Film Reviews: New Releases for March 29 | Buzz Blog
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Film Reviews: New Releases for March 29

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire, STEVE! (martin), Remembering Gene Wilder, Ennio, They Shot the Piano Player, Limbo


  • Warner Bros. Pictures / Legendary Pictures
  • Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire
Ennio ***
Many artist profiles are stymied by the artist’s inability to explain what he does; film composing legend Ennio Morricone is so good at it, that the other stuff in this documentary feels unnecessary. Director Giuseppe Tornatore—who collaborated with Morricone on his own films, including Cinema Paradiso—explores the composer’s entire career, as the conservatory-trained musician took a detour into writing music for films that became a 50-year body of unforgettable work, including his landmark collaborations with his old schoolmate, Sergio Leone. There’s an interesting emotional throughline here, as we see Morricone wrestle with the idea that movie music was somehow an inferior artistic form, and the extent to which his work overlapped with his interest in avant-garde ideas. Mostly, though, he offers in his interviews (completed before his passing in 2020) a master class in explaining music theory for dummies, sharing the inspiration for many of his great works, his incorporation of counterpoint melodies and much more. It’s not surprising that Tornatore turns to many talking heads to supplement those interviews—filmmakers with whom Morricone worked, fellow movie composers and just-plain-fans—but after a while in this 2-1/2 hour journey the praise starts to feel repetitive. We don’t need 100 different people telling us Ennio Morricone is great; we can listen to his music, and watch him convey his genius in his own words. Available March 29 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire **
One of these days, God willing, the Hollywood brainiacs behind the current Godzilla/Kong franchise might figure out that they can—and should—at least try to do these things without any human characters. That could only be an upgrade from the nonsense that ensues whenever someone on screen in this thing is trying to talk, or convey emotion, or pretend that we’re supposed to give a rat’s ass when the giant beasties aren’t whaling the crap out of one another. We’re back this time in the newly-discovered Hollow Earth where Kong has found a new habitat—and, eventually, found some other giant apes, including one who has megalomaniacal plans (don’t ask). Godzilla does eventually get involved, although it continues to be obvious that it’s an uneven playing field when his simian co-star gets a personality and the atomic kaiju doesn’t, but at least the big monster fights are generally kinda fun, including one where director Adam Wingard goes full silly and plays it like a pro wrestling match complete with suplexes and throwing stuff in the opponent’s eyes. Inevitably, though, we have to get Rebecca Hall’s Dr. Exposition and her adopted Skull Island native daughter (Kaylee Hottle), or 30 seconds of dialogue suggesting that Dan Stevens’ Kong veterinarian has a romantic history with Hall’s character, and seriously, stop wasting everyone’s time. Just let the big guys do their thing, and ditch the sawdust-flavored, human-shaped filler. Trust us: Nobody is going to complain. Available March 29 in theaters. (PG-13)

Limbo **1/2
There are times when a geographical setting feels like part of the narrative—and then there are times when a geographical setting feels like it’s almost overwhelming the narrative. That issue affects writer/director Ivan Sen’s story following Travis (Simon Baker), a police detective poking around in a 20-year-old cold case in the remote Australian community of Limbo involving a missing Aboriginal girl. As Travis interacts with the locals, including the missing girl’s brother (Rob Collins) and sister (Natasha Wanganeen), he also interacts with the physical environment of Limbo—and it’s quite a fascinating place, defined by its opal mining history to the extent that churches and motels are built around the tunnels carved into the hillsides, and the outskirts of the town resemble a pockmarked lunar surface, scavenged by the local Aboriginal population. Sen’s own black-and-white cinematography adds to the eerie quality of the surroundings—and perhaps its metaphorical application to a place of racial divisions where plenty of things are hidden and buried—but the people, their stories are muted to the point of being nearly inaudible; the almost complete absence of a non-diagetic soundtrack becomes almost a dare to extract emotion. Baker’s heroin-addicted, troubled cop never evolves into a character with as much texture and history as the town he’s visiting. Available March 29 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Remembering Gene Wilder **
No matter how much you like or admire a celebrity, there needs to be a reason to turn their life into a documentary movie, rather than depend on other, already-existing chronicles of that life. Director Ron Frank doesn’t make a particularly compelling case for his profile of Gene Wilder, the comic actor best known for originating Willy Wonka on screen and for his collaborations with director Mel Brooks, and who passed away from Alzheimer’s complications in 2016. The film collects talking-head reflections of many of Wilder’s collaborators and colleagues—including Brooks—a significant chunk of the movie comes from Wilder’s own voice. That seems like it would be a good thing, except that it’s almost entirely from the audiobook version of Wilder’s 2005 memoir Kiss Me Like a Stranger. And while Remembering Gene Wilder obviously has the advantage of being able to pair Wilder’s anecdotes with the appropriate clips from his filmography, it’s hard not to wonder what is added that wouldn’t have been there if you were simply watching his movies while listening to the audiobook. Wilder’s life and career are interesting enough to warrant attention, but Remembering Gene Wilder ends up being kind of dull to sit through, since it’s not much more than Gene Wilder remembering. Available March 29 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Steve Martin in STEVE! (martin) - APPLETV+
  • AppleTV+
  • Steve Martin in STEVE! (martin)
STEVE! (martin): a documentary in two pieces
Part 1: Then ***
Part 2: Now ***1/2
Even when considering an entertainer as prolific as Steve Martin has been for more than 50 years, three-hours-plus feels at first glance like a lot of time to devote to a bio-documentary. But Morgan Neville has structured the two parts of this movie in such distinct ways that it feels perfect to put it together this way. “Then” takes on the early part of Martin’s life, from his adolescent ambitions through the rock-star stand-up comedy career that he abruptly ended in 1980; “Now” follows him through the later part of his career, including his movies, his creative partnership with Martin Short and his late marriage and first-time fatherhood. While Martin’s voice is heard describing the events captured in “Then,” he’s never on-screen as a character until the second part, where we see his present-day life and watch him reflect on his past. And that proves to be an inspired decision, rendering it even more clear how different a person—and how different an artist—Martin became once he gave up the “well, excuuuuuuse me" persona that made him famous. It then becomes wonderfully touching to see the way Martin seems more grounded and personally connected to his life, even as he addresses the darker moments he experienced. The result is less a box-checking overview of a creative life than it is a portrait of someone becoming happier, and it’s a delightful thing to behold. Available March 29 via AppleTV+. (NR)

They Shot the Piano Player **1/2
The most generous way to describe the approach taken by co-directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal is this animated docu-drama is that, like the music at its core, it’s somewhat improvisational; it’s perhaps more accurate to say it’s simply scattershot. The narrative revolves around a fictional journalist named Jeff Harris (voiced by Jeff Goldblum) who begins research on a book about the Brazilian bossa nova music movement, only to get sidetracked by the story of Francisco Tenório Junior, a talented pianist who disappeared mysteriously while touring in Buenos Aires in 1976, in the early days of Argentina’s military dictatorship. Mariscal’s loose, brightly-colored animation style brings life to the eras being portrayed, and occasionally finds an almost impressionistic fluidity in things like an undulating piano keyboard. But while there are components here that add up to a portrait of a complex creative talent on the verge of being forgotten, too often the film feels like it’s packed with every friend, family member, artistic collaborator and musical contemporary of Tenório that Trueba could find, many of them saying exactly the same things about him. And while it feels like the story is building to a revelation about what actually happened to Tenório, the information is dropped in almost casually before being related in more disturbing detail. The result is a mix of music history, political history and memoriam to one particular artist, where all the notes start to clang against one another rather than playing in harmony. Available March 29 in theaters. (PG-13)