For this month’s batch of films to see or skip, the common themes are human foibles and perseverance. One is a profile of a beloved actor, another a true tale of grand ambition, and yet another about repressed women in Ireland. But the one hitting closest to home involves spirits, witches and the ever-changing landscape of Boston’s North Shore. Which ones are worth your time? Check and see:
Zac Efron takes 'The Greatest Beer Run Ever'
Director Peter Farrelly follows up his Oscar-winning “Green Book” with another variation on the road-trip scenario long favored by the native Rhode Islander. But this is no “Dumb and Dumber” or “Kingpin,” although it features the latter’s Bill Murray as a grizzled bartender. No, this is serious. Or, is it? Farrelly and his co-writers, Brian Hayes Currie and Pete Jones, can’t seem to decide in the telling of the inert, allegedly true story of John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron), a directionless blowhard from Manhattan’s tightly knit Inwood neighborhood who has the “bright” idea to personally deliver individual cans of Pabst to his townie pals fighting in Vietnam. It’s even more ridiculous than it sounds.
It’s familiar fare for Farrelly, who, as with “Green Book,” sends a clueless chowderhead into dangerous territory to “learn” basic truths about a struggle of which he had no concept. While Efron is awkwardly charming as Chickie, he’s overmatched by the film’s quest to “educate” us on the atrocities of a war that was gravely misrepresented by lying politicians. Farrelly seems to think even those with a basic knowledge of the Vietnam debacle are ignorant of this truth. It’s insulting, not to mention boring rehashing undisputed facts. But that’s the least of the movie’s problems. Besides being inane sitcom fodder, it also suffers from an episodic structure, as Chickie flits from one battleground to the other, never failing to find whomever he’s looking for among tens of thousands of soldiers.
The running joke is that the various military brass mistake Chickie as a CIA agent, a misconception he learns to play off of repeatedly. It never fails him, or that’s what we’re led to believe. If our military were really this stupid, we’d all be under the communist rule Chickie so reviles. Russell Crowe lends a modicum of gravitas late in the picture as a jaded photojournalist helping Chickie to see the error of his right-wing beliefs. It’s about as close as the film comes to taking a stance. Like war, “The Greatest Beer Run” is its own kind of hell. (R for language and some war violence. In theaters and streaming on Apple TV+ Sept. 30. Grade: D)
Braintree returns to the big screen: Christmas musical 'Spirited' premieres in November
Not-so-great 'Good House'
A nuanced performance by Sigourney Weaver goes only so far in carrying a tonally challenged character study in which alcohol abuse is liquored up for laughs. As a successful Realtor in the tony Rockport-like town of Wendover, Massachusetts (actually Nova Scotia), Weaver’s Hildy Good takes pride in selling oceanside McMansions at top dollar. We know this because Weaver spends most of the movie, wine glass in hand, looking directly into the camera and telling us. It’s one of the many quirky touches applied by the writing-directing team of Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky in a misguided attempt to lend charm to high-functioning inebriation.
In adapting Ann Leary’s novel (with Thomas Bezucha), the married filmmakers have created a clumsy “Gilmore Girls” meets “Peyton Place” vibe, painting Hildy as an adorably glib, quick-with-a-quip drunk who knows everything about everyone, except herself. Her weakness, besides booze, is a disheveled handyman in Kevin Kline’s deceptively sly Frank Getchell, the high school flame she regrets dumping to marry a closeted prig in David Rasche’s Scott. Now divorced and on a perpetual wine-fueled high, Hildy sets her sights on Frank as a means to distract from the fact that her career, and her town, are being swallowed up by Boston’s idle rich.
It’s Weaver’s third collaboration with Kline after the superior one-two of “Dave” and “The Ice Storm,” but the pair struggle to advance a preposterous story (Did I mention Hildy is a descendant of Salem witches?) that at the 11th hour reverses its flippant attitude toward alcoholism via a contrived dramatic twist that jolts Hildy into getting sober. Too late! Like being cornered by a smashed party guest, you look for any excuse to slip away. (R for brief sexuality and language. In theaters Sept. 30. Grade: C)
A trailblazing 'Sidney'
Produced by Oprah Winfrey, Reginald Hudlin’s comprehensive biography of the late Sidney Poitier is a rousing experience that’s an endless source of inspiration. Accentuated by insightful commentary from Poitier himself – along with the likes of Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Spike Lee and Morgan Freeman –Hudlin highlights the actor-director-activist’s consummate blend of talent, integrity and most of all, guts. As Spike rightly says, Poitier was Hollywood’s version of Jackie Robinson, clearing the path to ensure future Black stars would no longer be reduced to playing servants and bug-eyed comedic roles.
Poitier died earlier this year just short of his 95th birthday. Pretty remarkable, considering he was given up for dead as an infant born two months premature in 1927 on the remote Bahamian island of Cat. From that point on, survival became his driving force, as he immigrated to Florida at 15, battled poverty, illiteracy, racism and typecasting before emerging as a bankable, crossover star. And he did it by always being his own man.
The Oscar he received in 1964 for his performance in “Lilies of the Field” came at the height of the civil rights movement and made him a close confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., along with eventual lifelong pal and competition Harry Belafonte. And it’s that relationship with Belafonte that is the heart of the film.
“They were like a married couple,” explains one of Poitier’s six daughters. “They would fight, divorce and get married over and over.” Even if you think you already know Poitier well, you’ll be surprised what you’ll learn from “Sidney,” not the least of which is that he forever changed the world by humanizing Blacks in a way white America never before imagined. (PG-13. Streaming on Apple TV+. Grade: A-)
A somber 'God’s Creatures'
The sea giveth and the sea taketh away in this quintessentially Irish mood piece about a tiny, close-knit fishing village upended by the return of a prodigal son. Grounded by a superb performance by Emily Watson as a mother torn between doing right and doing right by her criminal son (Paul Mescal, “The Lost Daughter”), directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer present a grim tale of monotonous, dead-end lives whose sorrow belies the gorgeous Irish countryside.
Unapologetically unhurried and deliberate, the story conceived by Shane Crowley and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly is a very slow burn that doesn’t really ignite until the 40-minute mark, when the son is accused of rape and Watson’s Aileen perpetrates a phony alibi. The victim, Aileen’s sweet, golden-voiced co-worker Sarah (Aisling Franciosi), is seen as a pariah by the misogynistic townfolk, who almost unanimously side with the much-beloved Aileen and her son, Brian.
It’s an intriguing setup, but the filmmakers struggle to inject drama into a movie too laid back for its own good. But the atmospherics are outstanding, as is the acting by the largely unknown cast, which includes Declan Conlon as Aileen’s flustered husband, Con. For some, that will be enough of a draw, but I found the cliched lives of people imprisoned by their past, present and future to be just too relentlessly dire to embrace. (R for language.. In theaters Sept. 30 and also available to rent via video on demand. Grade: B-)
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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Skip or stream? Zac Efron goes on the 'Greatest Beer Run Ever'