Film reviews: new from September 8 to 9

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  • Disney+
  • Tom Hanks in Pinocchio

Barbaric ***

If narrative boldness alone were the measure of a movie’s worth, writer/director Zach Cregger’s funky horror feature might be one of the movies of the year; as things stand, overambition and clumsy execution can only turn things around a bit. It opens on a rainy night in a Detroit neighborhood, where Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Airbnb rental to find it’s been double-booked, forcing her to share the space for one night with her co-worker. tenant Keith (Bill Skarsgård). This setup alone offers a lot of potential, with doors creaking in the middle of the night and just enough of Tess’s story – as well as simple realities of gender power dynamics – to make her suspicions apt. of Keith perfectly reasonable. Then, just when things get really crazy, Cregger pulls out the mat and sends us to a different place, then starts again to send us to another time. All of this is remarkably effective at keeping a viewer completely unsure where it will all ultimately go, even as it becomes clearer that Cregger wants to find different kinds of horror in sexual violence. He’s not skilled enough to handle the “who’s the real barbaric subtext,” or how to relate it to the reality of crumbling urban neighborhoods and “white flight.” But even when Barbaric stumbles, he does so by taking off at a dead sprint for unpredictability. Available September 9 in theaters. (R)

Clerk III *1/2
“As long as you’re alive, you can always start another chapter,” says the ghost of Rebecca (Rosario Dawson) during a visit to her husband Dante (Brian O’Halloran) – but that’s not the lesson that we could reasonably take from Kevin. Smith’s last visit to his View Askew-niverse. Dante and Randal (Jeff Anderson) still work at the same New Jersey Quik Stop, albeit now as co-owners, but that normalcy is shaken by Randal’s “widower” heart attack, which inspires him to make a film based about his experiences. The story was clearly inspired by Smith’s own confrontation with mortality in 2018, which makes it really frustrating that Randal’s story isn’t something original, but essentially a rehash of Clerks and Clerk II, full of nudge references and simple repeats. Smith wouldn’t be Smith without a lot of pop culture-based jokes and appearances, so there’s no way he’s passing up the chance to have Amy Sedaris as the doctor who drops a reference to The Mandalorian (in which she appears) just for insider lulz. The film itself makes no sense and becomes extremely awkward when Smith tries to shift the emotional weight of Dante’s grief into the other episodic madness. Other than acknowledging that post-legalization New Jersey is no longer a place where Jay (Jason Mewes) has to surreptitiously sell weed, nothing has changed. And it’s sad that someone faces death, gets the chance to “start another chapter” and instead tells the same chapters they’ve already told, with diminishing returns. Available from September 13 to 18 in theaters. (R)

Medieval ***
Co-writer/director Peter Jákl goes straight for the Brave heart formula in this period story of a real-life rebel hero, but it’s a formula like “if it ain’t broke…”. Ben Foster plays Jan Žižka, a Czech mercenary soldier around 1402 who is caught up in the battle between the brothers Wenceslas (Karel Roden) and Sigismund (Matthew Goode) for the throne of Bohemia, and possibly the title of Holy Roman Emperor. The political machinations – also involving ransoming French princess Katherine (Sophie Lowe) to sway the involvement of her wealthy noble fiancé (Til Schweiger) – involve a lot of early exposure, although Jákl has the good sense to hand over the most of it to Michael Cain. It’s not always easy to follow, especially given Katherine’s various double crossovers and covers, but Medieval balance it with plenty of solidly brutal action, and a formidable villainous henchman in Roland Møller’s Torak, which for a moment nails a sly half-smile in disbelief at Žižka’s exploits. And along the way, Jákl manages to offer a salient little commentary on the divine right of kings and the cruelties inflicted by those who claim to act in the name of God. Foster gives Žižka a taciturn gravitas that pairs well with Lowe’s earnestness, serving up a sword-and-arrow adventure that breaks little, but reminds you why this ground is worth revisiting. Available September 9 in theaters. (R)

Pinochio *
Not everyone would agree with me that the Disney of 1940 Pinocchio marked the pinnacle of the studio’s golden age, and perhaps the greatest piece of feature-length animation art of all time, but you don’t have to believe that to see how much point Robert Zemeckis’ remake is deeply misguided. He casts his frequent collaborator Tom Hanks as woodcarver Geppetto, who crafts a puppet that comes to life (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) after a wish on a star. The tension in these 21st century Disney remakes is always between staying true to the beloved originals, and how/where to update them, and Zemeckis and co-credited screenwriter Chris Weitz seem confused on both counts. It’s an obvious but unnecessary adjustment to make Geppetto a grieving father of an actual dead son, but unwilling to tackle the burden on Pinocchio; it’s also predictable that Pleasure Island will be sanitized in a way that makes Pinocchio feel like he barely earned his fate. Meanwhile, classic songs sit alongside new tunes from Alan Silvestri and veteran lyricist Glen Ballard – doing the latter no favors – and the decision to cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiminy Cricket only draws attention to why he’s doing a pale imitation of Cliff Edwards. Add to that the manic CGI energy of late Zemeckis’ period and a handful of anachronistic references that are infinitely more irritating than amusing, and you’ve got a mess that just doesn’t know what to make of this story, other than trying to make more money out of it. the original Pinocchio was a cautionary fable; the same goes for this one, except for the terrible creative decision-making. Available September 8 via Disney+. (PG)

Waiting for Bojangles ***1/2
Many tales have focused on mad love; this one, adapted from Olivier Bourdeaut’s 2016 novel, deals with what happens when he collides with love son. In 1958, Georges (Romain Duris) and Camille (Virginie Efira) meet at a chic party on the Côte d’Azur and impulsively begin a relationship that will soon lead to a child. But as their son Gary (Solan Machado Graner) ages, it becomes clear that Camille’s flamboyant personality masks a condition that, in late 1960s Paris, would not yet have been described as “bipolar.” Director/co-writer Régis Roinsard cleverly points out the whirlwind romance appeal in his prologue, as Georges only sees a perfect fit for his own rebellious streak without acknowledging Camille’s darker side. And even once we begin to better understand Gary’s perspective, the focus is on his love for his unconventional mother and their life of wild parties and an exotic pet bird. So it’s an effective twist once it becomes clearer that Georges’ devotion to Camille blinds him to the effects on Gary; It’s a disconcerting moment when Georges visits Camille in an asylum and finds time to have quick sex, leaving the 8-year-old boy to wander among the other inmates. Both central performances are strong and multi-layered, anchoring a cautionary tale about the belief that love can conquer all, especially when a child might be part of the collateral damage. Available September 9 at Broadway Center Cinemas. (NR)

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