Skip or Stream column: ‘Stuntwomen,’ ‘Broken Hearts’ ‘Social Dilemma,’ ‘Bill & Ted’
This week’s four-pack features a pair of documentaries, some most-excellent ’80s nostalgia and an endearing rom-com. Skip or stream? Read and find out:
“Stuntwomen - The Untold Hollywood Story”: April Wright’s documentary gives female stunt performers their due with a behind-the-scenes look at the “invisible” women powering up the action sequences that make your heart pound and jaw drop. Footage includes these memorable scenes: Donna Keegan performing Jamie Lee Curtis’ helicopter rescue in 1994’s “True Lies”; Debbie Evans as Carrie-Anne Moss’ stunt double for a wrong-way motorcycle chase at 90 mph in “The Matrix Reloaded”; and Jeannie Epper doubling for Kathleen Turner for the massive mudslide in “Romancing the Stone.” By the way, Wright could have made a whole movie around Epper, considered the greatest stuntwoman ever. Then there’s Heidi Moneymaker performing stunts in “Black Widow” and Jessie Graff in “Wonder Woman” as the superheroines leap, fly, twist and fight - sometimes clad in heels and outfits so skin tight there’s no room for protective padding. About 30 stuntwomen are featured (some more briefly than others), and that’s a lot to keep straight in an 84-minute film. Inevitably, Wright ends up giving short shrift to most of them, including Randolph’s Keisha Taylor, who did the butt-kicking for Dora Milaje in “Black Panther.” The movie is based on Mollie Gregory’s book and narrated by Michelle Rodriguez, who spends time on screen hanging out with her “Fast & Furious” double Debbie Evans, a legend known for her mad driving skills. Wright’s movie is lean, tracing the evolution of stuntwomen back to 1914’s “The Perils of Pauline” before tackling the pervasive sexism still prevalent in Hollywood’s “boys club.” Rarely do the women reach the level of stunt coordinator. They can crash through windows yet can’t break the glass ceiling. (Not rated but contains strong language and stunt violence; available to stream starting Sept. 25 via video on-demand. Grade: B)
“Broken Hearts Gallery”: Geraldine Viswanathan (“Blockers”) stars as the plucky lead in this by-the-numbers but totally endearing rom-com from first-time writer-director Natalie Krinsky. Viswanathan is Lucy, a 20-something New York City art gallery assistant who collects (hordes?) tokens of her failed romances. She can’t let go, so she clings to things like ties, doorknobs and plane tickets - stuff most of us would call junk. After she loses her job, and yet another boyfriend, Lucy “meets cute” with Nick (Dacre Montgomery of “Stranger Things”), a fixer-upper renovating a boutique hotel where Lucy builds the pop-up gallery of the film’s title. It’s a collection of tokens of lost love and it’s an instant hit with strangers, who donate their own keepsakes from Teddy bears to rubber ducks to maps to plane tickets. Lucy sees the mementos as “souvenirs that tell the story of your life.” Existential crises and romantic complications ensue. Krinsky’s script hits all the usual genre beats: karaoke scene, third-act grand gesture, everyone lives in a sweet NYC apartment, etc. Yet the predictability isn’t a liability. Instead, it’s a welcome dose of knowing exactly what’s to come amid the uncertain times in which we currently live. Krinsky’s script mines heartbreak for catharsis and is propped up by a fine supporting cast featuring “Booksmart’s” Molly Gordon and “Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo as Lucy’s best friends; Bernadette Peters as Lucy’s tough gallery boss; Utkarsh Ambudkar as Lucy’s arrogant ex; and Arturo Castro as Nick’s pal. With Viswanathan leading the way, it’s hard not to swoon. (PG-13 for sexual content throughout and some crude references, strong language, drug references; playing in local theaters. Grade: B)
“The Social Dilemma”: Jeff Orlowski’s documentary takes a bite out of the tech-addiction Apple. It’s the same subject matter as Jon Hyatt’s recent “Screened Out,” but a ton scarier, as one talking head - Tim Kendall, former director of monetization at Facebook and former Pinterest president - says social media will bring full-blown civil war. It’ll shake you to the core. The premise is we’re too dependent on our electronic devices and social media. They’re rotting our brains. Duh! The film takes to task the creators of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok and the rest for manipulating our minds to get us hooked. Our dopamine (pleasure) response is dollars in their ever-deepening pockets. Orlowski interviews an impressive array of Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Google and Facebook engineer Justin Rosenstein, who invented the “like” button and now wishes he hadn’t; Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology; Professor and author Shoshana Zuboff; Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and VR pioneer and author. Orlowski (“Chasing Coral”) uses animation, graphics and dramatization to supplement the expert commentary. A narrative-within-the-documentary shows how a family of five navigates the digital landscape. And “Mad Men” actor Vincent Kartheiser brings to life the evil algorithms that make social media tick. The gimmick doesn’t always work, but that doesn’t make social-media addiction any less disturbing. (PG-13 for some thematic elements, disturbing/violent images and suggestive material. Available on Netflix. Grade: B)
“Bill & Ted Face the Music”: Whoa! Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are back as the bodacious time-traveling dudes from San Dimas, California, for this 30-years-in-the-making sequel. (Cue the air-guitar sound effect). No one wanted another one, but Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan give us what we need - a most excellent and totally charming blast of nostalgia, dude. This time out, the duo must unite the world by composing the greatest song ever written as time and space are collapsing around them. Kristen Schaal, playing the daughter of George Carlin’s character from the previous films, is Kelly, an emissary arriving from the future to tell Bill and Ted they have until 7:17 p.m. to write the song before “reality as we know it” will cease to exist. Their idea is to steal the song from their future selves … so off they go into the nearest phone booth. There’s no “So-crates” in this one, but many supporting players from the earlier installments return. They include: William Sadler as Death, Hal Landon Jr. as Ted’s dad and Amy Stoch as Bill’s ex-stepmom, Missy. Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, the original screenwriters, again supply the script. The subplot sends Bill and Ted’s daughters (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine, the latter does a spot-on recreation of Reeve’s nitwitted shtick) on a journey through history to assemble an all-star back-up band: Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still), Mozart (Daniel Dorr) and Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft). Who knew Bill and Ted would be the heroes of 2020? Now, go “be excellent to each other.” (PG-13 for some language. Playing in local theaters and available to rent on all the usual streaming platforms and video on-demand. Grade: B+).
Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.