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  • IFC Films
  • Denise Gough and Sebastian Stan in On Monday

Arlo the alligator boy ** 1/2

Old-school 2D animation is rare enough that you’d want something with so much enthusiasm to be accompanied by a corresponding level of narrative creativity. Writer / Director Ryan Crego introduces Arlo Beauregard (former American Idol contestant Michael J. Woodard), an alligator boy raised in a bayou cabin by a woman named Edmée (Annie Potts), but who learns as a teenager that he was born in New York and sent as a child floating in a basket. So begins a musical quest along the Atlantic coast, with Arlo accumulating an equally odd group of friends – including a tall girl (Mary Lambert), a walking furball (Jonathan Van Ness) and a toddler. … Something (Tony Hale) – while being chased by a couple (Jennifer Coolidge and Flea) who want to capture Arlo and exploit him. It’s a colorful journey full of pretty disposable pop pieces (written by Crego and Alex Geringas), and a style that clearly owes a hat to stuff like Adventure time and Sponge Bob SquarePants. The story arc, however, is just another “be true to yourself” themed riff that serves as the default laziness in so many kid-friendly dishes. As entertaining as it is right now, it lacks the confident strangeness of its central characters. Available April 16 via Netflix. (PG)

Bill Traylor: Pursuit of Ghosts ***
A fascinating art history footnote gets a full picture in the profile of director Jeffrey Wolf of Bill Traylor, who was born a slave in Alabama and “discovered” as an artist while he was sans- shelter and creating fascinating street work when he was 80 years old. Wolf uses extensive historical documentations and diary readings to track the pre-artistic part of Traylor’s life, almost incidentally turning it into a glimpse into the African-American experience in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. century, from emancipation to sharecropping through the Great Migration. But best of all is the opportunity to explore Traylor’s work, with art historians and collectors providing insightful commentary on thematic material ranging from gender relations to ‘hoodoo’ mysticism. And there’s a playful quality to the way Wolf presents it, like a pair of narrators who sometimes disagree on points of fact. The film bogs down towards the end as it focuses on Traylor’s descendants coming to appreciate his legacy and come together for a long tombstone celebration / dedication in 2018. It’s, however, a bit more understandable since we just arrived. on a similar journey of discovery. Available April 16 via SLFSatHome.org. (NR)

In the Earth ** 1/2
See the feature review. Available April 16 in theaters. (D)

Monday *** 1/2
It’s such an obvious premise that it’s amazing it hasn’t been done a thousand times more than before: what happens after the big romantic gesture that usually ends a cinematic love affair ? Co-Writer / Director Argyris Papadimitropoulos tells the story of two Americans in Athens – musician / DJ Mickey (Sebastian Stan) and immigration lawyer Chloe (Denise Gough) – who pair up for a one night stand, have a whirlwind weekend together, then face that “what’s next?” after Chloe impulsively decides not to return to the United States. The first act is a terrific mix of cute encounter and character development, with the two formidable lead actors establishing both what attracts them to each other and what could turn into problems later. And the somewhat episodic structure offers brilliantly executed ideas, such as a party that shows the oily, watery nature of Mickey and Chloe’s respective groups of friends. Most impressively, Monday never plays out as a stealth horror flick, where either couple turns out to be a terrible person, despite some somewhat schematic plot developments. It’s simply a superbly acted, well-constructed story of the intoxicating lure of early infatuation, and whether decisions made under its influence can leave you feeling trapped. Available April 16 in theaters and on VOD. (D)

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Morgan Freeman in Vanquish - LIONSGATE FILMS

  • Lionsgate Movies
  • Morgan Freeman in Defeat

Defeat **

When you see a great actor slumming, you can either deplore that he has resorted to slumming, or take advantage of the “great actor” part when it occurs. Morgan Freeman plays Damon Hickey, an oft-decorated police officer left in a wheelchair after a shootout, and whose post-retirement career has involved becoming a wealthy crime lord. One evening when an informant threatens to blow up Damon’s operation, he kidnaps his guardian’s daughter Vicky (Ruby Rose) – once a criminal killer, now trying to reform her life – to force Vicky to collect massive amounts of money. ‘money for him. The bones of the story are actually quite strong; you can see the potential dynamic between the corrupt good guy and the penitent bad guy. But co-writer / director George Gallo (veteran screenwriter of Midnight race and Bad Boys) over-directs this thing to an almost comical degree, from a rat-eye camera, to the trippy colors when a character is drugged, to the fireworks shot over a graveyard. And the limp action consists almost entirely of Vicky getting chased on her motorcycle, with too little effort to establish her good faith. At least there is a chance to watch Freeman do his thing, somehow struggling with pleasure from Damon’s simple impassive reluctance to respond to Vicky’s threats. Even in a role that primarily involves him talking on the phone, Freeman never calls it. Available April 16 in theaters and April 20 on VOD. (D)

We are separated ***
What initially appears to be a simple “remarriage comedy” turns into something slightly more complex. Doug (William Jackson Harper) and Lori (Aya Cash) have been a couple for 10 years, but just days before the wedding of Lori’s sister Bea (Sarah Bolger), Doug’s proposal is met with vomiting and a stony silence. But they decide to hide the ensuing breakup from friends and family on the wedding weekend, so as not to spoil the occasion. Many of the simpler details of the screenplay (from Laura Jacqmin and director Jeff Rosenberg) are great fun, from the business Bea plans to start making “custom scrunchies” to the Jewish wedding officiant who is handing out candy. hamantaschen grass. The soul of the material, however, lies in the unique awkwardness of parting with someone you’ve always been with – feeling like you’re losing relationships with your partner’s family, wondering if the time spent together has been “lost”, and so on. Harper and Cash both have relatively thin characters to work with for 80 minutes, but they both flesh out the nascent awareness of being in different places of their emotional lives. It’s the rare kind of romantic comedy that season the funny with a bit of sadness. Available April 16 via SLFSatHome.org. (NR)