Blue Bayou **1/2
Warner Bros. Films
Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho
For something that begins and ends as a drama about one very specific real-life issue, writer/director Justin Chon’s film ultimately gets tangled up in too many different issues about the complexities of family. Chon also stars as Antonio LeBlanc, a Korean-born adoptee trying to move on from a life of crime in his marriage to single-mother Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and co-parenting her daughter, Jessie (Sydney Kowalske) while they await the birth of another baby. But a run-in with Kathy’s cop ex-husband (Mark O’Brien) raises the possibility that Antonio might be deported due to legal technicalities. Antonio also befriends a terminally-ill Vietnamese refugee (Linh Dan Pham), and Chon keeps digging into a variety of different corners about the consequences of people’s decisions in their relationships with their children. And a lot of that material becomes a distraction, especially when the strongest material involves Antonio’s warm relationship with his stepdaughter. That relationship pays off in a conclusion that hits hard at the madness of tearing families apart, which might have landed even harder without the coda emphasizing how this is happening to real people. If that’s the crux of this story, Chon should have trusted it a little more. Available Sept. 17 in theaters.
Cry Macho **
Is there a graceful way to say that the biggest problem with Cry Macho
is that Clint Eastwood was 90 years old when he made it? This long-gestating adaptation of N. Richard Nash’s 1975 novel casts Eastwood as Mike Milo, a one-time rodeo star/veteran ranchhand who takes on the request from an old friend (Dwight Yoakam) to retrieve the man’s 13-year-old son, Rafael (Eduardo Minett), from his unstable mother in Mexico and bring him back across the border. The bones of the story naturally require Mike and Rafael to bond over the course of their road trip, mostly during a stopover in a small town where they’re cared for by a kindly widowed restaurant owner (Natalia Traven). But the relationship never really sparks, with the theoretically near-feral Rafael merely coming off as sullen, and Eastwood unable to muster a performance note beyond “irascible and sleepy.” More problematic yet is that Mike’s arc towards accepting the decline of his physical strength makes no sense for a guy who’s already in his 90s, and that the low-stakes action that occasionally rears its head has to be twisted into tortuous shapes so you’re not constantly worried that Mike is going to collapse on the spot. Eastwood’s restrained gifts as a filmmaker offer some charms, but a legend like he is shouldn’t just make you feel sad for him when he’s on screen. Available Sept. 17 in theaters and via HBO Max.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie ***
A feel-good documentary makes for solid source material for a feel-good musical, and this adaptation of Tom MacRae and Dan Gillespie Sells’ fact-based U.K. stage production hits just the right notes of energy and emotion. In working-class Sheffield, openly gay 16-year-old Jamie New (Max Harwood) has dreams of becoming a drag queen, and showing off his fabulousness at the senior prom—which runs him afoul of narrow-minded bullies, his homophobic estranged dad (Ralph Ineson) and anxious school personnel. The tunes themselves are lively if not instantly earwormy bunch, mostly offering opportunities for spirited dance numbers. The soul is in the relationships between Jamie and those who offer him encouragement—his endlessly supportive mum (Sarah Lancashire); his best friend (Lauren Patel); his mentor/drag mother (Richard E. Grant)—in a narrative that balances Jamie’s struggles with a historical sense for those who blazed the trail towards greater acceptance. The story takes its turns pretty much exactly where and when you expect it to, which doesn’t mean you still might not smile or shed a tear exactly where and when you’re expected to. Available Sept. 17 via Amazon Prime.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye **1/2
See feature review
. Available Sept. 17 in theaters.
My Name is Pauli Murray ***1/2
It feels as though this documentary profile of Pauli Murray was made specifically for me: someone who considers himself reasonably well-educated yet nevertheless wonders, “Why have I never heard this person’s name before?” Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West (RBG
) profile the groundbreaking attorney, civil rights activist, poet and Episcopal minister through every possible lens—as a Black American growing up in the early part of the 20th century; as a woman fighting against obstacles based on gender; as a queer, gender-nonconforming person facing mental health struggles at a time when there wasn’t a vocabulary for her identity. And while in many ways the film is a very conventional biographical documentary, albeit one that benefits from recordings for an autobiography made in Murray’s own voice, Cohen and West carve out moments to make it clear how far ahead of their time Murray was, whether refusing to move to the back of a bus 15 years before Rosa Parks, or building the legal foundations for landmark Supreme Court cases that made Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg household names. Every detail reveals an individual combining a towering intellect and profound spiritual compassion, constrained by obstacles of identity. It shouldn’t take a movie 35 years after Murray’s death to teach someone like me of their importance, but I’m glad it’s here. Available Sept. 17 in theaters; Oct. 1 via Amazon Prime.
On Broadway ***
Opening with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” playing over images of the Manhattan skyline should be your first hint that Oren Jacoby’s documentary is going to be a big mash note to Broadway theater, but he manages to serve up a pretty fascinating history lesson in the process. Jacoby provides an overview of the past 50 years of Broadway, beginning with its early-’70s nadir amidst changing counterculture-era aesthetic tastes and a theater district overrun with drugs and sex, and tracking several different stages of revival: new American musicals gestated at non-profit theaters; big British hits moved overseas; works telling the stories of previously underrepresented groups; the era of movies and music catalogs providing “safe” familiar content. Along the way, there’s a subplot involving preparations for a new comedy called The Nap
in the 2018-2019 season, ostensibly to convey the challenges of mounting any new work, but what we see is too limited to really serve as a paradigm. It’s still more compelling to hear talking heads like Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen dig into the tensions between Broadway’s various faces even as it reopens this month: as artistic medium, as business enterprise, as tourist attraction, as cultural touchstone. Available Sept. 17 via SLFSatHome.org.
Prisoners of the Ghostland **
Sofia Boutella and Nicolas Cage in Prisoners of the Ghostland
You’d think it would be easy to wrangle some excitement out of a movie that includes samurai swordfights, toxic waste zombie-ghosts, spaghetti western shootouts and Nicolas Cage in black leather screaming about his “TESTICLE!” Sadly, you would be mistaken. Director Sion Sono’s hyperactive but underbaked mash-up casts Cage as a convicted criminal referred to only as Hero, forced by a town’s all-controlling Governor (Bill Moseley) to retrieve his “granddaughter” Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from … some sort of post-nuclear wasteland place full of scaffolding. None of the pieces add up to anything, as the screenplay pretends occasionally that there’s a redemption arc for Cage’s conscience-ridden criminal. But the problem is that this is like seven different hyperactive genre movies packed into 105 minutes, one that can’t decide whether the climax is going to be a gun battle, or a clash of katana, or the post-nuclear scaffolding tumbling to the ground. Sure, there are occasional bits of energy when Cage is allowed to be manic rather than sleepy, or when Sono commits his visual imagination to images like a bank robbery showered with primary-colored gumballs. At a certain point, though, you kind of need to settle on your movie being about samurai swordfights. Or toxic waste zombie-ghosts. Or that whole “TESTICLE!”-screaming thing. Available Sept. 17 at Megaplex Valley Fair and via VOD.