By Lynn Venhaus
On the surface, “IF” looks warm and fuzzy, a relatable story about the power of imagination and how it affects our childhoods. And while there is much to like about the film, the whimsy doesn’t quite live up to the magic it strives to capture.

While being imaginative and heartfelt, it is also sad and dark, which may confuse parents of young children who are unaware of the story’s tragic elements. The 12-year-old heroine, Bea, who has been through some things, faces another potential heartbreak.

Writer-director John Krasinski, who knocked it out of the park with his “A Quiet Place” films, was inspired by his two daughters to make a live-action Pixar movie, and the ambitious concept is a dandy one.

Yet I struggled to make sense of this alternate reality, for the logic doesn’t seem to be there, even in a fantasy. Lonely Bea, dealing with loss and staying with her grandmother while her dad is in the hospital, meets neighbor Cal, who sees abandoned imaginary friends. 

Cal serves as a matchmaker of sorts, finding new pals for IFs to hang around with, and be useful, for their previous childhood buddies grew up. Think of him as the guardian of the portal. He enlists the earnest and creative Bea.

Cailey Fleming is heart-tugging as a guarded Bea, and warms to Carl, wonderfully played by Ryan Reynolds, who appears more vulnerable than his usually jovial characters. His trademark snappy patter is here, but he’s also some emotional heft to display.

As a human, he blends into the visual effects with flair, standing out in two scenes that wow – a splashy dancing sequence and one where he materializes from a painting.

Reynolds’ agility goes a long way in liking Cal, and his story arc that comes full circle in the third act just might bring a tear to your eye, like it did mine. In fact, my tissue got a workout, like when I watched Pixar’s “Coco” and “Toy Story 4.”

The point about the need for human connection is well-taken, particularly after living through the global coronavirus pandemic. The central theme of the film is loss and grief, and the opening montage is comparable to the start of Pixar’s “Up.”

I can’t recommend this for children under 8, and don’t think a PG-rating is enough warning. If you take young children, be prepared to address some heavy questions.

And there are a few disconcerting choices – Bea walks to a bodega late at night alone, and we’re talking New York City (OK, Brooklyn, but…) and grandma (Fiona Shaw) is apparently OK with her wandering the city by herself.

Granted, we can’t shield our children from life’s cruel blows, and even classic Disney films feature death – Mufasa in “The Lion King” and the momma deer in “Bambi” come to mind – but this film’s marketing makes it look like shiny, happy people having fun.

Nevertheless, the all-star voice cast delivers funny and charming characterizations of various creatures, including Steve Carell as Blue, a gentle Muppet-like giant, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a cartoonish Betty Boop named Blossom.

In less substantial but full of personality vocal performances are Krasinski’s wife Emily Blunt as an excitable unicorn, Amy Schumer as a high-strung gummy bear and George Clooney as a spaceman (remember “Gravity”?). In his final role, Louis Gossett Jr. is a wise Teddy bear.

Christopher Meloni plays one of the more animated characters, Cosmo, and the who’s who of Hollywood includes Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Blake Lively, Matthew Rhys, Jon Stewart, Maya Rudolph, Sam Rockwell, Awkwafina, Bill Hader and Keegan Michael-Key. Outstanding talent is assembled, but with so many, not everyone gets moments to shine, more like snippets.

Alan Kim, whose breakthrough role was in “Minari,” plays Benjamin, a hospital patient who befriends Bea, and it’s a sweet, but underdeveloped character

The film does have a striking fairy tale-storybook glow to it, courtesy of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has worked with Steven Spielberg since 1993 and won Oscars for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

Jess Gonchor’s production design is also noteworthy, especially using Coney Island as a fantastic playground for the IFs, as well as a nifty retirement home. Gonchor, longtime collaborator with the Coen Brothers, also created the striking set design for “White Noise,” another difficult world to build. He previously worked with Krasinski on “The Quiet Place, Part II.”

Jenny Eagan’s costume design is delightful, and the army of special and visual effects wizards dazzle with their playfulness.

Krasinski’s heart is in the right place, and the intention is admirable, if not the execution. While the third act redeems the storyline to an extent, the movie fails to live up to expectations, which is a letdown, given the enormous amount of talent involved.

“IF” is a 2024 comedy-drama-fantasy written and directed by John Krasinski, starring Ryan Reynolds, Cailey Fleming, Fiona Shaw, Steve Carell, Alan Kim and Krasinski. Rated PG for thematic elements and mild language, its runtime is 1 hour, 44 minutes. Opens in theatres May 17. Lynn’s Grade: C

By Lynn Venhaus

While it has all the makings of an old-fashioned feel-good sports drama, perhaps we’ve seen too many rousing underdog team stories so that “The Boys in the Boat” pales in comparison to other revered crowd-pleasers (“Rudy,” “Hoosiers,” “Remember the Titans”).

This latest example of scrappy athletes overcoming obstacles is based on a bestselling nonfiction book by Daniel James Brown, “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” which was published in 2013.

At the height of the Great Depression, an underdog team of rowers at the University of Washington struggle and sacrifice, eventually competing in the ”world is watching’ Hitler Summer Olympics.

Their true story is remarkable – eight guys from lower-middle-class families overcome obstacles, endure the uncertainty of the Great Depression, and find glory at the Nazi Olympics, triumphing while Hitler’s Third-Reich propaganda was in full force.

But the script by Mark L. Smith, adapting Brown’s book, hits the predictable beats in such an uninspired way that it feels generic. Smith must be a streaky writer, for he crafted the wilderness epic “The Revenant” but also the confusing and clumsy storytelling in “The Midnight Sky” and the forgettable “The Marsh King’s Daughter” earlier this fall.

This is the second time Smith has worked with Clooney as a director, first with the aforementioned “The Midnight Sky” in 2020.

This is Clooney’s ninth film in the director’s chair, and while I’m sure the movie has enough components to move some people, it seems too familiar and flat. There is little that is special about it.

His last, in 2021, “The Tender Bar,” was a heartfelt coming-of-age story also based on a book. He showed such great promise with “Good Night, and Good Luck” in 2005 and “The Ides of March” in 2011, that you’d think a story tailor-made for Hollywood treatment would be a perfect fit.

He does work well with young actors, but the script lets them down because their characters are largely underdeveloped. The eight-man rowing shell doesn’t have any star power either, and I’m sure that was intentional, to make them a team in every sense of the word.

Callum Turner, as poor boy Joe Rantz, has the most compelling story arc, although predictable. He’s on his own, sleeping in a car, and can’t pay his tuition, so when he finds out rowers are given places to stay and a job, he’s in.

Rantz becomes the de facto leader of the motley crew, and you just know they will beat the odds (besides, you already know the outcome of what happened 87 years ago). The handsome Turner (Theseus Scamander in the “Fantastic Beasts” movie franchise) is likable as Joe, but a subplot with girlfriend Joyce (Hadley Robinson) seems perfunctory.

Joel Edgerton is their coach Al Ulbrickson, a no-nonsense guy who believes in his team but has a gruff manner. He wants them to achieve “swing,” when teammates are in perfect union so that the symmetry feels like poetry.

By the time they are on their improbable trajectory, the film builds up some energy and it’s stirring when they beat Ivy Leaguers for the Olympic spot, and of course, the whole USA vs. Hitler match-up in Germany goes for the obvious.

While often clunky in storytelling, the conventional sports saga has a beautiful look – the sun on the rippling water, young muscular lads exerting themselves in competition, and the imposing Olympic-size landscape. Cinematographer Martin Ruhe, who has worked with Clooney several times (including those Nespresso commercials), captures the action well. And Alexander Desplat’s score swells with emotion at the right times.

A documentary “The Boys of ’36,” is currently streaming on PBS, and was first broadcast on “American Experience” in 2016. It may flesh out some of the story that the fictional account fails to deliver.

A beat-all-the-odds real-life story deserved a better movie than filmmakers put together. They needed more than a rah-rah message of “we’re all in the same boat.” (OK, groan).

“The Boys in the Boat” is a 2023 Biography, Drama, Sports film directed by George Clooney and starring Joel Edgerton, Callum Turner, and Hadley Robinson. It is rated: PG-13 for language and smoking and runtime is 2 hours, 4 minutes. Opens in theaters Dec. 25, and will eventually stream on Amazon Prime. Lynn’s Grade: C

By Lynn Venhaus

Local Spotlight: Legends and Lanterns

A fun weekend can be had on Main Street in St. Charles.

Legends & Lanterns® is a “spirited” journey through Halloween History is an annual event that finds its inspiration from the past.

“From the vintage charm of Halloween in the 1910s-1930s, to the historical rituals and customs brought to the holiday by the Druids and Victorians, to the ethereal atmosphere depicted in American ghost stories and Brothers Grimm fairy tales; this event will offer treats and tricks for guests of all ages. A little bit silly. A little bit macabre. But all in fun,” so it states on the website.

Dates and Times
Sat, 10/22:     11am to 6pm

Sun, 10/23:    Noon to 5pm

Fri, 10/28:      5pm to 8pm

Sat, 10/29:     11am to 8pm

Sun, 10/30:    Noon to 5pm

Stage: Personal Transformation and Triumph

The Black Mirror Theatre Company presents “Roll With It!” at Kranzberg Arts Center black box theater

Katie Rodriguez Banister

Katie Rodriguez Bannister was paralyzed from the chest down in an SUV rollover accident in 1990. She was 25. This is her story. Only three more performances left – Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Here’s my review:

For more about Katie, read the Webster-Kirkwood Times article by Julie Brown Patton:

Movie: Julia and George Together Again

Megastars Julia Roberts and George Clooney, who’ve made five movies together, reunite in “Ticket to Paradise,” for a formulaic rom-com that is pure escapism, the kind of “Mom movie” that women of a certain age will enjoy. Here’s my review:

New Year’s Eve Plans: Nikki Glaser tickets on sale

Tickets went on sale this morning, Oct. 21, at 10 a.m. via Ticketmaster for Nikki Glaser: One Night with Nikki Glaser at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31, at the Stifel Theatre.

Ticket Link:

Spooktacular Movies at the Drive-In

“Jamie Lee Curtis is Laurie Strode in “Halloween Ends

Drive-In Time: Slashfest is Oct. 28-29 at the Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, officially ending the season. However, this weekend, you can enjoy Pre-Slashfest with a combo of new and old movies.

Here is the schedule for, October 21 & 22…

Screen 1 – Halloween Ends R 8:00 and Frankenstein 1931 NR 10:00

Screen 2 – Poltergeist PG 8:00 and The Lost Boys R 10:10

The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Ads and previews start at 7:50. Good idea to arrive early.

If you want to request a reserved spot for an additional $10, send an email to Tell us which movie you want to see, which night you want to attend, and the year/make/model of your vehicle. Be sure to include all information or your request will be returned to you.

Trailer: The Crown Season 5

Season 5 will drop on Nov. 9 on Netflix, with Elizabeth Debecki as Princess Diana, Dominic West as Prince Charles, Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth and Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip.


Taylor Swift Dropped “Midnights” — here’s a tract:

By Lynn Venhaus
With their mega-watt star power and effortless charm, George Clooney and Julia Roberts are just so darn cute together that they make the high-concept rom-com “Ticket to Paradise” go down as easy as a fruity tropical drink while watching an island sunset.

“Ticket to Paradise” follows the formula of many personality-driven light-hearted escapes set in an exotic locale and depend on thorny romantic complications with an easy-going cast having fun with each other.

As a bitterly divorced couple, they team up and travel to Bali to stop their only daughter (Kaitlyn Devers) from making the same mistake they think they made 25 years ago.

In their fifth film together, Clooney and Roberts appear to be having a ball, even while pretending they hate each other’s guts. That fine line between love and hate, you know. They were college sweethearts and married for five years. Their house burnt down, and their relationship flamed out.

But they had a daughter, Lily, whom they dote on, and are forced to be together for those kind of family rituals like graduations and weddings. The ever-reliable Kaitlyn Dever plays recent law school graduate Lily, who is on a long holiday with her roommate and best friend Wren in Bali before embarking on real-world careers.

Party girl Wren is given some oomph by Billie Lourd, the late Carrie Fisher’s daughter. She’s mainly around to be supportive of her buddy, but it would have been nice for her to have a storyline too. She and Dever were both in “Booksmart,” and work well together here.

Roberts’ character, Georgia, an art gallery owner, is engaged to a handsome younger pilot, endearingly played by French actor Lucas Bravo (a delight in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” this past summer and on “Emily in Paris.”) He’s a good sport, even as the butt of some jokes.

The lovestruck Lily throws everything into chaos when she breaks the news that she is engaged to an Indonesian seaweed farmer, Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a sweet and sincere islander she fell head over heels for – and is ready to build a life faraway from what she’s known. They make a cute, believable couple.

Bali is a stunning location with gorgeous sunsets, warm hospitality and a relaxed way of life. What’s not to love?

The parents are determined to sabotage the wedding, and unite to carry it out, but as expected, things aren’t going according to plan in the story by Ol Parker and script co-writer Daniel Pipski.

The parents have time for reflection and look back at their tattered relationship, which the two Oscar winners carry out well.

Maxime Bouttier, Kaitlyn Dever

It seems like a predictable patchwork of other rom-coms – a dash of “Crazy Rich Asians,” a touch of “Mamma Mia!”, a sprinkle of “Gidget Goes Hawaiian,” and a smidge of “My Best Friend’s Wedding, as well as a litany of Hallmark movies involving matrimony, but that doesn’t make it less palatable.

When you sign on for a romantic comedy, you know what’s ahead. This is a Mom movie – one you can take your mother too and not worry about salacious content. If it appeals to a certain demographic, so be it.

The pleasures here are enjoying the shimmering panoramic vistas in the south Pacific and two charismatic movie stars who are adorable when lighting up the screen. Their chemistry is so smooth that you’d watch them just sitting and talking to each other (at least I would).

The last movie they made, “Money Monster,” was a middling crime drama-thriller in 2016.  Clooney was a financial TV host and Roberts played his producer who are in an extreme situation when an irate investor takes over the studio.

But their casting as Danny and Tess Ocean in the “Ocean’s” movies – 11, 12 and 13 — caught fire in that entertaining caper franchise. They first appeared in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” which Clooney directed in 2002, an adaptation of game show impresario Chuck Barris’ cult memoir about being a CIA hitman.

Although capable of crafting fine characters in their legendary careers, they are well-suited for romantic comedies. After all, that’s where Roberts broke through (“Pretty Woman”) and had considerable box office power (“Notting Hill,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding, “Runaway Bride,” among them.) They have their dramatic cred – and Oscars to prove it, too.

The outtakes shown during the end credits seem unnecessary and rather silly, but other than that, it’s not a waste o’ time.

Ol Parker, best known for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” in 2018 and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in 2011, directed “Ticket to Paradise” with a light touch, careful to not make the proceedings too slapstick-y (but not above some goofy moments, like a dolphin attack and a snake bite).

He knows and respects his audience, and so do the lovable movie stars. If you are looking for a pleasant trifle to wile away a couple hours, “Ticket to Paradise” will amuse. It isn’t destined to become a classic but will stay in fans’ rotations.

“Ticket to Paradise” is a 2022 romantic comedy directed by Ol Parker and starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Kaitlyn Dever. Rated PG-13 for some strong language and brief suggestive material, it runs 1 hour, 44 minutes. Opens in theatres on Oct. 21. Lynn’s Grade: B-.

By Lynn Venhaus
Regret and redemption are threads running through this bleak post-apocalyptic tale that wants to have both a human touch and a big picture narrative with its duel storylines.

The year is 2049. On Earth, some mysterious catastrophe has wreaked havoc. Instead of bailing like his fellow scientists, Augustine (George Clooney) stays at the research station in the Arctic Circle. Dying of cancer, he assumes he is alone. But finds that a young girl was left behind.

When he realizes the U.S. spaceship Aether, whose work on Jupiter is over, is heading home, he tries to message them not to return or they will be in danger. It is a race against the clock.

The trouble with “The Midnight Sky” is that both journeys – in space and on land – have gaping plot holes. I tend to overthink when I’m watching science fiction, but this is hard to connect the dots at times because information – and backstory – is dispensed so stingily or not at all.

For instance, the ship’s captain, Adewole (David Oyelowo) and assistant Sully (Felicity Jones) are having a baby together but they don’t show any evidence of themselves as a couple.

In flashback, George Clooney’s character Augustine is played by Ethan Peck, the grandson of legendary actor Gregory Peck. A clip of the elder Peck’s 1959 post-nuclear bomb film, “On the Beach,” is watched by pilot Mitchell (Kyle Chandler).

Based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel, “Good Morning, Midnight,” this was meant to be a cautionary tale on climate change, but then a global pandemic hit, so the theme of regret at a time of great peril – and reflecting over life’s choices – struck a timely chord.

Screenwriter Mark L. Smith, who co-wrote “The Revenant,” adapted the 2016 book, and some characters have been altered. You do get a “Gravity Meets the Revenant” vibe, but it is also reminiscent of elements in “Ad Astra,” “Interstellar” and “The Martian.”

Clooney, a magnetic actor, hasn’t been in a film since 2016 “Money Monster,” and when you first see him on screen, as this dying, haggard 70-year-old loner, you may gasp. He goes all in as a guy driven by science that had little time for a personal life. He brings an emotional depth to the taciturn character.

His poignant scenes with newcomer Caoilinn Springall as the young girl left behind have an unexpected tenderness. 

As a director, Clooney’s efforts have been hit and miss, but he’s a sharp observer and takes on dramas that have something to say (“Good Night, Good Luck”). This film, with its grand space vistas and its harsh Arctic conditions, is more technically challenging, and Clooney is overwhelmed by its scope.

The visual effects are outstanding and cinematographer Martin Ruhe has done fine work here under grueling conditions. Alexander DeSplat’s score excels in both heavenly and earthly depictions.

However, Clooney is at his best with other good actors, and this is an ace ensemble.

For all its noble intentions, after a long slog, the film leaves us wanting more. Nevertheless, we are left with a glimmer of hope, and I’ll take it.

“The Midnight Sky” is a science fiction-fantasy drama directed by George Clooney. Starring Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Damian Bechir, Tiffany Boone and Caoilinn Springall, the film runs 1 hour, 58 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some bloody images and brief strong language. Lynn’s Grade: C+. It is available on Netflix beginning Dec. 23.