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Reviews: Italian thriller ‘Naples in Veils,’ puppet martial arts in ‘Yamasong’ and more

(L-R)- Giovanna Mezzogiorno as ?Adriana? and Alessandro Borghi as ?Andrea/Luca? in ?Naples in Veils?
Giovanna Mezzogiorno, left, and Alessandro Borghi in the film “Naples in Veils.”
(Gianni Fiorto / Breaking Glass Pictures)

‘Naples in Veils’

By the time the noirish thriller “Naples in Veils” draws you into its enigmatic web — which is pretty much from the start — you’re sufficiently invested to enjoyably coast through the rest of this hypnotic, if ambiguous, Italian import.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno stars as Adriana, a Naples doctor haunted by a childhood trauma, who enjoys a night of sexual abandon with Andrea (Alessandro Borghi), a handsome, younger stranger she meets at a party, only to discover him dead soon after.

This gives way to a string of events involving ghostly visions, the appearance of Andrea’s purported twin brother (also Borghi), family secrets, a bedridden psychic, nude photos, a dubious police investigator, and a widowed cop drawn to the attractive Adriana. But how much is real and how much a product of Adriana’s perhaps unraveling inner thoughts?

Although the script by director Ferzan Ozpetek, Gianni Romoli and Valia Santella becomes more amorphous as it unfolds, the film is so filled with provocative themes and stirring Neapolitan imagery plus such a persuasively passionate undertow that what happens next often becomes less crucial than what we’re seeing at the moment.

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Still, a bit more clarity, particularly regarding many of Adriana’s friends and family members (Anna Bonaiuto, Peppe Barre and others), could have better helped flesh things out without sacrificing the picture’s elusive appeal.

— Gary Goldstein

Naples in Veils’

Not rated

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In Italian with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Playing: Starts April 26, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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‘Daddy Issues’

Montana Manning
Montana Manning in the movie “Daddy Issues.”
(Gravitas Ventures)

On the surface, Amara Cash’s directorial debut is a sensual feast: all candy colors, sunshine and pop music, like a Katy Perry video stretched out to feature length. But the kinks in “Daddy Issues” — of both a sexual nature and a storytelling one — keep the drama’s substance from ascending to the heights of its style.

Aspiring cartoonist Maya (Madison Lawlor) desperately wants to leave her Los Angeles home for art school in Florence, but a chance meeting with her Instagram crush, fashion designer Jasmine (Montana Manning), finally makes her life bearable. She doesn’t know that her new girlfriend is devoted to her long-term sugar daddy (Andrew Pifko), but this love triangle is even more surprising than it initially appears.

There’s a core of emotion beneath the sugarcoated exterior here. “Daddy Issues” cares deeply for each of its trio of flawed characters, which another movie would have simply left as caricatures. There’s a real person beneath the cotton-candy-haired artist, the sexually free designer and the rich, domineering patron. But that affection leads to tonal issues throughout the film, as well as an ending that isn’t consistent with the preceding 80 minutes.

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Written by Alex Bloom, with a story by Bloom and Cash, the dialogue and plot are less developed than Cash’s visuals. Her frenetic style is the best part of “Daddy Issues,” but it can’t distract the audience from the film’s larger problems.

— Kimber Myers

‘Daddy Issues’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Galaxy Mission Grove Luxury+ Theatre, Riverside; also on VOD

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‘Yamasong: March of the Holllows’

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A scene from the movie “Yamasong: March of the Hollows.”
(Random Media)
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The science-fiction puppet show “Yamasong: March of the Hollows” recalls some of the funky fantasy cult films of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, such as “The Dark Crystal,” “Wizards” and “Fantastic Planet.” Director Sam Koji Hale (who also co-wrote, with Ekaterina Sedia) brings a vivid imagination and rich visual texture to the screen, although his dense mythology and stiff dialogue may limit his audience to genre connoisseurs.

The story is set on a distant planet, Yamasong, where a mechanical tribe known as the Hollows — led by the rebellious Yari (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) — has gone overboard in defending against the ravenous beasts called the Tricksters. In the process the Hollows have threatened the culture of Yamasong’s organic species, including the reptilian Terrapins and the horned Ovis.

Nathan Fillion voices Shojun, a Terrapin warrior who works with the cyborg Nani (Abigail Breslin) to rally the different factions, hoping to find a way they can all survive. The situation’s so complicated that too much of the movie is eaten up by characters explaining what’s going on, in the stilted formal language of a Regency drama … and thus squandering a good voice-cast that also includes Malcolm McDowell, Freida Pinto and Peter Weller.

But while the action stalls too often, the look of “Yamasong” is enough to recommend it. The puppetry’s lo-fi but remarkably expressive, with craftsmanship and design that puts most computer animation to shame. Fantasy fans who enjoy being transported to other worlds — and who have a high tolerance for the wonky — ought to appreciate this picture’s lovingly handcrafted quality.

— Noel Murray

‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Playing: Available April 23 on VOD

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‘Stuck’

Ashanti Giancarlo in a scene from “Stuck.” Credit: MJW Films and Eammon Films
Ashanti and Giancarlo Esposito in the movie “Stuck.”
(MJW Films / Eammon Films)

“Stuck,” the film adaptation of Riley Thomas’ 2012 off-Broadway musical, is a slight and facile piece that feels egregiously past its sell-by date.

Michael Berry, who helmed the stage production, scripted and directed here with sincerity. But he simply can’t get past the physical and thematic limitations of this unsubtle, contrived tale which finds a diverse group of strangers “connecting” as they rotate through a checklist of sociocultural issues, racial stereotypes and uncertain life paths while trapped on a stalled New York City subway car.

The riders include the homeless, Shakespeare-spouting Lloyd (Giancarlo Esposito); Sue (Amy Madigan), an awkward, middle-aged music professor haunted by loss; nerdy comic book artist Caleb (Gerard Canonico) and the object of his from-afar affection, a blunt, snooty dancer named Alicia (Arden Cho); overworked family man Ramon (Omar Chaparro); and the wary, irritable Eve (Ashanti), who’s at a life-changing crossroads.

That they are the only folks left on this wayward train — in midday Manhattan, no less — is just one of this banal tale’s many unconvincing conceits.

Each lead character gets a song to sing that, often aided by flashbacks, sketches their personal story. Save Sue’s touching and powerful number, “Gone,” the tunes (original music and lyrics by Thomas, Tim Young and Ben Maughan), if not the vocals, are largely undistinguished.

— Gary Goldstein

‘Stuck’

Rated: PG-13, for some mature thematic material including images of a sexual assault, and brief strong language

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Playing: In general release

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‘High on the Hog’

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Sid Haig in the movie “High on the Hog.”
(Indican Pictures)

The gamy crime comedy “High on the Hog” rips off two kinds of “grindhouse” — the actual low-budget exploitation pictures of yore, and Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s stylishly ironic 2007 homage. In either case, this movie’s a shoddy copy of something that was pretty tawdry to begin with.

B-movie legend Sid Haig stars as Big Daddy, an affable pig-farmer who has a lucrative side business growing marijuana. Surrounded by pretty women who dote on him, Big Daddy lives an idyllic life, until government agents and a hired killer start closing in.

Besides Haig, “High on the Hog” features substantial roles for trash-cinema vets Joe Estevez and Robert Z’Dar. And unlike the more timid modern genre films, this one’s true to its sleazy roots. It’s violent, it’s laced with drug humor, and it’s so committed to gratuitous nudity that even the closing credits include topless dancers.

But while director Tony Wash and writer-producer Kevin Lockhart’s intentions are honorable (or, at least, appropriately dishonorable), their movie’s a chore to watch. Scenes run on interminably long, the story goes nowhere, the actors play everything too broadly … even the action scenes are flat and slow.

Worst of all, “High on the Hog” borrows the Tarantino/Rodriguez “Grindhouse” gimmick of making the picture appear all beaten-up and chopped to bits, like it’s been sitting in a drive-in projection booth for 40 years. What an odd element to swipe from that film: not the clever dialogue or wild twists, but the way it looked like crap.

— Noel Murray

‘High on the Hog’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD

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‘His Father’s Voice’

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A scene form the movie “His Father’s Voice.”
(Indie Rights)

Set across both the present and the past, indie musical drama “His Father’s Voice” centers on a dancer who returns to his childhood home. Kris (played as an adult by Christopher Gurusamy and as a child by brothers Tzur and Yam Yardeni) finds himself frozen when he tries to perform, but he hopes that a visit to the Indian musical school where his estranged father (Jeremy Roske) lives will help him unlock his pain.

In his filmmaking debut, writer-director-cinematographer K. Kaarthikeyan has a clear passion for music and for the story he tells. But while “His Father’s Voice” is earnest and well-intentioned, the resulting film is dull, marred by amateur technique both in front of and behind the camera.

— Kimber Myers

‘His Father’s Voice’

In English, Tamil and Hindi with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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