Movie reviews: new for September 23

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  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Joe Alwyn and Bella Ramsey in Catherine called Birdy

Catherine called Birdy ***

Whatever your thoughts on Lena Dunham’s oeuvre, chances are you wouldn’t expect her to lead a dashing period game like this adaptation of Karen Cushman’s novel. In 13th-century England, 14-year-old Catherine (Bella Ramsey), daughter of feudal lord Rollo (Andrew Scott), leads a mischievous life woefully unwomanly. And that playfulness is especially exercised when her cash-strapped father decides that one of his few remaining income options is to marry off Catherine. The narrative goes in many strange directions, including Catherine’s crush on her own uncle (Joe Alwyn), and at times dangerously close to overplaying its anachronistic message about gender equality, underscored by several cover versions of pop songs to female forehead. It all comes down to young Ramsey’s appeal, and thankfully she’s lovely, with Dunham guiding her to the happy medium between incorrigible and irritating as she learns her important life lessons as a Jane Austen heroine. It’s inconsequential but very engaging – and as a bonus, Catherine’s older brother, a Catholic monk, scolds her for wielding a crucifix as a sword with a resigned “do not joust with our crucified Savior”. Available September 23 in theaters; October 7 via Amazon Prime Video. (PG-13)

Don’t worry honey **1/2
See feature review. Available September 23 in theaters. (R)

**
Call me old fashioned but when a movie premise promises me “Allison Janney is getting total badass” I want a movie that delivers “Allison Janney is getting total badass” more than drips and drips . Janney plays Lou, a lonely woman living in Washington’s San Juan Islands around 1986, and a woman who clearly has a story – a story that comes into play when her tenant Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) needs help. after her young daughter (Ridley Asha Bateman) is kidnapped by Hannah’s ex-husband, ex-Green Beret (Logan Marshall-Green). The action takes place during a torrential storm, which suggests a scenario of conflict that is as much about nature as it is about personal grudges. This storm stops long before the movie, which is a microcosm for what goes wrong in Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley’s script: everything is set up that dies down just when it should start roaring. Janney is strong enough to convey the harsh aspects of Lou’s past, but after a big confrontation with a few mercenaries, we end up talking a lot more than we do. The theoretically emotional backstories for these characters just aren’t interesting enough to keep rolling between sets – and that “in between” feels like it never stops. Available September 23 via Netflix. (R)

Coming ***
Novelist Angie Thomas (The hate you give) has carved out a unique and welcoming place to tell stories of young adult self-empowerment framed by the everyday violent realities faced by so many teens of color. This adaptation of the Thomas sequel tells the story of 16-year-old Bri (Jamila Gray), the daughter of a deceased rap icon and a recovering heroin addict mother (Sanaa Lathan) trying to establish her own career as an MC. , and forced to decide how far to stay true to her principles when the principles don’t pay the rent or keep the lights on. Bri’s moral test is whether her manager should be her gangbanger aunt (absolute powerhouse Da’Vine Joy Randolph) or the established pro (Method Man) who replaced her dad, and it’s predictably resting on loyalty to family against worldly temptations. But Lathan, making her directorial debut, makes some great intuitive choices about how to tell her story visually, including a montage of stills of Bri and her friends on their all-expenses-paid trip, just like Instagram posts from kids that age would inevitably share. While the narrative awkwardly deals with material like the politics of Bri’s mostly white high school — and a Karen-ful reunion entirely designed for a clap break — it works as a kind of downtrodden sports drama with battles in a boxing ring. . Gray’s performance prides itself on a steady center, delivering a rapper who’s also a star wars nerd, deciding what “keep it real” really means. Available September 23 in theaters and via Paramount+. (PG-13)

Children’s Railway ***
You wouldn’t know from the way this family feature is promoted in the US that its original source dates back over a century, or that Jenny Agutter is reprising a role she first played over 100 years ago. 50 years. That knowledge isn’t particularly crucial for this kind of sequel set in 1944 England, where a trio of siblings – Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton), and Ted (Zac Cudby) – are among the many children moved by their parents from the cities to the countryside to protect them from German bombardments. There they stay with Bobbie (Agutter), her daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith), and Annie’s son, Thomas (Austin Haynes), and soon find themselves helping wounded Black American soldier Abe (Kenneth Aikens). Director Morgan Rogers and the writing team keep the wartime tale soft and age-appropriate, with an engaging cast of young actors anchoring the adventures well. And while it seems slightly anachronistic to suggest that 1940s Englishmen would view World War II as a battle against an enemy who “hates different people”, it’s still an effective angle to find those children – for a period theoretically national. unity – in the face of the realities of bigotry directed against themselves as outsiders and against their new black friend. In many ways, it feels like the kind of all-ages movie more reminiscent of its predecessor’s era: thoughtful, human, and not particularly interested in frenetic action. Available September 23 in theaters. (PG)

Sydney ***
Director Reginald Hudlin’s documentary profile of Sidney Poitier doesn’t do anything earth-shattering in exploring the pioneering actor/director/activist’s life, but it’s one of those documentary subjects that can withstand more than a bit of hero worship. Using interviews with Poitier himself before his death earlier this year as well as extensive archival material, the film traces his journey from a farming community without electricity or running water in the Bahamas around 1927, to a teenage immigrant in Jim Crow in 1940s Florida. , to a budding artist in New York before becoming the first true black movie star. Hudlin achieves every expected personal and professional goal – his breakthrough Oscar win for field lily; the “slap heard around the world” in In the heat of the Night; the delicate position of being a “safe” black actor for white America to accept as the civil rights era seeped in; his unlikely second cinematic act as a successful comedy director – and is ready to remove Poitier from the pedestal to acknowledge his long affair with Diahann Carroll. But it’s mostly a celebration of a man of integrity, with some interesting tidbits about career choices inspired by the Poitier Principles and words of praise from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington and Spike Lee. Of course, that’s hagiography rather than in-depth journalism – and it seems fair to say that Sidney Poitier deserved that kind of treatment. Available September 23 via AppleTV+. (NR)

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