Television

The Boy Can't Help It

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Little Richard: I Am Everything (2023)

Baz Luhrmann's film "Elvis," already cooking at 450 Fahrenheit, is goosed even further when Alton Mason turns up playing Little Richard, screaming "Wop Bop-A-Loo-Bop" from a range of two inches as you rock backwards in your seat. Mr. Mason gives "Tutti Frutti" all he's got; but even skilled impersonations of Little Richard look like best guesses after 10 seconds of reminder about the real thing. This is handy for "Little Richard: I Am Everything," a documentary about the life and career of the singer born Richard Wayne Penniman, which samples a range of his performances but opts not to run any of them at length or let archive footage of the singer in action just unspool. The film wants to talk about the many contradictions and agonies in Little Richard the man, rather than the thermal updraft of the music; and for those issues, you have to hear him speak.

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Crash Dive

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Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Thirteen Lives (2022)

“Apollo 13” might have been the film that changed the game in Hollywood. It was a dramatic re-enactment of a real-life event most people had either forgotten about, or not quite understood the historical importance of. But that aborted space flight happened in 1970; and Ron Howard directed the movie version in 1995. Nowadays the rush to adapt real-life events into filmic re-enactments happens almost as soon as news cameras arrive on the ground. “Thirteen Lives” is about a Thai football team getting trapped in a flooded cave in 2018 – that is to say, four years ago. The teenagers who were in that cave are still teenagers now. Is that a spoiler? But how can it be, when the incident is so fresh in our minds? So what Mr. Howard needed to do was find an angle like what “Apollo 13” had. In that case, it was to remind us of human ingenuity in times of crisis and what humanity lost by stopping our exploration of the universe. It is unfortunate that this time around, Mr. Howard did no such thing.

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Killer Instinct

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Courtesy of TIFF

MOVIE REVIEW
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

When was the last time a movie was so thoroughly, unashamedly, fun? Rian Johnson might have had “Star Wars” unjustifiably taken away from him, but never has anyone needed a major franchise less. Not when he can, with no visible strain on his part and all the support in the world (including a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival), casually set up a better one of his own. “Glass Onion” is a flawless delight; and it’s crystal clear Mr. Johnson is only getting started.

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Nurse-ry Crimes

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Courtesy of TIFF

MOVIE REVIEW
The Good Nurse (2022)

The main topic of “The Good Nurse,” which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, is healthcare under capitalism, while its subtext is the power of kindness. It’s important to make that explicit since there’s a worrying recent trend for audiences to interpret “based on a true story” to mean that what is shown on screen is exactly as things happened in real life. There is no longer tolerance for changes to serve a cinematic purpose (such as the third child in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) or in order to simplify complicated plots (such as when multiple characters are combined into one in almost any film). Netflix has pushed this “based on a true story” to new limits, by having the subject of the brand-new “A Friend of the Family” appear at the start to assure us it exists with her blessing. There is some argument for this – if someone made a movie about my life while I was still alive to see it, you had better believe I’d expect all my irritating opinions to be respected by the filmmakers. But there is also a strong case for a better understanding about the blurred lines inherent in any retelling – life is messy and complicated, and sometimes sanding the edges makes for a better story. On a less philosophical level, a better understanding of how fiction handles the truth would also cut down on spoilers, and more easily enable us to examine a piece of art on its own terms. Nothing is ever only about itself; there’s always subtext. “The Good Nurse” is also a Netflix film, and also based on a true story, but writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (a Brit, ie someone from a nation with socialized healthcare) and director Tobias Lindholm (a Dane, also from a nation with socialized healthcare) are uninterested in sensationalizing suffering. For once we have a movie which minimizes its depiction of pain.

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A Laughing Stock

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Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets

MOVIE REVIEW
Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets (2022)

The documentary “Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets” recounts how, for one brief moment, unsophisticated investors posting on Reddit beat Wall Street at its own game only to find out that game is indeed rigged in Wall Street’s favor. The entire saga prompted House Financial Services Committee hearings in Washington.

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Millennium Mambo

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Charlotte Croft

MOVIE REVIEW
Pirates (2021)

In 1999, when it was first heard as part of a hidden infomercial track on early pressings of Britney Spears’s “. . . Baby One More Time,” would anyone have guessed that The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” would become a deathless classic? The answer is no. And yet, when young Terrell (Jordan Peters) is attempting to apologize to the fearsome Kelly (Rebekah Murrell) for their breakup, which may or may not have happened because he faked being in a coma to go on holiday with his mates, he recites the lyrics to her like a poem. If only the other people in the record shop where she works didn’t recognize the song. As a gimmick it’s pure silliness: Would any teenage MC from North London, one-third of the Ice Cold Crew, a rap group good enough to get play on the city’s cutthroat pirate radio stations, really be listening to the Backstreet Boys? Also no. But in Reggie Yates’s adorable “Pirates,” shown as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, the song both grounds the movie in its time, and sets the cheerful, childish tone.

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Space Oddity

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SXSW

MOVIE REVIEW
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood (2022)

Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it. Looking back, especially at your own family, often you remember only the best parts, and certainly you focus on what you want to see. In the summer of 1969, while the future Kenneth Branagh was in Belfast going to the cinema to admire Raquel Welch with his family, the future Richard Linklater was in a suburb of Houston also going to the cinema to admire Raquel Welch with his brothers, but more often to watch movies about space. Practically everyone in the Houston area was involved in the space race, including young Stan (voiced by Milo Coy). Believe it or not, his kickball skills brought him to NASA’s attention, since – due to a minor math mishap – one of the space modules had been built at half size. So while his family thought he had a summer camp scholarship, Stan endured months of training to become the first boy to walk on the moon.

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Doing the Right Thing

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Emergency (2022)

“Emergency” is one of those one-crazy-night movies (“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” “Superbad,” “Dazed and Confused” et al.), about two college kids attempting to make history as the first Black students ever to complete a tour of every Greek party on campus in one evening – but the plan derails with their discovery of an unknown white girl passed out in their living room. They try to do the right thing and get her help, mindful that they are risking their lives because of the optics – strangers presume their guilt in this scenario based on skin color. Indeed, this well-trodden trope takes on a sense of somberness and urgency in the age of Black Lives Matter.

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Scenes From a Marriage

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Lucy and Desi (2022)

Those vexed by the revisionist history in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” may be looking forward to Amy Poehler’s documentary “Lucy and Desi” – both films focusing on the off-screen relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, stars of the storied 1950s CBS sitcom “I Love Lucy,” and released three months apart by Amazon Studios/Prime Video. The good: “Lucy and Desi” is built around Ball and Arnaz’s own words culled from cassette tapes in the private collection of their daughter, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill. The bad: Her involvement does kind of place the documentary’s objectivity in doubt. One can’t shake the feeling that she’s pushing her own narrative about her parents.

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Study Hell

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Master (2022)

The opening scene in “Master” crosscuts between an older Black woman and a younger Black woman both moving into a residence hall. The reason for the juxtaposition is not readily apparent. Is the older one experiencing déjà vu as she moves in? Are there parallels to be gleaned from this montage?

It’s not revealed until a bit later that the younger woman isn’t in a flashback and that their moves are in fact contemporaneous. Professor Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is the first Black woman to assume the position of master at the Belleville House on the Ancaster College campus, where Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) is the lone Black incoming freshman. What ensues is akin to a supercut compilation of Microaggression’s Greatest Hits.

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