Review: Smart rom-com 'Rye Lane' reps heart with style, plus more movies to watch at home

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‘Rye Lane’

For two people falling in love, everything feels magical. Whether it’s sunny or rainy, whether they’re in a beautiful garden or the corner grocery, whether they’re sharing a fancy dinner or takeaway tacos, every moment becomes a potential memory. That’s one of the many things that the romantic comedy “Rye Lane” gets exactly right. First-time feature director Raine Allen-Miller and screenwriters Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia don’t just take the audience inside one eventful first date. They also jump back to the couple’s past relationships to show how those emotionally charged moments keep lingering — even after the good times turn bad.

Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson) have the opposite of a meet-cute, running into each other in a museum’s unisex bathroom, where he’s crying over a recent breakup and she’s, well, using the bathroom. As they roam through South London, he tells his story, which Allen-Miller illustrates imaginatively, via flashbacks that look more like little stage plays. When Dom finds out Yas is also getting over an ex, she takes her turn, telling her own story. These two feel an instant connection, and they think they’re really getting know each other, until — as the night keeps going — they learn neither of them is telling the whole truth.

Allen-Miller is working in the mode of films like “Before Sunset” and “Medicine for Melancholy,” where two people walk, talk and present somewhat heightened versions of themselves, hoping to impress someone they don’t want to lose. The movie also resembles Steve McQueen’s magnificent “Lovers Rock” as another snapshot not just of a couple but of the place and time in which they live — captured here with camera lenses that fit as much of the colorful local markets, parks and streets as Allen-Miller can squeeze in.

But while “Rye Lane” has clear roots, it’s hardly derivative. The filmmakers find ways to shift between Yas' and Dom’s subjective feelings and the broader perspectives of their friends and family, who see more of their flaws and bad habits. This is a rom-com with heart, wit and style. But it also shows a clear-eyed understanding that one dreamy day — no matter how epic — is really just a good start.

"Rye Lane." R for language, some sexual content and nudity. 1 hour, 22 minutes. Available on Hulu

Smoking Causes Coughing

When we first meet the Tobacco Force in the absurdist French action-comedy “Smoking Causes Coughing,” the five costumed superheroes are battling a human-sized turtle creature, using the chemical powers that give each of them their names: Benzene (Gilles Lellouche), Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier), Methanol (Vincent Lacoste), Mercury (Jean-Pascal Zadi) and Ammonia (Oulaya Amamra). Then they get an order from their chief — a drooling rat puppet — to take a weeklong retreat together, to rest and recharge for a coming battle with an evil alien.

Welcome to the world of Quentin Dupieux — or welcome back, if you’ve seen his previous oddball cult films like “Rubber” or “Mandibles.” Dupieux’s movies tend to start out as traditional genre pictures, touching on crime, horror or science fiction. Then they just sort of drift off, following whatever train of thought rumbles through the writer-director’s mind. In this case, what begins as a superhero picture — sort of — turns into people sitting around a fire and telling scary stories, which occupy more of the film’s running time than any alien conflict.

It’s not a criticism to say that “Smoking Causes Coughing” doesn’t hold together, because cohesion isn’t what Dupieux is going for. He’s more about surprise and delight — such as when a character in this movie opens a refrigerator and finds a miniature supermarket inside, or when a fish being grilled for dinner suddenly lurches up and starts telling another story. Dupieux is going to do what Dupieux is going to do. God bless him.

"Smoking Causes Coughing." In French with subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 17 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically in limited release

‘Kill Boksoon’

Fans of over-the-top “John Wick”-style action movies and devotees of art-house cinema should each find something to like in “Kill Boksoon,” a hired-killer thriller starring Jeon Do-yeon, one of South Korea’s most accomplished and acclaimed actresses. Jeon plays Gil Bok-soon, the top assassin for MK Ent., one of a group of criminal organizations that have industry standards for ranking hitmen and assigning jobs. Bok-soon is also the mother to Jae-young (Kim Si-a), a teenager who doesn’t know about her mom’s work but does wish she were around more to talk to as she deals with her adolescent angst.

Writer-director Byun Sung-hyun lets “Kill Boksoon” sprawl out too much; and the characters’ intricate rules and jargon are so much like “John Wick” that at times this movie feels like a ripoff. Still, some of that professional lingo (like calling contracts “shows” and first assignments “debuts”) makes the story function as a sly metaphor for the entertainment business; and Byun’s stylish action sequences juice up the film’s second half, when Bok-soon inevitably defies her boss, Cha Min-kyu (Sol Kyung-gu), and his sister, Cha Min-hee (Esom). The extra length also allows Jeon to build a real character who can face down a half-dozen killers without breaking a sweat but then turns rigid with fear at the thought of anything happening to her kid.

‘Kill Boksoon.’ In Korean with subtitles (or dubbed). TV-MA for gore, language, smoking and violence. 2 hours, 17 minutes. Available on Netflix

‘The Unheard’

For the slow-burning psychological thriller “The Unheard,” director Jeffrey A. Brown and screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen spend an unusual amount of time establishing the life of their protagonist before everything goes haywire. Chloe (Lachlan Watson) has been mostly deaf since a childhood illness that hit during the same summer her mother disappeared. While undergoing an experimental treatment to restore her hearing, Chloe stays at her family’s Cape Cod vacation house, where she’s haunted by memories and hallucinations, some of which seem to point toward an answer to what happened to her mom. Much of the film’s first hour is spent tracking Chloe’s daily life, as she reconnects with the locals with the help of her various communication apps — and as she gradually begins to hear again.

The long build-up comes at the expense of any sense of urgency, which ends up harming “The Unheard” in its second half. The unexpected stress of a noisy world for Chloe — which amplifies her dissociative moments — makes her increasingly paranoid, to the extent that she fails to recognize the real threat of a masked killer who has been targeting women in the area. The movie itself seems equally unconcerned with its villain, which may be why its suspense and horror beats ultimately don’t hit that hard. Watson’s fine performance and Brown’s thoughtful stylish touches (especially in the sound design) make the slice-of-life scenes special. The rest of the picture is more sketched-in.

‘The Unheard.’ Not rated. 2 hours, 5 minutes. Available on Shudder

‘In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has visited more than 50 countries, speaking to huge crowds and tailoring his message to whomever will listen. For the documentary “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis,” director Gianfranco Rosi picked through thousands of hours of the Vatican’s footage and added some of his own, for a close-up portrait of one of the world’s most famous and divisive leaders. Rosi — whose previous award-winning films “Fire at Sea” and “Sacro GRA” depicted the plight of migrants and the diverse culture of modern Rome, respectively — here continues his fascination with people on the move, seeing life at its sweetest and sourest.

Rosi’s “In Viaggio” is unconventional in that it features very few voices other than the pope’s — and no interviews at all. This is not “an inside look,” or even a broad overview of this particular papacy. It is enlightening, though, to see Pope Francis in so many different contexts. Whether he’s comforting the suffering masses or chastising the powerful for spreading inequality, he models the many ways that rhetoric can work.

‘In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis.’ In Italian and Spanish with subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 23 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica

Also on VOD

“Avatar: The Way of Water” won’t look as stunning at home as it did in 3-D on the multiplexes’ biggest screens; but the second film in James Cameron’s series of ecoconscious science-fiction blockbusters is still pretty impressive with its cutting-edge special effects and masterfully crafted action sequences. The digital edition comes bundled with the kind of special features usually available only on DVD and Blu-ray, including hours of behind-the-scenes documentaries. Available on VOD

Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

“All Quiet on the Western Front” won four Oscars this year, including international feature, making this adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic German novel — about young soldiers enduring the horrors of World War I’s frontlines — one of Netflix’s most successful awards season movies ever. The Blu-ray includes a commentary track from director Edward Berger. MPI/Capelight

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.