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Youthful Escapades 

Riddle of Fire and Snack Shack

click to enlarge Talk to your kids about physical media before someone else does.

Snack Shack

Talk to your kids about physical media before someone else does.

Attentive readers will note the conspicuous omission of this weekend's new releases from this column; fair enough and an explanation may be in order.

First and most importantly, Sam Taylor-Johnson's Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black looks pretty bad. I hope I'm wrong and it is actually a delicately crafted, insightful examination of a troubled, all-too-short life derailed by stardom and appetite. But I trusted my instincts, based not only on the look and tone suggested by the trailer, and the fact that Asif Kapadia's beautiful, devastating documentary Amy (2015) already exists, but also to the recency of Winehouse's life and death. That last one is, of course, more evidence of my advancing decrepitude, but the telescoping of lives and events, news-cycle style, for the purpose of commercial art (emphasis on commerce) has always troubled me, suggesting both aimless morbid fascination and a lack of imagination. No offense intended to the creatives responsible but this strikes me as effort misspent. Again, hopefully I'm wrong.

If, also in theaters this week, has been described by writer-director John Krasinski as a "live-action Pixar movie" about the lives of childhood imaginary friends cast into the shadows as the kids who created them age. Krasinski pleasantly surprised a great number of us with A Quiet Place (2018) and its 2020 sequel, demonstrating a technical acumen and non-saccharine earnestness behind the camera that we (perhaps wrongheadedly) would not have expected of the guy from The Office. And more power to him for parlaying his newfound clout into a kids' movie with a cast of heavy hitters. But my spousally suggested moratorium on attending family matinees by myself continues. "People will think you're a creeper" might be more paraphrase than direct quote, but the thrust of the observation still resonates.

In other new release news, we attempted to watch Jerry Seinfeld's Pop-Tart movie, another star-laden project that could fairly be accused of vanity, but we didn't get more than 10 minutes in. The irony of Seinfeld's recent, frequent comments about progressiveness in culture destroying comedy seems to have been lost on the director himself.

And so, I turned inward, as usual. I explored the streaming catacombs and excavated a few recent artifacts that, for their wildly divergent qualities, all struck one chord or another.

RIDDLE OF FIRE. From Vinegar Syndrome, one of the great, boutique physical media distribution outlets with which I have been recently threatening my marriage, comes a Cannes-debuted, genre pastiche about a trio of country kids on a quest to deliver a blueberry pie to their ailing mother. Written and directed by Weston Razooli and shot (rather gorgeously) on 16mm film, the movie opens with brothers Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie (Skyler Peters) and their friend Alice (Phoebe Ferro) — the brains of the operation — setting out on dirt bikes, armed with paintball guns, identities obscured with balaclavas, to execute a consummately planned warehouse heist to obtain the hottest new gaming console.

Through a whimsical but intentionally constructed series of events, they end up on the wrong side of Anna-Freya Hollyhock (Lip Tipton), the matriarch of a gang of hard-partying poachers, and in need of a speckled chicken egg with which they'll attempt to coax their TV's parental control password from their temporarily bed-bound mother.

The whole work is shot through with imagined ancient mysticism, embedded in a lush, fairytale soundtrack and takes place entirely in the mountains of rural Utah (standing in for Wyoming, for whatever reason).

It's unusual for a kids' movie to set its young protagonists in the center of the frame without pandering or talking down to them (or the audience), and Razooli pulls it off with charm aplenty. The quasi-hip, tough-talking country kid dialogue sounds honest coming out of the mouths of babes, and the suggestion of the world as an adventure, complete with real threats to health and safety, carries through in the movie's aesthetic and narrative tone more successfully than in many less-modestly scaled productions. PG13. 114M. STREAMING.

SNACK SHACK, another genre-trip into the world of adolescence, takes an entirely different but perhaps more accessible approach to its subject, channeling the teen-sex comedies of the '80s and '90s into a foul-mouthed, deeply felt, joke-laden look at the American Dream (read: the pursuit of sex and money).

In Nebraska City, Nebraska, circa 1991, ne'er-do-well best friends A.J. (Conor Sherry) and Moose (Gabriel LaBelle who, with this and The Fabelmans, has already established himself as one to watch) are never not hustling. In their greatest score to date, they've secured a contract to run the snack shack at the community pool for the summer. Not only does this guarantee a windfall, but it will challenge both the sanctity of their home lives and of their bond, which is further strained by the arrival of the impossibly alluring Brooke (Mika Abdalla).

Written and directed by Adam Rehmeier, Snack Shack sets off at an exquisite, breakneck pace (it suggests some of the best heist movies of decades past) before settling into a comfortingly familiar examination of small-town coming of age. R. 112M. STREAMING.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.


BACK TO BLACK. Amy Winehouse biopic starring Marisa Abela. R. 122M. BROADWAY.

THE FALL GUY. Ryan Gosling shoots a macho thumbs up in a comedy take on the 1980s TV show about a stuntman embroiled in real action. With Emily Blunt. PG13. 114M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA. Gritty action prequel to Fury Road starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth in villain mode. R. 148M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE GARFIELD MOVIE. The languid housecat meets his shady bio-dad. Voiced by Chris Pratt, Ving Rhames and Hannah Waddingham. PG. 101M. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D).

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE. Remaining original cast members (Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts) team up with a new generation. With Paul Rudd. PG13. 115M. BROADWAY.

GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE. Bring back the Mothra twins, you cowards. PG13. 115M. BROADWAY.

IF. Cailey Fleming and Ryan Reynolds star in a comedy about a girl who can see imaginary friends. PG. 104M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. A sequel to the primate power struggle skipping ahead generations. PG13. 145M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

SIGHT. A surgeon and survivor of the Chinese Cultural Revolution tries to help a young orphan restore her sight. PG13. 100M. BROADWAY.

STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1. Masked randos terrorize a couple in the prequel to the movie about masked randos terrorizing a couple. R. 91M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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