Friday, May 13, 2022

Film Reviews: "Mascarpone" and "Montana Story" Characters Deal with Unexpected Trauma, While in "Dr. Strange," Heroes Sometimes Do Wear Cape

Mascarpone (c) Dark Star Pictures

At Cinemas and On Demand Streaming 

Breezy gay comedies are a dime a dozen, but those that rise above the genre are distinguished by the uniqueness of the main character and the believability of the story. (Although sometimes a steady stream of beautiful men can trump all that.) “Mascarpone,” an Italian comedy by directors Alessandro Guida and Matteo Pilati, has a good amount of eye candy (Italy, hello!), but after a slow start, the characters also become more fully realized, despite the unbelievable plot turns. Antonio (Giancarlo Commare) is a happy househusband when Lorenzo (Carlo Calderone) tells him he’s not happy, has been having an affair and wants a divorce. Now adrift for the first time in 12 years, Antonio has to find a new place to live, get a job and possibly start a new relationship. Thankfully, he meets Dennis (Eduardo Valdarnini), a free spirit whom Antonio at first can’t stand, but Dennis rents a room to him in his huge apartment, finds him a job at a bakery with hunky Luca (Gianmarco Saurino) and introduces him to the world of hookup apps. Antonio continues to be a drip about his divorce, but all his friends seem to be very patient with him. Finally, he decides to take his baking hobby seriously as a possible career and maybe settle down again with another guy. Not sure why the English title is named after a cheese (although there is a lot of symbolism about it being so important in making tiramisu) when the Italian title “Maschile Singolare” would have translated nicely into Single Male, as in dating, or Men’s Single, as in tennis, which Antonio and his husband played. The last act, with an improbable proposal from one character and the fate of another, spills into soap opera territory. But until then, with all the eye candy and the funny situations Antonio finds himself in, the movie is breezy and likable enough. 

Montana Story (c) Bleecker Street

Montana Story 
In Cinemas 

A quiet and heartbreaking movie about the push and pull between forgiveness and the strong will to never forgive is the main theme of Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s “Montana Story,” with a powerful performance by Owen Teague as Cal, the son of a dying lawyer on the family ranch. Cal arrives to his father’s ranch and sees that it’s a shell of itself, barely hanging on as we learn it’s in bankruptcy. Unexpectedly, his estranged sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) also arrives from New York to finally face her father, the reason why she ran away. Also in the story are Ace (Gilbert Owuor), the African hospice nurse, the longtime housekeeper Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero) and a host of Native American friends and acquaintances. The beauty of the film, besides the majestic Montana landscapes, is that the directors trust the audience to make the interpersonal connection, as Ace says late in the movie, “some things are clear without explanation.” That is until the directors finally give in with an eventual exposition scene halfway through the movie that Tague handles with sensitivity. The only thing Cal doesn’t talk about is his personal life, but an offhand comment about a breakup and a shared cat named Oscar Wilde is all the clue we need. Richardson’s Erin has the showier dramatic arc (starting with her reaction to her brother’s plan to euthanize the remaining horse on the ranch), giving us a complex character dealing with a broken spirit. Healing is a lot to ask for these siblings dealing with the eventual death of a hated father and a beloved horse, but where the film eventually goes is a satisfying resolution for this small indie film. 

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (c) Marvel Studios

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness 
In Cinemas 

After 28 films, the MCU has settled into a rhythm (or some might say rut) with their movies. While superhero origin stories have their faults, at least the recent “Shang Chi” and films like “Black Panther” have a purpose in its titular hero’s journey. When we get into the sequels, the stakes always seem to get bigger and more bloated, although they can still be enjoyable as the last MCU movie, “Spider-man: No Way Home,” demonstrated. “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is as unwieldy as its title, and while Benedict Cumberbatch tries, he can’t make those quippy asides work as well as Robert Downey Jr. did in the face of full world annihilation. Dr. Strange is now the de facto figurehead of the franchise (we’ll see where “Thor: Love and Thunder” takes one of the few original Avengers still working) despite being demoted, with MCU VIP Wong (Benedict Wong) now the Sorcerer Supreme. He is visited by America Chavez (Xochiti Gomez), who is being pursued by magical creatures after her power to jump through the multiverse (and like Michelle Yeoh in the much superior “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” America is still learning how to harness her powers). He decides to enlist the help of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), who is still overwhelmed with grief from the death of Vision and the events of the TV series “WandaVision.” But something wicked this way comes as an evil book called the Dark Hold pits good vs. evil and Dr. Strange finds himself in alternate realities with the fate of America in his hands. At this point in the story, you would be excused if you thought you fell asleep and woke up in a different movie because here director Sam Raimi really digs into his past work on films like “Evil Dead” and “Drag Me to Hell” and gives the MCU its first horror movie. At one point, Raimi gleefully introduces us to a zombie Dr. Strange, which Cumberbatch seems all in for, having once played Frankenstein’s monster on stage. And this is the first MCU film in a while that is not overwhelmed by a CGI-fighting-CGI finale. That is a lot to digest in one film (and I haven’t even mentioned all the different dimension cameos that appear), but I’m glad MCU overlord Kevin Feige has finally allowed more idiosyncratic directors like Raimi, Ryan Coogler, Taiki Waititi and Chloe Zhao to leave their stamps (with varying success rates) on the newer crop of films. I for one am looking forward to Marvel letting Wes Anderson direct one. Maybe a stop-motion animated “Fantastic Mr. Throg,” the frog version of Thor (look it up, it’s canon). Imagine that!

If you want to comment on these reviews, please do so on my 
Instagram account.  All reviews have their own post.  And please follow to know when new reviews are released.