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LITTLE THINGS: 3 STARS

“The Little Things,” a detective drama set in Los Angeles now available in select theaters and on PVOD, features a trio of Oscar winners in a dark story that shows the glamorous capital’s soft underbelly.

Taking place in 1990, DNA pre-test, it is the story of old-fashioned police work. Spirits, watches, pay phones and tearful eyes are their tools; obsession and black coffee fuel them.

Oscar winner Denzel Washington is Joe Deacon, a small-town California deputy sheriff whose big-city sleuthing is long in the rearview mirror. When he joins Detective LAPD Sgt. Jim Baxter (Oscar number two, Rami Malek) on the hunt for a serial killer, they focus on Albert Sparma (Oscar number three, Jared Leto), an offbeat character they suspect is the killer. Turns out their case resonates with echoes of Deacon’s troubled past.

“The Little Things” sets up an interesting mystery. The SoCal setting resonates with an eerie sunny Golden State Killer vibe, and there are enough cryptic clues to make you, as well as Deacon and Baxter, guess. Washington and Malek play a strange couple, brought together by their common obsessions, and Leto is uniquely placed to give his character an aura of threat. But, taken as a whole, the elements feel let down by the climax of the story. No spoilers here, but Baxter’s behavior in the minutes leading up to the film’s resolution doesn’t feel genuine, like he wasn’t motivated by the character and what he would do in the situation. Instead, the ending seems informed simply by the need to end the story in a dramatic fashion.

It’s a shame because most of the above is quite good. Deep, Oscar-worthy characterizations of the trio help set the scene. Writer and director John Lee Hancock eschews the visual clichés of most Los Angeles dramas; there are palm trees, but no Hollywood hotspots, just ramshackle motel rooms and the streets of Skid Row. It all adds up, until Baxter’s inexplicable decisions (YET, NO SPOILERS HERE) take the viewer out of the story.

As Deacon says repeatedly in “The Little Things,” life and, in this case, storytelling is only about the little things – the details that come together to tell the story. Hancock understands most of the little things well, but not all of them.

THE EXCAVATION: 3 ½ STARS

excavation

Like the archaeological dig that lies at the center of “The Dig,” a new drama starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes now streaming on Netflix, the movie is slow and steady, but reveals a lot if you’re patient.

Based on the 1939 unearth of a ship burial site containing an abundance of Anglo-Saxon artifacts at Sutton Hoo, near Suffolk, England, “The Dig” stars Mulligan as Edith Pretty, a wealthy widow who hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Fiennes) to excavate ancient burial mounds on her property. Self-taught Brown’s discovery of a treasure trove of priceless artifacts attracts the attention of the British Museum toffs, who insist on taking control of the excavation. As World War II looms and Pretty’s health deteriorates, the job takes on a personal and professional urgency.

Unsurprisingly, “The Dig” spends a lot of time digging in, but as the richness of the craft unfolds, the characters’ interpersonal dynamics take center stage.

As Mr. Brown, the salt of the earth, Fiennes is a stoic figure who provides much of the heart and soul of the film. At first, in an effective but awkward metaphor, he is revealed to be the film’s true treasure after being accidentally buried, engulfed in digs, and dug up by his frantic colleagues. His presence is the film’s catalyst for class and respectful study born out of hard work and study. He even becomes a father figure to Pretty’s son Robert (Archie Barnes), and plays him with an appealing mix of decency and stubbornness.

Mulligan’s chaste but deeply felt relationship with Mr. Brown is well played out, but as the cast of the set grows to include the folks at the British Museum, snob Charles Phillips (Ken Stott), John Brailsford (Eamon) Farren), Stuart Piggott (Ben Chaplin), his young wife Peggy (Lily James) and Pretty Rory Lomax’s cousin (Johnny Flynn), she takes a step back as an illicit romance blossoms. She is, as you might expect, very good, but as her health declines so does her dominance of history.

“The Dig” faces big problems, but retains an intimate atmosphere. This is not an archeology story, although James is shown lovingly dusting off dirt encrusted artifacts. The portrayal of class and looming war never overshadows the more relevant topics of legacy and teamwork. It’s a calm film, filled with nostalgic looks where a lot is not said, but nothing is ambiguous.

BLOOM PENGUIN: 3 ½ STARS

penguin bloom movie

For the second time in less than ten years, Naomi Watts plays an injured woman in Thailand. In “The Impossible”, she was nominated for an Oscar for playing a woman whose luxury Thai vacation was turned into tragedy by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that left 230,000 people dead.

Now she stars in “Penguin Bloom,” the story based on a true story of a woman paralyzed after a fall while on a family vacation in Thailand, which is now playing on Netflix.

“Penguin Bloom” has considerably less action than “The Impossible,” but both are about a family’s ability to come together in times of crisis

Watts is Samantha Bloom, a once active mother and athlete, now confined to a wheelchair after a fall that crippled the lower two-thirds of her body. Back home in New South Wales, she struggles to adjust to her new normal, despite the support of her immediate family, her husband Cameron (“The Walking Dead” Andrew Lincoln), Jan (Jacki Weaver) and his children, Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), who asked his mother to go sightseeing with him on that fateful day and now feels responsible for his injury, Oli (Abe Clifford-Barr) and Rueben (Felix Cameron).

When Noah brings home an injured magpie, nicknamed Penguin because of its black and white color, Samantha doesn’t want the bird in the house. Soon, however, Penguin becomes something of a guardian angel, giving Sam company and inspiration. If the bird can heal itself, Sam argues, so can I.

“Penguin Bloom” is a broadly written healing story. It’s a shameless, feel-good movie that feels a bit too much on the nose every now and then – “It must be weird to have wings, but not be able to fly,” they say of Penguin with the double meaning is not lost on anyone – however, the heat and fine performance ultimately prevail.

Weaver is fun, as always, and the younger ones bring a spark of teenage realism to the events, but the film is owned by Watts, who effectively portrays the mix of anger, frustration, and tenderness that makes his character compelling. Young actor Murray-Johnston as Noah brings a heartbreaking mix of kindness and regret to his first performance as he struggles with his feelings of responsibility.

Fans of the “Walking Dead” will be disappointed that Lincoln has little to do, but it’s a relief to see him play a role that doesn’t require him to be covered in guts.

The story of “Penguin Bloom” struggle and survival, both human and avian, is predictable. Just as Penguin learns to fly through trial and error, the movie takes a wrong turn, but ultimately makes your mind soar.

JIU JITSU: 1½ STARS

Jiu Jitsu

The fact that former US President Donald Trump bestowed graces like candy on Halloween in his last days in office, but neglected to pardon “Jiu Jitsu” – Nicolas Cage’s new sci-fi fantasy film, now on VOD – for his crimes against the cinema is astounding. This movie is as bad as anything Roger Stone could have done and yet Stone gets a pass and “Jiu Jitsu” doesn’t. Unbelievable.

The bland but still confusing plot sees an ancient group of jiu-jitsu warriors come together every six years to save the planet from a vicious alien with world domination in mind. When the leader of the warriors, the muscular super-soldier Jake (Alain Moussi) loses his memory and is captured by the military secret service, the mysterious Kueng (Tony Jaa) comes to the rescue and begins the process to help him. to rediscover who he was. before amnesia.

Jake’s former team Aces Fighters Harrigan (Frank Grillo), Carmen (JuJu Chan) Forbes (Marrese Crump) and Mentor / Paper Hat Maker Wylie (Cage), must get Jake back in shape to fight the alien threat and existential.

Nicolas Cage can usually be relied on to spice up even the most wacky B-movies, but here, even his gonzo styles add little to this leaden, dreary enterprise. You don’t expect much from a movie like “Jiu Jitsu,” just fun action, cheesy dialogue, and a cool alien. Instead, we’re given loads of long, mundane fight scenes with obvious body doubles, kitschy dialogue that drips positively with queso, and an ET lookalike in an ill-fitting location. Halloween costume.

“Jiu Jitsu” looks like a warmed up “Predator” with high kicks and samurai swords in sloppy video game style.