May 29, 2024
Also: 'Hard Miles' is inspirational cycling flick; and 'Abigail' is a timely reminder us cute kids can be vampires, too.

Guy Ritchie’s been on a bit of a roll of late, and continues that trend with the thoroughly enjoyable “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” And if spy games are your thing, the anime “Spy x Family Code: White” should delight you as well.

Need a cup of inspiration? “Hard Miles” — a favorite at this year’s Cinequest in San Jose — spins its wheels in that direction.

Here’s our roundup.

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”: George Clooney failed in his attempt at reviving a little-known slab of World War II history with the star-studded disappointment “The Monuments Men.” Guy Ritchie, though, does a much more stimulating job with this nail-biter about a secret wartime operation. His jaunty fact-based feature delves into the covert mission Winston Churchill designed to cripple Hitler’s U-boats by disrupting the essential supply chains used to maintain and sustain them.

The handsome cast adopted the right tone as well, with a rugged-looking Henry Cavill as Gus March-Phillipps, a rascal of a point man in possession of swagger and smarts.  He and his motley crew — the most memorable being brawny, gung-ho Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson, eating up this role alive) —  climb aboard this make-or-break assignment that plays to each of their strengths. The actors portraying these spies — Henry Golding, Alex Pettyfer, Hero Fiennes Tiffin and more — are also more than up to the task. Equally pivotal to the success is female operative Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González, who should catapult to stardom). She snuggles up to Nazi Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger). Don’t let the violent mayhem and casual nature fool you, there’s real skill and craftsmanship at work here. Credit Ritchie. Details: 3 stars out of 4; in theaters April 19.

“Spy x Family Code: White”: Imagine if “The Incredibles” got crossed with “Mission: Impossible” with a dash of “Spy Kids” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” tossed in. That approximates what director Takashi Katagiri and screenwriter Ichiro Okouchi pull off with this anime feature, spun off of Tatsuya Endo’s mega-popular manga series. In it, the Forgers – Loid (aka Twilight) and Yor (aka Thorn Princess) — pose as husband and wife, which is unbeknownst to the other secret operatives. Loid brings the fam — which includes energetic, telepathic “daughter” Anya — with him on a mission/vacation where he squares off with Colonel Snidel, an epicurean with a voracious taste for power and zeppelins. The cheeky plot gets more tangled and creative as it goes along, and involves hijinks with a poop god, a family dog named Bond and a piece of yummy chocolate with something special inside. It’s breezy fun with superior animation. Details: 3 stars; in theaters April 19; the first two seasons are available on Crunchyroll.

“Hard Miles”: Any movie centered on a recreational pursuit should strive for the utmost authenticity. R.J. Daniel Hanna’s emotional crowd pleaser does ring resoundingly true to cyclists, but it’ll appeal outside of that tribe as well — lifting up anyone who’s feeling down. Matthew Modine stars as Greg Townsend, a real-life coach/administrator who comes up with the idea to train four unruly students at the medium security Ridgeview Academy correctional school for an epic, multi-day ride. The guys aren’t enamored with the notion of sprinting and climbing from Watkins, Colorado, to the Grand Canyon, especially the part about wearing bike shorts. “Hard Miles” follows a formulaic course, but fueled by two breakaway performances — one from Modine, the other from Jahking Guillory as a most contrarian rider — it’s destined to put a lump in your throat. It may even inspire you to go out for a ride. Details: 3 stars; in theaters April 19.

“Abigail”: A child ballerina (Alisha Weir) with a viscous overbite and an insane desire for blood proves to her kidnappers who’s the boss. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s latest comedic horror hoedown pings and pongs off killer lines of dialogue, and reminds you of their bloody hilarious “Ready or Not,” which was also set in an estate. That’s OK since the schematic works as well as the cast, which includes Melissa Barrera as the most likable of the kidnappers who is making amends and is bit of a bleeding heart for Abigail, and the late Angus Cloud, as the zonked-out driver. Weir, though, is the real prize here, a pint-sized marvel who is able to switch in a millisecond from sweet and innocent child to a rabid bloodsucker. “Abigail” doesn’t redefine the genre by any means, but it sinks its teeth into you from the start and never lets go. Killer soundtrack, too. Details: 3 stars; in theaters April 18.

“Disappear Completely”: Mexico City tabloid photographer Santiago Mendoza (Harold Torres) knows how to hustle and how to toss aside scruples so he can land that killer gory crime scene shot that’ll get splashed on the front page. Mendoza prioritizes that adrenaline-junkie job over his wife Marcela (Teté Espinoza), until something strange happens — he loses his sense of taste. That’s only the beginning of the sensory erosion in Luis Javier Henaine’s heady supernatural thriller with social commentary that raises a curtain on the proliferation of “nota roja” (red news) in Mexico. Henaine’s film is indeed more frightening in what it’s implying than what it is showing, and that makes it all the more effective. Details: 3 stars; available on Netflix.

“LaRoy, Texas”: Shane Atkinson’s Texas-basted noir spins in the same amusement park as you’ll find the Coen brothers, but is a thrill ride unto itself. “Past Lives” star John Magaro is perfect as a sad sack hardware store manager trapped with a cheatin’ former beauty queen of a wife (Megan Stevenson). He’s about to end it all when he gets mistaken for someone else — a hitman (Dylan Baker). He joins forces with a PI (Steve Zahn, providing much of the comic relief) once murder comes a calling into this suburban town. “LaRoy, Texas” remains as unpredictable as an overly agitated Texas rattlesnake and has just about as much bite to it. Details: 3 stars; available to rent now.

“La Chimera”: Alice Rohrwacher’s magical-realism fable conjures quite an enchanting cinematic spell, weaving a transcendental love story that’s set in an old-school Italy and serves as a message about respecting the past and refusing to desecrate it for the pursuit of profit or one’s spiritual stasis. Josh O’Connor continues to choose intriguing outside-of-the-box roles, and, in Arthur, he’s given one of his best yet. Arthur’s the equivalent of a human metal detector and becomes part of 1980s raucous band of grave robbers. He’s also nursing a void in his heart left due to his dear love Beniamina’s absence. He visits Beniamina’s so-Italian-it-aches mother (Isabella Rossellini, divine as ever) and the demonstrative Italia (Carol Duarte) who works for his mother and becomes quite taken with him. (Italia even instructs Arthur on the fine art of Italian hand gestures, and those scenes are absolutely priceless.) Rohrwacher’s story nestles up to both ache and beauty and is as much about what’s been lost as what’s been found. It’s as transportative as a poetic work of Italian literature. Details: 3½ stars; in select theaters.

“The Greatest Hits”: Somber depictions of grief don’t always make for great movies. Director/screenwriter Ned Benson ekes out a decent one in this sensitive romantic triangle. It centers on depressed Harriet (Lucy Boynton) who gets triggered whenever a song’s played that she associates with her dead soulmate Max (David Corenswet). Enter the extraordinarily nice David (Justin H. Min) who’s dealing with the loss of his parents. He attends a grief group counseling session where he meets Harriet and the two connect. Benson’s drama works well up to a point, and then loses its way, changing the rules of the game it’s playing, and while that can be refreshing, it doesn’t entirely add up. Details: 2½ stars; available on Hulu.

Find of the Week

“Música”: Smaller but rewarding films often get lost in the shadows of over-hyped counterparts.  Don’t let that happen with this Prime Video gem. Internet star Rudy Mancuso wrote, directed and stars in this personal romantic drama set mostly in a Brazilian neighborhood in Newark. Mancuso will win your heart as a street performer with synesthesia (a condition Mancuso has wherein he experiences the sounds around him as a series of rhythms). He lives with his mom — played by Mancuso’s real-life mother Maria — who is none too pleased about his girlfriend (Francesca Reale) who’s continually frustrated with him. Complications arise when the wandersome Rudy meets the joyful and more easy-going Isabella (Camila Mendes), who works at a fish market. “Música” might seem like it’s hitting beats we’ve grown accustomed to, but Mancuso’s sweet, soulful feature debut doesn’t follow in others’ footsteps. What a gem. Details: 3 stars; now available on Prime Video.

Contact Randy Myers at [email protected].

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