POKÉMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU: 1 ½ STARS
Someone you know spends far too much time playing the adventure videogame "Detective Pikachu." The enormously popular Nintendo game is a time waster of epic proportions, eating up minutes faster than old school Pac Man gobbling up Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. Now a live action movie, "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" starring Ryan Reynolds as the title character, a little yellow rodent-like creature with soulful eyes, vies for your time at the movies.
Set on the day-glo neon streets of Ryme City, "a celebration of the harmony between humans and Pokémon," the movie begins with the disappearance of police detective Harry Goodman at the hands of a ruthless Pokémon.
Looking to get to the bottom of the case Harry's insurance salesman son Tim (Justice Smith) joins with his dad's Pokémon partner, the wise-cracking but amnesiac Detective Pikachu (Reynolds). The two have a connection that goes beyond words… sort of. Only Tim can understand what the little pocket monster is saying. "People try and talk to me all the time and all they can hear is ‘Pike, pika.'" They're a natural fit. One can talk to humans, the other to Pokémon. "If you want to find your Pops we're gonna need each other." With the aid of investigative journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) they uncover a criminal conspiracy that threatens Ryme City's human/ Pokémon harmony.
The worldwide popularity of Pokémon pretty much guarantees an audience for "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" but it's hard for me to imagine anyone who hasn't spent hours whiling away the time with the game to enjoy this as much as already established fans. It is probably the cutest crime noir film ever made but it's also a slog that should be a lot more fun. Not even Reynolds's trademarked way with a one-liner can liven up this convoluted script.
"Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" feels like a retro kid's flick. Echoes of "Gremlins," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and even "Howard the Duck" reverberate throughout, but with an emphasis on spectacle rather than charm and story.
TOLKIEN: 2 ½ STARS
Do a quick google image search of "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien. Your computer will be flooded with pictures of a dignified old man, pipe clenched in teeth, necktie tightly tied at the neck. A new film, "Tolkien" starring Nicholas Hoult, wants you to think of him not as the distinguished man of letters, the grey-haired creator of Middle-earth, but as a vital young man who looks a lot like Jennifer Lawrence's ex-boyfriend.
Orphaned and ripped from an idyllic country-side childhood, where he imagined a world of heroic knights and other fantastic adventures, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (played as a youngster by Harry Gilby) and younger brother Harry are relocated to foster homes and boarding schools on the mean streets of Birmingham. It's during this period meets the folks who would lay the groundwork for his famous literary fellowship — Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle), Christopher (Tom Glynn-Carney), Robert (Patrick Gibson) — and his wife-to-be Edith (Lily Collins). "This is more friendship. It's an alliance. An invincible alliance."
At Oxford he studies the classics, and later, English language and literature before being sent to the battlefields of the Somme during the First World War. The trenches of the Western Front directly inspired the author's darkest creations, the Dead Marshes and Mordor, home base of "LOTR" arch-villain Sauron.
Much of "Tolkien" is told in flashbacks, linking together the events and people that fuelled his art firmly in a fashion that suggests both nature and nurture are at the heart of the writer's ability but the very thing that made Tolkien's literary work so special, the flights of fantasy, the complex character work, are the elements that feel missing from this handsomely mounted biopic. Director Dome Karukoski offers up a standard biography that tries to explain the artistic process in a series of scenes meant to illustrate how Tolkien's mind worked without ever scratching the surface of where true inspiration comes from.
The movie has several stand-out moments. In the battle scenes plumes of smoke, fire and ash resemble the dragons that Tolkien later wrote about and a quiet, contemplative scene between the writer and the mother of one of his best friends is touching and underlines one of the film's themes, that art can make the world a better place. In its more playfulness and humorous moments — "It shouldn't take six hours to tell the story of a magic ring," complains Chris about Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen opera — you see what the film could have been if it was less restrained.
Hoult is fine in the lead role, presenting the author as a romantic, gifted intellectual — he can recite The Canterbury Tales off the top of his head and translate Old English — who followed his head and heart to worldwide success. Derek Jacobi has a lively cameo as the Oxford professor who recognizes Tolkien's way with words before anyone else and Collins does nice work as a woman whose life seems predetermined due to class. "I let myself believe there are happy endings for people like us," she says, "but there aren't."
The Tolkien family has renounced the film — in a statement they wrote the family, "do not endorse it or its content in any way." — not, one imagines, because it paints an unflattering portrait of its subject but because, by and large, it's a standard look at a man who is anything but ordinary.
WINE COUNTRY: 3 ½ STARS
Amy Poehler's feature directorial debut, "Wine Country," is the story of friends brought together for a birthday but it is also a real-life comedy reunion. Poehler and co-stars Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch made their comedy bones on "Saturday Night Live" and reunite now in an ode to female friendship.
Poehler plays Abby, the under-employed a-type organizer of a Napa getaway for her therapist friend Rebecca's (Dratch) 50th birthday. "I want this to feel like a regular vacation," says Rebecca. "We'll sit around, talk, wear muumuus and somewhere in there I'll slide into 50." Of course, it won't be that simple. Abby's perfectionism, not to mention her minute-by-minute itinerary, doesn't sit well with the others who have their own issues. Entrepreneur Catherine (Gasteyer) is a workaholic, always checking her cell phone. "Life's a juggle," she says. Jenny (Emily Spivey, who also co-wrote the script) is agoraphobic and doesn't want to leave her room while mother of four Naomi (Rudolph) is avoiding her doctor's phone calls and Val is involved with a much younger woman.
They came together to rest, relax and reconnect but as the weekend progresses the words of Tammy, owner of their Airbnb appear to come true. "Just remember," says Tammy (Fey), "whatever gets said is probably what the person has always thought and alcohol just let it out."
Before it gets to its ultimate "it's later than you think" message "Wine Country" is a charming collection of physical humour — it's always funny when somebody falls down — mom jokes — "I thought MDMA was that extreme fighting where they do cocaine and fight," says Val — and some very specific in-jokes — "Life is too short to wait for the paella."
Poehler plays much of this for laughs but doesn't forget to create memorable moments. A long close-up on Abby's face as she makes a decision is both funny and telling of her state of mind. The bickering between the friends as secrets come to light has a delicate touch but underneath the gags are real insights about the life events that drive wedges between lifelong besties. Light but heartfelt, it's a celebration of adult female friendship in all its forms from Naomi's enthusiastic "let's party till our panties fly off" call to arms to the film's more tender moments.
"Wine Country" is at its best when it showcases the chemistry of the performers. Pop psychology and pratfalls aside, it's great fun to spend time with these women as they figure out their lives and relationships.
HAIL SATAN?: 4 STARS
Evoking the name Satan freaks people out. Its mere mention conjures up images of the daisy-chain of damnation: pitch forks, hellfire and eternal suffering. A new documentary, "Hail Satan?" from director and Satanic Temple member Penny Lane, takes a different tact, presenting Old NIck not as an evil fallen angel but as the ultimate rebel, more wily than wicked.
The film focusses on the creation and antics of the Satanic Temple as they advocate for religious freedom in a series of increasingly audacious media stunts, including sponsoring an eight-foot-tall statue of satanic goat god Baphomet in front of the Arkansas Capitol building.
Begun basically as a troll group by media-savvy culture warrior Lucien Greaves, the group sought to upend the notion of the United States as a solely Christian nation. With slogans like "Satanism is patriotism" they hope to rebrand Satanism as more concerned with grassroots activism than unleashing holy hell on the world. In fact, they don't worship the devil or even believe such an entity exists.
The quest for separation of church and state, comes with speed bumps. Opposition from traditionally minded politicians, protests and even death threats dog Greaves and company from the outside. A rogue member — who calls for the execution of Donald Trump — causes trouble from the inside.
"Hail Satan?" has a surprisingly light touch. Lane, obviously a fan of the group's work, takes a playful tone, mining the inherent audacity of the Satanic Temple's actions — wearing giant devil horns in media interviews, giggling their way through their "Hail, Satan" ceremonies and generally pushing people's buttons — for all its entertainment value. More interestingly it humanizes the temple's followers as outsiders more concerned with fundamental human rights, exposing religious hypocrisy and social justice than dark magic.
ORDINARY DAYS: 3 STARS
One story, three directors. "Ordinary Days" is a crime drama told from a trio of perspectives that proves the mystery is more interesting than the resolution.
College student Cara Cook (Jacqueline Byers) has disappeared without a trace leaving behind her grieving parents Marie (Torri Higginson) and Rich (Richard Clarkin).
The film's first third, directed by Jordan Canning, shows us the emotional turmoil her parents endure as they grapple with their daughter's fate. Was she assaulted? Kidnapped? Left for dead? As the uncertainty eats away at them, panic sets in.
Kris Booth directs the middle segment, the story of Jonathan Brightbill, a troubled cop played by Michael Xavier. Under pressure to resolve the case he pushes his own personal boundaries.
Part three is the resolution directed by Renuka Jeyapalan. No spoilers but it's here we learn more about Cara, her disappearance and inner strength.
"Ordinary Days" is an interesting twist on a crime story. Essentially three short films, with different casts, based around one theme, it never feels disjointed. Tension builds in the first two segments, along with some nice character work, leading to a satisfying if not exactly riveting conclusion. The seamlessness of the overall vision begs the question, "Why use three directors?" but there is no denying the emotional power of the underlying story.