FILM NEWS: SEPT. 19-25 | Cinema Clips | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

FILM NEWS: SEPT. 19-25 

New This Week, Special Screenings, and Current Releases

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NEW THIS WEEK

Film release schedules are subject to change. Reviews online at cityweekly.net

Ad Astra 3 Stars
James Gray, who has spent 20 years getting not nearly the recognition he deserves, apparently decided to go, "Fine: Here's what I think a 'commercial' movie looks like." Career 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 performance is profoundly restrained as he plays a man cut off from his feelings. Yet Gray also peppers his meditations on isolation with showy set pieces involving attacks by moon pirates and ... well, other unexpected things. As Roy draws closer to his 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; he's more successful at giving you stuff to look at and think about than at giving you stuff to feel. It's gorgeous, ethereal, occasionally wise, sometimes overly literal, sometimes flat-out silly. Opens Sept. 19 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)—Scott Renshaw

Before You Know It 3 Stars
On one level, this comedy-drama from Hannah Pearl Utt and co-writer Jen Tullock sprawls past the kind of narrative focus that could have made it great; it's also affectionate and low-key enough to work anyway. The writers also star as sisters who've grown up above the New York theater owned by their father (Mandy Patinkin)—Rachel (Utt), the responsible, tightly-wound one, and Jackie (Tullock), flighty single mom to 12-year-old Dodge (Oona Yaffe). Much of the plot centers around the sisters' discovery that the mother they'd long believed to be dead is actually alive and a diva soap opera star (Judith Light), which lends itself to some decent farcical moments. The strongest material involves Jackie's desperate desire to connect with her mother juxtaposed with Dodge navigating adolescent girlhood without much help from Jackie; Yaffe is a natural as the anxious tomboy. Indeed, while the tension between Rachel and Jackie over how to re-connect with their mother becomes significant, Rachel is ultimately the least interesting character. The occasional laughs—including a great bit for Alec Baldwin as Dodge's therapist—and gentle wisdom make it easier to cut the bumpy plotting some slack. Opens Sept. 20 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)—SR

Downton Abbey
[not yet reviewed]
A return to the lives of a wealthy British family and their house staff, from the beloved BBC America series. Opens Sept. 20 at theaters valleywide. (PG)

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins 3 Stars
When profiling a subject with a distinctive voice, the smartest thing a documentary filmmaker can do is allow plenty of opportunity for that voice to be heard. That's the wise choice made by Janice Engel in her film about Molly Ivins, the often-controversial syndicated columnist who combined her unabashed progressivism with a refusal to turn her back on her Texas roots. There's little that's groundbreaking in the cradle-to-grave approach, following Ivins from her Texas childhood through the various stops on her journalistic career before her death from breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 62. But Engel hits all of the key points crisply, whether it's her short-lived, contentious tenure at The New York Times or her life-long struggles with alcoholism. Most significantly, she finds dozens of great clips of Ivins herself spinning yarns for people—on TV interviews, at public forums and lectures—in a way that gives the writer's singularly tart-tongued sensibility a rich showcase. While sometimes it's challenging to make an audience understand what made a writer's style unique, here there's never a question about how funny, smart and iconoclastic Ivins was. Opens Sept. 20 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)—SR

Sundance Shorts 4 Stars
A rare chance to see some of today's best short films on the big screen makes its annual appearance with provocative, award-winning annual showcase of modern global storytelling from Sundance Film Festival programming. Alexandra Lazarowich's Fast Horse is a lively documentary look at a daring young man in Alberta, Canada, who races in a traditional—and incredibly dangerous—Native horseback relay. The Minors, by Robert Machoian, is a bittersweet verité portrait of an elderly musician jamming with his young grandsons. Stefanie Abel Horowitz's Sometimes, I Think About Dying is a stunning dive into depression and disengagement. In Suicide by Sunlight, Nikyatu Jusu offers a smartly challenging slice of genre about an African-American vampire struggling with her supernatural curse. Meryam Joobeur's Brotherhood introduces us to a young man returning home to his Tunisian farm, only to pick up the contentious relationship with his father. Animated charmer Muteum, from Äggie Pak Yee Lee, gives us a naughty child's-eye view on great works of art. And Crude Oil is Christopher Good's oddball tale of a young woman, her weird superpower and the toxic friendship she can't seem to shake. Opens Sept. 20 at Tower Theatre. (NR)—MaryAnn Johanson

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

The last black man in san francisco
At Park City Film Series, Sept. 20-21, 8 p.m. & Sept. 22, 6 p.m. (R)

Student Athlete
At Main Library, Sept. 24, 7 p.m. (NR)

CURRENT RELEASES

Brittany Runs a Marathon 3 Stars
Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell), an under-employed, hard-partying New Yorker, gets a warning from her doctor to address her weight and overall health. So Brittany decides to start running—one reluctant block at first, then gradually becoming determined to run in the New York Marathon. Paul Downs Colaizzo assembles a winning cast of supporting charters—led by Michaela Watkins and Utkarsh Ambudkar—but most of what works here revolves around Bell's performance as a woman convinced she needs to be the "funny fat girl," and look a different way in order to deserve love. Thesis-point speeches are kept to a minimum, allowing focus to remain on self-loathing thwarting Brittany's chances at happiness. Attempts to weave family history into Brittany's psychology fall short, and the climactic run drags a bit, but the payoff emphasizes her triumph as believing she's worth cheering for. (R)—SR

The Goldfinch 2 Stars
John Crowley's adaptation of Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel shifts between time periods, as young Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) deals with the death of his mother in a bombing at a museum, and adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) still wrestles with the fallout from that tragic day. Crowley makes fine use of Roger Deakins' cinematography and a production design built around rooms full of art and beauty, but the earnest seriousness of this story based around childhood trauma collides with violent encounters with Russian gangsters and underdeveloped romantic entanglements. And there are truly baffling casting decisions: Elgort, flailing at trying to convey torment; Sarah Paulson implausibly trying to play working-class; Luke Wilson even more implausibly trying to be menacing. Too many theoretically emotional moments involve actors simply not built for the tricky work this script asks them to pull off. (R)—SR

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

It: Chapter 2 2 Stars
At 169 minutes, It Chapter Two is too long and too short. It's repetitive; the scares are so similar to Chapter One's that they devolve into blah territory. But Chapter Two also drops seemingly important characters and plot threads without explanation. Why is that charming hotel always empty? What happens to Pennywise the Clown's (Bill Skarsgård) victims this go-around? If you're going to explain the clown's origins, screenwriter Gary Dauberman and director Andy Muschietti could have explained a few other things, too—or made a third movie. The casting is spot-on with the exception of Isaiah Mustafa as adult Mike, who's so stiff it's like he wandered in from a different movie. But Mike has the unfortunate task of being the movie's explainer, so maybe the problem is Dauberman's screenplay. Sorry, losers; It Chapter Two just doesn't work. (R)—David Riedel

Official Secrets 3.5 Stars
In 2003, British translator Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) received an email request from her bosses: She and others working in British intelligence were to help manufacture evidence to support the planned Western-coalition invasion of Iraq. She leaked the email to the press, and journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith) at London's The Observer made it public. This is not a spy thriller; it's a story of emotional and intellectual suspense as Knightley's Gun wrangles with her patriotism and her conscience while making the decision to leak, with a side dish of similar debates on the journalistic side. Director Gavin Hood follows up his previous film, 2015's Eye in the Sky, with another sharp, smart tale of moral dilemmas, the limits of governmental secrecy and, ultimately, the vital necessity that decency and principle are worth standing up for. Blow whistles as needed. (R)—MAJ

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