Review: Patton Oswalt powers through ‘I Love My Dad,’ ‘plus more movies to watch at home
‘I Love My Dad’
Writer-director James Morosini reaps the benefit of a powerhouse Patton Oswalt performance in “I Love My Dad,” an impressively daring film about a divorced father desperate to connect with his clinically depressed son. Morosini plays the son, Franklin, who as the movie begins is so sullen he’s practically comatose. Oswalt’s Chuck, meanwhile, has broken so many promises that Franklin decides the best thing for his mental health is to block his dad on all social media. In response, Chuck creates a fake Facebook account, using pictures of a local diner waitress, Becca (Claudia Sulewski), to catfish his son into talking to him.
“I Love My Dad” is part cringe-comedy farce, part heartwarming reconciliation story and part white-knuckle thriller. When Chuck agrees to join Franklin on an ill-advised road trip to meet Becca in person, he enjoys the rare face-to-face bonding time with his kid, even though he’s constantly on the verge of getting caught — especially when his son starts texting his online “girlfriend” and asking her to be more intimate. It’s a tricky balancing act to keep “I Love My Dad” at once funny, nervy and true; and Morosini can’t always finesse it. The seriousness of Franklin’s depression makes it harder to find his dad’s deception as wacky as the movie sometimes means it to be. As the moment when Chuck has to come clean approaches, the tension is almost unbearable.
That said, it’s exciting to see Morosini take so many chances with the way his narrative unfolds, even if they don’t all pay off. It helps that he has such game stars in Sulewski, who plays Franklin’s imaginary version of Becca as both every guy’s best pal and potential sex goddess, and Oswalt, who plays Chuck as a man who always cuts corners. Together, Morosini and Oswalt capture the panic that seizes some parents when they see their kids slipping into despair. They sensitively dramatize one father’s fear that everything he does to make things better will permanently ruin everything — though that doesn’t stop him from blundering ahead anyway.
‘I Love My Dad.’ R, for sexual content and language. 1 hour, 36 minutes. Available on VOD
‘13: The Musical’
In its original 2008 Broadway run, the musical “13” had a headline-grabbing gimmick: Its cast and musicians were all teenagers. (The show also featured then-novice Ariana Grande in a minor role, though no one knew at the time how big a deal that would be.) For the movie version, director Tamra Davis and screenwriter Robert Horn expand on Horn and Dan Elish’s original book, adding a few adults to the story of Evan (Eli Golden), a New Yorker whose divorced mom, Jessica (Debra Messing), moves him to her small Indiana hometown, where he tries way too hard to make enough new friends to throw a big bar mitzvah party.
The changes make this “13” look and feel more like a conventional Netflix teen movie — all about puppy love and jostling for popularity — rather than the one-of-a-kind theatrical experience it once was. But Jason Robert Brown’s songs are still incredibly snappy, turning common adolescent experiences like crushes, first kisses and going to horror movies with friends into up-tempo bops. And the middle-school milieu still sets “13” apart from its teen-pic competition, because its characters are more clumsy and unsure of themselves — not really miniature adults yet, but kids secretly terrified of growing up.
‘13: The Musical.’ PG, for some thematic elements and rude humor. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on Netflix
The strange but true story of con man Robert Freegard has already been told onscreen in the Netflix docuseries “The Puppet Master,” which focuses on the long chase to bring him to justice. The new British thriller “Rogue Agent” takes a somewhat different approach, getting more into the ways the grifter manipulated his victims. Co-writers and co-directors Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn (and their co-writer, Michael Bronner) zero in specifically on a few of the women Freegard duped into believing he was an MI5 agent; and they examine how he was able to persuade them to upend their lives and empty their wallets for him.
The film’s primary protagonist is Alice (Gemma Arterton), an attorney so charmed by the handsome, disarmingly relaxed Robert (James Norton) that she opens a bank account with him, as part of what he assures her is a normal vetting process before she becomes part of his network of spies. When Robert subsequently steals Alice’s money, she starts working with law enforcement to find some of his other targets — even though the cops aren’t sure whether lying to women is technically a crime.
The procedural/mystery elements of “Rogue Agent” are a little rote, and they never generate as much suspense as they possibly could. But the scenes of Robert working his mojo on impressionable ladies — including a terrified college kid (Marisa Abela) and a psychologically unstable American (Sarah Goldberg) — are both absorbing and outraging, offering a crucial contrast to Alice’s more forceful pushback. The film is ultimately a thoughtful study of how anyone, no matter how vulnerable or self-assured, can be fooled by someone who projects confidence and expertise.
‘Rogue Agent.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 55 minutes. Laemmle Town Center, Encino; also available on AMC+
The genre-bending Canadian film “Tin Can” features some of this year’s most unsettling body-horror, starting with the scene that sparks the story. Anna Hopkins plays Fret, a medical researcher working to thwart a spreading plague called Coral, which causes humans to grow a restrictively stiff shell on their skin. Early in the picture, Fret gets gets knocked out, kidnapped and placed in a suspended animation tank meant for severe Coral patients. When she awakens, she spends several minutes disoriented, trying to remove the many tubes sticking out of her. It’s not a sequence for the squeamish.
From there, writer-director Seth A. Smith and co-writer Darcy Spidle follow Fret as she tries to unravel the mystery of what’s happened to her, initially while still confined to that tank — with a few other prisoners within earshot nearby, offering their own theories and suggestions. Has Fret awakened far into a future where Coral has been cured? Or has her abduction revealed that there was always something nefarious and artificial about this disease? “Tin Can” slowly — perhaps too slowly — pieces this puzzle together.
Smith is ultimately less concerned with the solution than he is with the squish. At times, this movie ranges into pure, uncomfortable sensation, as Smith holds for a long time on characters who are grunting, panting and choking — cursed by the limitations and demands of their own physical form. There are elements of classic science fiction here, yes. But “Tin Can” is more like a tone poem about humankind’s inherent frailties.
‘Tin Can.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 44 minutes. Available on VOD
In the animated serial killer thriller “Canvas,” there’s a pretty significant disconnect between the rotoscoped look of the film, which is strikingly trippy, and the writing, which is often clunky and unnecessarily confounding. First-time feature filmmaker Ryan Guiterman begins with a fairly solid science-fiction/horror premise: An evil alien dubbed “The Painter” has been sowing an atmosphere of paranoia and fear via ritualistic killings, which an FBI agent is trying to cover up and an investigative journalist is trying to expose. But Guiterman tells this story mostly via a series of stiff monologues and conversations — like something out of an old micro-budget B-movie, only with animation overlaid. The effect is sometimes effective, adding an extra jolt of surrealism. But it’s also alienating, keeping the audience at a remove from the characters and their various crises. “Canvas” has some aesthetic appeal, but beneath its surface there’s not much of a narrative foundation.
‘Canvas.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 23 minutes. Available on VOD
Also on VOD
“Elvis” brings the distinctive style of director Baz Luhrmann — full of glittery flash and restless energy — to the story of rock ’n’ roll legend Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) and his controlling manager, Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). One of this year’s biggest worldwide hits, the film is a dizzying spin through American pop culture from the 1950s to the 1970s, as well as a reflection on the perpetual push-and-pull between art and commerce. Available on VOD
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“Heat” was originally released in 1995, but writer-director Michael Mann’s heady Los Angeles crime drama remains a perennial favorite for genre fans, beloved for Al Pacino and Robert De Niro’s lively performances as grizzled men of action on opposite sides of the law. In conjunction with Mann’s new sequel novel “Heat 2,” the movie is being re-released in a special 4K Ultra HD edition, loaded with bonus features. 20th Century Studios
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