⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for drug material, language, some sexual references and nude sketches.
Theater: Edina, Burnsville.
This slow-boil comedy by writer/director Shana Feste exists in a special genre, the mature kind that deals more with socially awkward situations and the differing dysfunctional chemistries of its characters than slapstick or broad gags. If you’ve seen “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Ghost World,” “Nebraska” or “The Royal Tenenbaums,” that’s the complicated family relationship vibe her film is aiming for. It’s not consistently funny. Feste isn’t shooting for easy laughs, or even prolonged ones. She wants nervous giggles to come with a muttered “there but for the grace of God go I.” But even in its melancholy passages it’s funny-adjacent, close enough that I didn’t feel cheated.
It also has a remarkable ensemble cast. Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Fonda and Kristen Schaal, along with exquisite 15-year-old Scottish actor Lewis MacDougall, do justice to their roles. The focus is a multigenerational road movie with Farmiga, a self-dramatizing single mom, dragging her sulky son (MacDougall) on a long-distance errand. Her incorrigible father (Plummer), a black market cannabis dealer, was just ejected from his Seattle retirement home. With $200,000 worth of pot to dispose of, he asks his estranged daughter to pilot his old Rolls-Royce down the West Coast, carrying his stash to clients on a farewell tour. If she will work as his roadie, he’ll finance his grandson’s education.
Though he treated her shabbily long ago and they haven’t spoken in years, she accepts, partly to relocate him with her less-alienated sister (Schaal) and partly to teach her son, whom she has raised alone, some cautionary family history before his grandfather passes.
Of course, the old con man, an acidic wise guy, drives her mad along the way and gives her son, a neurotic introvert, the willies. There are inquisitive police to mislead and old intimates to contend with along the way. But boundaries of blame are inevitably passed and unlikely blood bonds emerge along the touchingly bumpy ride.
Farmiga’s isolated, depressive character spends most of her emotional energy aiding shelter dogs, and Feste’s quirky, funny-sad evaluation of family pain makes it clear that we’re all strays at one level or another. The family is, on the whole, weird, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many viewers can relate to it in a very personal way.
Farmiga balances her gift for evoking sympathy and knack for underplaying jokes to good results; she constructs some standout scenes largely by not trying too hard. Plummer is operating in peak form, delivering every wisecrack without overshadowing the twinge of pain that accompanies it. Within each sadness, the film finds the joke.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG for animated action scenes, rude humor.
While the third time is not quite the charm as the first two animated comedies in this series, it still offers enough laughs to keep kids — plus their mommies and daddies — entertained.
While on vacation, Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) falls in love. The problem is that it’s with Ericka Van Helsing (Kathryn Hahn), the last in the long line of Van Helsings who have made it their life’s work to kill Dracula. As with the first films, the cast is a Who’s Who of both voice talent and monsters, including Frankenstein (Kevin James), the Invisible Man (David Spade) and the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi).
Writer/director Genndy Tartakovsky understands how to handle anything from slapstick comedy to action sequences. The best examples of both can be seen in the sequences dealing with the werewolf couple (Buscemi and Molly Shannon). The parents of a continuously growing pack is a sight gag that always works, plus it features the most energy of any of the monstrous characters.
The movie is a visual splendor, from the fun way the creatures are portrayed to the pacing. Keeping Tartakovsky as director of all three films creates a fluid sense of comedy and look.
Rick bentley, Tribune News Service
Three Identical Strangers
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material.
You can’t make up stuff like this. Sometimes life unfolds puzzle box stories that initially seem mundane, then appear unconventional, and finally leave us amazed. That kind of unlikely drama shapes this documentary on its remarkable path from cheerful personal nostalgia to tragedy.
It begins as a portrait of triplets, brothers adopted into three Jewish families across New York and delighted when good luck reunited them at age 19. Curly haired, broad-shouldered Robert Shafran couldn’t understand why on his first day at his nearby community college, everyone welcomed him back as Eddy. Then he met his mirror image, Eddy Galland, who attended the same school the year before. When their story reached the news media, it stunned David Kellman, a carbon copy of the others who was born on the same day. He quickly entered the picture, each relating to the others as if they had spent their lifetimes together.
National fame followed in the early 1980s. The inseparable look-alikes parlayed their celebrity into a popular New York restaurant called Triplets, and each married a delightful woman. Then complications arose. What began as a feel-good story became anything but.
The brothers have delightful presences in front of the camera, but as director Tim Wardle unpacks the story, it gradually develops the tone of a mystery thriller while it examines disturbing questions about ethical standards, child separation and secretive research experiments treating humans like lab rats. Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author Lawrence Wright, who deeply researched issues of nature and nurture in his 1997 book “Twins,” helps unravel the secrets of what happened to the triplets, how and why.
Blending excellent reporting and strong storytelling, this is a disturbing film truly stranger than fiction.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for profanity, disturbing images and brief drug use.
In this documentary, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki holds up Elvis Presley as a prism through which he attempts to refract issues of racial, economic and class polarization, connecting seemingly unrelated dots to make a larger point. Those discussions — many of which take place on a cross-country road trip in a gray 1963 Rolls-Royce once owned by Presley — take place between Jarecki and such disparate celebrities as Alec Baldwin, James Carville, Emmylou Harris, Ashton Kutcher, Chuck D, Mike Myers and Ethan Hawke (who also gets a producing credit).
It is, in short, very much a mixed bag.
Presley is put forth as everything from a manifestation of tragic hubris and trapped celebrity to a walking, talking, hip-shaking embodiment of a uniquely American fantasy of power, sex and cross-cultural alchemy. That’s a lot to pour into the vessel of one skinny white kid from Mississippi, who harnessed the idioms of black soul music and rural bluegrass to become an icon of — well, what exactly? While “The King” never answers that question as neatly as some might like, it asks (and re-asks) it in ways that are never less than fascinating.
Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post