With so many movies hitting theaters and streaming services in the past few weeks, it’s easy to lose a handful of gems in the jumble. Here I present two of them, and one you should avoid at all costs. And as a bonus, a glimpse of a very promising British personality arriving just days before the celebration of our Declaration of Independence from the Crown. Very good, I say.
“Apollo 10½: A Childhood in the Space Age”
If you’re a baby boomer and your grandchildren are wondering what life was like (most likely) when you were a kid, feel free to refer them to Netflix to watch this clever animated marvel from Boyhood writer-director Richard Linklater. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of a daydreaming 12-year-old growing up in the far suburbs of Houston, home of NASA and all the holdovers of the space age, like color television and fabricated rock stars (Monkees, Archies, etc.). It’s 1969, and in the weeks leading up to man’s first voyage to the moon, space junkie Stan (voiced by Milo Coy) is so amazed that he fantasizes he’s already commandeered a top-secret test run to the lunar surface on Apollo 11. It appears that Grumman’s engineers built the LEM too small for adults, and a child needs to take its place. It’s wild and just the kind of fantasy I entertained in 1969. To accentuate the illusion, Linklater presents them in the blurry rotoscope style of his previous animations, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. It fits into the story as well as a space helmet. But the fascination for most won’t be the moon, but the launch of a societal revolution that made everything seem possible, from pouring jelly into a fruit-filled mold to racial equality. The stuff is great, but the real kicker is the fumes of nostalgia emanating from an unseen adult Stan (Jack Black) doing his best “Wonder Years” impression by reminiscing about the pop culture minutiae of the era (hippies , each product named “Astro”, “The Wonderful World of Colors”, TV test sample) but without glossing over the ugliness of Vietnam and the racial unrest raging in the streets. True to the vernacular of the time, it’s really groovy. (PG-13 or suggestive material, images of injuries and smoking, streaming on Netflix. Note: A)
Brett Eldredge, Beach Boys, Lyle Lovett:South Shore heats up with summer concerts
‘Mister. Malcolm’s List’
Director Emma Holly Jones teams with self-published author Suzanne Allain to do her best, Jane Austen with this Regency-era lark about an often-spurned spinster (Zawe Ashton) who seeks revenge on a wealthy suitor who accused her of being unworldly abused. True to her first name, Jones’ early 19th-century story negotiates a sort of “Emma”-like matchmaking, with Ashton’s Julia Thistlewaite pairing her childhood friend Selina Dalton (Frieda Pinto) with the pompous Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dìrísù) in hopes of turning the tables about the fastidious aristocrat who, she discovers, bears a written list of sublime qualities his bride must possess. The plan is to get him to fall in love with Selina and then have his new love Mr Malcolm present a similarly unattainable wish list once he’s hooked. In the adaptation of her original novel, Allain is certainly no Jane Austen, but she and Jones serve up a tantalizing little treat that thrives on a variety of fine performances in the finest of settings. In doing so, they hit all the high notes of Austen, from sneaky deceptions to big parties to strict, sexist social mores. It’s a scream enlivened by Jones’ decision to color-color Austen’s lily-white world with a multi-racial cast. Pinto made his name in Slumdog Millionaire. But the others are largely unknown. Among them a Hugh Grant replica in Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who hilariously steals every scene from him as Juliet’s stammering cousin. He’s Lord Cassidy, and Lordy, he’s good. (PG for some smoking and mild language, theatrical release July 1. Grade: B)
‘Marcel the Shell with shoes on:Milton’s Jenny Slate voices a little heroine with a big heart
It’s safe to say you’ve never seen anything like SS Rajamouli’s genre-bending mash-up about two best friends (NT Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan) turned enemies in their desperate fight for India’s emancipation from British imperialism . Rajamouli and writer Sai Madhav Burra throw everything at you, from gravity-defying martial arts pieces to intricately choreographed Bollywood song-and-dance numbers to impressive social commentary. And they stage it all within the confines of a simple melodrama about a little girl who is kidnapped against her will by the “white devils” who rule over a nation of enslaved Hindus. It’s smugly funny, it’s romantic, it’s exhilarating, it’s ultra-violent and it’s long. But even at 187 minutes, it feels too short and leaves you wanting more. The special effects alone will make you want to watch it again and again, but it’s the multi-faceted performances by Rao as Komaran Bheem and Charan as Alluri Sitarama Raju that are truly captivating. Both Bheem and Raju are true revolutionaries who have achieved hero status in India. Their real lives couldn’t have been so exciting, they flew like birds, jumped like frogs and danced in unison at a breathtaking pace. But then again, they are legends, and legends are famous for achieving the impossible. And “RRR” achieves the impossible. (Unrated; Streaming on Netflix. Rating: A-)
Sun Dance Summoner:Streaming Cha Cha Real Smooth on Apple TV+
The only stinker of the bunch is this ill-conceived black comedy about an insane drug company boss who conducts Mengele-esque experiments on unsuspecting prisoners living in relative luxury on a tropical South Pacific island. It stars Chris Hemsworth as the godlike Steve Abnesti and Miles Teller as Jeff, the designated whistleblower for the former’s plan to build a “better world” through chemistry. Aside from being both terribly miscast, the film — written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick — is rendered so antiseptic it’s soul-bleached. Director Joseph Kosinski adds to the tedium by setting it in a proto-prison that lacks any imagination or insight. Too bad, because the George Sanders short story on which the film is based offered intriguing moral dilemmas, beginning with the hypothesis that infusing mood-altering drugs could bring peace and tranquility to every person on earth. But is it worth the cost of compliance achieved through chemicals injected into the body through a thing called a Mobipack that robs us of our individuality? A fascinating question, but one that bury Kosinski under a mountain of clichés and predictability. What started out as a companion volume to Ex-Machina ends up becoming nothing more than a very blah Bond film. And this is a boredom that no drug can cure. (R for violent content, language and sexual content; Streaming on Netflix. Note: C)
Thank you to our subscribers who help make this coverage possible. Please consider supporting quality local journalism with a Patriot Ledger subscription. Here is our latest offer.