Quick takes on Princess of the Row and other films

Man, I was in to Synchronic for nearly the full ride, until the last 20 or so minutes, and then it just fell apart. It stars Anthony Mackie as Steve, a paramedic who finds out early in the film that he has what is probably a terminal tumor on his brain. While he’s coping with that news, his ambulance pal Dennis (Jamie Dornan) is dealing with family issues at home, fighting with his wife and trying to reign in his rebellious 18-year-old daughter Brianna. On the job, the friends are also seeing evidence of the new designer drug tearing through New Orleans. Synchronic gives an extreme high, but more than that, people are ending up dead, in spectacular and confusing ways (stabbed with a sword, burned to death out in the open, etc). Unfortunately Brianna takes some, and disappears. While the police search for her, and wanting to do some good before he dies, Steve buys up all the synchronic he can to dispose of it before it hurts more people. Before he can do so, he is tracked down by the person who created it, and told what it really does. It doesn’t get you high, it sends you back in time. Unbelieving at first, Steve takes some, and sure enough, finds himself in the swamps of Louisiana before it was Louisiana, and chased by a conquistador before he “transports” back to present day. Steve then experiments with the drug over a few days, seeing how it works exactly, with the goal of finding Brianna and bringing her back to Dennis. Wild stuff, and through all of this, it is a great flick. Though obviously far fetched, the story makes sense in a sci-fi kind of way, and the first third has some great terror/quasi-horror elements as Steve and Dennis find victims of the drug. But the film seems to throw away the science and go all out in the finale, and it just stops making sense on multiple levels. I was on the 3 1/2 border until the end, and it is bad enough to drop it down all the way to ★★

Princess of the Row was an unexpected surprise, and blew me away. It is about a 12-year-old girl, Alicia, who is trying to bring her dad “back to life” so to say. Bo received a serious head injury fighting in Iraq, and most days, he just mumbles to himself without being aware of his surroundings. Bouncing from foster home to foster home, Alicia, who was called Princess by Bo when she was a little girl before he was hurt, runs away at every opportunity to visit her dad. Bo is homeless, living in a tent with other homeless in downtown LA. Even when the agency finds Alicia a good home, she runs away again, and this time, she gets herself and Bo into some bad situations, and as a viewer, you just hope it isn’t so bad that she can make it out safe. It is a powerful film, and honestly hard to watch at times, as Alicia refuses to give up on Bo, even when we as adults know that he isn’t coming back to “normal,” no matter how hard Alicia wishes for it. The film shines a strong light at the dilemma of the homeless in our country, many of whom are veterans, as well as the lack of resources and help for them, especially when they are suffering from PTSD and/or mental issues. My heart ached for Bo and Alicia both. Fantastic performances from Edi Gathegi and youngster Tayler Buck. ★★★★★

The Dig is based on the true story of the uncovering of a significant burial site in 1939 in England. Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) has always been interested in antiquity, and hires archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate some burial mounds on her land. Edith is a wealthy widower with failing health, and Basil, while talented, doesn’t have any formal education in archaeology, and as such always finds himself in the crosshairs of the British museums. What Basil finds is astonishing: a long ship, pulled from the sea and dragged over land. Obviously someone of importance was buried there for such a vast undertaking, and Basil claims that it is much older than Vikings; his hunch is that it is Anglo-Saxon. The finding of the ship brings other archaeologists to continue the dig, who try to take over, but Edith insists that Basil continue to be on the team. There is some urgency to finish, as Britain is heading towards war with Germany, at which time all public works like this are likely to cease in order to coordinate efforts to the war. The film is beautifully filmed on the landscapes of England and the period sets are perfect. Fiennes and Mulligan (and later Lily James, who comes with the new diggers) give top notch performances, but the movie tries to do too much and becomes lost in the second half. The excavation is definitely the “star” of the show, but a plot element involving an affair between Lily’s character and Edith’s cousin threatens to drown it out. I agree the film needed something else besides just a dig, but I’m not sure this was the right call. In any case, it’s a decent enough excursion. ★★★

Justin Timberlake plays the eponymous Palmer in the newest film on Apple+. Eddie Palmer has just been released from prison, early for good behavior, and apparently he was a model inmate. He goes to live with his grandmother Vivian, who raised him (his mom left when he was a kid, his dad died when he was in high school). They live in a very “country,” rural area, where everyone knows everyone’s business. Eddie is welcomed home by his old buddies, the same people he got in trouble with in high school. Shortly after returning home and landing a job, Vivian dies suddenly in her sleep, leaving Eddie alone. He is also left to take care of Sam, a boy who lives in a trailer with his drug addict mom on Vivian’s land. Vivian had watched over Sam whenever his mother couldn’t, which is often, and now that responsibility falls to Eddie. He doesn’t know what to make of Sam; whereas Eddie played football, got in trouble, and did all the usual “boy” things, little Sam likes to play with dolls, play dress up, and watch shows about princesses. As Eddie makes some personal growth, he starts to really care for Sam, which is tested when Sam’s mother returns. It’s a very formulaic film, a similar story has been done plenty of times, but that doesn’t mean this one isn’t good too. Timberlake is definitely an underrated actor, his style isn’t overly subtle but he shows excellent range. I liked it very much. ★★★½

The Little Things is a crime drama starring a bonafide legend (Denzel Washington), a relative newcomer who already has a closetful of awards (Rami Malek), and an actor known for his dedication to his roles (Jared Leto). Despite all this talent, the film is just OK. Deke (Washington) is an older deputy out of Kern County (west of LA) when he is sent to get a piece of evidence from Los Angeles, where he used to be a detective in homicide. When he arrives, we see that he is legend in the precinct; the officers there like him in an almost reverent sort of way, but there are a couple who don’t share those feelings, and he obviously left under some hurried and unknown circumstances, which is revealed in the end. His replacement in LA is a hot hotrod detective named Jimmy (Malik), who’s very smart but also a bit rash. Rather than head right back to Kern County, Deke decides to take some vacation time and help Jimmy in his latest case: a series of homicides of young women, by serial killer. It’s more than just a passing fancy, as Deke sees similarities to some unsolved cases he worked while in LA 5 years ago. It all sounds great and for awhile it is, but the two cops finger their suspect (Leto) around the halfway point of the film, and then spend an awful long time waiting for him to slip up, which (and this isn’t a spoiler) he never does. The ending comes off as a poor man’s Seven, and no offense to director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Founder), but this film lacks the genius of David Fincher. ★★½

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