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ANOTHER INDIE SLEEPER: CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH

I wasn’t sure what to make of a movie called Cha Cha Real Smooth, but when I learned that it won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival it earned my attention. Now I’m a proselytizer for the film and its talented writer-director-star Cooper Raiff. It’s well worth seeking out as it debuts Friday on Apple TV+. Raiff’s small-town protagonist isn’t easily described. At the age of 22 he’s still living at home with his mom (the wonderful Leslie Mann) and searching for his path in life. He’s a people-pleaser who has a facility for getting a party going and manages to turn that into a job. Then he meets a gangly, autistic teenage girl (Vanessa Burghardt) and reaches out to help her, mainly…

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‘JERRY AND MARGE GO LARGE’ MADE ME SMILE

Not every movie can be, or should be, the equivalent of Top Gun: Maverick. Jerry and Marge Go Large may not win awards or earn a fortune, but it made me smile—and I don’t take that for granted, especially nowadays. Bravo to Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening for believing in this can-do story and giving it their all. If you’ve read the “logline” you already know that the movie is based on a true story about a recent retiree who identifies a flaw in the Massachusetts State Lottery system. After striking it rich he decides to let the residents of his struggling Michigan town join in the monthly ritual, which involves driving hundreds of miles and printing out thousands of tickets. In the process, Jerry and Marge rediscover…

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I GO FOR YOGI: IT AIN’T OVER

As a baby boomer growing up in the New York City area I couldn’t help being a Yankees fan. I’ve never followed sports since then, but I got caught up in Yankee fever during the Mantle-Maris era. I collected their baseball cards and chewed a lot of bubble gum in the process. Elston Howard even moved into a white neighborhood in my home town of Teaneck, New Jersey. Now comes It Ain’t Over, an unabashed love letter to the great Yogi Berra. Yes, his name inspired the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Yogi Bear—leaving a permanent mark on our popular culture. He was lovable and quotable (“when you come to a fork in the road, take it”), and he endorsed the irresistible Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink, but he also…

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THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN: FOR OPTIMISTS ONLY

If you have a taste for offbeat British films (like The Duke) you’ll want to take note of The Phantom of the Open. The story is slim but sweet, and its leading actors capture the quirky sensibility of its unlikely protagonists. When those characters are played by actors as gifted (and likable) as Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins, you know you’re in good hands. The screenplay, by actor-writer Simon Farnaby (whose credits include Paddington and its sequel), is uniquely British, as is the real-life story that inspired it. Rylance plays a kind-hearted working-class bloke who, when his  factory job is threatened, decides to enter the British Open golf tournament in 1976, undeterred by the fact that he has never played the game before. Ever. He is blessed with an innate—and…

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JURASSIC WORLD: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

I am a wimp, especially when it comes to “jump scares.” They get me every time—even the false alarms and fake-outs. There are enough of them in Jurassic World: Dominion to fill several films, which is just one reason the movie wears out its welcome long before it’s finished.  The setup for the third in the Jurassic World spinoff series is more blatantly contrived than ever, which is a shame since director Colin Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly are no hacks. I was among the cheerleaders when their indie feature Safety Not Guaranteed came along. I appreciate that two lifelong fans have gotten to work on such mainstream fare as Jurassic World and Star Wars. But they have succumbed to laziness here, treading past familiarity into the realm of utter predictability. Yes,…

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TOP GUN MAVERICK: THE SKY’S THE LIMIT

Why would anyone in today’s desirable moviegoing demo want to see a sequel to a 1986 film—even one as popular as Top Gun? The question becomes academic, if not downright moot, after watching this superior film. It’s hard to picture another entry in the summer movie sweepstakes that can equal or exceed this one for pure, adrenalin-fueled entertainment. Tom Cruise proves he’s still got what it takes to command the screen, even when he’s playing a character who might have been cast with someone decades younger than himself. He retains the looks and swagger of a youthful leading man without actually stepping into (or out of) a time machine. His character’s backstory explains his presence in the elite U.S. Navy flight program. Since his reputation…

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EMERGENCY: A MUST-SEE SUMMER SLEEPER

I’ve been hesitant to write anything about Emergency because I wish everyone could see the film as I did, knowing absolutely nothing about it ahead of time. Given that it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival that may be tough to do… but believe me, the less you know about it the more you will enjoy and appreciate it. Amazon Prime has cut an excellent trailer that manages to tease the film without completely tipping its hand—no small feat considering that it starts out as one kind of movie and winds up being something else entirely. A cast of mostly unknowns responds perfectly to K.D. Dávila’s savvy screenplay and Cary Williams’s…

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