Review: Styx

Quickie Review: Red Joan

There’s no denying Judi Dench’s watchability factor. The Grand Dame of cinema commands the screen whenever she’s on it – which isn’t all that much in the not-so-thrilling spy thriller Red Joan. Don’t let the poster, trailer and top billing fool you. Dench is merely a high-profile vehicle for bookending a story told primarily through flashbacks, with Sophie Cookson (Kingsman: The Secret Service) playing young Joan Stanley, an impressionable and idealistic Brit turned longtime spy for the KGB.

Spoiler-Free Review: Avengers: Endgame

And so it ends… in a suitably epic and satisfying way. Avengers: Endgame is a superhero chick flick – part drama, part action, part tearjerker. It’s also part comedy, in that witty yet poignant style that has come to define the Avengers whenever they are called upon to assemble. Three hours of non-stop efforts to turn back the hands of time without sacrificing the future. Avengers: Endgame is a gift to the Marvel Cinematic Universe fanbase that has seen most if not all of the 20+ movies that began with the debut of Iron Man in 2008. If you don’t care for Marvel movies to begin with, then move along; Endgame is not for you. If you are a fan, and haven’t been able to get the image of superheroes turned to dust out of your head since the final scenes of Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, then it doesn’t matter what I write, or say, about Endgame. You have to go. Sooner rather than later to avoid any spoilers or buzzkill.

Review: Teen Spirit

Teen Spirit is a mainstream movie filtered (or squeezed) through an indie lens. It tells the story of Violet, a shy 17-year-old high school student who enters a local singing competition and ends up making a splash on a British television show that resembles – and consequently satirizes – the likes of American Idol, X Factor, and Britain’s Got Talent. If you enjoy that genre, then Teen Spirit should lift your spirits, however fleetingly, thanks in large part to its talented lead, Elle Fanning (20th Century Women, The Neon Demon) who really can sing!

Quickie Review: Instant Dreams

Did you ever have a Polaroid camera or loved that instantaneous thrill of having the image appear in your hands? The Polaroid camera was a marvel and this quirky doc clues you in to how truly amazing it was as it charts the history from its invention to its demise. It also takes three (and a half) people and explores their connections to the film: a man trying to recreate the film after Polaroid officially folded and the formula for the film went with it, a photographer still using a hoard of the out of date film, and an author who wrote a book about all about Polaroid. And while some of it is interesting, the pieces don’t really add up to a whole. And if you are at all into photography you know that there is instant film available today. It’s an art for art’s sake film in a lot of ways.

Quickie Review: The Chaperone

Louise Brooks was a silent screen phenomenon. A woman whose style all others copied. But before she was a star, she was just a teenager in Wichita, Kansas. The Chaperone is the story of her trip to New York at the age of 15 to attend a prestigious dance school and launch her career. And though she’s the one who became a star, it’s her chaperone who’s at the center of this Masterpiece Theater drama. A local woman named Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey) overhears Louise’s mother at a party lamenting that her daughter is in need of a chaperone and volunteers her services. She has an ulterior motive, of course. She’s escaping a fractured marriage and also searching for her birth mom who abandoned her decades earlier in a New York orphanage. Written and directed by Downton Abbey alums Michael Engler and Julian Fellowes, this period drama is a fascinating tale of liberation and self-discovery.

Review: Dogman

Bullies need enablers and Dogman is all about one such relationship. At the center is Marcello (Marcello Fonte), a diminutive and timid dog groomer, who lives for his time with his daughter Sofia and never met a dog he didn’t love. But he also sells cocaine on the side to make ends meet, especially to pay for his scuba trips with Sofia. One of his buyers is the hulking brute Simone (Edoardo Pesce) who Marcello looks at like one of his dogs that could be tamed, if only. Simone only sees the relationship as what he can get from Marcello and pushes it to the breaking point. It’s a dark and dreary character study with flashes of comedy that you know won’t end well.

Quickie Review: Girls of the Sun

In our #Girlpower era, a film about battalion of Kurdish women fighting ISIS in North Kurdistan should be a slam dunk. But somewhere between idea and execution Girls of the Sun got a bit lost. Part of that may be that it is framed as being about a French war correspondent who embeds herself with this group of women and her story is a distraction. I was never sure why I should care about her. After all, the women she’s with have lived through absolute hell. The more interesting story is that of the female commander Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani) who lost her husband and son to ISIS and has a reason to be fighting the fight.

Quickie Review: Ramen Shop (Ramen Teh)

Following in the tradition of a spate of recent foodie flicks, Ramen Shop wraps a slight story in a culinary journey and has you drooling and wishing the film would be over quickly so you can get out to the nearest ramen shop yourself. This time around the story centers on a young Japanese chef Masato (Takumi Saitoh) whose father dies at the start of the film, sending him on a quest to find his culinary roots in Singapore. Dad met Mom there and there are a lot of unanswered questions about her and her family. She died when he was a boy, and his discovery of her diary among his father’s possessions, sends him in search of his uncle and the story of his mother’s estrangement from his grandmother. But all along the way there is a lot of cooking and eating mouth-watering food.

Review: Shazam!

With Marvel’s highly-anticipated Avengers: Endgame still a few weeks out, DC Comics’ Shazam! swoops in like a tasty appetizer – just enough to satisfy, without spoiling your appetite for the main course. Shazam! is not as LOL funny and lighthearted as the trailer might suggest, but it’s still far lighter and easier to process than most DC Comic movies of recent memory (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.), and it’s certainly much shorter and simpler than the forthcoming Avengers finale. Bottom line: Shazam! is a solid coming-of-age superhero flick that’s suitable for family viewing, assuming the kids are at least approaching teendom. The film is PG-13 and does have the occasional blast of violence (though relatively bloodless), sadness (family dysfunction and abandonment issues) and scary moments (don’t get lost at the fairgrounds or walk through strange doors!). But overall, it’s about personal strength (finding the superhero within), making the right choices, and learning what defines a family.

Quickie Review: Dumbo

There’s a reason we don’t review too many kids’ movies, even if we happen to see them: they aren’t really for us. A few weeks ago, I saw the animated adventure film Wonder Park but didn’t get around to a formal review (other than on the Cinema Clash podcast) because it was just okay. Fine for kids, tolerable for the adults who accompany them. Dumbo has the potential to appeal to a much larger audience of family filmgoers because it’s a live-action remake of a 1941 Disney animated classic, it’s directed by twisted fairy tale auteur Tim Burton, and it’s got some high-profile cast members including Danny DeVito, Colin Ferrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green and Alan Arkin. But ultimately, much like Wonder Park, this new Dumbo is just okay and has some dark elements that could be scary for the wee ones.