FILM NEWS: OCT. 3-9 | Cinema Clips | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

FILM NEWS: OCT. 3-9 

New This Week, Special Screenings, and Current Releases

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Joker
[not yet reviewed]
Origin story of the crazed comic-book villain (Joaquin Phoenix). Opens Oct. 4 at theaters valleywide. (R)

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
At Main Library, Oct. 8, 7 p.m. (NR)

However Long
At Rose Wagner Center, Oct. 9, 7 p.m. (NR)

Return to Sender
At Park City Film Series, Oct. 4-5, 8 p.m. & Oct. 6, 6 p.m. (NR)

CURRENT RELEASES

Abominable 2.5 Stars
It's a story about a young person with an absent father, who finds companionship in the form of a mysterious, magical creature, leading to a risky journey to get the creature back home; you can't spell "yeti" without "E.T." Writer-director Jill Culton sets her animated variation in China, where teenager Yi (Chloe Bennet) and a young yeti she calls Everest venture to the Himalayas, even as she grieves for her dad. With its round-face, this snow "monster" is cute enough, providing a pleasant companion for Yi and her friends, while Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson voice the pursuing antagonists. Yet despite ample chuckles, lively action and the goofy inclusion of whooping snakes, it's impossible to ignore how safe and familiar the narrative arc is. At least they didn't have to worry about licensing when Yi feeds Everest bao instead of Reese's Pieces. (PG)—Scott Renshaw

Ad Astra 3 Stars
Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is recruited into a classified mission to end dangerous energy "surges" coming from a space research station where his father (Tommy Lee Jones) was presumed lost years earlier. There's a definite Heart of Darkness vibe, complete with voice-over internal monologue, and Pitt's restrained performance captures a man cut off from his feelings. Yet director/co-writer James Gray also peppers his meditations on isolation with showy set pieces involving attacks by moon pirates and ... other unexpected things. As Roy draws closer to a possible family reunion, Gray hones in on the notion that the ideas and philosophies people dedicate themselves to can ultimately distance them from other human beings. Yet Ad Astra struggles to give that thesis the emotional punch Gray clearly wants to deliver. It's gorgeous, ethereal, occasionally wise, sometimes overly literal, sometimes flat-out silly. (PG-13)—SR

Aquarela 2.5 Stars
Director Victor Kossakovsky's impressionistic, un-narrated documentary doesn't come up with enough variations on his theme to keep things interesting. The through-line, to the extent that there is one, is the power of water, ranging from the precarious frozen surface of Siberia's Lake Baikal to a hurricane pummeling city streets. It's not as though Kossakovsky doesn't capture some powerful images, including a darkened ocean surface resembling volcanic rock. He simply sticks with one thing for too long, yielding quickly diminishing returns. The progression of sequences suggests a causal relationship, with rivers rushing through glacial ice giving way to powerful storms, which is a different way of telling the story of climate change. But, there are only so many scenes you can watch of a shrinking glacier, or a tiny boat trying to stay upright, before it's time to move along. (PG)—SR

The Day Shall Come 2.5 Stars
Christopher Morris' aims for the same audacious comedy as his 2010 feature about would-be terrorists Four Lions, but can't quite find his target. In Miami, self-styled prophet Moses (Marchánt Davis) promotes a patient, non-violent form of black nationalism; a local FBI agent (Anna Kendrick), not yet entirely clear about the threat he doesn't pose, proposes a sting operation to catch him buying weapons. Morris and co-writer Jesse Armstrong are at their best when capturing law enforcement bureaucracy at its ass-covering, fiefdom-protecting, double-talking worst. But it's hard to find Moses an object of comedy when it's clear that he's an unmedicated schizophrenic, nor is the skewering of trigger-happy cops as potent when they're dealing with someone who is clearly disturbed. While some punch lines pack a punch, others flop awkwardly at the edge of satire. (NR)—SR

Downton Abbey 2.5 Stars
The TV phenomenon comes to the big screen, unlikely to please anyone who isn't already enamored of the fictional English country manor. The estate, ruled over by the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), is a hotbed of ... niceness. The dowager countess (Maggie Smith) deploys an entertainingly wicked tongue, but the happy servants Know Their Place, positively reveling in servitude. This is fantasy, sure, but do devotees imagine themselves as the clever, resourceful maid (Joanne Froggatt) or dedicated butler (Jim Carter)? No, the fantasy here is reactionary, a hankering for a world where wealth and privilege are deserved and proper. The plot revolves around a visit from the King (Simon Jones) and Queen (Geraldine James), and the ensuing mild uproar in the household. Even minor bits of intrigue resolve themselves in ways that could not be more contentedly uncomplaining. (PG)—MaryAnn Johanson

Hustlers 4 Stars
This based-on-fact drama—about New York City strippers who conned their clients out of lots of dough—is full of the seductiveness of easy money and the giddiness of getting away with a perfect crime. Screenwriter-director Lorene Scafaria effortlessly wraps us up in charmed complicity with the felonious wrongdoing of veteran stripper Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) and her protégé, Destiny (Constance Wu)—until arrogance, rashness and greed eventually lead to the inevitable downfall. Scafaria weaves sympathy, sensitivity and big-hearted humor into a story that, in the hands of a male filmmaker could have quickly descended into crass exploitation. But Hustlers is never salacious, never sensational. It never reduces these women to nothing more than their bodies, and it knows that what they do is work. It's the best-ever corrective to the embarrassing cliché about sex workers with hearts of gold. (R)—MAJ

Judy 2.5 Stars
Considering how good America is at producing icons worthy of biopic treatment, it's ironic how bad we are at making biopics. Renée Zellweger stars as Judy Garland during the last year of her life, and the disparity between the quality of her performance and the quality of the movie is particularly stark. The story deals with Judy at a time when she's still a legend, but a broke one, addicted to pills and alcohol. Nothing in the screenplay is bad per se; there's just no oomph to it. The plot follows Judy's ups and downs, victories and setbacks, but the recounting of them is rote. Apart from Zellweger's work, nothing about the film is noteworthy. As is so often the case, we're left with a terrific, endearing, pitch-perfect performance trapped in a movie that isn't nearly worthy of it. (PG-13)—Eric D. Snider

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