Wednesday, August 24, 2016

War Dogs, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, The People vs. Fritz Bauer, Morris from America, Imperium

War Dogs
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
The People vs. Fritz Bauer
Morris from America

Quick capsules on a mixed bag of movies in another relatively light August week:

An enthusiastic thumbs up for Todd Phillips' smart and funny "War Dogs," with a commanding Jonah Hill and a likable Miles Teller as childhood friends turned international gun runners. There's no substitute for subject matter knowledge, and the globetrotting "War Dogs" knows procurement inside and out, knows just how these two small-timers could come to bid on and win massive government contracts. Ana de Armas as Teller's girlfriend impresses in a part somewhat more developed than the usual love interest, while Bradley Cooper is miscast in a small but significant role as a scuzzy arms dealer… A close call on Werner Herzog's "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World," in which the German (now mostly) documentarian takes the same approach to the Internet as you might take to a brunch buffet: a segment on cell-tower radiation sickness here, a dollop of macaroni salad there, a bit on artificial intelligence here, a schmear of chopped chicken liver there. Just enough holds your interest to get past Herzog's self-parodying voice and outsize ego… Burghart Klaussner's big-as-life portrayal of the titular Attorney General is the best thing about Lars Kraume's German import "The People vs. Fritz Bauer." Bauer went to great lengths (even risking a possible charge of treason to work with Mossad) to find Adolf Eichmann in hiding in Argentina and bring him to trial, but Lucia Puenzo treated similar material (the search for Mengele) in a more compelling way in 2014's "The German Doctor." And a subplot involving Bauer's right-hand man (the obvious actor Ronald Zehrfeld) put me in mind of Joan Cusack's great line from "In & Out": "Is EVERYBODY gay?!"… What a delightful surprise is the sleeper "Morris from America," with the comedian Craig Robinson as a soccer coach who takes a remunerative position in Heidelberg and brings his 13-year-old son Morris (newcomer Markees Christmas) with him. We're with Morris as he takes German lessons with Inka (Carla Juri), develops a crush on hot-and-cold Katrin (Lina Keller), and practices his rap routine for the youth center talent show. The genial Robinson - whom I'll see later this month hosting the second installment of "The Black Movie Soundtrack" at the Hollywood Bowl - shows a hitherto hidden dramatic side and knocks his toughest scene out of the park. Christmas, Juri and Keller also shine. I didn't recognize the film as a work of director Chad Hartigan (2013's gem "This is Martin Bonner"), but I should have: extreme close-ups, penetrating silences, rich and deep insights. Seek out "Morris from America"… You know it's a bad sign when a movie with two name actors opens in L.A. at the cursed Fine Arts theater near La Cienega. Such is the case with the Daniel Radcliffe-Toni Collette howler "Imperium," about a rookie FBI agent (Radcliffe, in another vain attempt to exorcise Harry Potter) whose boss (Collette) assigns him to infiltrate the demimonde of violent white supremacists. When you go after fruit that low-hanging, you'd better come with a fresh take and a credible scenario. This one rings false from the outset, never more so than at a family picnic where the womenfolk bake cupcakes with swastika designs, the kid actors wait to deliver their lines one at a time, and one of them is named Timmy. (Not in 2016.) In every scene, you can almost see the crew just outside camera range. Not one moment feels authentic or unscripted. Radcliffe tries too hard and Collette just looks bored. I hope the check cashed.

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