Reviews of movies showing in theaters or streaming online
‘BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER’:
It seems like everyone’s going to
Italy these days. Thanks to a strong dollar and pandemic-induced wanderlust, it’s not just influencers, old friends and exes filling up their Instagram feeds with gelato and pasta. “Succession” Season 3 took a trip to Tuscany for a wedding, “The White Lotus” Season 2 checked in for a stay in Sicily, while Toni Collette landed in Rome to become the “Mafia Mamma.” And now the “Book Club” gals — Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen — take off for a wine-soaked adventure off the page in the fluffy and fantastical “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” Ultimately, the film is about finding balance: between reading the signs and controlling your own narrative, between taking a leap of faith and putting in the hard work, and most importantly, putting your own desires first and having the bravery to take the reins, whether that means marriage or a rendezvous in a canal with a handsome professor of philosophy. Either or both can be the right choice. It may be treacly and unrealistic, but “Book Club: The Next Chapter” has heart and soul, and it’s as sweet and quaffable as an Aperol spritz on a hot day. 1:47.
2 ½ stars. — Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
‘FAST X’: In the last exciting installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, 2021’s “Fast 9,” the gang drove a car into space, tangled with a long-lost brother and pushed the physical limits of various vintage Dodge Chargers in far-flung locations around the globe, as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is wont to do. Since then, there have been a few external shake-ups in family because his own was the “Fast” world: longtime destroyed. 2:21. 2 ½ stars. director Justin Lin — Katie Walsh departed the franchise only a week into filming on “Fast X,” which is now being billed as part one of a three-part finale, and he has been replaced with a franchise super fan: “The Transporter” director Louis Leterrier, who swooped in to save the day. But rest assured, family, in “Fast X,” the Coronas are cold, the booties are shaking and the sleeves remain optional. Leterrier, working with a script credited to Lin and Dan Mazeau, takes to his turn behind the wheel with the enthusiasm of a kid who just got a new set of toys, crashing together cars and characters excitedly, but without much sense. And if Leterrier is making “Fast” fan-fiction, then Jason Momoa is doing parody as the franchise’s wildly flamboyant new villain Dante Reyes. In the opening of “Fast X,” Momoa has been ret-conned into the finale of Lin’s “Fast Five,” in which Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Dom dragged a bank vault full of drug money belonging to Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) out of a Rio de Janeiro police station with cables attached to Chargers, naturally. Dante is Reyes’ son, and now he’s seeking revenge on Dom’s
‘GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3’:
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” pulses with a manic energy soundtracked to a predominantly ’90s playlist (though it dips into the ’80s and 2000s as well). At times it’s convoluted and busy, and it tries to do all too much at once, thereby sidelining characters like Adam Warlock. It ruminates on rather uninteresting relationships between a wounded Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and strident Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and the entirely too silly chemistry between Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff ). But director James Gunn manages to achieve true pathos in the flashbacks to Rocket’s experiences at OrgoCorp as a lab raccoon under the High Evolutionary, especially in the cruelty he and his animal friends experienced as abandoned experiments. It’s not perfect, but the moral of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is that striving for perfection is not only a fool’s errand, but it’s also inherently toxic. Gunn exhorts the audience to embrace the quirky, the messy, the flawed, to strive for connection, not precision in this world and beyond. It’s a resonant message at the center of all the din. 2:30. 2 ½ stars. — Katie Walsh
‘KANDAHAR’: Our macho action movie auteurs are starting to reckon with the tragic situation in Afghanistan, which has fallen to the Taliban after the withdrawal of the United States in 2021. On the heels of “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” comes Ric Roman Waugh’s “Kandahar” starring Gerard Butler, a brutal actioner set in the lawless land of an Afghanistan crawling with Taliban, ISIS-K and various covert operatives. “Kandahar” is a step above the Butler B-movie pleasures to which we’ve grown accustomed, but while Waugh and screenwriter Mitchell LaFortune attempt to fit the action star into this complex geopolitical narrative, it’s clear they become caught between a realism rock and a Hollywood hard place, succumbing to familiar, if somewhat problematic tropes in order to bring this somewhat unwieldy yarn home. Still, it’s a pleasure to see Butler do his thing opposite a talented array of international superstars — Ali Fazal and Travis Fimmel are standouts — and stretch his specific set of skills into more complex contemporary storytelling, making “Kandahar” worth the trip. 2:00. 3 stars. — Katie Walsh
‘THE LITTLE MERMAID’: Director Rob Marshall’s take on “The Little Mermaid” stays faithfully close to the 1989 animated film’s basics and many of the scene-by-scene, shotby-shot design schemes of the animated version. Yet the changes really help.
The fleshed-out central romance, the performances of Halle Bailey (Ariel, the mermaid, with songs belted like nobody’s business) and Jonah HauerKing (as her Above World love Prince Eric) — it all basically works. That shouldn’t be a rarity. But with these pre-branded IP derivatives, an enlivening spirit too often eludes the creators, whatever the global box office has to say about it. The revised lyrics and character relationships in this new
“Little Mermaid” reflect an attempt to make some songs less potentially objectionable (“Kiss the Girl,” with its make-your-move! directive to bashful Eric, is sung by Daveed Diggs as Sebastian the crab). And Melissa McCarthy works valiantly to keep Ursula from falling completely into drag-queendom. What doesn’t quite work? As
King Triton, Javier Bardem struggles to resolve the harsh side of the undersea ruler, whose queen was killed by one of the Above World people, with the fearful father within. The pluses, though, buoy the end result. 2:15. 3 stars. — Michael Phillips, Chicago
‘YOU HURT MY FEELINGS’: Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is one of the great chroniclers of the micro dramas and minor injustices that make up the tapestry of our relationships, and thereby, of life itself. Her latest film, “You Hurt My Feelings,” is another Holofcener home run on this field, a comedic unpacking of the little white lies we tell each other in order to avoid unnecessary conflict, to smooth things over. It’s also a gentle but necessary skewering of her solipsistic characters, whom we both laugh at for their self-centered indignation and relate to on an intrinsic level. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies star as Beth and Don, a deeply codependent New York City couple who have been ignoring or papering over any friction in their relationship with false assurances for years. They are completely in step with each other until suddenly, the veil of polite, unyielding support is pierced thanks to an overheard conversation. The question that Holofcener poses continues to resonate after the conclusion of this film, as she takes the time to dissect what might otherwise seem mundane, but is, in fact, intrinsic to the core of our existence and how we coexist with each other. 1:33. 3 ½ stars. — Katie Walsh
RATINGS: The movies listed are rated according to the following key: 4 stars, excellent; 3 stars, good; 2 stars, fair; 1 star, poor.