Review: Strong wills power ‘Pamela, a Love Story’ and ‘True Spirit’ on Netflix
‘Pamela, a Love Story’
After actress-model Pamela Anderson became an international sensation on the TV show “Baywatch,” she was a frequent talk show guest, where she showcased the frank honesty, cheery attitude and quick wit that helped make her a star. And she did all that while being repeatedly asked the same crudely personal questions: about posing for Playboy, running in tight swimsuits on television, getting breast implants and enduring the leak of the sex tape she made with her husband Tommy Lee.
Ryan White’s documentary “Pamela, a Love Story” lets Anderson retell her story in her own words, with her own focus. She talks about a history of abuse stretching back to childhood, and about how the fun of being a bombshell was often outweighed by the feeling that her body wasn’t her own. Weaving together interviews with Anderson, readings from her diaries, and footage from her own home movies — with very few other voices, outside of her adult sons — White finds a thread through an incredibly hectic life, marked by scandal and heartbreak. Anderson’s story becomes a tale of perseverance, about a passionate woman still searching for her happy ending.
Following the new double-dipping template of memoir and documentary, Pamela Anderson finally tells her own story with remarkable matter-of-factness.
This approach has some limitations. Because every assertion Anderson makes goes unchallenged and uncorroborated, “Pamela, a Love Story” tends to flatten out its subject’s bumpy life into a one-dimensional “nice person gets wronged” story. But there are worse people to spend two hours with than Anderson, who is every bit as charming in her 50s as she was as an ingenue. The film’s best moments see her getting emotional while rewatching the seemingly hundreds of hours of video she shot of her everyday life back in the ‘90s, reliving the excitement of being young, wealthy and in love with life — even as the press and paparazzi gathered ominously outside her door.
‘Pamela, a Love Story.’ TV-MA, for child abuse references, domestic abuse references, language, nudity and smoking. 1 hour, 52 minutes. Available on Netflix.
The family friendly true-life adventure “True Spirit” tells the story of Jessica Watson, who in 2009 and 2010 sailed solo around the world — from Sydney to Sydney — at age 16. Teagan Croft plays Watson, who weathers the criticism of a skeptical Australian press and the fears of her parents (played by Anna Paquin and Josh Lawson) to prepare for and embark on a trip that proves perilous, involving fierce storms and paralyzing loneliness. Cliff Curtis plays Ben Bryant (a fictionalized amalgam of several sailing enthusiasts and coaches), who overcomes a tragic history with the water to serve as Watson’s remote advisor, tracking her by computer and radio in the Watson living room through harrowing challenges.
Director and co-writer Sarah Spillane hits the emotional beats of Watson’s story a bit too hard. Although “True Spirit” sticks fairly close to the facts, the movie’s dramatic moments feel more artificially heightened than real. Still, it’s nice to see a process-oriented film about charts, ropes and staying busy on a boat, rather than violence or crime. The real-life Watson set out on her voyage to inspire others to dream big — and then made careful plans to realize those dreams. Give credit to Spillane for making sure that this movie isn’t just about the heartwarming highs, but about the hard work it took to reach them.
‘True Spirit.’ TV-PG, for fear. 1 hour, 49 minutes. Available on Netflix.
The indie crime drama “The Locksmith” has a fine film noir premise, delivered with a fair amount of oomph by a veteran cast and first-time feature director Nicolas Harvard. Ryan Phillippe plays Miller, a skilled burglar who gets out of prison after doing a long stretch for a job that ended disastrously. Determined not to disappoint his policewoman ex-girlfriend Beth (Kate Bosworth), their daughter Lindsay (Madeleine Guilbot) or his best friend and benefactor Frank (Ving Rhames), Miller pledges to stay straight. But then the sister of his dead ex-partner guilts him into doing one more job, targeting the cash-stash of a crime boss and his crooked cop protector.
Complications ensue, leading to a couple of surprising twists that keep the plot moving. “The Locksmith” screenplay (credited to five people, none of whom are Harvard) doesn’t have the snappy dialogue of the best noirs; but its storytelling is efficient, with enough characters to make its world feel well-populated but not overstuffed.
And Harvard — who has worked with Taylor Sheridan several times as an assistant director — has a strong sense of how to use his New Mexico location, contrasting its barren landscapes and seedy motels with the decadent elegance of a drug lord’s mansion. For a guy like Miller, with the tools and the know-how to steal whatever he wants, the temptation to cross lines is awfully great. Those dark impulses loom over this picture, giving a solid B-movie the striking shadows it needs.
‘The Locksmith.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood.
There’s some strong Stephen King energy to “Blood,” a thriller with echoes of “Cujo” and “Pet Sematary.” Michelle Monaghan plays Jess, a recovering addict trying to prove to her ex-husband Patrick (Skeet Ulrich) that she can take care of their two kids, Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones) and Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong). When the family dog gets infected with a mysterious virus and bites Owen, the boy develops an insatiable thirst for human blood — which Jess, a nurse, has some means to provide. But the choices she has to make to keep her child alive keep getting more morally complicated.
Director Brad Anderson is a veteran of genre films like “Session 9” and TV series like “Fringe,” which ground the fantastical in real human emotions and behavior without neglecting the action or chills. Working from a Will Honley screenplay, Anderson here crafts a thorny horror film that’s unsettling even when Owen isn’t lunging at the necks of babies and old people — because, like King, Anderson and Honey are as interested in life’s everyday bruises as they are in gaping wounds. If anything, the most disturbing parts of “Blood” are when Owen has been fed and everything’s relatively normal, because that represents the ideal that Jess will do anything to sustain … even as she knows, deep down, it’s unsustainable.
‘Blood.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 48 minutes. Available on VOD.
‘A Lot of Nothing’
Writer-director Mo McRae begins his drama “A Lot of Nothing” with an impressively showy 17-minute pre-credits scene, filmed in one shot. An upper-middle-class Black couple, James (Y’lan Noel) and Vanessa (Cleopatra Coleman), are relaxing in their elegant Los Angeles home when they see a TV news report about a kid who was shot and killed at a traffic stop by their next-door neighbor Brian (Justin Hartley), a white cop. They consider several responses before settling on posting something righteously angry on social media — but while debating what to say they end up sniping at each other about their respective commitment to social justice.
“A Lot of Nothing” never quite tops that opener, though McRae and his co-writer Sarah Kelly Kaplan do keep pushing buttons throughout, challenging both their characters and the viewer. The next day, after suffering dozens of micro-aggressions at work from their white colleagues, a fed-up James and Vanessa decide to confront Brian head-on, and their long, angry conversation — exacerbated by the arrival of James’ militant brother Jamal (Shamier Anderson) and Jamal’s pregnant hippie wife Candy (Lex Scott Davis) — heads in unexpected directions, confronting class privilege along with racism. Personal secrets spill out and rash decisions get made — both in ways that, frankly, distract from the larger debate. But there’s an earnest, yearning passion here that makes the film feel vital even at its clumsiest.
‘A Lot of Nothing.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 44 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood; Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside.
Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary “Body Parts” uses old movie clips and interviews with experts to tackle a tricky topic: the difficulty of depicting sex and nudity on film in ways that are respectful to the actors. It’s such a huge subject that Guevara-Flanagan often loses control of it, by following loosely related tangents about what types of bodies have been shown onscreen, historically. (That’s a ripe subject, perhaps better-served in its own doc.) The film works best when it gets into the nuts-and-bolts of the sex scenes themselves, past and present. Interviews with the digital effects artists who buff out blemishes and bellies, the costumers who provide flesh-colored coverings and the intimacy coordinators who advocate for the performers’ rights all shine a light on a part of filmmaking that deserves the serious attention it gets here rather than the childish, condescending giggles it usually receives.
‘Body Parts.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 26 minutes. Available on VOD.
Also on streaming and VOD
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a different kind of Marvel movie, split between epic superhero action — centered on a clash between a secretive, super-advanced African kingdom and a collective of underwater mutants — and extended stretches of mourning for the franchise’s fallen hero T’Challa and the late actor who played him, Chadwick Boseman. And as with the first “Black Panther,” director and co-writer Ryan Coogler uses the internal debates within Wakanda to raise provocative questions about how to be a responsible citizen of the world. Available on Disney+
“Who Invited Charlie?” is like a pandemic-era version of the Bill Murray comedy “What About Bob?,” with the amusingly shaggy Adam Pally taking on the role of a bumbling misfit who invades the quarantine vacation home of his uptight old college roommate Phil (Reid Scott), Phil’s neglected wife Beth (Jordana Brewster) and the moody teenager Max (Peter Dager). Director Xavier Manrique’s talented cast brings wit and warmth to screenwriter Nicholas Schutt’s loose premise, which is mostly an excuse for different personalities to bounce off each other until their friction exposes something true. Available on VOD
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