine torso, dressed in a cardigan and bow tie—making him look (and sound, in Hayward’s voice) like an A.I. version of Jim Broadbent. The laughs begin to dwindle a bit once the focus is on Brian’s tentative romance with an equally-awkward local woman (Louise Brealey) and his clashes with the town bully, which also distract from the dynamic of Brian as strict parent to a creation that’s part eager puppy, part sullen teen. The high-concept premise really works when it’s a two-hander, and the weirdness that ensues when these two characters are hanging out together. Available June 17 in theaters. (PG)

Cha Cha Real Smooth ***1/2
Writer/director Cooper Raiff (Shithouse) wears his emotions on his sleeve, and that sensibility informs everything that works in his Sundance Audience Award-winning feature. Raiff plays Andrew, a recent college graduate living back in New Jersey with his mother (Leslie Mann), his 13-year-old brother David (Evan Assante) and his mother’s boyfriend (Brad Garrett) while figuring out what to do with his life. He finds a gig as a “party starter” for the local bar/bat mitzvah circuit, and there meets Domino (Dakota Johnson), a single mom whose autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) is one of David’s classmates. The obvious mutual attraction between Andrew and Domino is complicated by Domino being engaged, but the romantic relationship is really only part of the appeal here. Raiff brings a deft touch to every one of Andrew’s relationships, including befriending Lola, as well as offering romantic advice to his anxious younger brother about a possible first kiss. Mostly, however, this is story that approaches post-collegiate ennui and uncertainty with compassion and a welcome absence of snark, allowing its young protagonist to fumble around, occasionally be a jerk to people and try to figure out what love is (and isn’t). Raiff may be a bit too keen on reaching for the tear-jerking moments, but earnest feeling is a lot more welcome than cynicism right now. Available June 17 in theaters and via AppleTV+. (R)

Father of the Bride **1/2
The premise of Edward Streeter’s 1949 novel—about a tightwad dad trying to control the cost of his daughter’s wedding—was already feeling musty by the time the 1990s Steve Martin remake turned more emphasis to the familial relationships. This latest incarnation tries to fold the first-generation immigrant experience into the equation, and ends up with plenty of sentimentality, but not much idea what to do with the comedy. Andy Garcia plays Billy Herrera, a Cuban-American architect whose own marriage to his wife Ingrid (Gloria Estefan) appears to be on its last legs—just as their oldest daughter, Sofia (Adria Arjona), announces her engagement to Adan (Diego Boneta), with a whirlwind timeline before they move together to Mexico. The attempt to hide an impending divorce might seem to set up some farcical situations, which happens exactly once. And maybe it’s for the best, since Garcia, for all his talents as an actor, isn’t exactly bursting with comedic energy, leaving his gruff traditionalist to learn his important lessons without offering much amusement along the way. Any comic relief is left mostly to Saturday Night Live’s Chloe Fineman as the influencer-age wedding planner, and Matt Lopez’s script certainly brings an earnestness to this story’s unique cultural vibe. It just falls a bit flat trying too hard to wrangle 70-year-old source material into a new shape, when maybe this story would have been better standing on its own. Available June 23 via HBO Max. (PG-13)

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande ***1/2
If you are well and firmly ensconced on the “Emma Thompson is an absolute treasure” bandwagon—and I know you’re out there—then you’re likely the perfect audience for this delightful comedy-drama that also manages to be a primary text for sex- and body-positivity. Thompson plays Nancy, a 50-something widowed retired schoolteacher who hires sex worker Leo (Daryl McCormack) to help her experience all of the things she never experienced in her 31-year marriage. Katy Brand’s script follows the pair over the course of several meetings, and while director Sophie Hyde understands when to lean into a close-up, it’s also easy to see this same material working as a two-hander stage production. Of course, such a production would really need Thompson, who absolutely crushes her performance as a woman who barely understands the language she needs in order to consider what pleasure might be like for herself. And that’s not to slight McCormack, who conveys both the self-constructed persona that this man plays as “Leo,” and also what the role gives to him. The more overt confrontations between the characters feel both inevitable and distracting from the easy chemistry built into a discovery of how much damage shame can do, and the latest reminder that Emma Thompson is … well, you get the point. Available June 17 via Hulu. (R)

Lightyear ***
See feature review. Available June 17 in theaters. (PG)

click to enlarge Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller in Spiderhead - NETFLIX
  • Netflix
  • Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller in Spiderhead
Spiderhead ***
One gets the feeling that screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick—adapting a New Yorker short story by George Saunders—really think they’re digging into thorny moral and ethical questions here. And it almost doesn’t matter that they’re not very successful thematically, since it’s so much fun watching Chris Hemsworth. He plays Steve Abnesti, a researcher leading experiments at a remote prison facility called Spiderhead where all the inmates have volunteered as pharmaceutical guinea pigs in exchange for cushier digs. Among the subjects is Jeff (Miles Teller), a guilt-ridden convict who begins to smell something fishy about Abnesti’s methods. There’s more than a whiff of A Clockwork Orange to the basic concept, as the narrative pokes around at people are acting on chemical compulsion, rather than through voluntary action. It’s not particularly compelling as a cautionary tale, though, since director Joseph Kosinski seems to be having more fun leaning into the extreme situations that the various drugs inspire, from uncontrollable horniness to binge eating to pathological fear of a stapler. Presiding over it all is Hemsworth’s grandiose scientist, who barely hides the narcissism behind his conviction that he’s going to change the world. It’s a blast of a performance that shows further expansion of Hemsworth’s range, and gives Spiderhead more than enough entertainment to make up for its lackluster speculative fiction. Available June 17 via Netflix. (R)

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