Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat on Oct. 10, 2010. We are running this review because of its resurgence streaming on Netflix.

By Lynn Venhaus
For the News-Democrat

What It’s About: In a clash of acting titans, two powerhouses go mano a mano in “The Judge,” an over-stuffed yet unpredictable dysfunctional family-legal drama.

Oscar winner Robert Duvall (“Tender Mercies”) is a respected judge who squares off with his estranged son Hank, played by Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (“Tropic Thunder”), who reluctantly oversees his defense during a murder trial.

Hank is a slick Chicago lawyer who reunites with his small-town Indiana family after his mother dies. His older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) was a promising ball player whose career prospects were cut short after an accident. His younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) is a developmentally disabled adult living at home.

The tension is thick, underlining simmering resentments and long ago cold shoulders. You’ll find out why when we head into the courtroom, when the cantankerous dad is accused of a hit-and-run accident he doesn’t remember.

Performances: The joy of watching Robert Duvall create an authentic senior citizen to add to his august body of work is reason enough to see this relentlessly hyped film. Add the always electric Robert Downey Jr. and sparks fly.

Since “Iron Man” in 2008, Downey has spent considerable time being action hero Tony Stark, a great screen presence with his jocular manner and rapid-fire verbal riffs. He carries off sarcastic humor like few can, and you know he will make you laugh.

But the guy has serious acting chops. Since his first Oscar nomination for “Chaplin” in 1992, he left the Brat Pack movies behind, and has delivered interesting work (“Zodiac,” “The Soloist,” “Wonder Boys”), fulfilling the promise of his breakout “Less Than Zero” (1987).

So, “The Judge” is one of his smart roles, a touch of scoundrel, but also a smidgeon of the lost boy. The only drawback is that he talks so fast during frequent motor-mouth deliveries that he can’t always be understood.

They are joined by always intriguing Billy Bob Thornton as smug prosecutor Dwight Dickham, noteworthy Vincent D’Onofrio (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent”) and Vera Farmiga, under-utilized as the girl who got away. There is also a surprising turn from Dax Shepard (“Parenthood”) as a bumbling, inexperienced trial lawyer.

What Works: While the characters each have dense backstories, this story is too sprawling. The film is at its best when focusing on the complexities of father and son relationships.

Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography has a nostalgic feel to it, warmly lit to evoke memories of days past. The score by Thomas Newman is appropriately wholesome, with the surprise of Willie Nelson singing Coldplay’s “The Scientist” over the credits

What Doesn’t Work: Director David Dobkin (“The Wedding Crashers”) is in over his head. He is heavy-handed, cramming way too much in multiple story threads, and then under-serving the genuine moments. He needed to pick a tone and stick with it, and his pacing was poor. There is no value whatsoever in being more than two hours’ long.

Vera Farmiga, as Hank’s ex-girlfriend who runs the local diner, seems to be a contrived convenience, and was extraneous to the plot.

Dobkin is responsible for the story that the screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque (“Gran Torino”) is based on, and felt the need to insert tornado-like weather as a metaphor. Oh boy.

Substituting picturesque Massachusetts for bucolic Indiana wouldn’t have been that jarring had it not been for the green mountains on view. Say what? Filmmakers might have researched topography of Indiana.

“The Judge” is the kind of film that is entertaining despite being emotionally manipulative. And the performances keep you watching.

Stars: Two and a half
Director: David Dobkin
Starring: Robert Duvall, Robert Downey Jr., Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, Leighton Meester
Rated: R for language including some sexual references
Length: 2:21

By Lynn Venhaus

Two remarkable – and impressively tough — actresses showcase their considerable skills in “Nyad,” which concerns a four-year chapter in the distance swimmer’s life when she is in her 60s, and it’s not all smooth sailing.

Three decades after she gave up marathon swimming for a prominent career as an analyst and commentator for ABC Sports, Diana Nyad (Annette Bening) returns to an obsession: the “Mount Everest” of swims, a 110-mile trek from Cuba to Florida. At the age of 60, in 2010, with the help of her best friend and coach Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster) and a dedicated sailing team, she commits to achieving this lifelong dream of an open ocean swim without a shark cage.

Nyad isn’t your typical inspiring poster girl athlete. She’s prickly, selfish, bossy, and stubborn. She infuriates those around her. Yet, she has the grit and determination to shake things up and make a big impact, so she makes a riveting film subject, and Bening gets under her skin to see what makes her tick. And roar.

Another fine point is that she’s living in a world ready to dismiss her at age 60, and she’s not about to do that: “Hold On!” is a terrific theme for this day and age. So, she’s complex and flawed, and the film doesn’t sugar-coat any of it. Bravo!

In their narrative feature debut, co-directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, who won an Oscar for Best Documentary with “Free Solo” in 2018, move from the heights to the depths with consummate know-how. This is a solid effort from the pair, who are natural storytellers.

They are aided by exceptional cinematography by Claudio Miranda, who won an Oscar for his shimmering work in “Life of Pi.” He can make the ocean appear either stunningly beautiful or dark and ominous with tremendous flair. And composer Alexandre Desplat captures the grandeur of nature as well as the dangers in the music score’s emotional beats.

It’s a tough story to tell because of its demanding physical requirements. Screenwriter Julia Cox has adapted the story from Nyad’s memoir, “Find a Way,” and archival footage helps explain her previous open water swims triumphs and challenges. At age 28, she had failed to accomplish the very dream she set out to achieve at age 60, and this single-minded pursuit makes people around her doubtful.

During the 103-mile swim, she faces such dangers as box jellyfish, sharks, unpredictable weather, changing currents – and she’s her own worst enemy when she doesn’t listen to and heed advice.

The stamina she exhibits is admirable, but the movie focuses on more than physical health, including her inner battles with emotional and mental health, which is an important element, given her bull-in-a-China-shop personality.

Flashbacks to her childhood reveal some trauma, which adds to the understanding of why she goes to extremes.

Bening, whose range has been noteworthy in a long career, in such Oscar-nominated roles as “The Grifters,” “The Kids Are Alright,” “Being Julia” and “American Beauty” – but the Academy Award has eluded her those four times. She could get nominated for this performance, but it’s not a shoo-in among heavy competition this year.

Now, Foster, who has won two – for “The Accused” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” hasn’t been working as much in recent years, and it’s invigorating see her give this character her all. She started as a child in the business, and her strengths as an actress have only grown.

As Bonnie, she conveys how exasperating it is to be Diana’s friend, but she does share such traits as fierceness and being driven by dreams. However, they are mainly opposites – she’s compassionate and listens, while Diana is self-absorbed and hard-headed.

However, they love each other as friends, which comes through. Both are lesbians, but not in a relationship.

Her crazy quest is made possible through a team of dedicated crew members, led by Rhys Ifans as navigator John Bartlett, and he is always a pleasure to watch in movies. The real expedition had about 40 people, such is the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

What is gripping are the struggles with the elements, as it’s key to our emotional investment, as we see them give everything they have.

This is a sturdy biopic that gives two great actresses an opportunity to shine – and look in the mirror and say “Find a Way.”

“Nyad” is a 2023 biopic directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and starring Annette Bening, Jodie Foster and Rhys Ifans. It is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexual abuse, some strong language and brief partial nudity, and the run time is 2 hours, 1 minute. It is in select theatres Oct. 25, and streaming on Netflix Nov. 3. Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus

Documentary: “A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting”

8 p.m. on HBO  

On Oct. 27, 2018, a white nationalist gunman entered a synagogue shouting “All Jews must die!” and with four automatic weapons, killed 11 while they were praying. It was the largest antisemitic attack in American history.

Directed by and produced by Pittsburgh natives Michael Keaton, Billy Porter and Mark Cuban, the documentary interviews

An important aspect of the film is how the community came together afterwards. The process of healing, rebuilding, and moving forward

I will discuss the film with Ray Hartmann on “Mueller Furniture Presents Lynn Venhaus Goes to the Movies” on Thursday after the 10 p.m. news on KTRS, the Big 550.

Movie: Streaming Premiere for “The Good Nurse”


The true crime drama “The Good Nurse,” released in theaters on Oct. 19, is now streaming on Netflix.

Here’s my review: https://www.poplifestl.com/the-good-nurse-is-tension-filled-investigation-of-shocking-deaths/

Video on Demand: Studio Ghibli

Japanese animation fans, rejoice! Studio Ghibli’s catalogue of 22 films has been released by GKIDS for rental on all major digital platforms, including Apple, Amazon, Google Play, and Microsoft. Oscar winner “Spirited Away,” nominees “Howl’s Moving Castle” and are available at $4.99 per title. All are available in HD, with most being offered in the original Japanese as well as English dubbed versions.

Mini Burger Palace: A Little Hi

A Little Hi opened Sunday at 15069 Manchester on the strip in Ballwin, where one of the Silky’s Frozen Custard places once was. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

It’s a smaller menu than the parent – the Hi-Pointe Drive-In, with locations downtown, on McCausland, Kirkwood, Arnold and O’Fallon Ill., but still serving the trademark smash burgers, fries, milkshakes, and chef-inspired specials.

It’s also smaller in size. One of the features is a drive-thru window for pick-up orders.

Trailer: Ready for a Christmas Movie?

“Christmas With You” streams on Netflix starting Nov. 17

It’s about a pop star (Angelina, played by Aimee Garcia) who travels to a small town in New York to grant a young fan’s wish. She finds the inspiration to revitalize her career but also a shot at true love. Also stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Deja Monique Cruz.

Word: Michael J. Fox

“Life is easier when we’re kind to each other.”

–People Magazine, “The Kindness Issue”

By Lynn Venhaus

Local Spotlight: “In the Heat of the Night”

To celebrate its 55th anniversary, “In the Heat of the Night” is getting the TCM Big Screen treatment.

The Fathom Event, with special insight from Turner Classic Movies’ Ben Mankiewicz, will be at Marcus Ronnie’s Cine at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

The Oscar-winning film was set in Sparta, Miss., but most of the movie was filmed in Sparta, Ill. Many of the film’s landmarks can still be seen.

Director Norman Jewison shot part of the film in Dyersburg and Union City, Tenn., and the rest in Sparta, Chester, and Freeburg in southern Illinois.

The Plot: While traveling in the Deep South, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), a black Philadelphian homicide detective, becomes unwittingly embroiled in the murder investigation of a prominent businessman. Finding the killer, however, proves difficult when his efforts are constantly thwarted by the bigoted town sheriff (Rod Steiger). But neither man can solve this case alone. Putting aside their differences and prejudices, they join forces in a desperate race against time to discover the truth.

Freeburg IL location

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the film won five. Besides Best Picture and best performance by an actor, the film picked up the Oscars for screenplay from another medium (Stirling Silliphant), editing (Hal Ashby), and sound.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 95% based on 83 reviews, with an average rating of 8.40/10. Its consensus states, “Tense, funny, and thought-provoking all at once, and lifted by strong performances from Sydney Poitier and Rod Steiger, director Norman Jewison’s look at murder and racism in small-town America continues to resonate today.”

The movie is available through DirecTV, and for rent on various streaming platforms.

For photos and reminiscences of the local shoot, visit: http://www.themoviedistrict.com/in-the-heat-of-the-night-1967/

“Going to the Movies!” made a video of the places: https://youtu.be/-6uD-hvHhE8

Streaming Theater: Seedfolks

Metro Theater Company presents “Seedfolks” live through Nov. 6 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center, but can also be viewed via streaming video beginning today.

This is a heart-warming play about neighbors drawn out of their lonely isolation to rediscover and celebrate the community around them.

From award-winning novelist Paul Fleischman, the story is about a vacant lot in a broken neighborhood in the middle of the city that becomes a source of hope, with a dozen different characters bringing their stories to life. Kim is one, a nine-year-old Vietnamese immigrant who plants six precious lima beans. One by one, characters, many also immigrants sow seeds of hope amid the dirt and grit, tending dreams to full bloom. As the garden grows, so does the community, blooming into something bigger, better and beyond all expectations.

The play is 60 minutes without an intermission and is best enjoyed by those age 9 and up.

Local actors John Mayfield, Michael Thanh Tran and Tyler White are featured. It’s directed by Jess Shoemaker.

Performances are Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. (socially distant), and Sundays at 2 p.m.

A Virtual Q&A with author Paul Fleischman is set for Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. Registration is free at metroplays.org.

For more information and to get a virtual streaming link, visit www.metroplays.org

Movie: True Crime Thriller

“The Good Nurse” opens today in select theaters and will drop on Netflix on Oct. 26. Starring Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, this suspenseful film is based on the true crime story of ICU nurse Charles Cullen. Here’s my review:


Playlist: A-ha!

In 1985, the groundbreaking music video to the synth pop song “Take On Me” gave the Norwegian group a no. 1 hit in America. The innovative video, greenlighted by Warner Brothers executive Jeff Ayeroff is a combination of illustrations and live-action, directed by “Billie Jean” director Steve Barron. It was in heavy rotation on MTV, and won six Video Music Awards, including Best Special Effects, Best Concept, and Viewer’s Choice

The husband-and-wife creative team of Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger used rotoscope to create the realistic movements, showing a-ha frontman Morten Harket getting a girl to visit his cartoon world. The song and video remain popular to this day.

Here is the remastered music video:


Word: National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

“Growing up, I was constantly reminded to not to air our family’s dirty laundry. Part of why domestic violence is allowed to continue is because there is often an unwritten rule in many families of abuse: Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Keeping quiet does no good. I found that sharing my story liberated me from my past. There is power in storytelling and, in that, healing. Owning my truth also empowered me. I will no longer be manipulated or controlled by guilt or shame.” — Kambri Crews

By Lynn Venhaus

Local Spotlight: Ian Coulter-Buford, formerly of Belleville, Ill., and now on the national tour of “Hadestown” currently at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis through Oct. 23, is the dance captain, understudy for Hermes and a swing in the show.

Here’s a Fabulous Fox video in which he shares a few moves from the Tony-winning Best Musical.


For more information on Ian, who has an MFA in theatre from Illinois Wesleyan University, visit his website: https://www.iancoulterbuford.com/

Announcements: Matinee Added!

Stray Dog Theatre has added a Saturday matinee for its last week of its critically acclaimed “A Little Night Music.”

Four other performances remain of the Sondheim classic, Oct. 19-22, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Tower Grove Abbey.

For tickets or more information, visit: www.straydogtheatre.org

Phil Rosenthal

TV: Somebody Feed Phil

Host Phil Rosenthal opens the sixth season of the Emmy-nominated food/travel series “Somebody Feed Phil” on Netflix. The new episodes take Phil to Philadelphia, Nashville and Austin in the U.S., and Croatia and Santiago across the universe.

A special tribute to his late parents, Helen and Max, is featured as well. The pair inspired their fair share of “Everybody Loves Raymond” moments, which Rosenthal created and was the executive producer from 1996 to 2005 (he also wrote 23 episodes).

Book: Phil Again

“Somebody Feel Phil: The Book” is available in bookstores and online today. It includes recipes, production photos and stories from the first four season.

Rosenthal will be at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5 with a presentation called – Somebody Feed Phil the Book: Untold Stories, Behind-the-Scenes Photos and Favorite Recipes: A Cookbook

The ultimate collection of must-have recipes, stories, and behind-the-scenes photos from the beloved Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil.

“Wherever I travel, be it a different state, country, or continent, I always call Phil when I need to know where and what to eat. He’s the food guru of the world.” —Ray Romano

From the JBF: Phil Rosenthal, host of the beloved Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, really loves food and learning about global cultures, and he makes sure to bring that passion to every episode of the show. Whether he’s traveling stateside to foodie-favorite cities such as San Francisco or New Orleans or around the world to locations like Ho Chi Minh City, Tel Aviv, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, or Marrakesh, Rosenthal includes a healthy dose of humor to every episode—and now to this book.”

For tickets or more information and the complete schedule, visit: https://jccstl.com/festival-events-schedule/

Trailer: “Creed III” Released Today!

Follow-up to “Creed” in 2015 and “Creed II” in 2018, star and director Michael B. Jordan introduced the trailer to the third installment yesterday to critics (more on that later), and it came out today.

It will be released in theaters and IMAX on March 3, 2023.

Synopsis: After dominating the boxing world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life. When a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy, Damian (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison, he is eager to prove that he deserves his shot in the ring. The face-off between former friends is more than just a fight. To settle the score, Adonis must put his future on the line to battle Damian – a fighter who has nothing to lose.

The screenplay is by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, with story by them and originator Ryan Coogler.

Besides Jordan and Majors, cast includes Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu, Mila Davis-Kent, and Phylicia Rashad.

Premium Video on Demand: “The Good House”

Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline reunite for the third time in this adult romantic drama, based on the novel by Ann Leary. Weaver is Hildy Good, a realtor in a small New England town, and she rekindles a romance with Frank Getchell (Kline), But she needs to take care of a buried past, for her drinking is getting out of control again. It’s a portrait of a proud woman who wouldn’t think of asking for help, but whose life won’t change until she does.

Premium Video on Demand is $19.99.

On Nov. 22, the movie will be available video on demand for $5.99, and rental as DVD. It’s available for purchase as a Blu-ray + Digital combo or DVD.

Notes: The pair were in “Dave” (1993) and “The Ice Storm” (1997). Kline, 74, from St. Louis, has won an Oscar for “A Fish Called Wanda” in 1989. For his work on Broadway, he has won three Tony Awards — for two musicals, “The Pirates of Penzance” in 1981 and “On the Twentieth Century” in 1978, and the comedy “Present Laughter” in 2017.

Blackberry Telecaster

Drink: Purple Power

It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Fountain on Locust is hoping to see St. Louis turn purple in support!

Order the Blackberry Telecaster or Le Fleur at the Fountain from today through Sunday, Oct. 18 – 23, and half the profits will go to help local St. Louis non-profit ALIVE provide shelter, healing and hope to domestic violence survivors in need.

For more info, visit ww.fountainonlocust.com

Word: The origin of the cocktail

On this day in 1776:  In a bar decorated with bird tail in Elmsford, New York, a customer requests a glassful of “those cock tails” from bartender Betsy Flanagan.

Playlist: Chuck Berry

It’s Chuck Berry’s birthday – he was born Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis and died on March 18, 2017.

As part of his 60th birthday celebration, parts of the film, “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll” was recorded at the Fox Theatre on Oct. 16, 1986.

For a look back at that experience, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an article today:


Here’s Keith Richards joining Berry for “Nadine”:

By Lynn Venhaus

TV: The Watcher (Limited Series)

Coming to Netflix: October 13

Based on a true story, “The Watcher” is seven episodes of a mystery-thriller about a couple who moves into their suburban dream home, only to discover a haunting figure is watching them. The cast includes Bobby Cannavale, Naomi Watts, Jennifer Coolidge, Terry Kinney (my ISU classmate), and Michael Nouri.

Here’s the trailer: https://youtu.be/5HDkw100sXQ

Food: Hot Dog! A ‘meat’ and greet

The Oscar Meyer Weinermobile will be in the metro St. Louis region Thursday and Friday, stopping at four Schnucks stores.

Oct: 13 – Godfrey, 2712 Godfrey Road: 9 a.m. to noon
Edwardsville, 2222 Troy Road: 1 to 4 p.m.

Oct. 14 – Des Peres, 12332 Manchester Road, 9 a.m. to noon
St. Charles, 1900 1st Capitol Drive, 1 to 4 p.m.

Schedules are subject to change. Check out the map for the latest information: https://khcmobiletour.com/wienermobile

Stage: More Sondheim, Please!

Stray Dog Theatre’s second weekend of “A Little Night Music” begins tonight at 8 p.m. at the Tower Grove Abbey, and continues Friday and Saturday. On Sunday,the only matineewill be presented at 2 p.m., and there will be a show on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

A bucolic setting for romantic entanglements is the premise, and this triple-threat cast has fun singing, dancing, and emoting in turn-of-the-20th-century Sweden.

Here is my review:

Coming Soon: A holiday musical twist on ‘A Christmas Carol’

Are you ready for Christmas movies? Here’s the trailer for “Spirited,” a musical comedy starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds that will open in theaters on Nov. 11 and streaming on Apple TV+. It’s a new take on Dickens’ classic, but from the ghosts’ point of view.
Original songs by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul.

Playlist: Rhymin’ Simon

It’s Paul Simon’s 81st birthday. He was born on Oct. 13, 1941, in Newark, NJ. He met his longtime music collaborator Art Garfunkel when they performed in a school production of ‘Alice in Wonderful” in sixth grade. They produced their first record in 1964.

Four years ago, on his 77th birthday, he appeared as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” for the ninth time (he hosted 4 times).

Here’s a three-minute compilation of some iconic moments on “Saturday Night Live,” including his performance of “The Boxer” on the first episode after 9-11.

Word: Ed Sullivan

On this date in 1974, the famous host died of esophageal cancer at age 73.

During his 23 years hosting “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the seminal Sunday night variety cavalcade, he said some very funny things to guests on the show and backstage. Here’s some of my favorites:

Here are some of my favorite things he ever said to music artists:

Ed Sullivan

“You boys look great, [but] you ought to smile a little more.” –speaking backstage with Jim Morrison and the band before The Doors performance

“I wanted to say to Elvis Presley and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy, and wherever you go, Elvis, we want to say we’ve never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you. So now let’s have a tremendous hand for a very nice person!” –complimenting Elvis Presley following his last performance.

“The little fella in front is incredible.” – Ed Sullivan talking about Michael Jackson following the first performance by The Jackson

“Before even discussing the possibility of a contract, I would like to learn from you, whether your young men have reformed in the matter of dress and shampoo.”  Ed Sullivan’s response to a request by The Rolling Stones’ manager for a contract for a second appearance

By Lynn Venhaus
Based on the 2000 fictional novel by Joyce Carol Oates, “Blonde” is a deeply flawed semi-biopic that blurs fantasy and reality regarding the life of movie star Marilyn Monroe. The reality is an alarming American tragedy, and the fiction is a relentlessly disturbing film.

The film “Blonde” reimagines the life of the Hollywood legend, from her traumatic childhood as Norma Jeane Baker, through her rise to stardom and romantic entanglement. Writer-director Andrew Dominik blurs the lines of fact and fiction, exploring the difference between her public and private self

With its NC-17 rating and shocking graphic sexual content, “Blonde” is a polarizing, controversial take on one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons. Norma Jeane deserved better in life, and a much better  representation in a film after her death.

Not that Ana de Armas doesn’t impress in a remarkable transformation as the stunningly gorgeous, breathy-voiced actress whose traumatic childhood forever damaged her psyche. She has the look, the voice, and the demeanor down pat in her recreation, but regrettably, spends a huge chunk of the film in tears.

She wears those memorable outfits well, and costume designer Jennifer Johnson captures every look in meticulous detail.

With such copious nudity and its 2-hour, 46-minute runtime, at least a half-hour of bare breasts could have been cut. Not that more incisive editing would have saved the film, but it sure would have helped.

Writer-director Andrew Dominik worked on bringing this adaptation to the screen for over 10 years. The source material is already suspect anyway because it’s filmed as a dreamy fantasy – so unless you know the factual details of Marilyn’s life, you will be adrift. What’s fake and what really happened? You’ll have to find that out on your own.

For instance, her first husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, is not referred to by name in the credits, only “Ex-Athlete.” To be fair, Bobby Cannavale is a fine embodiment of the slugger.

Bobby Cannavale and Ana de Armas

As her second husband Arthur Miller, Adrien Brody fares better and has the best scene when they first talk. It’s well-established that Miller was captivated by her enthusiasm for ‘the work,’ and her knowledge of literature and characters. She had an intuitive sense of the material, but sadly, wasn’t allowed to realize her great potential.

Growing up with a schizophrenic mother (a terrifying performance by Julianne Nicholson), Norma Jeane was sent to an orphanage. She endured so much hardship that we see why she had massive daddy issues and just wanted to be loved. Young actress Lily Fisher is gut-wrenching as the young Norma Jeane.

Starting out as a model, Monroe transitioned to film – her first role was in the Oscar-winning “All About Eve” as the wicked George Sanders’ date. The studio system’s casting couch is nothing new, but the way Marilyn was brutalized by men in power is upsetting. Treated like a boy-toy and nothing more than a sexual plaything is quite unsettling, and when the film dissolves into porn-like scenes with her lascivious pals Charlie Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edgar G. Robinson Jr. (Garret Dillahunt), it’s squirm-time.

(I’m wondering how long it will take Netflix viewers to turn off the film after those graphic sexual encounters take place). The sleazier things, especially the lewd JFK scene, are painful..

The fantasy aspect is reason for concern, and after revealing she has a studio-ordered abortion, then she loses a baby through miscarriage, later. Did we need a voice and image of the fetuses?

Dominik’s overly melodramatic and turgid script, which he describes as an avalanche of images and events, is muddled and messy, and does not serve the actress well. No one is depicted in a good light. (Although cinematographer Chayse Irvin’s work with stark black and white vs. scenes of technicolor is interesting).

The movie shows only fleeting snippets of joy, and yes, her public and private images are contrasted in a very uncomfortable way. — lecherous and leery distortions.

“Blonde” is a confusing, perturbing, grim film that does the tragic star a disservice and winds up more of a nightmare because of its fever dream elements. I will never watch this again, and I can’t unsee things I wish I could.

“Blonde” is a 2022 drama-fantasy written and directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Garret Dillahunt, Julianne Nicholson, and Lily Fisher.
It is rated NC-17 for some sexual content and the runtime is 2 hours, 46 minutes.
It streams on Netflix beginning Sept. 28, and is in selected theaters Sept. 23 (but not in St. Louis). Lynn’s Grade: D.

By Lynn Venhaus

With nods to “Back to the Future,” “The Terminator” and “Field of Dreams,” not to mention a 1949 hit song “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)” by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadiens, “The Adam Project” has a familiar but fun retro vibe that relies on its gifted cast to save the day.

This personality-driven science-fiction drama is a combo plate of movie themes set in a sci-fi time-travel world. The action is more video game than epic but has a sincere emotional center, working in a grieving family’s healing.

Pre-teen Adam Reed is small for his age but is quick with quips, and trying to cope with the death of his science professor dad Louis (Mark Ruffalo), who may have accidentally created time travel, as is his exasperated mom Ellie (Jennifer Garner). While home alone, a spacecraft lands in his backyard, piloted by his now-40-year-old buff self (Ryan Reynolds). “Big Adam” has come back from 2050 to find his endangered wife Laura (Zoe Saldana) but was aiming for 2018. They must work together to save the world, each other and strengthen their family ties.

Reuniting cheeky monkey Ryan Reynolds with his “Free Guy” director Shawn Levy, who has a knack for crowd pleasers (“A Night at the Museum,” “Stranger Things” TV series), this film capitalizes on the star’s strengths.

Reynolds, who looks like the Homecoming King but acts like the class clown who’s on the honor roll, rapidly delivers sarcasm and wisecracks in a jaunty way. He easily slips into renegade roles. Both Reynolds and Levy are producers here, and they demonstrate a collaborative spark (just announced that they will work on “Deadpool 3” together).

As Adam Reed, once a scrawny, nerdy kid with nimble verbal skills who grows up to be a buff fighter pilot, Reynolds quips and cajoles with the skills he’s shown in “Deadpool,” “Red Notice” and last summer’s surprise hit “Free Guy.”

He meets his match when he comes face-to-face with smart young Adam, his 12-year-old self in 2022 — Walker Scobell making his film debut, who is truly Reynolds’ mini-me. Together, they are very entertaining and use their powers for good.

It gets a little head-trippy when they go back to 2018, “Big” Adam’s intended target, and their dad is still alive. They have reason to believe his tech project financier Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) is an unethical megalomaniac with only dollar signs in mind. Despite a brief appearance, Mark Ruffalo’s scruffy workaholic professor lends both gravitas and heart to the story.

Relatable Jennifer Garner plays Ellie Reed, Adam’s overwhelmed widowed mom, while Zoe Saldana, who knows a thing or two about sci-fi, having been in “Avatar” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” series, effortlessly appears as Adam’s fierce warrior wife Laura, who has been missing and presumed dead.

That’s the thing about time travel – logic goes out the window, and the more you think about connecting the dots, the more your head hurts. Your brain needn’t work that hard about wormholes, quantum leaps, electro-magnetic particles, and time streams.

Four screenwriters are credited, starting with Jonathan Tropper, who adapted his novel for the 2014 film “This Is Where I Leave You,” starring Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll and Tina Fey as siblings sitting shiva after their father’s death, which was directed by Levy.

T.S. Nowlin, who wrote “The Maze Runner” series, and Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, who were Emmy-nominated for the “Big Mouth” animated series, were brought on board.

The dialogue is zippy and the action has genuine peril, although Sorian’s henchmen look more like Daft Punk than Stormtroopers.

As is the digital-age custom – and following James Gunn’s lead in the “Guardians” movies, all action scenes are accompanied by radio-friendly classic rock hits. There’s Boston’s “Long Time,” Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” and Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” – sense a time theme? That clever touch carries over to a scene when you can discern Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” as the instrumental music heard in the drug store.

The past meets the future – or is it the future meets the past? — in this amiable film, but the sci-fi takes a back seat to the family story that matters more, illustrated by a dad playing catch with his sons. As “Field of Dreams” still shows to this day, when grown men blubber about a baseball field surrounded by cornfields, something so elemental from childhood can be so profound.

“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink”

“The Adam Project” is a 2022 sci-fi action-adventure comedy directed by Shawn Levy and starring Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Jennifer Garner, Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo and Catherine Keener. It is rated PG-13 for violence/action, language and suggestive references and it runs 1 hour, 46 minutes. Streaming on Netflix beginning March 11. Lynn’s Grade: B.

By Lynn Venhaus

In the loving hands of director Lin-Manuel Miranda, the world will know Jonathan Larson’s name as more than the creator of “Rent,” one of the big-bang bursts in musical theater history, because of this enthralling origin story “tick, tick…Boom!”

Brimming with vitality, this brilliant gem shines spotlighting the creative process and the importance of pursuing your dreams. It is the best musical adapted from the stage since 2012’s “Les Miserables.”

Collaborating with many gifted artists, Miranda, in his feature film directorial debut, broadens this early work to appeal to the dreamer in all of us. We can relate to Larson as a visionary full of doubt, anxiety, and drive, who had a unique voice that was meant to be heard. Filled with passion, he pushed on, despite many obstacles in his way.

The young composer revolutionized theater with “Rent,”, but tragically, did not live to see the first Off-Broadway preview performance, because he died that day, Jan. 25, 1996, suffering an aortic dissection. He was 35. Five years earlier, he was writing a musical called “Superbia,” loosely based on George Orwell’s “1984” and full of angst about turning 30. He turned that experience in a rock monologue, “30/90,” which was later renamed “Boho Days” and finally “tick, tick…Boom.”

In this adaptation of that autobiographical musical, Jon (Andrew Garfield) is waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990, and feeling pressure from his dancer-girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus), who traded in an artistic life for one of financial security, and people helping him put on a showcase of his work.

Meanwhile, a community is being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads. He wonders what he is meant to do with the time he has.

In his most revelatory screen performance to date, Tony winner and Oscar nominee Garfield displays Larson’s virtuosity and bravado. He embraces the music numbers with abundant zest and connects with Alexandra Shipp as his exasperated girlfriend and Robin de Jesus as his frustrated friend.

The sharp script was written by Steven Levenson, who won a Tony for “Dear Evan Hanson.” The adage “write what you know” is a running theme – and one can see Larson’s style evolving, and his various influences throughout.

“30/90” deals with his feelings about growing older without much to show for his songwriting efforts. Envious of his friend’s luxurious life, he and Robin de Jesus have fun with “No More.”

In one of the musical’s stand-out pieces, “Sunday,” as conducted by Jon, is both an homage to revered composer Stephen Sondheim and a salute to artistic vision. The legendary Sondheim, who was a tremendous influence on Larson, is deftly underplayed by Bradley Whitford.

Several members of the original cast of “Rent,” as well as performers from Miranda’s masterpiece “Hamilton,” many Broadway legends and Tony winners have a shared moment in a Sunday brunch scene. It’s a “Where’s Waldo?” panoply of talent that you’ll want to stop and rewind over and over.

The film’s ensemble is tight, and several singers have stand-out moments – with Vanessa Hudgens singing her heart out as Karessa in “Come to Your Senses,” the show-stopping song that Larson finally pens after excruciating writer’s block episodes.

Another heart-tugging number is “Why,” when Jon plays an old rehearsal piano at the closed Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

If you are unfamiliar with “Rent,” now being celebrated in a national 25th anniversary farewell tour, this musical about Bohemians struggling with life, love, and AIDS in the East Village, won Larson the Pulitzer Prize and three Tony Awards posthumously. It ran on Broadway until 2008, and is the 11th longest running musical of all-time.

But early versions of “tick, tick…Boom!” came before  — and after. Playwright David Auburn revised it after Larson’s death as a piece for three actors (Jon, Susan, and Michael). It premiered off-Broadway in 2001, with Raul Esparza winning an Obie Award in the leading role. It has been performed in London’s West End, with Neil Patrick Harris, and at many other theaters since it was revamped. An Encores! Off-Center production in 2014 featured Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. and Karen Olivo.

Miranda, who said seeing “Rent” on his 17th birthday changed his life, was born to direct this. He gets it – kids with dreams, brimming with ideas. He was one of those kids — and went on to win Tony Awards for “In the Heights” and the cultural phenomenon “Hamilton.” (You can spot him, too, at the diner. And his Disney animated musical “Encanto” is out in theaters Nov. 24).

As sad as Larson’s untimely death was, this film is full of joy – a tribute tp one of the great talents of the 20th century. Because his death is believed to have been caused by an undiagnosed Marfan syndrome, more attention has been given to this condition. (And the struggles of low-income folks lacking health care).

Today, the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, established by family and friends, provides monetary grants to artists, with a particular emphasis on musical theatre composers and writers.

This support for creative work is now administered by the American Theatre Wing because of an endowment funded by his family and the foundation. Who knows how many fellow starving artists Larson inspired to write the next great American musical?

His memory and his impact lives on – and his “Rent” lyrics eerily resonate: “No Day but Today.”

“tick, tick…Boom!” is a bittersweet rumination on art and inspiration, and Miranda has made it both personal and universal.

“tick, tick…Boom!” is a 2021 Musical Biopic directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Joshua Henry, Bradley Whitford, and Judith Light. It is rated PG-13 for some strong language, some suggestive material and drug references and runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. It opened in select theaters on Nov. 12 and started streaming on Netflix Nov. 19. Lynn’s Grade: A.

By Lynn Venhaus
An American remake that is as tense and gripping as the 2018 Danish original, “The Guilty” will surprise with its carefully crafted twists in a story you think you have figured out – but assumptions are a dangerous tool.

“The Guilty” takes place over the course of a single morning in a 911 dispatch call center. Call operator Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to save an emergency caller in grave danger, but he soon discovers that nothing is as it seems, and facing the truth is the only way out.

Gyllenhaal bought the rights to the acclaimed foreign language film, which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and was Denmark’s entry for the Oscars (not nominated; “Roma” won) three years ago. (The original is currently streaming on Hulu.)

As a producer, he cast himself as the lead, a demoted police officer working as a 911 dispatcher, and assembled a crackerjack team.

The creative crew – including screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto, of HBO’s “True Detective,” has not changed much, but moved the location from Copenhagen to Los Angeles, where the public safety personnel are involved in quelling wildfires. The call center displays horrific scenes of fire ravaging the landscape on its multi-screens.

Original screenwriters Gustav Moeller, who also directed the 2018 film, and Emile Nygaard Albertsen, had written such a compelling script that it really didn’t need much embellishment. It’s a brilliant example of building tension in a contained area in a race against time.

Above all, the source material illustrated that a rush to judgment is often counterproductive. The takeaway is that one should not jump to conclusions before all the details are available.

One change is the temperament of Baylor. Whereas in the original, Swedish actor Jakob Cedergren played the conflicted police officer with a more stoic demeanor, they both are frustrated by the petty calls clogging up the system and show little patience.

Gyllenhaal is a more intense actor, so he plays Joe with pent-up rage. While he answers routine calls, he seems a little more on edge, his inhaler present. Turns out he has a trial set for the next day, but the charges are not revealed right away. Through his conversations with others, we piece it together.

Emily, a mother of two who is in the process of getting a divorce, calls 911, whispers for help, and Joe soon gets involved in a complicated case. She is frantically voiced by Riley Keough.

Gyllenhaal’s ferocity will sometimes get in the way of cool, calm decision making under pressure. He will say and do things that further heighten a dangerous scenario.

Clearly, his conscience is wrestling with some other issues. As a beat cop, he’s trying to be a hero – is this a means of redemption?

Director Antoine Fuqua knows a thing or two about shooting action films – his collaborations with Denzel Washington include the Equalizer reboot and its sequel, the “Magnificent Seven” remake and Washington’s Oscar winner “Training Day.” He directed Gyllenhaal in “Southpaw.”

Fuqua makes a fairly stagnant situation bristle with adrenaline and anxiety. What kind of peril is Emily in? As the film unfolds, we will be able to see the bigger picture.

The voice work is stellar, as one would expect from the supporting players. Besides Keough being the distraught victim on the other end of the phone, Peter Sarsgaard (Gyllenhaal’s brother-in-law in real life) plays her husband Henry, who is living separately from their family.

Ethan Hawke, an Oscar nominee for “Training Day,” is a police sergeant whose work banter with Joe indicates familiarity. Paul Dano, who directed Gyllenhaal in the underrated “Wildlife,” plays a VIP who is mugged while visiting the City of Angels.

The editing by Jason Ballantine is impressive, and the music score by Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos conveys an urgency that increases the helpless feelings coming through the phones.

At a 90-minute runtime, Fuqua keeps it taut, and Gyllenhaal displays the effects of compromised morality that’s a necessary ingredient. While this may not be better than the original – they did this tale first after all, so there is a lack of surprise if you have seen it – but for American audiences experiencing it as new material, this puts the thrill in thriller.

“The Guilty” is a thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Voice work is by Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano. It is Rated R for language throughout and is 90 minutes. In theatres Sept. 24 and streaming on Netflix Oct. 1.
Lynn’s Grade: B+