By Lynn Venhaus

One person’s trash becomes another person’s treasure when a feisty lost soul rescues a beat-up acoustic guitar from a dumpster in modern-day Dublin. In yet another charmer from Irish writer-director John Carney, “Flora and Son” achieves harmony for its scruffy characters through the transformative power of music.

Flora (Eve Hewson), a single mom who is at war with her son, Max (Oren Kinlan), thinks the guitar would be a good hobby/diversion for him, as he close to being sent to a juvenile detention center. With the help of an L.A. musician/guitar teacher Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), she finds a path to self-discovery.

With its intentional aim to tug on our hearts and evoke honest laughter through ordinary people’s daily lives, Carney hits his target. It may not be as profound an example as his previous films, “Once,” “Begin Again” and “Sing Street,” but each well-drawn character finds purpose, changes subtly, and reinforces the magic of music as a universal language.

Carney’s affection for music to soothe our souls is vividly brought to life as Flora takes guitar lessons from Jeff, and in those Zoom calls, the connection they share through technology is palpable.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jeff

Both the appealing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, himself a musician, and charismatic Eve Hewson, an actress known for “Bad Sisters” and “The Knick,” have pleasant enough untrained voices, singing from the heart. This is not a grandiose moment like Lady Gaga singing in “A Star is Born” – this is a quieter, more realistic portrayal. They are not destined for greatness, but to them, music is the gift that keeps on giving.

Oren Kinlan is also convincing as the sullen teenager whose interests lie in dubstep and hip-hop. He and his mother are perpetually scowling at the world, so their collaborations make them a bit more tolerant of each other, achieving some well-needed bonding.

Both their relationships with Max’s unreliable father Ian are complicated. A grown-up kid himself, Ian’s claim to fame is that he was in a band good enough to once open for Snow Patrol, an Irish-Scottish indie rock band who had mainstream success in the early 2000s.

Jack Reynor, who gained attention as the rock-loving older brother Brendan in Carney’s 2016 “Sing Street,” is effective here as someone who needs to figure out his life.

Hewson, whose father is U2 frontman Bono, heretofore hasn’t performed music, but has been working steadily in films and television for a decade. She was Tom Hanks’ daughter in “Bridge of Spies” and James Gandolfini’s daughter in “Enough Said,” among others. But this is her moment to shine.

Eve Hewson as Flora

Being able to show range with this gift of a character, she is a revelation as the tart-tongued, blunt Flora, who is definitely not a candidate for Mother of the Year nor is she striving to be. She’s utterly engaging as an immature woman dealing with life’s setbacks in a more self-destructive way, desperately in need of some direction.

The song the quartet perform together, “High Life,” written by Flora and her son about motherhood, is a catchy earworm that will remain in your head after the movie’s over. It’s the song, written by the writer-director and Gary Clark, a Scottish music producer, that is being submitted to the Oscars for Best Song awards consideration. Carney and Clark wrote the original tunes for the soundtrack.

(Carney’s films have a decent track record in this category – “Falling Slowly,” written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the stars of “Once,” won Best Song in 2007, and “Lost Stars,” sung by Adam Levine in “Begin Again,” was nominated in 2014.)

You’ll want to listen during the credits to Gordon-Levitt’s character Jeff’s song he wrote about Flora.

The movie is set in the Dublin neighborhoods that tourists may not see, and the dialogue is salty.. A word of warning: the Irish dialect is sometimes difficult to decipher, so close captioning is advised for streaming.

Shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January, “Flora and Son” was enthusiastically received and has been tagged a crowd-pleaser ever since.

This affecting tale runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and is designed to make you smile. It’s delightful to experience with others, who understand the joy that music sparks, and it has enough humorous moments that people responded to its heartfelt message.

“Flora and Son” is a 2023 comedy-drama written and directed by John Carney and starring Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Oren Kinlan and Jack Reynor. It is rated R for language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use, and runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. It opens in select theaters and is streaming on Apple TV+ Sept. 29. Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus
Morose performances, a murky plot with muddled twists, messy filmmaking choices, and with its dark, gloomy look, the dubious “The Good Mother” is a colossal waste of time.

Director Miles Joris-Pevrafitte and co-screenwriter Madison Harrison, both from Albany, New York, have set this thriller in their hometown, attempting to make a gritty mystery encased in a seedy drug-dealing scenario.

Only it’s a frustrating watch, as they fumble at every opportunity to tell a cohesive story. However, cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby uses several interesting camera angles of buildings in town — which do nothing to advance the plot — when she isn’t blurring interiors.

The junkie son of journalist Marissa Bennings is murdered, and she tries to solve the crime with his pregnant girlfriend Paige (Olivia Cooke) and her police officer son Toby (Jack Reynor). Set in Albany, New York, in 2016, as they go deeper into the seedy drug world, the truth they confront includes a dark secret.

With its pedestrian procedural plot shrouded in dim shots with shadowy hard-to-see details, the co-screenwriters are baffling because it seems like they do not want to disclose tidbits that would illuminate what really happened. Confusing and conflicting actions occur as this unoriginal story plods along like the dullest episode of “CSI” ever.

Olivia Cooke

Doors are not locked, consequences are avoided, and people come and go without much purpose. This is such a slight, dissatisfying story that one would hope the quality of the cast would elevate material, but the inertia you feel is real. Why should we care about these people?

The only character that resonates emotionally is a grieving mom honestly spilling her guts at an Al-Anon meeting.

The director wastes the talents of two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, who plays an unpleasant hard-shelled newspaper editor who drinks too much and goes through life on autopilot. She is grieving the loss of a significant other and estrangement of her once star-athlete son, who became an addict, starting with painkillers as an injured youth. And what is with the wobbly accent?

Swank decides passivity and a glum, pouty look – a crank dealing with a daily massive hangover – is the way to capture this grieving woman. (And no way could someone who drinks and smokes like that run as far and as fast as she does in a chase scene).

Jack Reynor and Olivia Cooke are mostly believable in their roles but have a confrontation on basement stairs that stretches all credibility. Reynor, as Toby, has a pregnant wife – Gina, played by Dilone – whose character is underdeveloped and unconvincing in resolutions.

The bone-headed decisions take their toll, and 90 minutes is both too long and not enough. Midway, we still really don’t have a sense of what is really going on, as the writers-director think relying on collage-like memories will fill in the blanks for us. And what is with setting it in 2016?

Jack Reynor, Hilary Swank

Hopper Penn, the son of Sean Penn and Robin Wright, is a blip as dead son Michael’s best friend, a strung-out Ducky who is in big trouble, a major piece of the puzzle, and an unreliable narrator. But untangling this never happens.

Joris-Peyrafitte is a jack of all trades, composing the cool-kids score that seems out of sync with the atmosphere, and editing the film with Damian Rodriguez besides writing and directing. Maybe he wore too many hats but writing a lucid screenplay would seem to be the priority.

The final scene is ludicrous and leaves many loose plot threads hanging. Feeling cheated, I wanted to throw something at the screen. The lack of engagement is a serious problem that couldn’t be overcome in this ill-conceived and implausible film.

“The Good Mother” is a 2023 crime drama-thriller directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and starring Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack Reynor, Hopper Penn, Dilone, and Norm Lewis. It is not rated and runtime is 1 hour, 29 minutes. It opens in theaters Sept. 1. Lynn’s Grade: F.

Note: this review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Jack Reynor, Olivia Cooke

By Lynn Venhaus

All grown up now, Tom Holland, the current movie action hero Spider-Man, tackles the troubled title character in “Cherry.”

It is a fierce performance and challenging role for the likable actor, who is the main reason to watch this undisciplined misfire from the Russo Brothers, gods of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for their work on “The Avengers” series.

But even Holland’s monumental efforts cannot save this generic story from itself. He does the heavy lifting, but the dark material is as airless as his blacked-out home during drug binges. The romance is run-of-the-mill – eventually two co-dependent junkies – and heroin addict stories are a dime a dozen in movies.

Based on Nico Walker’s 2018 semi-autographical book, which he wrote in federal prison while serving time for bank robberies to feed his drug addiction, the adaptation takes a literary approach by dividing his life story (35 years!) into chapters.

They are marked by title cards and Holland serves as the straight-shooting narrator who breaks the fourth wall and is candid about the sordid details.

The 336-page book was adapted by screenwriters Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot into a 2-hour, 20-minute movie that could have benefitted from better editing. The book was praised for coming out during the opioid epidemic.

The film wants to be an epic journey, but doesn’t set itself apart in any way, except for some stylized shots, and the characters lack appeal to sustain any momentum.

The dope life – high, strung out, needing drugs, scoring drugs, drifting through life in a haze – drags out the inevitable narrative. Not sure how many times we need to see addicts vomiting — but have at it.

The story begins in suburban Cleveland. His younger man phase is as generic as possible – partying, trying to find purpose, falling in love. He is an aimless college dropout who joins the Army after his girlfriend breaks up with him. However, he reunites with Emily (Ciara Bravo), and they marry before he goes to boot camp. At 19, he is sent to Iraq and the story turns very dark. He is forever traumatized by his medic duties and personal tragedies.

Cherry is not an interesting character until his combat experience in the fiery hell of Iraq makes him grow up fast.

Joe and Anthony Russo set up the “War is Hell” message well – after all, they are good at the male camaraderie and action sequences.

Upon his return to Ohio, Cherry becomes a mess – sleepless, self-medicating and angry, he starts popping oxycontin, and things go from bad to worse. His wife, still looking very young, starts shooting heroin with him.

Walker was released early from prison in 2019, and the Ohio-born Russo Brothers began their movie journey in 2020.

For an unlikable character, Holland impressively shows a genuine range of emotions, displaying how much he can stretch from saving the world devotion.

Since 2016, he has played Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avenger series and his own spin-offs, starting with “Captain America: Civil War.”

The movie’s hefty supporting cast includes an impressive turn by Jack Wahlberg as Army buddy Jimenez, but there are a lot of characters who scream here – drill sergeants, scumbag low-life friends and upset girlfriends.

The point is? War is hell and drugs are bad? Don’t we already know this? Tell us a new version by illuminating rehabilitation after frittering most of your life away.

Will people walk away with fresh insight or just walk away? 

“Cherry” is a crime drama directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, based on Nico Walker’s 2018 novel. Starring Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Gandolfini and Jack Wahlberg, it is rated R for graphic drug abuse, disturbing and violent images, pervasive language and sexual content. In theatres Feb. 26 and on Apple + TV on March 12.