This franchise is often referred to as “meta”. This episode is meta-on-meta, almost too self-aware! But it’s still clever and fun.
DALLAS – There’s a lot of movies to catch up on since the holidays, so here we go!
I don’t often tell stories, but I’m going to share this one. I was riding in an elevator in New York years ago… one of those small, old, dark, varnished wooden panels. In Wes Craven walks. It was just me and him going up. I told him: “I’m not going to lie, you scare me!” He chuckled heartily. 26 years ago, the king of horror reinvigorated the genre with his original “Scream.” Sadly, no more Craven at the helm (perhaps he rest in peace). Matt Bettinelli-OlpinTyler Gillett’s team steps in. And eleven years after the fourth film, the terrifying “Ghostface” killer once again descends on the town of Woodsboro. A new generation of young people are now victims and potential suspects, but the OGs are also back: Courteney Cox, David Arquette and everyone’s favorite heroine, Neve Campbell. (Favorite line: Arquette: “Do you have a gun?” Campbell: “I’m Sidney Prescott. Of course I have a gun!”) Among the new generation of “Scream” stars: Dennis Quaid’s son, Jack, Cuba Gooding, son of Jr., Mason and Melissa Barrera from the movie “In the Heights”.
This franchise is often referred to as “meta”. This episode is meta-on-meta, almost too self-aware! But it’s still clever and playful, allowing just enough doubt as to who’s behind that mask. And I loved seeing the OGs. Gale and Dewey forever? OK, do not insist!
(Paramount Pictures. Rated R. Running time 1 hr. 54 min. In theaters only)
Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz are a match made in movie heaven. The esteemed Spanish director calls the actress his muse, and rightly so. This is their eighth film together and one of their best. Cruz plays a professional photographer in Madrid. She has an affair with a photo subject. Nine months later, she shares a hospital room with another future single mother. This one, a teenager. The two stay in touch, until a twist of fate brings them even closer. You can guess what it is, but I won’t tell.
If it’s not in the hands of a master, it could all play out like a soap opera, and sometimes the score takes it in that direction. But the soapy scenario is linked to another. Cruz’s character attempts to identify his great-grandfather’s remains in an unmarked grave from the Spanish Civil War. Wouldn’t you know, baby daddy is a forensic anthropologist! This movie is all about family, every layer of it. Cruz should be nominated for an Oscar for her rich performance, but the props also go to her young co-star Milena Smit. Ah, the ties that unite!
(Sony Pictures Classics. Rated R. Running time 2 hrs 3 mins. In theaters only)
With a great performance in “Mothers”, we can excuse Penelope Cruz for wanting to let go a little. This brings us to “The 355”. (The code of a spy for George Washington during the Revolution.) Producer/star Jessica Chastain got the idea a few years ago when she saw an all-male action film catch the eye during a a festival. Why not an action movie with girls! She therefore recruited Cruz with Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o. The quartet embodies a CIA agent, a psychologist, a German rival and a computer scientist. When a top-secret weapon that could sabotage the world as we know it falls into the wrong hands, they join forces to bring it about.
You’ve probably heard this before. January is considered a dumping ground for big stars/bad movies. But these ladies actually bring it! And the movie has enough twists and turns to make it very watchable.
(Universal Pictures. Rated PG-13. Running time 2 hrs. 4 mins. In theaters only)
Olivia Colman already has two Oscars, and she’s set to be nominated for another for her messy job as Leda in ‘The Lost Daughter.’ She plays a college professor on a solo beach vacation. She becomes obsessed with a young mother on vacation with her daughter and other extended family members. We just learned how Leda’s estranged relationship with her daughters informs the way she acts. Maggie Gyllenhaal contacted the author of the book, wanting to adapt it for the screen. She agreed, only if Gyllenhaal directed, and the actress made a very impressive debut behind the camera.
Leda might be incredibly unlikable, but Coleman plays her with such depth that you can relate and sympathize. The story is also beautifully helped by one of my favorite young actresses, Jessie Buckley as young Leda in the flashback… with Dakota Johnson as the girl’s mother on the beach. A Day at the Beach it isn’t, but it’s a gem of a movie worth checking out.
(Netflix. Rated R. Runtime 2 hrs 1 min. Streams on Netflix.)
“Something bad this way comes.” If you need a better appreciation of Shakespeare’s words, here’s one way to go. Dismantle the set, film it in black and white, then hire one of the best actors of the moment to play the budding king. That’s what Joel Coen (of the Coen brothers) did in “The Tragedy of Macbeth”. Denzel Washington plays the power-hungry nobleman. Coen’s wife, Frances McDormand, the unstable Lady Macbeth. It’s an interesting cast, as the couple are usually portrayed younger. Their age makes ambition even more desperate. Both are excellent, as well as their supporting cast which includes a remarkable Kathryn Hunter as the witches (all three).
Did I kinda feel like I was on my meds watching this? Yes. Does it replace sinking your teeth into reading the play? No. But it’s certainly well done and a great study of what a trio of Oscar winners working together can get you with some pretty decent source material (wink).
(A24. Rated R. Runtime 1hr 45mins. In theaters and streaming on Apple TV+)
Expect “The Hero” to make the list of best international feature films when the Oscar nominations are announced. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi already has two Oscars on his coat for ‘A Separation’ and ‘The Salesman’, and this film is right up there. In the opening, we meet Rahim as he leaves debtors’ jail for a weekend break. His girlfriend has found some gold coins which she is willing to trade to provide him with the money he needs to earn his freedom and restore his honor. He has second thoughts and concocts a story that he found the gold coins and issues flyers to return them to the rightful owner. Rahim becomes a media darling and a community hero. Then it all spirals out of control in a modern morality tale.
Amir Jadidi shines in the lead role with the perfect blend of charisma and humility. ‘The Hero’ won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, and Farhadi could make it an Oscar hat-trick.
(Amazon Studios. Rated PG-13. Running time 2 hrs 7 mins. In theaters only. On Amazon Prime Video January 21)
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA: TRANSFORMIA
This is the fourth and final installment in the cute and enjoyable anime vampire franchise. This one, straight to streaming. Drac (not voiced by Adam Sandler this time) throws a big party where he plans to hand over his famous Hotel Transylvania to his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her wacky husband, Johnny. But Drac has doubts. Like I said, this son-in-law is wacky. So he tells Johnny that the hotel must be in the hands of a monster! Fine. Johnny just goes to consult Van Helsing in the basement, who has a gadget that can turn humans into monsters. Of course, it turns around! The gadget breaks, then they all go on a quest in the jungle, the only place to find a replacement. Like any franchise, the novelty has worn a little wear on this, but the kids are going to have a blast with it.
(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Rated PG. Runtime 1 hr 38 min. Stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video)