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Cinematic Spillover: Short reviews of Unhinged, The One and Only Ivan, Tesla and more 

click to enlarge SOLSTICE STUDIOS, DISNEY STUDIOS AND IFC FILMS
  • Solstice Studios, Disney Studios and IFC Films

Last Friday, more movie theaters across the country started reopening, even though COVID-19 is still running rampant in many states. If you decide to take in a movie at the theater anytime soon, please wear a mask and practice social distancing. On that note, here are a few capsule reviews of movies that hit theaters, streaming services and VOD platforms last week.

Chemical Hearts

Writer and director Richard Tanne, who made his wonderfully heartfelt directorial debut in 2016 with his young Barack and Michelle Obama love story Southside With You, gets a bit too melodramatic with his sophomore film Chemical Hearts. Adapted from the 2016 book Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland, the complicated teenage romance seems like perfect fodder for the YA crowd looking for the next tale of unrequited love to put their hearts on edge, but the film's R-rating would disagree. Despite not really knowing its base audience, Tanne effectively sets up an impassioned narrative about Henry (Austin Abrams), a love-struck young newspaper editor, who falls hard for Grace (Lili Reinhart), the new girl at school carrying some hefty emotional baggage. The personal tragedy Grace is dealing with, which is the reason she cannot give herself completely to Henry, slowly reveals itself throughout the film and becomes the most interesting and realistic part of the movie. But Tanne also spreads the metaphors on thick. For example, Henry, who practices the Japanese art form of Kintsugi, where the artist repairs broken pottery, wants to help Grace with her problems and “fix” her, too. At this point, audiences might be disappointed that Coldplay’s “Fix You” is not included in the soundtrack. If anything, Chemical Hearts will remind those viewers, who didn’t end up marrying their high school sweetheart, how painful young love can be. A portion of this capsule review originally ran at News4SA. Chemical Hearts is currently available on Amazon Prime. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)

The One and Only Ivan

Life as a silverback gorilla is not as easy as it seems, this according to the title simian character (Sam Rockwell) in The One and Only Ivan, a sweet albeit unoriginal rehash of better movies that have come before. The film follows a group of talking circus animals, which includes sporty chicken Henrietta (Chaka Khan); neurotic seal Frankie (Mike White); silly rabbit Murphy (Ron Funches); classy poodle Snickers (Helen Mirren); and soft-spoken elephant matriarch Stella (Angelina Jolie). All the animals are under the supervision of Mack (Bryan Cranston), a goodhearted but stressed-out circus ringleader who is worried he’ll have to shut down his big top if attendance keeps dwindling. To attract more paying customers, Mack purchases a new “game changer” – a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) who takes over Ivan’s role as the circus’ headlining act. After tragedy strikes the circus (classic Disney move, amirite?), Ivan promises to help Ruby escape her cage to live a free life in the wild. Recently, PETA honored the film for its message on animal rights, but The One and Only Ivan delivers nothing that hasn’t been seen in countless family-friendly movies about animals searching for freedom – from Fly Away Home to Dumbo. The One and Only Ivan will likely be enough for less discriminating children, but if the older kiddos really want to see a great ape escape, seek out 1987’s Project X instead. The One and Only Ivan is currently available on Disney+. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)

Tesla

As visionary of an inventor as Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his biopic written and directed by Michael Almereyda (Marjorie Prime) is far from the inspired work one might imagine a film to be on the groundbreaking electrical engineer. Sadly, Almereyda, who wrote and directed an engaging biopic on psychologist Stanley Milgram in his 2016 film Experimenter, isn’t able to recreate the same jolts of energy that Milgram delivered to his patients via electric shocks during his controversial social experiments. Instead, Tesla feels like a film adapted from a Wikipedia page. All the greatest hits are there, but it’s all very static and dull. Even when Almereyda attempts to get a bit unconventional as a storyteller, the components he injects into the screenplay feel more like distractions than clever ways to add to the narrative. For example, actress Eve Hewson (Enough Said), who narrates the film as Tesla’s love interest Anne Morgan, daughter of financier J.P. Morgan, breaks the fourth wall to give a minor and anachronistic detail about how popular Thomas Edison is compared to Tesla when Googling their names. There is also a scene where Tesla and Edison confront each other over their work, which is followed by Morgan revealing that the scene was made up. Let’s also not forget the awkward rendition of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” that Hawke sings as if he’s had a little too much moonshine at the karaoke saloon. Hawke is solid in the role, but even a two-time-Oscar-nominated actor can’t pull that one off. Tesla is currently playing at the Santikos Embassy Theatre and is also available on VOD. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)

Unhinged

The world is a terrible place, or so it seems in the new Russell Crowe vehicle Unhinged, an ultra-violent thriller that pretends to have a lot to say about America’s dangerous decline in civility. Unfortunately — or fortunately if “cool kills” are all you’re looking for — any sort of significant meaning you might’ve presume to be embedded into this kind of aggressive narrative just isn’t there. Director Derrick Borte (American Dreamer) and screenwriter Carl Ellsworth (Disturbia) will have you believe that’s where they’re headed. During the film’s opening credits sequence, audiences get a glimpse of how everything from overpopulation to social media could lead to the loss of self-control and the rise in violence among citizens. It’s all smoke and mirrors when Unhinged kicks into high gear and never removes its fat foot from the pedal. In the film, Academy Award winner Crowe (Gladiator) stars as a deranged driver who decides to terrorize a woman (Caren Pistorius) on the road when she honks at him at an intersection for not reacting to a green light. The minor altercation quickly spirals into a hostile pursuit around the city. Crowe’s maniacal character is more entertaining that it has any right to be, mostly because his commitment to the role is evident and he avoids hamming it up for the cameras. Still, what’s the point? Unhinged is so shallow and amped up on testosterone, Borte and Ellsworth might as well have written Expendables star Jason Statham into the script as Crowe’s wise-cracking sidekick. Or, hell, while we’re at it, the gas-guzzling truck Crowe is driving around should’ve featured a silicone scrotum hanging from its hitch and a MAGA sticker on its bumper. At least then it wouldn’t be lying to itself about the kind of surface-level substance it’s trying to peddle. A portion of this capsule review originally ran at Texas Public Radio. Unhinged is currently available at local theaters and on VOD platforms. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)

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