‘Wendell & Wild’
Animation fans have been waiting for a new film from stop-motion master Henry Selick, who hadn’t released a feature film before his Netflix film Wendell & Wild since 2009’s wonderful Coraline. The patience was rewarded. “Wendell & Wild” — based on an original idea by Selick and adapted into a screenplay with one of the project’s producers and stars, Jordan Peele — is as unconventional and personal as the director’s best.
Peele and longtime sketch comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key voice the title characters: a pair of demon brothers who come up with a plan to escape the underworld. They think they’ve found their ticket in the form of an angry orphan named Kat (Lyric Ross), who has supernatural powers and a penchant for anarchy. But it turns out they’re all being manipulated and pitted against each other by mega-rich people who plot to turn Kat’s dying old industrial town into a large private prison complex. The film’s plot is a little convoluted – not unusual for Selick – and involves both the heroes and villains freely crossing the line between life and death.
Wendell & Wild has the Selick look telltale: the bloated character designs, the expressionistic lighting, and a willingness to make the puppets look like puppets and have the movements be a little choppy to emphasize the handmade quality. There are clearly quirky touches throughout: like Kat’s love of Afropunk music, her bond with a sly nun (Angela Bassett), and her wary friendship with several private school classmates who at first seem like snobs but actually turn out to be brave and helpful. For Selick, “animation” never just means setting images in motion. It’s about giving his images a beating heart that lives with the possibility that the weak can be strong, the grotesque can be good and that nothing dies forever.
“Wendell & Wild.” PG-13, for some thematic materials, violence, drug use and short expletives. 1 hour 45 minutes. Available on Netflix; play theatrically, Bay Theatre, Pacific Palisades
“Run darling run”
During the supernatural thriller Run Sweetheart Run, when the heroine finds herself in dire straits – far beyond her worst expectations on a night turned nightmare – director and co-writer Shana Feste regularly fills the screen with the word ” RUN! That, too, is a signal to viewers: the film takes another wild turn; and if they’re not willing, they should bail. Feste and her co-writers Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell make many strange choices in Run Sweetheart Run to keep the action moving; and almost all of them detract from the story’s seedy, socio-politically astute action picture that it is at its best.
Ella Balinska is great as Cherie, who reluctantly agrees to help out her boss and mentor (Clark Gregg) by filling in for him at dinner with a client, Ethan (Pilou Asbaek). The dinner turns into a date that ends with Ethan taking her to his house and attacking her, leading to the first “RUN!”. More complications follow. Ethan turns out to be a demon who can track women by smelling menstrual blood; and everyone Cherie turns to for help is either suspicious of her claims or under the villain’s domination. At the end of the evening, she can only rely on the First Lady (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the shadowy leader of a feminist underground army.
Feste handles action and horror well in Run Sweetheart Run; and for those who can handle its more absurd twists and turns, there are trashy pulp kicks here. But given that this film also tries to say something honest and angry about how those in power protect abusive men, its silliness is a throwback. The further Cherie’s predicament deviates from the real world, the easier it is to dismiss it as pure entertainment.
“Run darling, run.” R, for horror, violence, gory imagery, language, sexual innuendos, and brief nudity. 1 hour, 43 minutes. Available on Prime Video
“Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues”
Louis Armstrong is a complicated figure in both popular music history and American race relations history. An accomplished trumpeter with a memorably raspy voice, Armstrong helped introduce the world to the smoky, languid New Orleans style of jazz, and in the process became one of the highest paid and most respected black entertainers of his day, appearing and acting in Hollywood films in the best concert halls and hotels. But that success came with compromises, including eschewing civil rights activism and playing the same snappy songs while younger horn players revolutionized jazz.
Director Sacha Jenkins’ vibrant and provocative documentary, Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues looks at the whole of man: the ground he walked, the choices he made, the people he inspired and the people who he let down. Drawing heavily on Armstrong’s personal audiotapes – supplemented by old interviews and archived television and film clips – Jenkins places the man some call “Satchmo” or “Pops” in a larger cultural context, given the limitations of his time and the notable progress he has made in spite of them. Black & Blues is less a straight-forward biography and more a collection of compelling anecdotes and astute observations designed to spark a new appreciation for someone all too often misunderstood.
“Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues.” R, for language. 1 hour, 47 minutes. Available on Apple TV+; Play Theater, 7 Laemmle Noho, North Hollywood; Landmark Westwood
The most obvious point of comparison for writer-director Chris Chan Lee’s surreal neo-noir “Silent River” is David Lynch, considering its plot shares so much in common with “Lost Highway”, “Mulholland Drive” and “Twin Peaks” – including doubles, parallel realities, and a character that’s more automaton than human. But Lee brings his own tone and style to the piece that keeps it from being derivative.
West Liang plays Elliot, a distraught man about to lose his business and wife when he checks into a nearly empty hotel under a strange looking sky. There he meets Greta (Amy Tsang), who looks exactly like his wife and is traveling with a robot named P2 (Max Faugno) that resembles Greta’s late husband. Lee structures the film like a mystery, giving it a sharp catch at the beginning but leading to an inevitable disappointment in the final section when the answers prove less interesting than the questions. Still, there’s a strong sense of displacement in “Silent River,” capturing the eerie otherworldly world of frontier spaces like hotels, where everything feels like a slightly unbalanced version of reality.
“Silent river.” Not rated. 2 hours, 1 minute. Available on VOD
The first 20 minutes of the monster film The Lair is among the best work veteran horror/fantasy filmmaker Neil Marshall has ever done. With almost no dialogue, Marshall builds the film’s story into a long action sequence in which RAF fighter pilot Kate Sinclair (played by Charlotte Kirk, who also co-wrote the screenplay) is shot down in a remote part of Afghanistan. where she stumbles upon an underground bunker containing mutated beasts. Once she’s rescued by an eclectic group of soldiers — a mix of races and genders that mostly fit broad stereotypes — “The Lair” grinds to a halt for a while as each new cast member gets an introduction. However, Marshall recovers well in the back half of the film, which contains many two-legged fight scenes and gory splatters laced with dark humor. “The Lair” doesn’t end as spectacularly as it begins; but that just means it’s a good genre film and not a great one.
‘The cave.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 37 minutes. Available on VOD; play theatrically, Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood
Despite its thick layer of social commentary, British thriller Hunted is ostensibly an old-fashioned “Most Dangerous Game” riff, not unlike dozens of survivalist chases released over the past 100 years. The film, also known as Hounded (a better title), follows a gang of thieves who are lured into a heist at a remote country estate, where the snooty Lady Redwick (Samantha Bond) and her family capture and hunt them down they lectured them about the moral decline of the working class. Compared to the controversial manhunt film The Hunt, “Hunted” is less inflammatory and less ambitious, and has nothing particularly revealing to say about the entitlement of the rich. But director Tommy Boulding and screenwriters Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Lines deliver a sleek, effective action film with plenty of gunshots, stabs, and clever traps. It is ideal for anyone who enjoys the sound of tortured screams in an idyllic English countryside setting.
‘Hunted.’ R, for violence and language. 1 hour 34 minutes. Available on VOD
Also on VOD
“barbarian” is one of the best horror films of the year: a thoroughly sly and funny thriller that’s best known as little as possible before watching. Written and directed by Zach Cregger, the film begins with the story of a business traveler (Georgina Campbell) who rents a seedy rental property in a seedy Detroit neighborhood; but the directions the plot takes from there are both impossible to predict and often extremely frightening. Available on VOD
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray
“The invitation” is a modern reinterpretation of ancient European vampire legends, in which Nathalie Emmanuel plays an ordinary American named Evie, who discovers she has a genetic connection to an aristocratic – and creepy – English family they want to meet. A journey of adventure and romance – including a passionate affair with a handsome lord (Thomas Doherty) – takes a dark turn when Evie discovers her hosts’ sinister plans. Sony
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-10-28/review-wendell-wild-henry-selik-and-jordan-peele-animation ‘Wendell & Wild’ review: Henry Selick and Jordan Peele team up