Tired of being bummed about everything? Let the following batch of new movies – the sexy smart “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” the unconventional rom-com “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the teambuilding Pixar gem “Lightyear” and the delightfully quirky “Brain and Charles” — work their considerable charms on you. Here’s our roundup.
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”: The scenario sounds contrived — a sexually uptight former teacher Nancy Stokes (the grand Emma Thompson) hires a hot escort (Daryl McCormack, steaming up every second of his screen time) to help her discover the joy of sex, something that’s eluded her for years. Though there are plenty of laughs to come from this sexy and liberating dramedy, this is one thoughtful upstart that delivers a rare, healthy, much-needed message: Give yourself the freedom to enjoy sex. Thompson does bare all, but it’s how she and McCormack flesh out their characters that make this such a rewarding film. The skillful screenplay from Katy Brand and observant direction by Sophie Hyde contribute in making it one of my favorite films of 2022. Details: 3½ stars out of 4; available June 17 on Hulu.
“Cha Cha Real Smooth”: Actor/filmmaker/screenwriter Cooper Raiff steers clear of a sophomore slump with a radiant follow-up to 2020’s “[email protected]$house.” Once again, he excels at massaging the kinks out of the overworked rom-com format. Raiff plays nice-guy Andrew, a 22-year-old college grad searching for his career rudder while kicking it back at his Long Island hometown. He lands a gig party-hosting at bar mitzvahs and he encounters Domino (Dakota Johnson), who’s there with her autistic daughter. Raiff diverges from the rote, creating complications and backstories that never feel artificial. As Andrew’s loving manic-depressive mother, Lesley Mann is first-rate. Ditto Raul Castillo as Domino’s hard-working boyfriend. Details: 3 stars; available June 17 on Apple TV+.
“Lightyear”: Should you be a fan of classic sci-fi along the lines of “Star Wars,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Star Trek” and so on — prepare to have an absolute blast with Pixar’s latest release, an inventive, funny and touching standalone feature about a space ranger film character who inspired that Buzz Lightyear toy little Andy cherished so in the “Toy Story” franchise. Director and co-screenwriter Angus MacLane loads up this splendidly animated action/adventure — it might be just a little scary for the very small ones — about heroic loner Buzz (voiced by Chris Evan) learning the value of allowing teammates to come up with solutions, not just himself. It’s a message about finding a common bond in these disharmonious times that’s much needed for both children and adults to hear. The story finds Buzz and crew stranded on a boggy planet where he’s trying — with the hyper-intelligent robocat Sox — to fly home due to a mistake he’s made. Instead, he keeps leaping into the future. He meets up with a ragtag team that includes his former commander’s daughter (Keke Palmer). MacLane and a team of animators create an imaginative planet but they also create tender moments, including a bittersweet montage on Buzz’s relationship with his commander Alisha (Uzo Aduba) who shares a sweet kiss with her partner, along with a final-hour twist that not only works but is cerebral and metaphysical. All in all, it’s one of the best sci-fi movies — animated or live-action — in recent memory. Details: 3½ stars; in theaters June 17.
“Brian and Charles”: The danger whenever your lead character is doddering and eccentric is that the film will turn into something saccharine-sweet and overly precious. This British confection from director Jim Archer threatens to go overboard in the adorable department but manages to stay steady because there’s a genuine droll sense of humor throughout as well as a lovely screenplay and hilarious performances. “Brian and Charles” celebrates those of us who are different as it introduces us to the brilliant Wales inventor/town outsider Brian (David Earl). He cobbles together the inquisitive AI robot Charles (Chris Hayward) who’s fascinated by the dictionary and doesn’t like being penned up indoors. Filmed as a mockumentary, both Brian and Charles, portrayed with appealing fondness by co-screenwriters Earl and Hayward, encounter hostility a la Frankenstein from townsfolk. Even an appropriately awkward love story gets tossed in and contributes in making “Brian and Charles” one of the most unexpected heart-warmers of the summer. Details: 3 stars; opens in select theaters June 17.
“Mad God”: If all this feel-goodness bums you out, venture into the stop-motion nightmare that beloved Berkeley animator Phil Tippett has created. A visceral, unorthodox experience 30 years in the making, “Mad God” dives into the underworld where a main character who looks a bit like Darkman tangles with freaky creatures that would make Dante want to fire up the Inferno. It’s a striking, unsettling vision that defies narrative norms as it tugs you into the cesspool depths. It’s unlike much anything else you’ll ever see, and you might just want to un-see it afterward. Details: 3 stars; available June 17 on Shudder and also screens June 17-23 at the Roxie in San Francisco. It’s worth a a trip there to see it on a big screen; Tippett will attend a June 18 screening, but that show is sold out.
“Mid-Century”: So many “thrillers” slog their way through a familiar, uninspired formula that it becomes easy to figure out the “big surprise” in the first 10 minutes. Not so director Sonja O’Hara and screenwriter Mike Stern’s wackadoodle expectation-buster. Tom (Shane West) and his overworked emergency doctor wife Alice (Chelsea Gilligan) rent a vacation home that was designed by a legendary architect Fredrick Banner (Stephen Lang) with a checkered past to say the very least. As Tom ambles around the house he uncovers some of the dirty secrets. “Mid-Century” opens with a murder and it all seems to be building to an obvious conclusion, and then a wicked twist slaps you in the face and changes everything. Does it all work? Oh, no, but you can’t help but admire its ambition. Details: 2½ stars; available on various streaming platforms June 17.
Contact Randy Myers at [email protected]