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

By Lynn Venhaus
Back in my news reporter days in ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s, I loved working Election Nights. Pre-computer and smart phone, we would wait for each precinct to be tallied – those were the days of the “chads,” and it was a waiting game, many a long night.

We’d have good conversations among the press corps — talk about signs, trends, who was riding a sea change, and the status quo. We’d be at courthouses, trying not to get in the way of staff but needing to call in those numbers. Wade through the crowd huddled around a bulletin board to see the latest posted computer sheet print-out. Spot a candidate and get victory statements.

You see a lot observing candidates, party leaders and local government workers. Integrity, work ethic, decency — shouldn’t it matter?

The infamous newspaper headline in 1948

In my early days, I’d be live on small market radio with totals as we got them, or calling in to an editor. I would make arrangements ahead of time with some helpful official to be able to use their office telephone and they would graciously wait til the final count was communicated. I thanked them profusely.

That was in Illinois, and in later years, the Associated Press would contract me for the night to call In the local totals. to add to the national results. You know – those TV totals you would see on screen.

I was at the Marion County Courthouse in Salem, home of William Jennings Bryan and creator of a Miracle Whip, the night Carol Moseley Braun defeated Alan Dixon, aka “Al the Pal,” for the US Senate seat in 1992. Dixon had been a Senator for 12 years after serving as Secretary of State and Treasurer in Illinois, and 20 years in state legislature. (In my hometown of Belleville, he was a legend. Took care of his people. Knew everyone.) She was the first African-American woman in the history of the Senate.

About a decade ago, digital computers and 24/7 news changed things. With electronic results, you could look up a county online. They did not need us to be foot soldiers on the ground. We all moved on in the digital world. There is nothing like racing back to the office and Typing up the results to make print deadline, running on adrenaline, caffeine and snacks from the vending machine.

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush, left, and Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore gesture during their third and final debate at Washington University Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2000, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

However, I was already home when, in the wee hours of the morning, CBS declared Gore won and then retracted it. Chaos. Supreme Court decided that W won in 2000, despite Gore winning popular vote.

I haven’t worked an election night for at least four election cycles. But I still like to watch the totals come in, whether it is primary, municipal or general election.

When there is an upset or a tight race won by a slim amount of votes, you feel like you see democracy in action. That the people have spoken. The turnout really mattered, changing lives.

Today, in the city of St. Louis, my polling place was quiet. I squirted hand sanitizer, got my Q-tip and opted for electronic ballot. Easy peasy. Thanked the workers — we were all in masks so you can’t smile but you can look them in the eyes.

Watching the totals isn’t the same, but what is?

Been voting since I was 18, the first batch of voters to be given that privilege in 1972, thanks to Amendment 26.

This is Democracy in action.

We the People.
What a precious ritual and right we have. Should be a cause for unity.

John Lewis, Freedom Rider

Never take for granted the power of an idea, the importance of grassroots efforts, and the desire to make a change, be the change. You see something, do something.

People died and were beaten for the opportunity to cast a ballot and make their voice heard. Voter suppression is real and still takes place today — if we do one thing to honor the late American hero, Congressman John Lewis, then fight for this right.

Never lose hope and do not give in to fear. Note to self: Absentee ballots are the same as mail-in ballots.

Sweet land of liberty. Let freedom ring.

And God bless the USPS. And all the poll workers today and every election.VOTE Nov. 3, no matter the method. Just get ‘r done.

By Lynn Venhaus
One of the best surprises of the current year in film, “Palm Springs” is an inventive, genial romantic comedy with an edge. (Warning frank sexual dialogue and content).

Nyles (Andy Samberg) is with his girlfriend at a wedding in Palm Springs when he meets Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the reluctant maid of honor forced to be at her sister’s wedding. She’s the family black sheep and a skeptic when it comes to true romance but is drawn to Nyles’ wacky sense of humor and darkly comic nihilism.

Like “Groundhog Day,” Nyles is sucked into a surreal time-space continuum, repeating this same date. He warned her not to follow him into a cave…

Written and directed by first-timers – a remarkable combination of director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara, it builds on the time-travel concept in a manner like “Groundhog Day” but does not follow the same trajectory.

The wedding setting is inspired and fertile ground for comedy – what with family dynamics, quirky relatives, young adults with a lot of baggage already and always people with secrets, combined with the time-honored rituals of American nuptials and receptions. I mean, it is comedy gold, and you have someone who is a zen master at it, Andy Samberg.

Christin Milioti and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs”

I always enjoyed the goofy Samberg as an off-kilter presence on “Saturday Night Live” from 2005 to 2012, his digital shorts and his clever work with Lonely Island. Although the 2016 comedy “Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping” is highly underrated, I never considered his acting on the same level as breakouts Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon, but he is terrific here. He is just the right blend of world-weary and devil-may-care. He also proves to be a suitable romantic lead – who knew? – and his offbeat pairing with Cristin Milioti, also not your typical romantic interest — even though she was the “Mother” in “How I Met Your Mother” (Spoiler alert for a TV show that ended in 2014), energizes the movie.

Samberg’s wacky charm is his strength, so you go with the premise, even when all time-travel segments have plot holes – but don’t dwell on that. Just enjoy. 

Milioti, a Tony nominee as the immigrant who falls for the broke Irish musician in “Once” the Broadway musical, is such a good actress, capable of expressing the gamut of emotions her character goes through. You root for this couple, who have such a blast together dealing with the gimmick.

Look for the movie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, to be considered for this season’s awards — it’s that sharp and witty.

It also benefits from such pros as Peter Gallagher as father of the bride, J.K. Simmons as a wedding guest, Tyler Hoechlin as the compromised groom and a brief appearance by June Squibb as Nana, always delightful.

Fresh and fun, “Palm Springs” is a tidy 90-minute ride full of humor, unexpected turns and sweetness.

“Palm Springs” is a romantic comedy not rated that is 90 minutes long. It is directed by Max Barbakow, written by Andy Siara, and stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Tyler Hoechlin and June Squibb. It is streaming on Hulu, beginning July 10.

By Lynn Venhaus

The movie “Hamilton” meets the moment! Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s game-changer remains a vibrant experience five years after opening on Broadway. Its brilliance shines brightest with the original cast, and its synergy is a thing of beauty.

The cultural phenomenon “Hamilton,” the most nominated musical ever on Broadway and winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, had two performances recorded on June 25-26, 2016, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City. This is after the musical won 11 Tony Awards, one shy of the record, and while the original cast was still intact. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, is the central figure in this retelling of history and political scheming. It also includes Hamilton’s family and romantic drama, based on Ron Chernow’s biography.

Miranda’s masterpiece is a hopeful reflection on the ‘unfinished symphony’ that is America – he presents a history lesson, inside view on the messy political process and an amalgam of modern and Broadway styles of music in a grand and glorious way.

Miranda, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, also stars in the title role. He cast black, Latino and Asian-Americans as the characters – “it is about America then as told by America now.” This ensemble is the gold standard – particularly Tony Award winners Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, who resents the ambitious Hamilton’s easy climb; Daveed Diggs as loyal Lafayette in the first act and cocky Thomas Jefferson in the second; and Renee Elise Goldsberry as fiery Angelica Schuyler, whose sweet sister Eliza marries Hamilton; plus nominees Christopher Jackson as an imposing George Washington, Phillipa Soo as the kind-hearted wife Eliza and Jonathan Groff, who makes the most of his nine minutes as the snooty and catty King George.

Hamilton’s a fascinating human, and his journey keeps us riveted through his personal evolution and the birth of our nation. His rivalry with Burr adds a complexity – their flaws, fears, desires and regrets fuel the story. Odom has some of the show’s best songs – “Wait for It,” and “Non-Stop,” and his introduction “Talk Less” is memorable.

Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B, pop and traditional Broadway show tunes, “Hamilton” is a revolutionary moment in theatre, and you won’t be able to get those songs out of your head: “My Shot,” The Story of Tonight,” “The Room Where It Happened,” “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Our Story,” “History Has Its Eyes on You” and “The World Turned Upside Down.” The Cabinet Battles are comical and thought-provoking at the same time.

The Schuyler Sisters have a sensational introduction – and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones), and the songs “Helpless,” “Satisfied,” “Burn” have real depth from a female point of view. “It’s Quiet Uptown” will tug on your heartstrings.

Already, the staged musical has had profound impact on culture, politics and education, and you will see why, as Hamilton the movie transports the audience inside the Broadway show in an intimate way. (I spontaneously broke into applause a few times).

As for the ‘film’ part, we might not be in the room where it happened (Richard Rodgers Theatre) but what it lacks in the palpable energy only live theater produces, it trades for the emotions you connect with in the close-ups.

Declan Quinn’s cinematography and Jonah Moran’s editing gives us a crisp perspective. And the skill of that team — Thomas Kail’s seamless direction, Alex Lacamoire’s exquisite orchestrations and conducting, Andy Blankenbuehler’s fluid and innovative choreography and Manuel’s smart and clever words and music — are a swirling mix of craft, art and talent.

With use of steady-cam, crane and dolly, the multiple cameras create a view you would not have seen – even if you been fortunate enough in the first couple of rows. We also benefit from it being performed before a live audience – their reactions give ours some vitality. Lafayette’s line: “Immigrants – we get the job done!” produces the loudest applause.

I saw the musical once two years ago, on its first national tour at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, and even with its cavernous 4500 seats, was gobsmacked. It was among the best theatrical experience ever – and lived up to the hype.

This view has new opportunities for discovery, to marvel at Manuel’s attention to detail and his nimble storytelling. The recurring themes and repetitive nature of the score add texture to the rhythms and harmonies, and the cast’s enunciation and verbal dexterity is remarkable.

In 2009, Miranda was invited to the White House to share what he was working on during a night of poetry-inspired entertainment. President Barack and Michelle Obama were a little taken aback by his concept – a hip-hop concert album about the founding father who is on the $10 bill. OK. Well, the rest, as they say, is history.

And Manuel has made history. An Emmy, Tony and Grammy Award winner, among his theatrical accomplishments — he wrote and starred in the Tony-winning 2008 musical “In the Heights,” was co-composer and lyricist with Tom Kitt and Amanda Green for “Bring It On!” in 2011 (produced by Mike Isaacson-led Fox Theatricals) and at Stephen Sondheim’s request, wrote Spanish dialogue and lyrics for the 2009 Broadway revival of “West Side Story.”

“Hamilton; An American Musical” opened at the Public Theatre on Jan. 20, 2015 and moved to Broadway that August. Because of the demand for tickets, he created the “Ham4Ham” lottery ($10 tickets for first couple of rows), but those who couldn’t get to Broadway or afford the sky-high ticket prices, can see the next best thing. The unforgettable theatrical experience has been made accessible for an even wider audience to appreciate.

The lighting design, by Howell Binkley (Tonys for both “Hamilton” and “Jersey Boys”), is effective on screen. Paul Tazewell’s costumes and David Korins’ deceptively simple brick-lined set designs of scaffolds, catwalks and staircases add to the show’s signature style and cohesiveness.

The film was slated for an October 2021 theatrical release, but the decision was made to stream through Disney Plus ($6.99 a month subscription or $69 for the year).

What a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of our nation and see its impact today, after a grave period of uncertainty, unprecedented pandemic and level civil unrest not seen in 50 years. It feels more urgent as a call to action, to keep this great American experiment a righteous one.

The care and skill that went into this production is obvious. “Hamilton” deserves a standing ovation in every living room across this great country of ours. The musical makes America more beautiful this Independence Day weekend.

“Hamilton” is a filmed musical directed by Thomas Kail, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Christopher Jackson and Jonathan Groff. Rated: PG-13 for language and some suggestive material, it runs 2 hours 40 minutes with 1-minute intermission. Lynn’s Grade: A Streaming on Disney Plus beginning July 3.

By Lynn Venhaus
Sharp as a tack and a needed gut punch, “Irresistible” is a savage political satire that aims at both major political parties and the media. It is a wake-up call about how money-influenced political campaigns are run these days and how crazy it all is. And if you are cynical, writer-director Jon Stewart explains why.

The story centers on a Democratic political consultant who helps a retired Marine colonel run for mayor in a small Wisconsin town, and soon the national spotlight is on rural Deerlaken, for its ‘authenticity.’

It might not sound entertaining, and the big city slickers coming to small-town America is a well-worn trope, but “Irresistible” is clever and for the most part, amusing. It zips along, contrasting caring, connected life in rural America with the go-go-go sophistication of New York as a media and liberal center, and the cutthroat political scene in Washington D.C.

The performances are first-rate. Former Daily Show correspondent Steve Carell is in his wheelhouse as Gary Zimmer, a driven Democratic strategist who puts all his muscle and know-how into winning elections. His new pet project is more about his redemption and finding someone who can take the next step to the national arena.

Oscar winner Chris Cooper, the Kansas City-born actor who consistently depicts integrity, is perfect as Jack Hastings, a widower and retired Marine, who has the right demeanor for electability and the wisdom to size up what’s happening in this super-charged environment. No fool, he knows how he is being presented as a candidate, and, used. Cooper, who majored in acting and agriculture at University of Missouri-Columbia, embodies the role with a genuine gravitas.

As his grown daughter Diana, Mackenzie Davis, last seen in “Terminator: Dark Fate,” is another high mark, conveying her concerns regarding her dad, being protective and wary of the spectacle.

Acting as Gary’s archrival Faith Brewster, Rose Byrne’s GOP political operative is abrasive and crude, and in that regard, annoying. Of course, that’s the point, but ick.

The supporting cast is having fun – including Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne as slick national pollsters, Will Sasso and Will McLaughlin as the “Two Mikes,” Brent Sexton as Mayor Braun and Blair Sams as the local baker Ann.

During this election year in the middle of the pandemic, people may have developed fatigue about the news and how campaigns are covered, but this is on the mark. It bites and stings, as evidenced by the talking heads and the insatiable need to make predictions and blow things out of proportion.

Stewart, who spent 16 years on “The Daily Show,” knows his material and personalities, and treats the small-town hicks with respect, while depicting the easy way they are patronized.

While the barbs don’t always land well, and the sarcasm can get tedious, “Irresistible” presents a case for campaign finance reform. And you might just crave some warm, fresh-baked streusel coffeecake. Required viewing is all the way through the credits.

“Irresistible” is a contemporary comedy-drama directed by Jon Stewart, and starring Steve Carell, Chris Cooper, Rose Byrne, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne. Run time is: 1 hr. 41 min. and rated R for language including sexual references. Lynn’s Grade: B+. Available on Video on Demand June 26.

A version of this review appeared in the Webster-Kirkwood Times