Sergio

★★★★

When I first heard about the new Netflix movie “Sergio,” which dropped on the service Friday, Apr. 17, all I could think of is the kindly old tailor I did business with over a decade ago in Nora. He was a little fella of Italian or Hispanic descent who also sported the moniker. I brought a suit into him that I needed taken in. He advised me not to do it as he couldn’t take it out afterwards. He must have deduced that I’m a dude who likes to eat like crap and drink too much or my reputation proceeded me. The suit no longer fits. Anyways, I was telling my then-girlfriend-now-wife about Sergio and in imitating him I definitely did a Mario voice (“It’s-a me, Sergio!”). Sergio’s come up now and again over the years and Mario voices were always trotted out while doing so. When I asked Jamie if she wanted to watch “Sergio” with me I did so with a Mario emphasis on the title. We’ve both probably said Sergio in a Mario impersonation at least 20 times in the past few days. Yay, quarantine!

Anyways, onto the business at hand … “Sergio” is a docudrama concerning United Nations diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello (Wagner Moura), his work alongside Gil Loescher (gifted Irish stage and film actor Brían F. O’Byrne, playing an amalgamation of various folks under the real-life Loescher’s name), his budding romance with fellow UN worker, Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas), his strife with George W. Bush crony Paul Bremer (an unrecognizable Bradley Whitford) and his struggle for survival after a bomb blast in Baghdad, Iraq leaves him gravely injured and stuck beneath rubble.

Documentarian Greg Barker makes a transition to features with “Sergio” after having made a documentary about the same subject with the same title back in 2009. I won’t lie. I didn’t know much about de Mello going into the movie. I left the movie with a great respect for the man. He isn’t perfect and isn’t portrayed as such. He doesn’t appear to have been a great husband. He is a loving father, but is often too preoccupied with his admittedly very important job to do the legwork needed to fully be there for his two sons. Sergio as presented here is an eternal optimist, a fighter, a peace broker, a romantic. “Sergio” presents the case that things would have worked out very differently in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole had situations transpired another way back in 2003. We could use a lot more folks like de Mello right now.

I haven’t seen Moura’s work on “Narcos,” but have heard positive things about it and the show as a whole. I’m more familiar with him from José Padilha’s Brazilian “Elite Squad” flicks, which he’s very good in. He’s excels here too. Moura was much beefier and more foreboding in the “Elite Squad” pictures. Here he’s slighter, handsomer, distinguished … probably in an effort to embody the actual de Mello. Full disclosure: I watched “Sergio” primarily because de Armas is in it. After her stellar performances in “Blade Runner 2049” and “Knives Out,” I’d pay to watch de Armas read the phone book. Hell, I’d watch de Armas do anything as she’s de Armas. She may have actually been too attractive here. There were times when I distractedly got lost in those pretty green eyes of hers. That said, she does great work in “Sergio” and may have been perfect casting because as a buddy of mine has said (My buddy said this! Not me!), “She’d be harder to pull out of than Iraq.” You’re a lucky man, Ben Affleck! O’Byrne is reliably solid as per usual. Whitford’s a bit of a distraction as he kinda looks like he’s ready to play Bremer on a “Saturday Night Live” skit from the early aughts, but he embodies the part. Gifted character actor Garret Dillahunt – a performer so solid he played TWO roles on “Deadwood” – is sort of wasted playing de Mello and Loescher’s primary rescuer, Army Reservist and firefighter Msg. Bill von Zehle. Dillahunt’s mostly relegated to shouting things such as, “Water! Now! Dammit!” He does get a moment to shine doing some emotive physical acting opposite de Armas late in the picture.

“Sergio” is told out of sequence and it’s a tad disorienting in the early goings, but once you get in a groove with it the structure does pay emotional dividends. Sergio cribs a quote from an East Timor villager he visits with late in the film, “I want to fall from the sky like rain and remain forever in the place that I belong.” Nonlinear or no, I think this is a sentiment that strikes a chord with all of us these days.

Selah and the Spades

★★1/2

I was curious about “Selah and the Spades,” which released on Amazon Prime on Friday, Apr. 17, because it has received positive notices from some Indianapolis-area film critics and was garnering comparisons to movies like “School Daze,” “Heathers,” “Election,” “Brick,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Dear White People.”  I can see the influence those films had on writer/director Tayarisha Poe, but the movie it most reminded me of is Justin Lin’s 2003 effort “Better Luck Tomorrow.” In both instances you have filmmakers that are people of color making their calling card features concerning high school kids dabbling in illegalities. Both movies also embrace and subvert stereotypes.

Lovie Simone stars as the titular Selah. She’s a cheerleader and fronts a faction known as the Spades at Haldwell Boarding School. The school is comprised of gangs – each gang serves its own purpose. The Bobbys, fronted by Bobby (Ana Mulvoy Ten), throw parties. The Skins, fronted by Amber B (Francesca Noel), run gambling operations. The C’s, fronted by Tarit (Henry Hunter Hall, late of Amazon’s “Hunters”), are brainiacs who sell term papers and exam answers. The Prefects, fronted by Two Tom (Evan Roe), run interference leaving the school’s teachers and administrators embodied by Headmaster Banton (Jesse Williams … it doesn’t seem like so long ago that he was playing a college kid in “The Cabin in the Woods”) oblivious to the students’ illicit activities. Selah runs the Spades alongside her right-hand man, Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome of “When They See Us”). The Spades handle the narcotics trade on Haldwell’s campus. The Spades are the crème de la crème of the factions, but they vie for that position against the Bobbys. Selah’s on her way out as she’s a senior, but wants assurance that the Spades will remain dominant. Enter Paloma (Celeste O’Connor), a sophomore scholarship student who works as a photographer for the school’s newspaper. Selah takes Paloma under her wing grooming her as a successor. Paloma observes whereas Selah acts, but she proves to be thoughtful and has a deft hand in faction dealings … this leads to infighting and jealousy as the pupil supersedes the sensei and does so somewhat cockily. 

Selah is a complicated and driven character to the point of being cutthroat … whether friend or foe she takes second to no one. You gain great insight into her psyche during a phone call she’s having with her mother, Maybelle (Gina Torres of “Firefly” and “Serenity”). Selah tells Maybelle that she received a 93 on a calculus exam to which mother curtly asks daughter, “Where’s the other seven points?” My folks would’ve been psyched had I gotten a 93 on a mathematics exam let alone taken calculus.

Simone and O’Connor do a nice job. They’re both lovely and talented actresses that have bright futures ahead of them. Simone is appearing in an upcoming remake of “The Craft;” O’Connor has a role in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” Jerome gave my favorite performance in any piece of 2019 media with “When They See Us.” He’s not nearly as good here, but he’s also given far less to do and far less time to do it.

While “Selah and the Spades” didn’t totally connect with me, I have to give it credit for subverting stereotypes. Many of the “black movies” I watched as a kid were urban and more of their characters were thugs than weren’t (“Boyz n the Hood,” “Juice,” “Menace II Society” and “Dead Presidents” among them). Most of the students at Haldwell aren’t white. These kids of color are a portrait of intelligence and affluence. They’re dabbling in crime, but there’s nary a gun seen. This is a movie about tryhards that ultimately tries too hard. The whole enterprise feels affected. That said, I think Poe shows great promise as a filmmaker and I’m happy to see more folks that are young, women and people of color given an opportunity to tell their stories. I might just be too old, white and male to fully get on board. The hangover I was enduring while watching probably didn’t help either. #QuarantineCantina2020

Wendy

★★1/2

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” was the surprise hit of 2012. At age 29, director Benh Zeitlin impressed so much with his feature film debut that he was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. His lead actress, only six years old, was nominated for acting as well.

Movie lovers eagerly anticipated his follow-up film, which has taken eight years to be made and released. Part of the reason for the delay is Zeitlin stuck a deal with the movie studio that he wouldn’t be rushed during the filmmaking process. He would take as much time as he needed to get the film just right. An encouraging sign for audiences.

His sophomore effort would be a reimagined take on the story of Peter Pan. The end result is “Wendy,” a mix of fantasy and realism with extraordinary performances from child actors, something that Zeitlin has proven to an a pro at.

The movie has beautiful visuals and music and some real poignant lines spoken, but unfortunately the overall end result is harmed by three things: an unfocused plot, high expectations for Zeitlin’s follow-up and source material that’s been on the silver screen many, many times before.

Peter Pan has been turned into so many movies, most famously in the animated Disney classic and the Robin Williams vehicle “Hook.” In the past 20 years, two ambitious versions have dropped as well. In 2003, director P.J. Hogan took on the story with a psychologically complex version called “Peter Pan,” with Lucious Malfoy himself Jason Isaacs chewing some scenery as Captain Hook. In 2015, amazing director Joe Wright (“Hanna,” “The Darkest Hour,” “Atonement”) took on an origin story of Peter Pan in “Pan,” with an excellent cast of Hugh Jackman and Garret Hedlund. Some criticized the whitewashing of the Native Americans in this version and the heavy reliance on CGI action scenes.

In Zeitlin’s take on the story, he focuses on Wendy, a rebellious young girl who sees her mother wait tables in a diner and regret growing up. So she follows a mysterious boy on a train and runs away to a volcanic island. It feels more like “Lord of the Flies” at times and there’s a manic, beautiful energy to the loosely plotted story. There are some interesting concepts explored, including aging because you stop believing. The creation of Captain Hook is done well here too. But overall the story feels like a collection of ideas thrown at the wall rather than a cohesive plot. It’s certainly “about something” but maybe there are too many different themes explored.

“Wendy” is currently rotten on the Web site, RottenTomatoes.com, with most reviewers expressing disappointment at Zeitlin’s follow up. Some think that he should have made a better movie given the time spent on it. But I think that’s unfair. Much of the criticism is coming from high expectations but if you rewatch “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” many of the flaws in “Wendy” can be found in his debut as well. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was a meandering movie with no real plot but had great acting and visuals.

Perhaps, “Wendy” isn’t as bad as some critics are making it out to be. It’s a nice film, but not amazing. And perhaps “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was a little overrated when it came out. Again, a nice film, nothing amazing.

Expectations are a crazy thing, but I understand it. Zeitlin was a young filmmaker (he still is at age 37) when he made his first movie so the flaws were excused. He showed promise and potential. But for good and for bad, this movie is just much of the same. No real growth.

Just like the Lost Boys in Neverland, it seems like Zeitlin hasn’t grown up as a filmmaker.

Code 8


★★★1/2

“Code 8” began its life as a short film back in 2016. The short served as a calling card for an Indiegogo campaign to finance a feature-length version. The filmmakers requested $200,000 and wound up raising $3.4 million when all was said and done. The movie was given a VOD and limited theatrical release late last year before dropping on Netflix this past Friday, Apr. 10. It’s currently the most-watched movie on the platform and the third most popular program behind “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” and “Ozark.” A spinoff series is in the works for Jeffrey Katzenberg’s newly-launched Quibi app, which specializes in content that’s 10 minutes or less and intended to be watched on cell phones.

Cousins Robbie and Stephen Amell have been with the project since its inception. They starred in and executive produced the short as they did with the feature. The movie takes place in fictional Lincoln City. This is a world where 4% of the population is born with superpowers. Instead of being celebrated, the gifted are pariahs who live in abject poverty and are often pursued by a militarized police force. Robbie stars as Connor, a superpower-enabled day laborer, who is in desperate need of money to help care for his ailing mother, Mary (Kari Matchett). Connor gets roped into a gang of thieves led by Garrett (Stephen) for the opportunity to make real bank. Garrett answers to drug kingpin Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk). As Connor and Garrett’s criminal activities mount they draw the attention of a police officer by the name of Park (Sung Kang).

I like the Amell’s, which says something as my wife has a crush on both of ‘em.  I diligently watched The CW’s “Arrow” up until a season or two ago and thought Stephen made for an awesome Casey Jones in what’s the second best “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” flick to date after the 1990 initial offering. Robbie was always solid in guest stints on Arrowverse’s “The Flash” and is immensely charming in 2015’s underseen and underappreciated teen rom-com “The DUFF.” Despite being the bigger name, Stephen takes a backseat to Robbie in “Code 8.” Connor is the character around which the whole movie revolves and Robbie is more than up to headlining the picture. Kang is an actor I’ve dug ever since seeing him in Justin Lin’s directorial breakthrough “Better Luck Tomorrow” and his Han is my favorite character in “The Fast and Furious” franchise. He brings an inherent likability here, but his character is woefully underwritten. Bryk gives boffo baddie in “Code 8,” but I had to stifle laughter every time he appeared as he looks exactly like the actor Jason Clarke sporting Nicolas Cage’s wigs from “Next” and “Bangkok Dangerous.”  

The whole enterprise plays out like “Heat” meets “Chronicle” with a healthy dose of Neill Blomkamp-ish imagery thrown in for good measure … it’s kinda like a grittier “X-Men.” Fair warning: Netflix slapped “Code 8” with a TV-MA rating citing language … they must have forgotten about or overlooked the scads of people shown being graphically shot and killed. It’s a real credit to director Jeff Chan and screenwriter Chris Pare (who served the same roles on the short) that this all plays bigger than its meager budget should allow. Robotic officers who drop from drones look like leftovers from Blomkamp’s Chappie … and I mean this as a compliment. It’s a discredit to Pare that the picture sags in its center and draws on threads that it never fully addresses. Perhaps these loops will be closed on the spinoff series? But one could also argue that a work should be able to stand on its own.

Double Review: “We Summon the Darkness” and “Satanic Panic”

What better way is there to follow up Easter than with a satanic horror double bill? So that’s exactly what I did watching We Summon the Darkness (available on VOD as of Friday, Apr. 10) and Satanic Panic, which dropped on Shudder back on Thursday, Mar. 19. Not all satanic horror movies are created equal as I quickly discovered during this double bill. I greatly preferred one of these pictures to the other.

We Summon the Darkness takes place in July 1988 in Indiana. Eighteen people have been murdered by a satanic cult nationwide. We’re focused on three young ladies – Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) and Bev (Amy Forsyth) – who are attending a barnstorming metal show. In the parking lot they meet three young men – Mark (Keean Johnson of Alita: Battle Angel and HBO’s Euphoria), Kovacs (Logan Miller from Love, Simon and Escape Room) and Ivan (Austin Swift, younger brother of pop superstar Taylor). The sextuplet proceed to toke up, shotgun a buncha beers and enjoy the concert together. Afterwards they take the party to Alexis’ family’s secluded, palatial mansion and all hell breaks loose. Jackass frontman Johnny Knoxville also factors in as a deep-pocketed pastor.

We Summon the Darkness really makes a meal of its ‘80s pastiche. The period details seem pretty spot-on – I especially enjoyed the era-appropriate Twinkies boxes that kept popping up as the girls are incessantly noshing on the snack cakes. The film is directed by Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer, which I never saw, but heard was good) and written by Alan Trezza (scribe of previous Daddario-starrer Burying the Ex – this movie’s much better than that one). The devil is in the details here – a recurring joke about one character always having to pee actually pays dividends, the ‘80s synth score evokes horror flicks of yore and the metal references dropped read as authentic (I’m assuming Trezza is a metalhead.). We Summon the Darkness doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what it does it does well and sports enough twists and turns to keep audiences engaged.

Satanic Panic, which was produced by horror rag Fangoria (certainly a staple of my early-to-mid adolescence), is a big ole wet fart of a film. The picture focuses upon Sam (Hayley Griffith), a pizza delivery driver working her first night on the gig. She takes a call to deliver pies outside of their service area. As the delivery is in an affluent area, she figures she’ll score a fat tip. Not only is she stiffed, her moped runs out of gas. Pissed and seeking assistance, Sam enters the villa without invitation. She happens upon the beginnings of a satanic ritual being overseen by Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn). The Satanists are portrayed by a random hodgepodge of actors – comedic actress Arden Myrin, writer/director/producer/cinematographer Michael Polish, Rob Zombie player Jeff Daniel Phillips and Hollywood royalty/horror staple Jordan Ladd (granddaughter of Alan Ladd, daughter of Cheryl Ladd and star of Cabin Fever, Club Dread and Death Proof). The Satanists are in need of a virgin to complete their ritual. Luckily for them, Sam is one. Sam must team with Danica’s dejected daughter, Judi (Ruby Modine, daughter of actor Matthew Modine) in order to survive the night. Popping up in supporting roles are a tighty-whitey and bad haircut-rocking Jerry O’Connell (probably done as a favor to his better half, Romijn), indie horror “It Boy” AJ Bowen as Sam’s concupiscent co-worker and Birdemic: Shock and Terror starlet Whitney Moore sporting a ginormous jackhammer dildo.

Satanic Panic is the feature debut of director Chelsea Stardust (What a name!) and it shows. I worry her hair dye seeped into her brain and effected the final product. It’s a cardinal sin for a horror comedy to be neither funny nor scary. There are no laughs or jolts to be had here. What’s worse, for a movie produced by Fangoria the gore’s a bore too.

We Summon the Darkness – 3.5/5, Satanic Panic – 1/5

The Current War: Director’s Cut

★★★★

“The Current War” had a long journey to make it to the big screen.

The screenplay was written in 2008 and made the “Black List,” in 2011, which is an industry survey of “most liked” screenplays not yet produced. Different directors were attached until finally Alfonso Gomez-Rejon joined the project to direct his follow-up to “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” a critically loved feature that made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.

“The Current War” premiered to audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017 to awful reviews. People called it a bore and the Oscar buzz surrounding it had disappeared. Gomez-Rejon said the film was rushed for the festival and was not yet fully complete. He was ready for reshoots and additional edits, but then something happened.

Harvey Weinstein — who bought the film and owned the distribution rights — got caught in a giant scandal which brought his entire company to a halt and eventually landed him in prison. 

The movie company was sold, the production was shelved and it seemed like it would never see the light of day, which is a shame for a movie featuring powerhouse actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Tom Holland and Nicolas Hoult (Doctor Strange, General Zod, Spider-Man and Beast, respectively, for comic movie nerds.)

Eventually Gomez-Rejon discovered that producer Martin Scorcese had negotiated a final edit clause in the movie’s deal and Gomez-Rejon began to raise money online to finish his movie. He raised $1 million and brought the cast back for reshoots and cut 10 minutes off the run time.

The movie made a brief appearance in theaters in October 2019 but was considered a flop. It made its rental debut on March 31.

So after all this work to make it to audiences, is “The Current War” any good?

Personally, I say it is. 

It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea since it’s a dry historical drama that deals with science, but I found the performances and the screenplay to be electrifying.

Cumberbatch brings Thomas Edison to life as he battles against Shannon’s George Westinghouse to see which company can bring electricity to homes across the country. Edison believes in direct current and Westinghouse thinks alternating current is better (I was disappointed there were no AC/DC musical references at the end credits).

They sabotage and attack one another in a ruthless battle to see who gets out on top. 

Nicolas Hoult plays Nicolai Tesla, the famed scientist and inventor who briefly worked for Edison before joining forces with Westinghouse. Holland plays Edison’s assistant.

This movie is really about the passion of two men who sought to cement their places in history. 

Edison — famous for inventing the light bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera — often didn’t actually invent these things himself, but people who worked for him did.

Edison says in the movie: “Let me welcome you to the reality of how things come into existence. We all contribute. That’s what invention is. The salt, the grain, the heat, the heart. Only one man makes the bread rise. That’s the one that puts it all together. Makes it taste so damn good the people will go out there, and hand over their hard-won dollars to buy it.”

And Westinghouse didn’t care about getting rich, but about changing the world.

He says in the movie: “If you want to be remembered, it’s simple: shoot a president. But if you prefer to have what I call a legacy, you leave the world a better place than you found it.”

As they battle back and forth, Edison manipulates newspaper reporters into pushing his agenda. He lets it slip that Westinghouse’s alternating current electricity can kill a person. He even demonstrates it by electrocuting a horse. But that leads some to a new idea: the electric chair. Instead of execution by hanging, they now have a “safer” method. Westinghouse objects, saying that it’s cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eight Amendment, but his real goal is make sure his brand of electricity isn’t associated with killing people.

It’s a shame that Gomez-Rejon didn’t get to completely make the movie he envisioned. My guess is that the extra reshoots and editing got him closer to his goal — hence the Director’s Cut subtitle — but it feels like it’s not quite yet there with Oscar-worthy greatness.

Nonetheless, I found this movie to be hidden gem. There are so many excellent lines of dialogue in this smart screenplay and I found the acting performances to be high-wattage. There’s a simmer of tension throughout the proceedings with dark cinematography and suspenseful music. 

I hope the next movie that Gomez-Rejon directs goes much smoother because I see a ton of potential in him. I never saw his feature debut in “The Town That Dreaded Sundown,” a Blumhouse horror flick, but the other two movies are really solid. Plus, he was an assistant director on Best Picture winner “Argo” and the Alejandro González Iñárritu classic “21 Grams.”

Gomez-Rejon has talent and for his sake I hope he doesn’t work with any more creepy producers like Harvey Weinstein.

Coffee & Kareem

★★★

Mileage may vary on “Coffee & Kareem” depending upon how well you like Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh, making his film debut), a foul-mouthed 12-year-old boy with aspirations of being a rapper and having his mother’s boyfriend, Detroit police officer James Coffee (Ed Helms), beaten to a pulp by established rapper Orlando Johnson (RonReaco Lee). My wife lasted 20 minutes and split. She didn’t care for the youngster’s attitude or language … she also thought he was a little girl due to his long dreadlocks and doughy body. She was all like, “Who is this Kareem person?” If you’ve read my reviews or met me in person you know I’m a bit of a foul-mouthed hooligan myself, but Kareem’s language was a lot for me too. Granted, much of it was funny, but hearing Kareem set up a scenario where Coffee would feed him a bunch of muscle relaxers to ease his asshole is a bridge too far.

Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), a nurse and Kareem’s Mom, and Coffee have been dating for some time. They’re having a mid-day meetup when Kareem happens upon them mid-coitus while skipping school. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and drives Kareem to seek the services of Orlando and his associates Rodney (Netflix stalwart Andrew Bachelor – seriously, the streaming service must really love this dude or he’s got something on them having appeared in “The Babysitter,” “When We First Met,” “Game Over, Man!,” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “Rim of the World”) and Dee (William ‘Big Sleeps’ Stewart) to incapacitate Coffee “so his dick don’t work.” When attempting to have a sit-down with the trio, Kareem witnesses Dee clip a crooked cop. Coffee is unfairly fingered for the crime and the titular duo go on the lam. Coffee reaches out to fellow officers Captain Hill (“In Living Color” veteran David Alan Grier sporting bald pate and a big, gray beard), Coffee’s surrogate father figure and mentor, and Detective Watts (Betty Gilpin late of “The Hunt”), a co-worker with whom Coffee butts heads, for assistance.

“Coffee & Kareem” is directed by Canadian filmmaker Michael Dowse (“Goon,” “Stuber”) and written by first-time screenwriter Shane Mack. Dowse tends to make comedies that are excessively violent and a tad schizophrenic – his latest effort is no exception. Mack shares a first name and has a last name that rhymes with the surname of action-comedy maestro Shane Black. Mack doesn’t have Black’s chops, but bon mots are hurled like hand grenades and barbs buzz like bullets. References to the Nicolas Cage/Werner Herzog collaboration “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” Ja Rule and Taylor Swift had me rolling. The cast is uniformly pretty solid. Helms can do this straight man business in his sleep. Henson is more than a damsel in distress. Gilpin is an entertainingly manic ball of energy. Grier murders a monologue. Little Gardenhigh shows promise, but is handicapped by a somewhat stereotypically-written role that uses crudity as a crutch. I dug needle drops that consisted almost exclusively of rap and Hall & Oates tunes. Hamilton County residents will get a kick out of a car chase that crescendos in a roundabout. At a brisk 88 minutes and available for free on Netflix with subscription, you could do a lot worse than “Coffee & Kareem” – just don’t expect much more than a decidedly R-rated reskinning of “Cop and a Half.”

Resistance

★★★

Marcel Marceau is the world’s most famous mime. I know that’s a weird thing to say since most people can’t really name another famous mime besides him, but it’s a big accomplishment. 

His invisble world captured the imaginations of people around the world and this French artist is responsible for American audiences being familiar with the artform at all.

But what most people don’t realize is that Marceau, born Marcel Mangel, made another contribution to world history. As a teenager, he joined the Jewish resistance in France, rescuing Jews from concentration camps and outwitting the Nazis. 

His first major performance he ever gave was to 3,000 troops after the liberation of Paris.

It’s an amazing story and one worthy of being turned into a film. 

Director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s attempt to translate Marceau’s story to the screen in, “Resistance,” which is available for rental, has mixed results. 

Actor Jesse Eisenberg embodies the role of Marceau with strength and passion. It might be one of his best performances and he’s an underrated actor who was excellent in “The Social Network,” “Adventureland,” “The Art of Self Defense,” “The Double,” “Cafe Society,” “The Squid and the Whale,” and more.

Interesting enough, Jakubowicz uses Marceau as an excuse to tell the broader story of the French resistance and the movie has suspenseful moments and plays more like a thriller than a historic bio-pic. It’s in the movie’s best interest to break from the typical biopic formula but the end result is a disjointed film that often loses track of its protagonist as it tells the story of other characters.

The directorial style and the cast performances are top notch. While this film might scream “Oscar bait” given its addition to the Holocaust film library, it’s not really in that league. It’s a well-crafted film for history buffs and fans of Eisenberg, but not much else. But does it need to be more? I believe any criticisms of this movie lie not in the fact of what it is, but what it could be. Taken on its own, it’s worth a rental. But I wouldn’t purchase it or add it to my best movies of the year. 

Uncorked

★★★1/2

“Uncorked” in the kind of movie that could appeal to two very different groups.

The new Netflix exclusive film centers around an African-American man in his mid-to-late twenties, played by Mamoudou Athie, who works at his father’s barbecue restaurant in Memphis. It was passed down from his grandfather to his father, played by Courtney B. Vance. It’s expected that he’ll take it over some day soon.

The movie goes into great detail about the type of wood they use to create the fires that give that just-right smokey flavor to the famous ribs.

You’re mouth is already salivating and you’re thinking of films like “Soul Food” and other films dealing the African American food experience.

But quickly in this movie we realize that the young man has no interest in following in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he has a passion for wine and dreams of passing his test and becoming a Master Sommelier, a feat accomplished by less than 300 people currently living worldwide.

So, now you’re thinking of movies like “Sideways” that glorify wine-drinking.

Really, “Uncorked” is a film that doesn’t fit into any neat category and people of different races and interests can enjoy this underdog story. If there’s a theme that unites everything: this is a person chasing their dreams and persevering even when faced with obstacles. It’s like “Rocky or “8 Mile.” I’d even compare it to another small indie film that Athie had a small supporting role in: “Patty Cake$”

All those movies are about chasing your dreams.

And, of course, the young man’s father discourages his passion for most of the film.

It’s somewhat ironic because the same passion and attention to detail that he puts into his BBQ is the same details that his son loves about wine. In fact, the opening credits contrast the winemaking process — growing grapes, fermenting them — with the BBQ process. Both are slow processes and labors of love.

You don’t have to be a wine drinker to enjoy “Uncorked” but you might find yourself wanting some ribs or wine after a few minutes of watching.

(Many of us will hear them describe wine in such intricate details and think, “Did they really taste all of that?” )

The movie get predictable so I can’t give it the highest grade possible, but I expected predictable when I sat down and it somewhat exceeded my expectations. Athie and Vance have nice chemistry and Niecy Nash (you know her from the TV show Reno 9-11) gives a great performance as his mother and she’s really the heart of the movie.

It’s a breezy 104 minutes with a few lines that you’ll chuckle at. Nothing really offensive in this film. There are a few F-bombs, some PG-13 level sex and some uncensored rap music playing in the background but there’s nothing vulgar about this movie.

“Uncorked” was supposed to premiere at the SXSW Film Festival but was moved to Netflix when the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

If I were to compare this movie to a wine, I’d say it’s a middle-shelf grocery store bottle. It’s not a high-priced bottle that I’d save for a special occasion. There’s nothing rare or unique about it. But it’s nice on a relaxing evening with your significant other. Very approachable and for the price —included free with your Netflix subscription — it really hits the spot. Uncork this one.

Daniel Isn’t Real

★1/2

“Daniel Isn’t Real” … but nepotism sure as shit appears to be. Miles Robbins (son of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon) and Patrick Schwarzenegger (son of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver) star in this psychological horror thriller that’s a Shudder exclusive. (It dropped Thursday, March 26.) I’ll let the cat out of the bag right away and fess up that I didn’t much care for the film. It was my first foray into Shudder’s library during a 30-day free trial (code: SHUTIN), but am still stoked that a streaming service focusing entirely on horror exists.

Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner) has an imaginary friend named Daniel (Nathan Chandler Reid). (Do all child actors have three names?!!!) Daniel is actually Luke’s only friend as he’s an awkward, shy and troubled kid. Daniel convinces Luke to blend an entire bottle of his mother’s antipsychotics into a smoothie under the false assumption that it would give her superpowers if imbibed. Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson) almost dies. Claire can’t see Daniel, but knows of him. She prompts her young son to banish his imaginary friend by locking him in a dollhouse as a symbolic gesture.

Years later, Luke (Robbins) is a freshman in college grappling with schoolwork, social anxiety and keeping Claire under control. One night while sleeping over at his childhood home, Luke, in a fugue state, unleashes Daniel (Schwarzenegger) from the dollhouse. At first Daniel is a welcome presence – he helps Luke thwart one of Claire’s suicide attempts and gives him the confidence to romance not one but two young ladies (Sasha Lane, Hannah Marks). Soon thereafter Daniel’s true colors come to light as events spiral out of control landing Luke in worlds of trouble.

I’ve liked Robbins in the handful of things I’ve seen him in previously – “Blockers” and “Halloween” (2018) spring to mind. He looks like both of his folks, but also kinda resembles a prettier, younger version of Rosie O’Donnell with the haircut they have him sporting here. Acting-wise, he seems a bit out of his depth. I’m less familiar with Schwarzenegger. I suppose I remember him as Frat Boy in “Grown Ups 2” and as the bully character from “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.” He too looks like his folks. He ain’t built like a brick shithouse like his old man however and in profile kinda resembles evil quarterback Tom Brady. His performance is actually the better of the two leads. It was nice to see Masterson in something again having remembered her from “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Benny & Joon” and not having seen her in anything in sometime … I just wish they gave her more to play than a lady whose cheese is perpetually sliding of its cracker. Lane is an actress I tend to dislike in movies I actually enjoy (“Hearts Beat Loud” and “Hellboy” (2019) … yeah, I’m the one dude who dug it!). I haven’t seen her calling card performance in “American Honey,” which I understand is quite good. You know how people say Zoë Kravitz is like a Xerox of her mother, Lisa Bonet? Well, Lane feels like the Great Value version of Kravitz.

“Daniel Isn’t Real” plays like a hodgepodge of “Drop Dead Fred,” “Fight Club” and Robbins’ Dad’s own movie, “Jacob’s Ladder.” I hope and assume this exercise was therapeutic for co-writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer (“Some Kind of Hate”), but it ultimately seems sensationalistic, insensitive and misguided in its depiction of mental illness. It lacks the depth to delve into serious issues with any real clarity. These peoples’ problems are merely the springboard to a smorgasbord of grotesqueries … some of them are admittedly rendered vividly via squishily practical makeup effects however. (Then again, maybe I should check my privilege as I’m not currently grappling with any form of mental illness?)  “Daniel Isn’t Real” is yet another production of Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision shingle. Much like its forebears “Mandy” and “Color Out of Space” it too sports a synth score, trippy colors and moody lighting, but it all feels warmed over with nowhere to go and nothing to say.