FILM NEWS: JULY 25-31 | Cinema Clips | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Cinema Clips


New This Week, Special Screenings, and Current Releases




The Farewell 3 Stars
Writer-director Lulu Wang's semi-autobiographical story might ultimately be more emotionally satisfying than insightful, but she certainly pours freely from the fountain of emotional satisfaction. Awkwafina plays Billi, a Chinese-American New Yorker who's caught up in a grand familial lie: Her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has been given a terminal cancer diagnosis, but the family keeps it secret from her, and organizes a pseudo-fake wedding for Billi's cousin in China as an excuse to gather family. The star isn't given too many notes to play, as Billi generally wrestles silently with a plan she disagrees with. Her best moment comes as Billi expresses confusion over feeling alienated from the country of her birth—just one of many conversations about East-West cultural divides that Wang handles with restraint. Mostly, however, it's a portrait of a loving family doing the best they can for those they love, seasoned liberally with engaging punch lines and Wang showing off her directing skills best in the climactic wedding. No manufactured conflict is needed when the simple stuff of being in a family together is enough. Opens July 26 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—Scott Renshaw

The Fighting Preacher 2.5 Stars
The formula for LDS-themed cinema remains consistently similar to that of other Christian-themed cinema: Promote the faith first, and if you tell a good story along the way, that's kind of incidental. There's a solid fact-based story at the core here, as ex-boxer Willard Bean (David Shawn McConnell) and his new wife Rebecca (Cassidy Hubert) are called by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints circa 1915 to take up residence in the Joseph Smith farm in Palmyra, N.Y.—where local antagonism toward Mormons remains high. In theory, the narrative arc involves Willard learning to set aside his pugilistic predilections to learn a catch-more-flies-with-honey approach, but writer-director T.C. Christensen doesn't provide Willard with enough of a clearly-defined personality to make his personal growth a real focus. There's stronger material surrounding Rebecca—thanks to Hubert's winning performance—and their oldest daughter, providing some genuine emotion in their sense of isolation. Christensen mounts a gorgeous production, but would have found a stronger foundation in a story that wrestled more honestly with the complexity of why communities can hate—and then maybe love—the "other." Opens July 24 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—SR

Maiden 3.5 Stars
See review on p. 43. Opens July 26 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (PG)

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
[not yet reviewed]
Quentin Tarantino explores the seedy underbelly of 1969 Los Angeles. Opens July 26 at theaters valleywide. (R)

[not yet reviewed]
Zhang Yimou's historical action epic about court intrigue in ancient China. Opens July 26 at Tower Theatre. (NR)

Sword of Trust 3.5 Stars
Writer-director Lynn Shelton has yet to find a mix of performance and subject matter as potent as her 2009 breakthrough Humpday, but when she gets the kind of masterful work she evokes here from Marc Maron, it almost doesn't matter. Maron plays Mel, the owner of an Alabama pawn shop where a pair of patrons (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins) bring in an inherited sword that is believed by Southern conspiracy theorists to prove that the Confederacy won the Civil War. Shelton and co-writer Mike O'Brien flit around the edges of what happens when online crackpots coalesce into communities, though that material always feels tangential to the character beats. And while the supporting cast all gets to do funny work, Maron continues to evolve into an actor of multiple shades while playing a guy who would like to rewrite some of his own history. There's a lot of hilarious riffing going on, and while the plot might only provide a loose armature, Maron gives it all a soulful center. Opens July 26 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—SR


Despicable Me
At Gateway Legacy Plaza, July 31, dusk. (PG)

Reefer Madness
At Tower Theater, July 26-27, 11 p.m. & July 28, noon. (NR)

The Silence of Others
At Main Library, July 30, 7 p.m. (NR)


The Art of Self-Defense 3 Stars
Jesse Eisenberg plays Casey, a timid accountant who is beaten by a group of bikers. Desperate to shed his sense of powerlessness, he signs up for lessons at the karate dojo led by a sensei (Alessandro Nivola) who promises to make a man out of him. Eisenberg does great work both with Casey's coiled anxiety and with subsequent attempts to prove his newfound toughness, ably matched by Nivola with a perfect alpha-dude swagger. Some of the narrative turns are almost too obvious, and there's a weird strain of deadpan humor that doesn't always land opposite a vibe that's more about psychological gamesmanship. But it's still an effectively constructed way to wrestle with the appeal of bullying misogynists to those who feel powerless, and a toxic masculinity ethic that reduces every human interaction to a question of winners and losers. (R)—SR

The Lion King 2 Stars
What if Disney had never released the hand-drawn The Lion King in 1994, and this story were appearing now for the first time, in photorealistic CGI? Director Jon Favreau's version is an impressive technical achievement, delivering a virtually identical story of exiled lion prince Simba (Donald Glover) and his usurping uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But while some vocal performances and comic beats are slight improvements, the so-authentic-you're-afraid-it-might-trample-you elephant in the room is that these characters are designed primarily to look real, not to create characters. There's no idiosyncratic personality in these faces, no way to see the joy in songs like "I Just Can't Wait to Be King." The Lion King is hardly a sacred text, but while this version can make animals look more real, it can't make them more alive. (PG)—SR

Spider-man: Far From Home 3 Stars
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is just a 16-year-old kid, so how do you balance Spider-Man's fate-of-the-world duties with having fun? Director Jon Watts wrestles with that question, as Peter's school trip to Europe turns into a meeting with other-dimensional warrior Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to stop powerful elementals. Holland remains a winningly awkward presence as a nice guy trying to figure out if he should put getting the girl (Zendaya's MJ) ahead of saving the world. The action sequences ultimately lean into generic spectacle, and it gets even clunkier with topical notions about how to respond to demagoguery. This is, however, pretty satisfying when it leans into human comedy. Peter Parker understands his great power and great responsibility, but we just want to see him have fun. (PG-13)—SR