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Waiting for the Letdown

The Rehearsal, Three Thousand Years of Longing and Samaritan

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THE REHEARSAL. Noted deadpan Canadian weirdo Nathan Fielder, under-appreciated cringe-lord and spelunker of the depths of interpersonal awkwardness, is perhaps best known for his previous television series Nathan for You (2013-2017), wherein Fielder put to work his perhaps questionable business education and acumen to assist struggling, real-life small businesses. Thanks to his, shall we say, unorthodox perspective and methodology, though, he became something more, less and much stranger than advisor. Introducing a more often than not discomfiting degree of candor and practiced naivete to each scenario, he would create both outlandish comedic setups but also a space wherein his mentee — test subject, victim, accomplice; hard to say, really — could and would, almost invariably, reveal aspects of their personality that would most likely otherwise remain submerged. Meanwhile, some of the absurdities of "normal" life would be measured against Fielder's frequently outlandish suggestions, to be revealed, considered and made light of.

For those of us left wanting more, there is The Rehearsal. Over six deliciously insane episodes, Fielder deploys his methodology (and the considerable resources of HBO) to create literal, physical space inside which actual life experiences can be rehearsed. In so doing, the show's narrative would have us believe, he begins to recognize the unexamined aspects of his own lived experience and inner life, and so inserts himself ever more deeply into his own constructed realities. The result, a psychedelic nesting doll of invention, discovery and reflection rises to the level of genius. Drawing from dark, hysterical corners of the human psyche and comedic constructs as disparate as the Stanford Prison Experiment and Being There (1979) —The Rehearsal is better, apropos of nothing — Fielder makes rough-hewn high art of the most mundane situations and, seemingly effortlessly, remakes himself as a bumbling, kindhearted, wholly new archetype.

As my wife announced from another room, having heard a little and seen even less, "This show is so uncomfortable!" It is. Therein, somehow, lies its soothing, hilarious, troubling appeal. TVMA. 30M. HBO MAX.

THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING. I am not a student or fanatic of George Miller's work, though Mad Max (1979) seared itself on my squishy brain early, as it did for so many. And the trailer for, and anticipation of, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) buoyed my spirits through more dismal afternoons at the cinema than I'd care to count. I suppose I'm a casual fan.

And so the release of Three Thousand Years of Longing is an event I've clocked, if not longed for (apologies). Especially amid the mounting catastrophes of life in the 21st century, a work of art from a bonafide craftsperson is something to anticipate; we've got little else, after all. And a bottled genie — djinn, sorry — fable starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba? Sounds fun and fantastical. Which it is, in the early going, with Swinton's Alithea, an introverted narratologist attending a conference in Istanbul, visited by visions of djinn of many colors before becoming intimately acquainted with her appointed one. And for a while, their hotel bedroom conversation foregrounding vivid flashbacks of his multi-thousand-year incarceration, the vision-making carries the story. After Alithea decides to use one of her wishes to entrap the djinn, an inveterate and passionate admirer of women, and bring him home to London, though, the momentum of the narrative flags precipitously, becoming somnolent and unremarkable.

Adapted by Miller and Augusta Gore from the short story "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye" by A.S. Byatt, Three Thousand Years of Longing sets out conjuring no small amount of visual magic, as well as suggesting an exploration of the vitality and vivacity of stories, both in and of themselves and as tools to explore and better understand the human condition. But, as can be the case with short story adaptations, there just doesn't seem to be quite enough story to sustain the movie's running time. R. 108M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

SAMARITAN. In another example of misplaced enthusiasm, I had been looking forward to this new feature from director Julius Avery, whose Overlord (2018) I hoped signaled more good things to come. That movie, a ridiculous, gleeful, World War II/zombie mash-up with bang-up gore effects and a unique, kinetic visual style, was one of the great surprises of its year. While I haven't put it in heavy rotation, it stays on my mind.

Samaritan is, however, a miscalculated Stallone star vehicle that, despite a few comforting aesthetic touches, evinces none of the style and flavor of Overlord. Instead, it is a strictly by-the-numbers, largely antiseptic superhero story set in a modern dystopia shadowed by the years-ago battle of hero and villain twin-brothers Samaritan and Nemesis. Sam (Javon "Wanna" Walton), a picked-on adolescent with a struggling single mom (Dascha Polanco), has made a life's work of confirming the continued existence of Samaritan and he's pretty sure he's found him in self-described troglodyte garbageman Joe (Stallone). Enter the marauding Nemesis fan-boy horde, led by Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), with plans to unify the underclass of Granite City through violence and chaos.

It's well-worn stuff with precious little to vivify it. The usually reliable Martin Starr and Moises Alou are desperately underserved by the material. PG13. 102M. AMAZON PRIME.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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