Happiest Season

★★★

“Happiest Season” promises to “make the yuletide gay” as Hulu’s new streaming Christmas rom-com featuring LGBT themes.

And while it boasts an impressive comedic ensemble, featuring Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen, the movie’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness.

“Happiest Season” is a very traditional, formulaic Christmas movie. Besides featuring lesbian characters as the leads, this movie is one you’ve seen again and again. The zany, manic energy and sometimes broad humor will be comforting to many but tiresome for some who long for a more inventive script.

But I think this was all a calculated decision by actor-turned-director Clea Duvall (you might remember her as Catherine’s Secret Service girlfriend on “Veep” and many teen movies in the 1990s such as “The Faculty”) in her second feature. Duvall is out herself and you can sense a genuine love for Christmas movies in her script, which she co-wrote with Mary Holland, a comedian she previously worked with on “Veep.” In fact, I think it was the right move to put something different and new in a very familiar vehicle.

The movie begins with Davis drunkenly asking her girlfriend Stewart to come meet her parents for Christmas. Yes, she actually says the line, “I know you don’t like Christmas because your parents died around then,” but it’s a formulaic movie and sometimes lines of exposition are needed.

Stewart plans to proposed on Christmas morning but as they’re driving to the house, Davis admits that she never actually came out to her parents and she needs Stewart to just pretend to be her roommate for the next few days.

Davis’s conservative parents (politics are never mentioned but the word traditional is used a lot) don’t make the next few days easy on Stewart. Steenburgen is obsessed with public image as Garber is preparing for a run for mayor. Davis, the favorite among her parents, butts heads with her competitive sister played by Brie, while Holland, who plays the strangely odd sister in addition to co-writing the script, has some of the funniest lines in the movie.

In situations that remind you of “Meet the Parents” or “The Family Stone,” everything seems to wrong for Stewart even as she tries to impress the parents. Some situations become unbelievable, but, again, this is a formulaic Christmas comedy. That will happen.

Stewart begins to feel isolated and jealous as Davis ignores her during the family visit and even spends a lot of time with her high school boyfriend. Viewers begin to wonder why Stewart would even want to be with someone who ignores her when she feels most vulnerable.

Eventually stewart grabs a drink to commiserate with Davis’s ex-girlfriend, played with charm by Audrey Plaza. The chemistry between the two would make some viewers wish that the two leads don’t get together in the end, but unfortunately there are no big surprises in this movie.

Just when it looks like the romantic leads will never get together, Dan Levy gives a speech as the gay best friends to make the movies themes/morals as clear as day. The parents have a change of heart rather quickly and Davis gives a heartfelt apology. It all wraps up the conflict in a few minutes in a all-too-convenient way. I’d actually feel worse about spoiling the plot but you can see it all coming a mile away.

Despite being very by-the-numbers, there are quite a few laugh out loud scenes, mostly due the dedication of the talented supporting cast. Davis and Stewart do a fine job, but they’re the least interesting part of this movie and audiences will find themselves attached to the side characters rather than the leads. Holland and Levy steal almost every scene they are in. We will likely see a Awkafina or Rebel Wilson-style career boost for both of them (yes I know Levy is already a star of the small screen from “Schitt’s Creek” but movie producers will be calling him more frequently). There’s a brief but hilarious scene featuring Timothy Simons (Jonah Ryan on “Veep”) and Lauren Lapkus (“The Wrong Missy”) as overly aggressive mall security guards.

Audiences who are strongly opposed to LGBT relationships will obviously not like this movie. But the movie itself could win over some who are slightly uncomfortable. There’s some kissing but no graphic sex scenes. It’s PG-13 and it’s vulgar. While Garber plays a politician, the words Democrat or Republican are never mentioned and no real-life elected officials are name-dropped. It’s very accessible for a wide audience.

While the LGBT romance drives the story, there are times when you forget that the lead characters are gay and just think of this movie as a traditional romantic comedy. And isn’t that a good thing? A movie can be authentic without being over the top or patronizing. LGBT characters don’t have to “too straight” or “too gay,” they can just be themselves.

Spontaneous

★★★★

Most of us look back on high school and have some things we wish we would have done differently.

For many of us, there are regrets based on fears and insecurity that held us back in those teenage years. We were too unsure of ourselves to ask that one girl to prom or too afraid to being ridiculed to try out for the school play. And so on.

But what if you were uncertain you’d make it to graduation? Well, you might live your life differently.

Based on a 2016 young adult novel, “Spontaneous” is a new teen romance/thriller/comedy that depicts teenagers wondering what the future holds for them while dealing with classmates spontaneously and randomly exploding for no apparent reason.

Yes, teenagers explode in this movie. And it’s not neat and tidy. These are bloody, messy explosions that are more like a balloon popping than a bomb going off. Faces are covered in red-dyed cornstarch like the library scene in the made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s “It.”

Katherine Langford (a rising star seen in “Knives Out” and “13 Reasons Why”) stars as Mara, a senior who is shaken after seeing her classmate inexplicably burst like a bubble. She takes hallucinogenic mushrooms (mixed into her pumpkin spiced latte) in a moment of shock and grief only to meet face-to-face with her secret admirer who began texting her after the disaster. Charlie Plummer (“Lean on Pete”) plays her love interest who decides to ask her out after realizing he could explode too and he had to begin living his life.

Senior classmates continue to explode and the government begins to try to find out why. Religious fanatics claim it’s a curse. School is cancelled and teenagers are quarantined as the government promises they are quickly developing a cure (an unintentional parallel to COVID-19, even though this movie/book were made far before the recent pandemic).

The deaths themselves are done in such a preposterous way that there’s room for some clever dark comedy, even though it’s dealing with the topic of young people dying. There are jokes about high school memorials with oddly sexual songs sang and there’s even a very appropriate reference to David Cronenberg, director of “Scanners” (if you’ve seen that scene, you know why).

There are some laugh at loud moments that only this film could create, such as the romantic couple making jokes about “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” while laying in government hospital beds with tubes inserted, separated by plastic sheeting.

The romance between the two leads is very sweet and you really start to pull for both of them to come out of the film unscathed. But when you know a character could explode at any moment, there’s an added layer of tension to every hug and every kiss. You keep waiting to see if either one will pop.

There are some flaws to this film. The narration, while effective, seems like a pretty by-the-numbers device to frame this story. But even when the movie is cliche at times, first-time director Brian Duffield’s camerawork and the leads’ charismatic performances keep the audience engaged throughout.

The film shifts in tone quite a bit, first laughing at the deaths and then taking them seriously with tear-inducing somber narration. At times, it can be sappy. It even resembles “The Fault in Our Stars” a little. But there’s always a joke around the corner to break the tension.

The movie fumbles its closing message a little. In a meta-joke, Langford’s character narrates that she isn’t sure what she’s learned from the whole ordeal except that life sucks, but it also can be great at times. She ends up settling on, “start living your life today” which actually is a little different than “live like this day is your last.” (The latter lends itself to walking around as if actions have no consequences, while the former leads people to not put off until tomorrow what you can do today).

“Spontaneous” has received a theatrical run in addition to being available to rent on VOD, but this film isn’t playing currently in the Indianapolis area. It’s actually worth spending $10 for the early access rental because in my mind it’s probably the best teen romance movie I’ve seen since “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” in 2015.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

★1/2

I remember seeing the original “Borat” movie in theaters in 2006.

I had recently graduated from Indiana University and moved to Jacksonville, Florida to accept a job at a newspaper. I didn’t know anyone there and my father flew into town to hang out with me.

We went to watch the Indianapolis Colts take on the Jacksonville Jaguars and we were really excited. Expectations were high that Peyton Manning would destroy our usually pitiful opponent.

On the Jaguars’ first play, running back Fred Taylor ran for 76 yards. Eventually, the team ran for a franchise record 375 yards and my father and I were taunted by Jags fans leaving the stadium as the Colts were defeated.

(Side note: The radio announcer overhead as we were leaving said, “Looks like another first round playoff exit for the Colts this year.”We ended up winning the Super Bowl that year. So take that.)

Needless to say, my father was depressed. He flew 900 miles to see his favorite team get absolutely destroyed.

So I said to my father, “You need cheering up. Let’s go to a movie.”

He wasn’t in the mood but he went along and we saw “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

My father had never heard of British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen and he laughed so hard that he almost fell out of his seat. Seriously, I was afraid that the movie theater staff were going to escort us out for causing a disruption.

“Borat” was a huge box office hit, grossing $260 million worldwide. He was a popular Halloween costume for years to come and people would quote the accented character’s iconic “My wiiiiife!” catchphrase. Eventually, the amateur impersonations would rival only Napoleon Dynamite for their ability to annoy.

What made “Borat” so hilarious was a combination of political satire and shock value. The over-the-top parody of foreigners brought to life the xenophobia in the United States. And a few real-life people, including a group of fraternity brothers and a homophobic rodeo cowboy, showed what some Americans are really like.

Cohen attempted a follow up movie a few years later featuring another one of his characters, Bruno, a gay Austrian fashion reporter. The movie was not nearly as funny and part of the difficulty is that Cohen had become a household name and could no longer trick unsuspecting people with his character. Everyone knew it was a stunt.

Fourteen years later, we finally get a true sequel to “Borat” but people haven’t forgotten the character, making it necessary for the character himself to choose to dress in disguise. Cohen filmed it very quickly and somewhat secretly during the COVID-19 lockdown, although some news reports came out that he had been spotted in character and that a new movie was expected.

Things are much different than they were in 2006. Back then, George W. Bush was president and cell phone cameras didn’t exist (to capture Cohen on the street). Nowadays, real life is so increasingly bizarre and unbelievable that it’s difficult to parody 2020. Donald Trump might be even more “out-there” than the character Borat.

Cohen takes aim at a few modern day targets including anti-maskers, anti-abortion activists, QAnon conspiracy theorists and Rudy Giuliani himself in a climactic appearance that likely has been spoiled by recent news coverage (and quickly I will say that it doesn’t look like Rudy was really touching himself, so the coverage is overblown).

Cohen apparently lived in quarantine with a pair of conspiracy theorists for five days and had to stay in character the entire time. That’s really interesting and I bet a “making of” feature might be more interesting than this actual sequel.

The new wrinkle in this sequel is that Borat is escorted by his 15-year-old daughter played by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova. Some of the funniest scenes in the movie involve her character and she’s able to trick some unsuspecting subjects where Cohen is unable.

Due to the lack of anonymity, this sequel relies on a written narrative more than the original movie which was often just a collection of skits. And the story in this sequel is a sweet one, worthy of being told.

But in the end “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” isn’t very funny and that’s the true barometer of whether it’s a “great success.”

What was once funny about Borat has now become annoying and it’s difficult to have the same impact on audiences who are no longer surprised.

People are much harder to shock nowadays and Cohen’s pranks just fall flat.

In the end, I think much of comedy comes down to surprising an audience. That’s why sequels to comedies are usually terrible (“Caddyshack 2” “Meet the Fockers” “Zoolander 2” and “Anchorman 2” come to mind).

Everyone that hated the first “Borat” movie will hate the sequel just as movie. But I suspect only about half of the people who enjoyed the original comedy will end up liking this new version.

Rebecca (2020)

It’s not easy remaking an already great movie. But a Best Picture winner at the Oscars? That’s an especially tall order.

Only a handful of Best Picture winners have been remade and technically most of them are new adaptations of a book.

The list includes “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Ben-Hur,” “All the King’s Men,” “Hamlet” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”

Steven Spielberg has a new film version of “West Side Story” that will be added to this list at some point (release date uncertain due to COVID-19).

And now we have “Rebecca,” a Netflix-exclusive based on the 1938 Gothic novel by English author Dame Daphne du Maurier.

“Rebecca” was turned into a Best Picture-winning feature in 1940 directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. Hitchcock did not receive a statuette for this win (he was not listed as a producer) and ultimately he never won an Oscar in his career (only an honorary one).

While loved by many classic film buffs, the original 1940 “Rebecca” isn’t among Hitchock’s best works. Most people, including myself, would certainly rank it after “Psycho,” “The Birds,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest” and “Rear Window.” I might throw in a few others (I have a fondness for “Rope”).

So why remake this classic? I’m not sure I understand why.

Lily James (“Downton Abbey,” “Cinderella”) and Armie Hammer (“Call Me By Your Name,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) star in the two lead roles in director Ben Wheatley’s new version.

It’s the story of a young woman who falls in love with a rich widower and marries him rather quickly and moves into his enormous mansion called Manderley. The setting itself certainly takes on a life of its own and it’s intricately detailed in the bright colorful updated remake. James is constantly reminded of the memory of her husband’s first wife and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death.

Not to give away anything about the plot (it really kicks in during the last 30 minutes of this 2-hour film) but the modern remake seems to more of a murder mystery than a psychological thriller like the original.

The real standout in this new version is Kristin Scott Thomas (“The English Patient,” “Only God Forgives”) as the the creepy, possessive housekeeper Mrs. Danvers who manipulates James’ character and seems overly protective of the late wife’s memory.

If you’re comparing this new version to the original, you might be let down, but if you’re looking for a thriller with a beautiful period-piece setting then you could do a lot worse than “Rebecca.”

Feels Good Man

A documentary about a grinning cartoon frog might be the most important movie about politics to come out in 2020.

“Feels Good Man” tells the story of Pepe the Frog, which first appeared in a comic strip called “Boy’s Club” in 2005. It grew to become a meme by 2008, mostly on the message boards of a site called 4Chan.

Creator Matt Furie was first just amused about how widespread his comic was on the Internet and he saw no harm in people making their own drawings or using the character to express emotions. Even Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj retweeted images using Pepe in 2014.

But in 2015, things changed. Donald Trump announced he was running for president and at the same time an undercurrent of angry Internet users began to use memes to spread their message. 4Chan became inundated with extremist that became known as the alt-right, a collection of Internet users that often said sexist, racist or xenophobic things and shunned normal society.

For some reason, Pepe became their symbol.

Furie wasn’t happy. His happy little comic turned into something used for hatred and it was eventually deemed a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League

Documentary director Arthur Jones (in his feature debut) dissects this cultural phenomenon and explains how a cartoon becomes a meme and how a meme’s meaning can get changed by the others. Truly nobody owns anything on the Internet. And things take on a life of their own.

Expertly intercut with talking head interviews, TV news clips and animation of Pepe to portray the mood, Jones really takes you on a journey. It’s fast paced and chock-full of information, but it really gets at the heart of today’s political landscape and it does it in a way that’s mostly objective. The alt-right users get their (brief) say but they don’t overtake Furie’s central message of love and hope.

Everything in this documentary could easily be discovered by perusing Wikipedia and reading a few in depth articles. Trump retweeting Pepe. Hillary Clinton denouncing Pepe. Cryptocurrency. Trading “rare Pepes” and selling them for thousands. The lawsuit against Alex Jones. The political movement in Hong Kong. The documentary covers it all and even if you knew all of this stories it’s done with such style and emotion that it’s worth seeing it all distilled into 90 minutes.

I know colleges teach courses on Internet memes and symbology and this movie should be required viewing for all of those students (and probably marketing or political science majors too). It perfectly explains how a meme comes to life and what impact it can have on the world. At times the movie can be scary, but it ends of a beautifully hopeful note.

The one thing I really took from this documentary is that you can always flip the script. Maybe Pepe was once a symbol of white supremacy, but you can reclaim it and make it into a symbol of love too. If things that are meant for good can be turned into hatred, why can’t we work in the opposite direction? Maybe that’s possible too.

Enola Holmes


★★★1/2

What does Sherlock Holmes have in common with Santa Claus, Dracula and God?

They are the four most portrayed characters when it comes to TV shows, movies and books.

That’s rare company for the fictional detective and the Guinness Book of World Records lists him as as the most portrayed literary human character in film and television history (the other three don’t fit that description). There have been more than 25,000 stage adaptations, films, television productions and publications featuring the detective. Movies alone count more than 250.

So to say there’s another movie featuring Sherlock Holmes might give many a groan, even if there’s a new twist.

Netflix’s newest original movie “Enola Holmes” gives Millie Bobby Brown a starring vehicle in which she portrays the titular heroine, who is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes.

It’s based on a series of young adult novels that debuted in 2006 and while the movie is appropriate for teens and tweens, fans of the Robert Downey Jr. movies and the Benedict Cumberbatch series will still enjoy this two-hour feature. It’s not just for children. In fact, kids younger than middle school might get bored or confused.

Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel,” “The Witcher”) plays the famed detective with obsessive brilliance and arrogance, but lacking the eccentricities of other version. He’s not a misanthrope or a drug addict in this version. It’s a softer Holmes. And yes, he’s far far better than Will Ferrell’s terrible version.

Trusty sidekick Watson isn’t by Sherlock’s side. Maybe they’re saving him for some sequels. Yes, this movie is meant for sequels. The movie itself could have easily been turned into a series, but I’m thankful that Netflix is still providing options that I can watch in two hours rather than eight.

The plot itself is disposable. It’s a generic mystery where you could care less about the clues that are found or who the ultimate villain ends up being. With the exception of the brilliant twist in last year’s “Knives Out,” most detective movies are more about the journey than the answer.

The real reason to watch “Enola Holmes” is to see a star in the making with Millie Bobby Brown. She was introduced to the world in 2016 as Eleven, a bald-headed 12-year-old with telekinetic powers on the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things.” She was shy, scared and unable to speak. It was a powerful role, but one that gave us no hint of how Brown would fare as a confident, verbose, witty young feminist in “Enola Holmes.” With only one other feature film under her belt (a small role in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”), this is Brown’s film breakthrough. It showcases her leading star ability and it’s not hyperbole to say that I see the same charm and acting ability that we saw in Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman and Emma Stone before they went on to win Oscars many years later. Brown is only 16 and if she keeps selecting the right roles (which is very important) her future will be bright.

Brown brings a ton of charisma to “Enola Holmes.” When she breaks the fourth wall and looks into the camera, the viewer feels like she’s looking directly at them because of Brown’s personal connection and relaxed performance. It’s a strong enough debut to warrant sequels, even if the mystery itself isn’t incredibly engaging.

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story

John Kricfalusi, creator of “The Ren & Stimpy Show”


★★

I was seven years old when Nicktoons premiered on Nickelodeon in 1991.

The children’s cable network had mostly aired syndicated shows from other networks and was now launching its cutting edge original Saturday morning cartoons with three new shows: “Doug,” “Rugrats” and — the edgy rebellious one — “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”

I watched in anticipation for the new shows and enjoyed all three, but I was enthralled by “Ren & Stimpy.” It was like nothing else I had ever seen in a cartoon, not even “The Simpsons,” which premiered a few years prior.

It was beautifully (and disgustingly) animated with detailed close-up shots and exaggerated emotional expression that displayed madness on the screen. There was sexual innuendo, shocking violence and boiling rage. It wasn’t meant for kids, but it aired in the middle of the day on a network aimed at young children.

A new documentary, “Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story,” chronicles the rise and fall of the controversial cartoon. Directors Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood premiered their movie as part of the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020, a few months before COVID-19 put a halt to in-person film festivals.

For the most part, they tell a pretty standard story of how the cartoon got made and what made it so popular and controversial. Talking head celebrities like Bobby Lee and Jack Black heap praise on “Ren & Stimpy” creator John Kricfalusi for being an eccentric genius who pushed boundaries. The first 30 minutes of the documentary is full of glowing compliments and goes into great detail about what made the show so revolutionary. They interview animators, studio executives and obsessive fans. The usual documentary format.

Ren & Stimpy

I haven’t revisited this beloved cartoon in many years, but during the first part of this documentary, I was overflowing with nostalgia and a desire to rewatch this show. As they kept showing controversial clips that slipped through Nickelodeon’s censors, I kept thinking to myself: “How did they get away with this?”

But the troubled artist John K (as he’s called) is — predictably — exposed as a man who’s dealing with some serious mental health issues. He’s described as berating his staff with profanity and slurs. He fights with network executives, telling them to “Go f— yourself.” He refuses to meet deadlines, costing the network millions and leading to delays in episode air dates. He’s finally kicked off the show after submitting an episode in which an abusive dog trainer named George Liquor — based on John K’s actual father — is beaten mercilessly with a boat oar.

Some animators play off John K’s attitude by calling it self sabotage. Others play off his abusive behavior to his staff by calling it “being a perfectionist.”

But something darker seems to be at play.

Stimpy

And then the documentary takes a turn.

I was unaware of the accusations leveled at John K in 2018. I don’t know if I should even call them accusations since he freely admits it in the documentary, but he was never convicted in a court of law.

In summation, John K began writing letters back and forth with a 14-year-old female fan of “Ren & Stimpy” in 1995. He was 30 at the time. He basically was grooming her and then had her move in with him when she was 16. He admits to the sexual relationship and animators admit in the documentary that everyone knew. The victim speaks openly in the movie, saying that he wouldn’t let her leave the house and she still has nightmares about him. The documentary filmmakers question John K firmly but he gives a very weak apology without saying he did anything wrong. He basically says he’s sorry if she feels like she was hurt.

The woman tries to reconcile the art that is “Ren & Stimpy” with the artist that created it, saying: “I understand you need pain to make great art, but that doesn’t mean you need to inflict pain.”

So this is when the documentary sort of makes me angry.

What John K did was criminal (the statute of limitations have passed) and it feels weird that I just watched an hour of people heaping praise on him.

Yes, the cartoon itself was quite genius, but the movie clumsily tries to reconcile the fact that the show has been somewhat tarnished by the reputation of its creator.

There’s a big debate about whether you can still enjoy a piece of art that was created by (or includes) a reprehensible person. Can you still watch “The Cosby Show” or movies that feature Kevin Spacey? Where do you draw the line? Can you separate the art from the artist?

The documentary gives maybe three minutes to these questions and it’s a shame. It almost feels as if the documentary was deep into production when the 2018 Buzzfeed article came out that exposed John K. It’s quite possible that’s what happened, but these two directors should have used that as an opportunity to give more weight to this important subject. I’m not saying you can’t still explore the greatness that was “The Ren & Stimpy Show” but you can’t just tack these sexual assault incidents on at the end.

Furthermore, the documentary never even touches the fact that John K was alleged to have child pornography on his computer.

The smiling talking heads of Bobby Lee and Jack Black never come back on screen to say how these revelations have altered their nostalgia. Again, maybe they were interviewed before it all came out.

In the end, “Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story” is a fascinating look at a controversial show and its controversial creator. I was never bored watching it, but I felt like I needed a shower after the credits rolled. The title of this documentary is very misleading.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

In 2001, the satire Web site The Onion ran an article titled, “Alex Winter keeps bugging Keanu Reeves about third ‘Bill & Ted’ movie.”

It was a funny joke at the time because Reeves just jumped into superstardom with “The Matrix” franchise. Many years later, Reeves would solidify his box office status with the acclaimed “John Wick” action series. It’s already been announced that Reeves will reprise both roles in a fourth “Matrix’ movie and a fourth (and fifth) “John Wick” installment.

Meanwhile, Alex Winter has spent the years directing lesser known documentaries and episodes of television series. Not the same stardom.

So it seemed that Reeves was throwing his buddy a bone by agreeing to appear in a third “Bill & Ted” movie. Another reason to love Keanu.

Turns out, the movie was actually worth making. A smart screenplay coupled with top-notch direction from Dean Parisot (who did cult classic “Galaxy Quest”) make this years later sequel much funnier than it ought to be. It’s not a comedy classic that will reel in those that weren’t fans of the first two movies, but it’s not the disaster that “Jay & Silent Bob Reboot” was.

“Bill & Ted Face the Music” includes references to both 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and 1991’s “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” The eponymous duo is much older and still haven’t written the great song that will unite the world, align the planet and create universal peace. Their moment in the sun as a famous 90s rock band has faded and now they’re playing weddings. Their wives — princess they picked up in the 1400s while time traveling in the first movie — are getting fed up with them. The only people who still look up to Bill & Ted are their daughters, played by Samara Weaving (“The Babysitter”) and Brigette Lundy-Payne. Their offspring look and talk like their dads but they seem to know a lot more about music and they are apparently more intelligent too.

Just like the first movie, there are trips back in time to pick up historical figures and just like the first sequel there’s a trip to the afterlife, complete with a very funny cameo by William Sadler reprising his role as Death (he has some of the funniest lines in this movie).

Anthony Carrigan, known as mobster NoHo Hank in the HBO series “Barry,” plays a futuristic robot sent to kill “Bill & Ted” and he steals most scenes he’s in, constantly reminding people in an emotionally insecure way that his real name is Dennis Caleb McCoy.

Reeves gives an admirable performance but Winter actually seems to be better at delivering humorous lines. He needs it more.

Although their voices have changed in the 30-plus years (much deeper and gravelly), the chemistry between the two stars is still there and this new addition is actually quite fun. It’s fast paced and full of silly scenes like the two sequels to “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” but obviously with more Sci-Fi.

In the end, this sweet hearted goofball comedy doesn’t rely on gross-out humor, shocking jokes or political references to be relevant. It’s message about the power of music to unite all people is actually needed right now and it’s quite refreshing. It would be great if we all followed the message from Bill and Ted: “Be excellent to one another and party on, dudes!”

Tesla

★★1/2

Sometimes people can change the world without becoming incredibly famous.

In the musical “Hamilton,” there are a ton of references to the fact that Alexander Hamilton shaped the U.S. government into what it is today but many everyday people — before the musical came out — didn’t know him as well as Thomas Jefferson or George Washington.

Nowadays, Nikola Tesla is known by more people than he used to be. But he’s known mostly for his name being used on Elon Musk’s car company or the fact that David Bowie played a fictionalized version of him in “The Prestige.”

Most people can’t tell you what Tesla is famous for.

Some would say he “invented electricity” but that’s not entirely accurate.

Most of what I know about this historical figure came from the movie “The Current War,” which I watched a few months ago. Nicolas Hoult played Tesla in a supporting role in a film that really focused on Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, two titans who were battling in the 1800s to see who could have their form of electricity (direct current or alternating current) become commonplace and dominate the market.

You know, Tesla worked briefly for Edison at his company. Edison is who we learned about in second grade. Edison became rich form his inventions. Tesla struggled for money for most of his life and even was a ditch digger for a brief period of time.

Director Michael Almereyda tells much of the same story as “The Current War,” in his film “Tesla,” but with the lesser known inventor as the central figure. He teams up with Ethan Hawke as Tesla and Kyle MacLachlan as Edison, two actors he previously worked with in his superb retelling of “Hamlet” in 2000.

Almereyda tells his story in an unconventional way, having it narrated by Tesla’s love interest, the daughter of banker J.P. Morgan. She breaks the fourth wall, telling us about the Google results of Tesla versus Edison and often it feels like a high school documentary lots of historical explanation. It really gets odd toward the “climax” of the film (or as close as you can get in this movie) when Hawke sings a karaoke version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, dressed up as Tesla. It’s poignant but it’s also quite strange.

I’m not sure Almereyda’s film succeeded 100 percent. I kind of loved this movie and yet I kind of hated it. It takes risks and it made me think, but its meandering plot with its strict adherence to historical accuracy felt more like reading a textbook than watching a grand feature.

If you love history, this one might be for you. And there is a central theme: that Tesla’s pursuit of brilliance and world-changing inventions might have completely occurred during his lifetime, but the work he did let to further breakthroughs that changed the world. He died penniless, but not forgotten.

I know movie theaters are closed right now, but this is a film that’s better watched at home and probably by yourself. You don’t want to glance over at your yawning partner who is bored to tears by your rental choice.

The film lacks a real electric charge but you can see the tiny sparks in Hawke’s performance. I mildly enjoyed this film, but I preferred “The Current War.”

All The King’s Men (1949)

In many older films, there were heroes and there were villains. There wasn’t much room for nuance.

Nowadays, the same can be said for the way politicians are depicted in the news.

One channel portrays Donald Trump as a hero and Joe Biden as a villain. Flip to another news channel and the perspectives are flipped. We’re working in extremes and we’re working in absolutes.

Where do you weigh the good and the bad? Where do the scales tip? Can a bad person can end up doing good things, even if they’re doing them for the wrong reasons?

In the early 1930s, one of the most divisive figures was Huey Long, who served as governor and senator of Louisiana. He was the original populist. He was a brilliant attorney and gifted orator and he became known for fighting against corporate greed. He spoke out against white supremacy and advocated for a wealth tax and wealth redistribution.

Many loved him, but he was also hated. He was impeached for abuses of power, including misusing state funds and corruption. But the most serious charge was conspiracy to commit murder. One of Long’s bodyguards claimed in an affidavit that an intoxicated Long had told him to kill a state representative and “leave him in the ditch where nobody will know how or when he got there.” Long allegedly promised him a full pardon.

Long was acquitted by the Louisiana Senate but the impeachment proceedings were so heated that there was a literal brawl on the floor of the state legislature. Some used brass knuckles and Long’s brother even bit someone.

Long was eventually killed and the assassin was never identified.

OK, that was a lengthy wind-up, but it leads us to the movie I’m featuring: “All the King’s Men,” a 1949 movie that won Best Picture at the Oscars.

Long’s story was the direct inspiration for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel that was turned into this feature film three years later.

Little known character actor Broderick Crawford plays Willy Stark, an honest man running for county treasurer somewhere in the South. The state and political parties are never specified. Stark is uneducated but bright and he takes on the establishment in the form of county commissioners who want to give their cronies the contract to build a new schoolhouse. The schoolhouse collapses with children inside due to cheap construction. Stark is seen as a prophetic hero, a man of the people.

Stark is later recruited to run for governor, but the naive man — now going to night school to become an attorney — is just an unwitting patsy. They only recruited him to split the “redneck vote” and give their preferred candidate an assured win. When he discovers, he vows to run again in four years, “But this time I know how to win,” he says.

He runs a populist campaign for governor, calling himself a “hick” and is elected easily. He vows to build a big hospital and provide people with free healthcare. All seems to be going well until cracks start to form. He begins cheating on his wife and berating his staff. He admits to making deals with corporate interests in order to advance his political agenda.

“I’ll make a deal with the devil if it will help me carry out my program,” Stark says. “But believe me, there are no strings attached to those deals. Do you know what good comes out of?…Out of bad. That’s what good comes out of. Because you can’t make it out of anything else. You didn’t know that, did you?”

Later on, his attorney general, a former judge, refuses to cut a deal for corrupt politicians that Stark needs on his side.

Stark tells him: “You know, Judge, dirt’s a funny thing. Some of it rubs off on everybody.”

When the judge resigns, Stark enlists the help of a bright-eyed journalist Jack Burden who wrote about his campaign. He had previously hired this writer for his staff with promises of changing the world but now he’s got him digging up dirt about the judge.

“Jack, there’s something on everybody,” Stark says. “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”

In the end, Stark is impeached but acquitted. As he’s leaving the statehouse to a crowd of cheering supporters, he’s shot and killed. He’s assassinated by Burden, the very man who once looked up to Stark.

In a news reel, a narrator says that, “For those who say that Willie Stark is a man of destiny, there are others who claim that he is a man of evil, a man who cares neither for the people or the state, but only for his own personal power and ambition. Obviously, these ambitions go far beyond the boundaries of the state. Just how far, only time will tell. Meanwhile, he is here, and from the looks of things, he is here to stay. Willie Stark – Messiah or Dictator?”

Viewers will obviously see parallels between Willy Stark and modern day politicians. A good person starts off wanting to do good things but over time starts giving into the system and “playing the game.” At some point personal ambition starts to overshadow their original goals. Even when they push through good legislation, they end up getting their hands dirty, saying “the ends will justify the means.”

Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s character in the Netflix series, “House of Cards,” obviously is one recent example. Neither 100 percent good nor 100 percent evil, but sharp and cunning. And just like any Shakespearean tragic hero, their ego and ambition leads to their downfall.

“All the King’s Men” isn’t the first noir film to win Best Picture. “Casablanca” did that. And it isn’t the first award-nominated feature about an egotistical ambitious magnate who loses his way. “Citizen Kane,” released eight years prior, obviously influenced “All the King’s Men,” both in style and substance.

“All the King’s Men” is applauded for its screenplay, but the cast mostly improvised many scenes. The original running time was four hours and the director and editor trimmed it to a 109-minute movie by taking many scenes and turning into short snippets with transitions and using montages to show the passage of time. These editing tricks — not used much at the time — came out of necessity but made for a more powerful film.

Crawford won Best Actor at the Oscars, beating John Wayne, who originally turned down the role of Stark because he was reluctant to play a morally questionable character.

“All the King’s Men” is not one of the greatest films ever made but it’s worthy of recognition for its place in movie history. It shed some light on political corruption in the 1940s, which many people felt was un-American to to do at the time.

Its dark ending does not present any hope. And unfortunately modern politics often don’t either. If good men end up becoming corrupt over time, maybe that’s an argument for term limits. As Winston Churchill once said: “After a time, civil servants tend to become no longer servants and no longer civil.”