We are immensely enjoying Brie Larson in "Lessons in Chemistry," which is now streaming on AppleTV. This week the Oscar winner (Best Actress 2016 for "The Room") turns up in superhero mode as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers in "The Marvels," the latest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She will probably elevate the production.
But, truth be told, we've not heard much good about the movie, which according to Variety, required a month's worth of reshoots after main production halted to try to piece together a "tangled" story line. And apparently a test screening in Texas in June found fans underwhelmed, rating it average at best. Larson is said to be "disillusioned" with her character, and while the film was in post-production, director Nia DaCosta moved to London to begin work on the forthcoming drama,"Hedda," leaving Marvel president Kevin Feige to finish up the project.
"If you're directing a $250 million movie, it's kind of weird for the director to leave with a few months to go," an industry "insider" reportedly told Variety.
Still, it's going to win the weekend. It's a Marvel movie. It's got capes and tights, wormholes and a destabilized universe. And Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
'Nuff said. We'll see what our Piers Marchant has to say, elsewhere in this section.
More intriguing for some of you out there will be Alexander Payne's "The Holdovers," which tiptoes into Arkansas theaters this week. Set in 1970, it's a prep school dramedy that follows Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), an unpopular classics teacher at Barton Academy, a boarding school somewhere in New England, as he becomes responsible for supervising a group of misfit students unable for one reason or another to go home for the Christmas holidays.
"There's a sharpness to the comedy, some attitude and freshness, some wisdom," Wesley Morris writes in The New York Times. "That maybe comes, in part, from the kids looking a little older than their characters are. It also comes from Payne's emotional finesse. Whatever it is studio technicians do seated at those knobby soundboards, Payne achieves with acting and characterization."
Also playing theatrically, is "Journey to Bethlehem," a faith-based Christmas musical that promises a fresh re-telling of the Nativity story. But just in case you think there could be nothing controversial about that, some Catholics have raised objections. Joe Wilson, who writes for the website 100catholicmovies.substack.com, says "There are several red flags that I see ... that should make Catholics think twice about seeing it and especially about taking the family.
"First, 'Journey to Bethlehem' does not seem to accurately portray the Blessed Virgin Mary. This film was created by and for Evangelical Protestants, who do not share many of our beliefs about Mary, including her Immaculate Conception and Perpetual Virginity. The Mary portrayed in their songs and trailers is flawed and perhaps even sinful. At the beginning of the film, she seems to be ambitious, quirky, and impatient with her cultural surroundings. She complains about the expectation that she get married and dreads 'giving up her dreams' for the perceived drudgery of family life. She seems to have more akin with a '90s-era Disney princess than the patient and humble Theotokos (more on the Disney connection later). It would be a terrible tragedy if a young Catholic's first memorable impression of the Blessed Virgin were to come from 'Mary's Getting Married' or 'Can We Make This Work.' ... The relationship between Mary and Joseph (and indeed, their characterization in general) seems more inspired by 'High School Musical' than that long-standing and beautiful tradition."
Just so you know.
We probably should have mentioned Netflix's "Nyad" last week, but we were thinking it might show up in local theater. It didn't, but there's a lot of quality in this crowd-pleasing, true-life story of Olympic swimmer Diana Nyad and her decision -- at age 60 -- to swim non stop from Cuba to Florida -- a journey that requires more than two days of swimming, along with the uusal sharks, storms, stinging jellyfish and hallucinations. While you may know how it turns out, the story is at turns harrowing and inspiring.
And while Annette Bening is being touted as an Oscar contender for her portrayal of Nyad (and she's very good, though she lacks the real swimmer's imposing physicality), for us the best performance was turned in by Jodie Foster, as Nyad's former lover and current life coach.
Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, a married couple who heretofore have majored in outdoor documentaries ("Free Solo,'' "Meru") have real insight into both the obsessive-compulsive psyche of the extreme athlete (Chin is a serious rock climber himself) and the worry and strain of the emotionally supportive sidekick, who understands that encouragement itself can be dangerous.
On other screens:
"You Were My First Boyfriend" (not rated, 1 hour, 37 minutes, HBO) This is a unique approach to a high-school reunion documentary in which filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo takes on a curious quest to reconcile her tortured teen years in the 1990s by going back in more ways than one, tracking down old foes and friends while also re-enacting visceral memories of youthful humiliation and desire. Co-directed by Sarah Enid Hagey.
"Screwdriver" (not rated, 1 hour, 34 minutes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Comcast) An unnerving psychological thriller in which trusting and kindly Emily (AnnaClaire Hicks), blindsided by divorce, leaves her adopted Nebraska behind and returns to California, where she seeks refuge in the home of an old high school friend and his pharmacologist wife. The childless couple welcomes Emily into their lives, but their hospitality soon gives way to a surreal plot of cult-like manipulation and betrayal. Written and directed by Cairo Smith.
"Courtney Gets Possessed" (not rated, 1 hour, 30 minutes, On Demand) Winner of the best local feature award at the Atlanta Film Festival, this dark horror comedy concerns a wedding party that must battle the forces of hell when a bride becomes possessed by the devil (her ex-boyfriend Dave) the night before the ceremony. With Lauren Buglioli, Madison Hatfield, Jonathon Pawlowski, Najah Bradley, Zae Jordan, Aditi George, Steven Reddington; written and directed by Jono Mitchell and Hatfield.
"Adventures of the Naked Umbrella" (not rated, 1 hour, 37 minutes, On Demand) An offbeat comedy in which convicted arsonist Sam Wanoutsky, working his way along the road to redemption, is hosting his conspiracy podcast The Naked Umbrella when his trailer house explodes and burns to the ground. Convinced he's been set up, Sam hits the road with his wife, Irene, to clear his name. With Jeremy Davies, Tom Arnold, Taryn Manning; directed by Gerald Brunskill.
"The Girl in the Backseat" (not rated, 1 hour, 25 minutes, Amazon Prime Video) A gritty, suspenseful thriller in which a young immigrant, who is catfished and kidnapped in Los Angeles, is forced into making a terrifying road trip with her captor, who must deliver her to the powerful and dangerous leader of a human trafficking ring. With Kika Magalhães, Chris Marrone; directed by Nick Laurant.
"The Metal Detector" (not rated, approximately 60 minutes, PBS.org) From director Brendan Patrick Hughes comes this empathetic multi generational documentary about an Austrian retiree who takes up metal detecting to find the wreckage of an Allied B-17 that crashed near his home during World War II, which leads him to research the backgrounds of the American crew members who parachuted off the plane into enemy territory and locate their descendants to bring them to his town on the 75th anniversary of the crash. With Georg Reutter, Joey Reutter, Mick Berry.
"Happy Campers" (not rated, 1 hour, 30 minutes, On Demand) A sunny documentary that takes a look at how every summer, working-class families escape their ordinary routines in a run-down seaside trailer park in Chincoteague, Va., until their shabby Shangri-La is threatened by the march of capitalism. Directed by Amy Nicholson.