By Lynn Venhaus

War criminal or war hero? Man of mystery artist and art dealer Han van Meegeren became a man of infamy after World War II. But his true story has been mostly forgotten until “The Last Vermeer,” which recounts this notorious case in a melodramatic and twisty narrative.

The time is 1945 and the place is Holland. The found painting is “Christ and the Adulteress” by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer of the 17th century baroque period.

van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) is suspected of selling stolen Dutch art treasures to Hermann Goering and other upper echelon Nazis during World War II. Now that the war is over, Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a Dutch Jew, becomes an investigator assigned to identify and redistribute the paintings. Van Meegeren is accused of collaboration, which is a crime punishable by death. Piller and his assistant (Vicky Krieps) are convinced he’s innocent – despite mounting evidence – and will fight to save his life.

The procedural screenplay, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, is based on an adaptation of Jonathan Lopez’s, “The Man Who Made Vermeers,” and gets considerable mileage from Guy Pearce as the flamboyant van Meegeren.

The role gives theb Australian actor plenty of scenery to chew, for the art dealer was a smooth operator. After the Germans occupied the Netherlands, he threw lavish parties and showed no signs of a moral compass.

Pearce, who disappears into every role he’s in, from “L.A. Confidential” and “Memento” to “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Iron Man 3,” digs in and is quite saucy about the secrets he’s hiding.  

All that hedonism rubs stoic soldier Joseph Piller the wrong way, although he’s not above resorting to shenanigans to keep the government stooges out of his way. As colorful as van Meegeren is, Piller is lacking in flavor. Bang, so good in “The Square” and “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” both movies dealing with art, is rather dull and stiff here.

The women characters are underserved and the supporting cast plays standard characters all in service to the story, which leads us to a climactic court scene full of fireworks. Van Meegeren’s argument is that he defrauded the Nazis, no collaboration.

The movie’s a tad clumsy under the first-time direction by Dan Friedkin but redeems itself in the final third.

With “The Last Vermeer,” there seems to be an endless stream of World War II characters whose story is enough to build a film around, like “Resistance” earlier this year.

The film’s courtroom drama outshines its thriller elements. It serves a purpose as both a history lesson and an art tutorial.

“The Last Vermeer” is a drama, directed by Dan Friedkin and stars Guy Pearce, Claes Bang and Vicky Krieps.
Rated R for some language, violence and nudity, the run-time is 1 hr. 58 minutes. Lynn’s Grade:: B-. The film opened in theatres on Nov. 20,

By Lynn Venhaus

As genre mashups go, successfully blending horror and comedy is a tricky task, but “Freaky” turns out to be a real treat. It’s a twisted take on the body swap movie by having a teenage girl switch bodies with a serial killer.

It should come as no surprise to fans of director Christopher Landon, who has hit it before with the time-loop “Happy Death Day” and its sequel, “Happy Death Day 2 U,” two clever and inspired funny thrillers.

This time, he and screenwriter Michael Kennedy smartly mix the teen-adult body swap tropes of “Freaky Friday” with the slasher scares of “Friday the 13th,” and infuse it with homages to the classics.

Seventeen-year-old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) tries to be invisible at Blissfield High but then she is attacked on the football field – Go Beavers! – by the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), the town’s urban legend-serial killer. He used an ancient mystical dagger, “La Doma,” they trade places and have 24 hours to reverse the curse or she lives inside the middle-age maniac forever.

Starting off with two teenage couples partying while one’s parents are away, they set up the urban legend of The Blissfield Butcher, who wreaked havoc Homecoming Night 20 years ago.

You know where it’s going – especially when the dad collects creepy artifacts – but the doomed kids’ demises are particularly gruesome. Be warned, this movie doesn’t cut away from the grisly carnage – and those bloodbaths are responsible for the R rating.

One artifact is a mystical Aztec dagger that The Butcher steals. Little does he know its use will start the harrowing reign of terror at the high school – and of course, the rogue Homecoming Dance.

Cleverly staged with genuine suspense, then expertly edited by Ben Baudhuin, “Freaky” wouldn’t be as effective without this pitch-perfect cast. Their full commitment to appear as terrified in this living hell is matched by the fun they’re having checking off the horror movie boxes.

The story hinges on Vince Vaughn’s hulking shadowy character, not unlike Michael Myers from “Halloween” or Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th.”

Vaughn goes for broke here, gleefully conveying an angsty teenage girl who reveals her crush and must convince Millie’s two besties, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) — who has the bulk of zippy quips – that she is inside the deranged killer. He’s having a blast and demonstrates what a deft comic actor he is.

Swapping with the smaller in stature Kathryn Newton makes the physicality fun to pull off. Newton’s take on the killing machine is harder to achieve, with that “Terminator 2”-like glint in her eye, but the kids at school think she’s transformed herself into an empowered ‘bad girl’(because, of course, she’s wearing a red leather jacket instead of thrift shop frocks).

Only in Hollywood scripts would Newton, as the ‘before’ Millie, be referred to as ordinary and boring. Millie has a lot to deal with – her dad died a year ago, her grief-stricken mom Coral (Katie Finneran) falls asleep by drinking a bottle of chardonnay, she’s bullied by mean girls and the shop teacher (Alan Ruck) — and she’s trying to get Booker (Uriah Shelton) to notice her.

The story’s entertaining aspects help overlook some of the plot’s implausible elements — like where has this psychopath been all these years? And why exactly is she bullied, just for a standard subplot?

The usual horror genre trappings are all here, and that’s part of the fun. Bear McCreary’s score enhances both the humor and the thrills, and the jump scares are executed well.

When “Freaky” is light-hearted, it really is delightful, and when it’s graphic with the murders, I had to look away. Yes, I’m a wuss when it comes to frightening films but Landon’s worth watching – a born entertainer.

But this is a good way to spend a Friday the 13th or a day where you need to escape the realities of 2020. Producer Jason Blumhouse has added another gem in his horror film universe.

“Freaky” is a comedy-horror film directed by Christopher Landon, with screenplay by Michael Kennedy, and starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Alan Ruck, Katie Finneran, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton and Dana Drori. Rated: R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, and language throughout, it’s run-time is 1 hr. 42 min. Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus
Ray Charles “America the Beautiful.” (See below). A reminder that we are all Americans. We’re better together. Right now, we have two Americas, each their own tribe with their own set of facts and their own vision for the future.

I am hopeful. I see people fighting so hard to save democracy. We want to be heard. Right matters. Nearly 100 million people have voted already!We are more engaged after these past four years. We know what the Hatch Act is, 25th Amendment, Emoluments Clause and have a long list of alarming facts and figures that will indeed be part of history when all is said and done.

After the ballots are counted, it would be great to unify, heal and work in bipartisan ways on our problems as this pandemic rages.But we are closer to another civil war than ever before. Terrifying. I pray that what we brace ourselves for will not materialize Tuesday night or days after.

This is the first time in my lifetime where a president may not accept the results of an election, and is ready to have lawyers swoop in, his demonizing rhetoric has made us all anxious. GOP has had a number of cases on voter suppression not go their way — including three on Monday. Marketing intimidation and suppression. Why?

If you, like me, vote on Election Day — do not be intimidated. This is your right. If something is not right with your registration at the polls, then ask for a PROVISIONAL BALLOT. That way, you can still vote for president if not the state and local races.IF you encounter any shenanigans, call 866-687-8683 (OUR VOTE).And if you need help getting to the polls, there are people to help. Reach out. Ride services like Uber are ready to go.

And if you aren’t planning to vote, think it doesn’t matter, how can we convince you it matters? This is your voice.

All over America, election officials have been working hard to insure the integrity of the process and will not tolerate any illegal activity. They’ve been envisioning all sorts of scenarios because of the past few months as the president’s repeated efforts to cast doubts on the election process. Before, the system has gone pretty smooth for hundreds of years — OK, it didn’t in 2000 and the hanging chads in Florida.Have faith in the process and the American people.

We were founded on “We the People” — never forget that. Let’s end this division and get to work on making this country better because we sure need to unite in the face of this unprecedented health crisis.

And end the electoral college and return to three separate branches of government for checks and balances, and…it’s a long list.

But we’re eager to have a good night’s sleep again. Rest up, roll up our sleeves, and restore the soul of our great nation.

By Lynn Venhaus
For centuries, we have been used to family dysfunction propelling comedies and dramas. Along comes the strange “Kajillionaire” with its unconventional story and bizarre characters, giving us a refreshing dip into a surreal world.

It won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it is easy to see why — this daffiness allows a different look at the family unit.

A tale about career grifters shines brightest because of the caliber of actors. The minute I heard Debra Winger’s voice as the Mom, I was so happy to see her back on screen – and she doesn’t disappoint. The term Mom is used loosely for there is not a maternal bone in her body.

And that’s all the more heart-wrenching to see Evan Rachel Wood as this socially awkward 26-year-old who is basically her parents’ prop, the dutiful daughter who has never enjoyed the good parts of growing up.
Wood is an elegant beauty who has been acting since she was a kid and is best known for her Emmy-nominated role as Dolores in “Westworld.” As Old Dolio, she is a revelation, all sharp angles, dowdy clothes and deadpan voice. She creates some depth as an innocent in emotional development, enough to tug on your heartstrings.

Richard Jenkins is smooth as a con artist and Gina Rodriguez is bubbly as a game girl who has seen too much TV. She’s in way over her head – or is she? 

Gina Rodriguez and Evan Rachel Wood

As one of the year’s best ensembles, they make this unpredictable and idiosyncratic journey palatable, even at its wackiest. 

Writer-director Miranda July has been an independent voice for some time, and her view on life is unusual and funny. But ultimately she connects us, with lonely characters showing their vulnerability and breaking through emotionally. 

Recently, a few films have been released with multiple layers that require mental acuity and stamina to make it through a labyrinth (“Tenet,” “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”). This might be a head-scratcher for some, but I embraced its unexpected daffiness.

I’ll take original any day over safe and same old thing. 

“Kajillionaire” is a comedy written and directed by Miranda July starring Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins, Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez. Run-time is 1 hr 46 min. and it’s rated R for for some sexual references/language . Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus

America, we have a problem. It should be a given – one voice, one vote – but it’s not, as this film illustrates. Timely and powerful, “All In: The Fight for Democracy” should be required viewing for all citizens. When our country began, only 6% of the public could vote, and that included the rich, white landowners – not women or minorities. Voter suppression only isn’t in our nation’s history – it’s in our present. Cut to modern day politics, where it is a very real threat to democracy.

This documentary examines voter suppression in both the past and present U.S. and gives us an insider’s look into laws and barriers to voting. There are real threats to the basic rights of U.S. citizens to vote, and with a Presidential Election looming, the film highlights what needs to be done so everyone has their voice heard.

Impassioned filmmakers Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus interweave personal experiences with current activism and historical insight. Garbus was Oscar-nominated for two documentaries, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (for which she won an Emmy) and “The Farm: Angola, USA.” She directed two episodes and produced the HBO mini-series “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” Cortes won an Emmy last year for the documentary “The Apollo.”

Stacey Abrams

Front and center is Stacey Abrams, the former Minority Leader of the George House of Representatives, whose loss in the gubernatorial race is still suspect. Abrams was the first black woman to become a major party’s nominee in the U.S.

After losing in an unfair fight to the Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Abrams has turned her focus on exposing corruption and creating awareness. She is the founder of Fair Fight Action, a national organization battling voter suppression. She encourages you to get involved and make sure elections are fair.

Most importantly, the film shows how people can fight for the right to vote and lets you know about the tools needed to protect this right.

Janelle Monae has written a song for the film called “Turntables.” Here is the link to the music video:

The film is a call to action – it will make you want to do something. And that’s a good thing. We should all take part in our democracy, because as we have learned – it is precious.

The film is also part of an ambitious and visionary action plan to reach voters and educate them across this nation that Amazon is supporting, and so are the filmmakers.

#ALLINFORVOTING is a social impact campaign with community-based organizations, non-profits, corporations, artists, activists and influencers. It is being launched ahead of National Voter Registration Day – Sept. 22 – and in coordination with the film release.

The non-partisan campaign will develop a groundswell of digital content to combat misinformation about the voting process, and launch targeted campaign programming to educate and register first-time voters, mobilize communities to have their voices and values counted in the November election (and beyond), and train citizens to know how to recognize and report voter suppression.

There will be on online digital action hub featuring resources and tools for visitors to register to vote, check registration status, get election reminders, find their polling place, access state by state election information, see what’s on my ballot, request an absentee ballot and learn how to recognize and report voter suppression.

The documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy” is directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes. Rated: PG-13 for some disturbing violent images, thematic material and strong language – all involving racism, the run time is 1 hour, 42 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A
In Theatres Sept. 9 and streaming on Amazon Prime Sept. 18

By Lynn Venhaus
A sweeping, sprawling epic adventure brimming with elegance and emotion, “Mulan” triumphs as one of Disney’s best makeovers.

The vibrant live action remake features gorgeous panoramic views, stunning symmetry, a bold palette and strong, colorful characters to advance the action.

The epic tale of China’s legendary warrior is brought to life in this live action re-imagining of the 1998 animated film. A fearless young woman, Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu) risks everything out of love for her family and country when the Emperor of China (Jet Li) issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from northern invaders. As the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, Mulan steps in to take the place of her ailing father, and masquerades as a man. When she harnesses her inner strength and reveals her true potential, she becomes an honored warrior and saves the dynasty.

Yifei Liu

A star is born in Yifei Liu, who commands the screen in much the same way as Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman in recent DC movies, You can’t take your eyes off of Liu, who depicts how brave and strong Mulan is. She also did 90 percent of the stunts, and showcases remarkable martial arts skills.

Much of the original has been scrapped to start over with a culturally appropriate story that involves more realism in characters – and a cast of Asian actors. Gone is Mushu, the dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, and others that aren’t necessary here.

This 2020 version is not a musical like the 1998 animated film was. However, the musical’s original song “Reflection” is used over the credits here, first sung by Christina Aguilera in English and then sung by lead Yifei Liu in Mandarin.

Suggested by the poem, “The Legend of Mulan,” this bracing spectacle is laser-focused on the talented warrior who happens to be a girl, born at a time when only men were in combat. Tomboy Mulan is expected to get married to bring honor to her family, but instead Hua Mulan takes the place of her ailing father in the Imperial Army who must fend off the Rourans’ attempts to take over. She must disguise herself but her martial arts abilities are too strong to hide, and eventually, she shows what a powerful and swift fighting machine she is. In other words, she has great ‘chi’ energy.

Nevertheless, she is conflicted about her lie, as honesty is part of the warrior’s code. She wrestles with the consequences of her actions, but truth wins out.

The screenplay is by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who are married and responsible for the three rebooted “Planet of the Apes” films as well as “Jurassic World,” along with Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin. They cut to the chase, conveying culture and conflict specific to the story.

The ensemble is strong, with good work by Tzi Ma as Mulan’s father Hua Zhou, Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, Yosan An as Mulan’s soldier friend Honghui, Jet Li as the emperor, Jason Scott Lee as Bori Khan and Gong Li as the witch Xianglang.

Director Niki Caro, who helmed “Whale Rider” in her native New Zealand, and in recent years “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “McFarland, USA,” captures the grandeur and excels at the battle scenes, but maintains an intimacy that makes us care about Mulan’s plight.

The cinematography by Mandy Walker is stunning – and hopefully we can see this on the big screen someday.

While the intense action has merited the first PG-13 for a Disney live-action remake, older children can appreciate the devotion to family theme as well as not accepting limits to what you can do in life. Its focus on empowerment and inclusion is also timely and important.

“Mulan” is an action-adventure directed by Niki Caro and starring Yifei Liu, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma, Donnie Yen, Yosan An, Jet Li, Gong Li. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, the run time is: 1 hour, 55 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A-. Disney Plus is releasing it Sept. 4 for a fee of $29.99. In December, subscribers to the streaming channel will not be charged an additional fee.

By Lynn Venhaus
For all his technical brilliance, Christopher Nolan’s ambition and vision sometimes impede his screenplays from making sense. And despite its dazzling action scenes, “Tenet” can’t overcome an unwieldy time-travel plot to make us care – about the future, present or past on screen.

The dangerous time-bending mission is to prevent the start of World War III.

Basically, this jumbo-sized James Bond-type thriller, complete with fabulous gadgets and zippy globe-trotting, is complicated, trying to employ algorithms and explain inversion in its race to thwart doomsday. The layers are murky, the dialogue isn’t always convincing and the complexities lead to overthinking. By midway, it’s a lot to keep straight.

As a director, Nolan’s bombast and daring are unmatched today. And for every letdown like “Interstellar,” there is a masterpiece like “The Dark Knight.” That’s why I look forward to his films, and this one drew me into a theater for the first time since mid-March.

Its stunning set pieces – especially an airport scene and a highway car chase that features speeding cars going backwards, are quite something, and make it a blockbuster worthy of the big screen (and IMAX if you want the upgrade).

As a writer, Nolan’s obsession with puzzles, obviously one of his signatures, and his ability to frame a shot with the fanaticism of a Kubrick, is admirable, but he is often too cold and clinical. With little backstory, we aren’t sympathetic to the principal characters or drawn into their world, with the exception of Elizabeth Debicki, a strikingly beautiful and tall actress playing the Hitchcock blonde, art dealer Kat. She married a vicious oligarch and arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who is keeping her estranged from her young son. And he has plutonium. And tons of money.

Branagh chews the scenery in a cartoonish role, and his thick Russian accent doesn’t help in deciphering his threats, as he attempts to be menacing with a steady monotone.

The Protagonist, John David Washington, seems miscast. As good as he was in “BlacKkKlansman,” he appears ill-at-ease here, and it’s not just in the fancy suits to convince others he has wealth. On the other hand, Robert Pattinson is fine as his handler, the mysterious Neil. We don’t know much about him by design, but he and Washington make a good pair.

Clues are dispensed in a frustrating fashion. Oh, there are many big ideas, paradoxes, secrets — and plenty of head-scratching, but by the third act, interest fades. At 150 minutes, it is not exactly taut, although the action is fluid. When military guys in shields show up in droves, and the visors make them unrecognizable, that is a problem.

Nolan is very serious here – maybe too serious. He is good at harrowing — it just always seems we are kept at a distance. Think of this as “Inception” times 10.

“People saw the world for what might have been,” one character says at the end. This did not help me in understanding.

I don’t go to movies to do math. And you shouldn’t have to see a movie again to figure it out, although I’m not sure a second viewing would help anyway, because the story is too convoluted, not to mention flat dialogue and sound-mixing issues.

The movie is very loud – but Ludwig Goransson’s musical score effectively ratchets up danger and suspense with its ominous tone. Goransson won an Oscar for the “Black Panther” score.

The Nolan production team is stellar – magnificent cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema and smart, crisp editing from Jennifer Lame are among its virtues.

For all its pomp, “Tenet” was a victim of circumstance with its release delayed by the coronavirus global pandemic. It has pulled us back in to theaters, but its lack of connection makes the flaws stand out more than the spectacle.

“Tenet” is an action, suspense film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debecki, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine and Hamish Patel. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language. Run-time is 150 minutes. Released on Sept. 3 in movie theaters and IMAX.
Lynn’s Grade: C+
A version of this review was published in the Webster-Kirkwood Times.

By Lynn Venhaus
A playwright and theater director, Leoni staged “The Playground,” which was about unhoused youth. He talked to two homeless girls, who eventually wound up dead. As he learned more about the at-risk youngsters and their risky behavior, he wanted to help, and thought filming a 2-minute public service announcement would raise awareness. What happened instead changed his life.

By getting close to a group of street kids in Hollywood and Venice, Leoni earned their trust and heard their stories, which he filmed and has included in his stark and intense feature documentary, “American Street Kid.”

The numbers are overwhelming: 1.8 million kids are homeless; 5,000 die a year, which is 13 a day.

Leoni used guerrilla-style filmmaking, hand-held cameras, recordings of many phone calls and split screen editing for the 1-hour, 44-minute film. He also became part of the story, impacting lives and creating a transformational program.

There is little surprise as he captured their daily struggle of finding food, trying to get money, seeking a safe place to sleep. They are scared. They are crime victims. They prostitute themselves for survival.

Leoni quickly became involved as a caring friend, trying to help but realizing that he couldn’t fix all these broken lives. His frustration with the system becomes another aspect of the film.

He focuses on a few who have created a family on the streets, and these portraits are haunting and riveting, as we see the psychological damage of lost childhoods and unloved, neglected, troubled young adults who can’t seem to break the cycle. Some are addicts, some dream of better lives but do not have the mental and emotional tools to succeed. They can’t get past their pasts.

The tales of woe are gut-wrenching – beatings, sexual assaults, drug-addicted parents, stepdads who don’t want them around, their own issues with substance abuse – drugs are everywhere on the streets, and a way to numb their pain.

Their multiple problems can’t get the attention from the under-staffed and under-financed social services and non-profit groups. The shelters and the rescue missions are full.

Ryan, whose father thought he was worthless, has just wanted a home and family. His girlfriend Nessa is pregnant, but she was also diagnosed with HIV. He uses meth. Ishmael, an aspiring musician, said he is the son of a pimp and a prostitute who abandoned him. Nick left home at 15. A girl said she didn’t know what rape was but went into the school nurse bleeding. She was immediately taken away to foster care..

The film is rough to watch. Hopelessness pervades the film, even though Leoni tries – he is their confidante, their advisor. He tries to find places for them. He counsels them to go into rehab. He looks for programs that can better their lives. He never gives up on them.

Stacia Fiore, an outreach counselor, warns Leoni about getting too close. But she is impressed with his advocacy and is a sounding board.

There are glimmers of hope and a few success stories, which drives the film.

However, the biggest success came after the movie – for Marquesha Babers, known as “Kiki.” She was 15 when the filmmakers first met her. Her poetry has gone on to inspire women around the world. She has performed “That Girl” in London and for such luminaries as Angelina Jolie, Hillary Clinton and Freida Pinto. The poem is included on a collaboration album, “6 Feat,” a collection of poems turned into songs with social justice as the theme.

The film, several years in the making and completed in 2018, is produced by Kandoo Films, a Los Angeles-based production company run by Howard Barish, who produced “13th” and “Middle of Nowhere.”

Inspired by figuring out it’s the transformation, not just transition, that is needed, Leoni founded the organization Spare Some Change. He created and launched a media campaign/artistic mentoring program that exposes street youth to the arts and motivates them to create change in their lives.

The movie has a lot to carry on its shoulders but its heart is definitely in the right place.

“American Street Kid” is a documentary written and directed by Michael Leoni. It’s not rated, but there is pervasive drug use and language throughout. The runtime is 1 hour, 44 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B. The movie is available video on demand through digital and cable platforms as of Aug. 21.

By Lynn Venhaus

With its gorgeous setting, “Made in Italy” delivers on the breathtaking vistas. And there is an extra poignancy of the Neesons’ real tragedy played out in the mens’ emotional scenes.

The film, written and directed by actor James D’Arcy with loss in mind, is about an estranged father and son (real-life father and son Liam Neeson and Micheal Richardson) who travel from London to Italy to sell a Tuscan villa. Bohemian artist Robert Foster (Neeson) inherited this house from his late wife, and it has fallen into disrepair the last 15 years.

We have rooted for the father and son duo of Liam Neeson and Micheal Richardson in real life ever since the tragic death of wife and mother Natasha Richardson in 2009 during a skiing trip – Micheal was 13 and his younger brother Daniel 12. The men are playing guys who don’t get along, who have deep resentments, painful memories and are stuck in heartache.

We can identify with the turmoil. And as likeable as they are as people, the story is a routine family drama that is as predictable as a pasta dish at the local restaurant. Therefore, the pleasure is seeing Micheal — he took his late mother’s maiden name as his stage name — working alongside his father.

Not that the characters don’t have their charms. Neeson plays a still-grieving man who is stuck in regret and can’t start again, after a tragic accident took his wife. His life has no direction.

Jack is troubled but driven. He wants to keep the art gallery he managed for his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s family, but they want to sell it. Hence, the quick rehab job in Tuscany. However, being back at the place of both happy and sad childhood memories affects him.

The renovation do not go well. They are not equipped to handle the work but they persevere and take steps to mend their relationship. Along the way, there are bumps in the road, and they meet some colorful characters along the way. Lindsay Duncan plays a no-nonsense realtor named Kate, who becomes their ally, after initial trepidation.

While they are fixing up the place, Jack meets a local chef, Natalia (Valeria Bilello), who makes a killer risotto, and they are attracted to each other.

Composer Alex Belcher balances both the natural beauty with the family drama, and cinematographer Mike Eley captures the lush green hills in an appealing way.

The themes of family and home are stressed in D’Arcy’s debut. It’s just missing freshness and sincerity.

“Made in Italy” is a drama directed by James D’Arcy and stars Liam Neeson, Micheal Richardson, Valeria Bilello and Lindsay Duncan. It is rated R for language and run-time is 1 hr. 34 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B.
A version of this review ran in the Webster-Kirkwood Times.

Golden Anniversaries, which is co-presented by Cinema St. Louis (CSL) and the St. Louis Public Library, features classic films celebrating their 50th anniversaries. This third edition of the event will highlight 14 films from 1970, including two double bills.

Because in-person screenings remain problematic during the pandemic, Cinema St. Louis will hold free online conversations on the films, with people watching the films on their own but gathering virtually to discuss them.

Film critics, film academics, and filmmakers will offer introductory remarks and then participate in discussions about the films. Those conversations will be offered as free live streams at 7:30 PM every Monday from Aug. 10-Oct. 26. Participants will need to register for the live streams on the CSL website.

Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Donald Sutherland in “M*A*S*H”

In addition to a fine selection of St. Louis critics, Golden Anniversaries will feature a quartet of experts from elsewhere, including David Edelstein, chief film critic of New York magazine (“M*A*S*H” on Aug. 10); AJ Schnack, director of such documentaries as “Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns),” “Kurt Cobain About a Son,” “We Always Lie to Strangers,” and the recent “Long Gone Summer” (double bill of “Gimme Shelter” and “Woodstock” on Sept. 7); Charles Taylor, author of “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s” (“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” on Sept. 21); and Novotny Lawrence, author of “Blaxploitation Films of the 1970s: Blackness and Genre” (double bill of “Cotton Comes to Harlem” and “The Watermelon Man” on Sept. 28).

The discussions with the presenters will be facilitated by Cliff Froehlich, CSL’s executive director. Audience members will be able to ask questions and make observations on the films through the chat function of the live stream; those queries and comments will be relayed to the presenter by CSL.

The introductions and discussions will also be recorded and archived on CSL’s YouTube channel. Essays on many of the films will appear on The Lens, CSL’s blog.

For more information, please visit



For full info on films, see CSL’s website.

7:30 PM Monday, Aug. 10


Robert Altman, U.S., 1970, 116 min.

Intro and discussion by David Edelstein, chief film critic for New York magazine (currently on furlough), commentator on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and former film critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Slate, New York Post, Village Voice, and Boston Phoenix.

7:30 PM Monday, Aug. 17


Franklin J. Schaffner, U.S., 1970, 172 min.

Intro and discussion by Andrew Wyatt, editor of and film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ blog, The Lens.

7:30 PM Monday, Aug. 24


John Cassavetes, U.S., 1970, 131 min.

Intro and discussion by Lynn Venhaus, film critic for the Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS (550 AM).

7:30 PM Monday, Aug. 31

The Conformist

Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy, 1970, 113 min., Italian

Intro and discussion by Diane Carson, professor emerita of film at St. Louis Community College at Meramec and film critic for KDHX (88.1 FM).

7:30 PM Monday, Sept. 7

Gimme Shelter

Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, U.S., 1970, 91 min.

Woodstock: The Director’s Cut

Michael Wadleigh, U.S., 1970, 224 min.

Intro and discussion by AJ Schnack, director of the documentaries “Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns),” “Kurt Cobain About a Son,” “We Always Lie to Strangers,” and “Long Gone Summer.”

7:30 PM Monday, Sept. 14

Claire’s Knee

Eric Rohmer, France, 1970, 105 min., French

Intro and discussion by Robert Garrick, attorney and former contributor to the film blog.

7:30 PM Monday, Sept. 21

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Russ Meyer, U.S., 1970, 109 min.

Intro and discussion by Charles Taylor, author of “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s” and former film critic for Salon.

7:30 PM Monday, Sept. 28

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Ossie Davis, U.S., 1970, 97 min.

The Watermelon Man

Melvin van Peebles, U.S., 1970, 100 min.

Intro and discussion by Novotny Lawrence, associate professor at Iowa State University, author of “Blaxploitation Films of the 1970s: Blackness and Genre,” editor of “Documenting the Black Experience,” and co-editor of “Beyond Blaxploitation.”

7:30 PM Monday, Oct. 5

Five Easy Pieces

Bob Rafelson, U.S., 1970, 98 min.

Intro and discussion by Calvin Wilson, theater critic and former film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

7:30 PM Monday, Oct. 12

The Traveling Executioner

Jack Smight, U.S., 1970, 95 min.

Intro and discussion by Kayla McCulloch, film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ blog, The Lens.

7:30 PM Monday, Oct. 19


Barbara Loden, U.S., 1970, 102 min.

Intro and discussion by Cait Lore, film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ blog, The Lens.

7:30 PM Monday, Oct. 26


Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg, U.K., 1970, 105 min.

Intro and discussion by Robert Hunt, former film critic for The Riverfront Times.

Woodstock: The Director’s Cut