Bar: A near miss
Based on the memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning author J.R. Moehringer, George Clooney's The Tender Bar is a movie where you can pinpoint exactly where it jumps the rails. Having been abandoned by his father at the age of eight, young J.R. (Daniel Ranieri) and his mother (Lily Rabe) are forced to move in with her parents. Grandpa (Christopher Lloyd) is an eccentric curmudgeon while Grandma (Sondra James) has her good days and bad. There's not a father figure in J.R.'s life, that is, until his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) takes him under his wing, imparting a series of important life lessons that stretch over the years.
This is all great stuff, the humor not forced, the characters realistically rendered. Unfortunately, this only lasts during the film's first act, the story suddenly jumping forward in time as we see J.R. (Tye Sheridan) set off for Harvard and then try to establish himself as a writer. Any sense of vitality and vibrancy that was present in the early sections of the movie inexplicably falls away during these sequences. Affleck and the veteran cast know how to play this material but Bar winds up being half a movie, one that leaves us wanting more. Streaming on Amazon Prime.
Daughter rewards the patient
Maggie Gyllenhaal's The Lost Daughter is the very definition of a slow-burn movie, a meticulously made character study of a woman slowly losing her grip on reality. Leda (Olivia Coleman) is having a relaxing holiday in Greece, perhaps doing a bit of work, maybe recharging and getting a fresh start. However, like the best laid plans, Leda's trip goes awry. While relaxing on the beach, it's overrun by an overbearing American family who rudely invade her space and, at one point, ask her to move so that they may all sit together. She refuses and the trouble begins.
A series of repressed memories come to the fore which eventually send Leda over the edge. Coleman gives a finely calibrated performance, sly and intelligent throughout. Also of note is Jessie Buckley, one of the most intriguing modern actors who we see via flashbacks as the young Leda. We see her haggard with two young daughters, a self-absorbed husband and doctoral work she isn't allowed to spend the time on that she'd like. Gyllenhaal's a director to watch as Daughter raises challenging questions about the danger of fooling ourselves into believing all is well and the damage that results when we realize that isn't true. Streaming on Netflix.
Déjà vu permeates Scream
There's plenty going on in the latest installment of the Scream franchise. As directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the fifth entry in the series is a reboot, a sequel and a Cliff Note echo-board. References from the four previous films are bandied about throughout, and while it isn't necessary to have seen them to know what's going on, you'll find a sense of pleasure in being able to crack all the Easter eggs that pop up.
In a sense, that seems to be the entire point of this exercise – to see who's been keeping track of this on-going saga and if anyone still cares. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette all return to serve as touchstones for those who've hung on since the 1996 debut, while newcomers Jenna Ortega, Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Brown and Mason Gooding are on board to suck in the youngsters. Its bloody, its predictable and while well-done, in the end it's a redundant exercise that puts the adage "everything old is new wgain" to the test. In theaters.