THE PHOTOGRAPH. The story is based on love and romance, as its Feb. 14 release date might suggest, but The Photograph, written and directed by Stella Meghie, takes a typical love story and helps it grow into so many more meaningful ideas about love and relationships than just romance or lust. The film illustrates how people can share different loves at the same time. Through its characters, it paints pictures of dear relationships, some beautiful and balanced, others raw and with untold emotion.
When famed photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams) dies unexpectedly, she leaves her estranged daughter Mae Morton (Issa Rae) full of questions. A photograph tucked away in a safe-deposit box sends Mae on a journey delving into her mother's early life and ignites and fuels a powerful, unexpected romance with reporter Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield).
"I wish I was as good at love as I am at working. I wish I didn't leave people behind so often," a young Christina says in a home movie in 1989. The story flips to the present, where Michael meets Isaac (Rob Morgan) in rural Louisiana for an interview about Christina, whom he says he knew before she became New York famous. We learn that outside of her images, Christina can't express love for the people in her life and struggles with the decision between a romantic love or her passion for photography, which ultimately takes over her life to the detriment of her family.
Michael goes to Mae, who's now an assistant curator at the Queens Museum. Mae remembers only the distance and lack of attention she experienced as a kid. But a letter from her late mother begins to answer Mae's questions and raises new ones, including about the identity of Mae's father.
Mae and Michael bond as their research begins to reveal more about Christina's life in 1984 Louisiana and Mae's father. As Mae finds connection with her mother through the letter, and as her relationship with Michael deepens, she sees parallels with her mother's life that make her wonder if she isn't replaying the story of her parents' doomed love.
Most of this film's heartrending moments don't come from a place of romantic love, which may be what I enjoyed most. It had me looking inward, considering my own intergenerational relationships. This was a story of so many loves, that it's hard not to, well, love it. I imagine it hits differently for every viewer, as it takes on many perspectives, which I think is rare. This film also expresses an unapologetic, unproblematic narrative for a full black cast — even rarer for mainstream cinema. It is refreshing to see a story of blackness that excludes physical trauma. PG13. 106M. BROADWAY.
DOWNHILL. Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, this film stars a handful of big comedy names and man, did it need them. It's a remake of Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund's Force Majeure (2014), about a family that barely escapes an avalanche during a ski vacation in the French Alps and, while not as great as the original, its stars delivers big laughs, without which it would have fallen flat.
Billie (Julia-Louis Dreyfus) and her husband Pete (Will Ferrell) are already having tension as they work through the recent death of his father. After checking into an Austrain resort, the family grabs lunch on an elevated patio, laughing and having a good time against the mountainous background. Suddenly, explosions set off an avalanche and Pete grabs his cellphone before bolting, while his wife hugs their sons for dear life. The snow doesn't hit the resort and Pete returns to the table, making no mention of his actions and simply ordering the soup.
Naturally, Billie can't get over Pete's betrayal, becoming more aggressive snappier over the trip. When Pete invites visiting work friend Zach (Zach Woods) and his wife Rosie (Zoe Chao) for drinks we really start to see some comedy as well as the issues in their marriage as Pete and Billie dramatically (and competitively) recreate the incident.
A handful of out of place supporting actors reach for comedy and miss, including Miranda Otto as a free-spirited hotel worker with a German war-movie. The undeveloped characters are silly and fun, but make for weird interruptions. A few sexual and European stereotypes that may have been an attempt to add more humor missed the mark, too. Despite weak material, Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell pull off the drama of a marriage in crisis, and she in particular has a powerful scene in which her rage gushes out. But ultimately, it's the comedy that carries the film and keeps audience members in their seats. R. 86M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Monique Desir
*Due to the holiday, updated listings were not available for Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BEANPOLE. Russian director Kantemir Balagov's film about women living in the post-World War II rubble of Leningrad. NR. 130M. MINOR.
BRAHMS: THE BOY II. Katie Holmes stars as a woman whose son finds a haunted doll that looks like a slightly more life-like Jared Kushner. PG13. 86M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
CALL OF THE WILD. Harrison Ford as an outdoorsy dog person in this Jack London adaptation. PG. 140M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
CANE RIVER (1982). Class conflict and colorism in an African American romantic drama. Starring Tommye Myrick and Richard Romain. 104M. MINOR.
THE GODFATHER (1972). Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. R. 175M. BROADWAY.
THE HOST (2006). Oscar hoarder Bong Joon Ho directs Parasite leading man Kang-ho Song in a drama about a river monster. R. 120M. MINOR.
JURASSIC PARK (1993). Laura Dern appreciation. PG13. 127M. MINOR.
SHAFT (1971). Richard Roundtree is the man. R. 100M. MINOR.
1917. Director Sam Mendes' single-shot World War I drama tells the story of British soldiers crossing the horrors of No Man's Land with urgency and dream-like continuity. R. 119M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return to the buddy cop franchise set in Miami. R. 123M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DOLITTLE. The eccentric vet who talks to animals played by Robert Downey Jr. With Antonio Banderas. PG. 101M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
FANTASY ISLAND. Well, someone finally remade this vintage TV show for the freaky horror it was. With Michael Peña as Mr. Rourke, and Lucy Hale and Maggie Q as guests getting the "Monkey's Paw" treatment. PG13. 110M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE GENTLEMEN. Director Guy Ritchie's return to British crime comedy brings back cheeky performances, action and problematic GQ masculinity. A clunky narrative underwhelming climax-to-denouement keep it from being too triumphant. R. 113M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
GRETEL AND HANSEL. Director Osgood Perkins delivers otherworldly dread and gorgeous/ghastly visuals in this fascinatingly creepy adaptation, but self-indulgence and slow pacing lead to an unsatisfying conclusion. PG13. 87M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
HARLEY QUINN: BIRDS OF PREY. The freewheeling story, brightly gritty palette and fantastic fight sequences make up for a less colorful climax in director Cathy Yan's DC Comic movie. Starring Margot Robbie, May Elizabeth Winstead, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Rosie Perez. R. 149M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
HONEYLAND. A documentary about a beehunter in rural Europe and the visiting itinerant beekeepers whose methods conflict with hers. 90M. NR. MINIPLEX.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are literally back in the game, which is glitching. PG13. 123M. BROADWAY.
KNIVES OUT. Director Rian Johnson's tightly controlled whodunnit both pays homage to and raises the stakes of classic mystery with a stellar cast. Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY.
PARASITE. Writer/director Bong Joon Ho's entertaining, explosive drama about a poor family scamming its way to employment with a rich one is stunning in its sudden turns and unflinching mirror on capitalist society. Starring Kang-ho Song and Woo-sik Choi. (In Korean with subtitles.) R. 132M. BROADWAY.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG. After Cats, this will probably be fine. With Jim Carey, Ben Schwartz and James Marsden. PG. 99M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. J.J. Abrams steers a tremendous cast, fantastic effects and a few rousing sequences but this wrap-up of the Skywalker saga is visually and narratively cacophonous enough to drown out emotional moments. PG. 141M. BROADWAY.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill