Home ENTERTAINMENT ‘Wendell & Wild’ review: Henry Selick and Jordan Peele team up

‘Wendell & Wild’ review: Henry Selick and Jordan Peele team up

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‘Wendell & Wild’ review: Henry Selick and Jordan Peele team up

‘Wendell & Wild’

Animation fans have been waiting a while for a new film from stop-motion master Henry Selick, who prior to his Netflix movie “Wendell & Wild” hadn’t released a feature since 2009’s wonderful “Coraline.” The patience has been rewarded. “Wendell & Wild” — based on an original Selick idea, adapted into a screenplay alongside one of the project’s producers and stars, Jordan Peele — is as offbeat and personal as the director’s best.

Peele and his longtime sketch comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key voice the title characters: a pair of demon brothers scheming to escape the underworld. They think they’ve found their ticket out in the form of an angry orphan teen named Kat (Lyric Ross), who has supernatural powers and a yen for anarchy. But it turns out they’re all being manipulated and pitted against each other by mega-rich folks who plan to turn Kat’s dying old industrial town into one big private prison complex. The movie’s plot is a little convoluted — not uncommon for Selick — and involves both the heroes and the villains freely crossing the boundaries between life and death.

“Wendell & Wild” has the telltale Selick look: the distended character designs, the expressionistic lighting and the willingness to let the puppets resemble puppets and the movements to be a little choppy, to underline the handmade quality. There are distinctively quirky touches throughout: like Kat’s love of Afropunk music, her bond with a crafty nun (Angela Bassett), and her wary friendship with several private school classmates who at first appear to be snobs but actually prove brave and helpful. For Selick, “animation” is never just about making pictures move. It’s about giving his images a beating heart, alive with the possibility that the weak can be strong, the grotesque can be good and that nothing dies forever.

‘Wendell & Wild.’ PG-13, for some thematic material, violence, substance use and brief strong language. 1 hour, 45 minutes. Available on Netflix; playing theatrically, Bay Theatre, Pacific Palisades

‘Run Sweetheart Run’

Periodically throughout the supernatural thriller “Run Sweetheart Run,” when the heroine finds herself in terrible trouble — far beyond her worst expectations on a night that has become a nightmare — director and co-writer Shana Feste fills the screen with the word “RUN!” This is also a signal to the audience: The movie is about to take another wild turn; and if they’re not up for it, they should bail. Feste and her co-writers Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell make lots of odd choices with “Run Sweetheart Run” to keep the action moving; and nearly all of them edge the story away from the scrappy, sociopolitically astute action picture it is at its best.

Ella Balinska is terrific as Cherie, who reluctantly agrees to help out her boss and mentor (Clark Gregg) by filling in for him at a dinner meeting with a client, Ethan (Pilou Asbaek). The dinner evolves into a date, which ends with Ethan bringing her back to his house and assaulting her, prompting the first “RUN!” Further complications ensue. Ethan turns out to be a demon who can track women by smelling menstrual blood; and everyone Cherie turns to for help is either suspicious of her claims or under the villain’s sway. By the end of the evening, she can only rely on the First Lady (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the shadowy leader of a feminist underground army.

Feste handles the action and horror in “Run Sweetheart Run” well; and for those who can handle its more preposterous twists there are trashy pulp kicks to be had here. But given that this movie is also trying to say something honest and angry about how the powers that be protect abusive men, its silliness is a setback. The further Cherie’s predicament drifts from the real world, the easier it is to dismiss it as mere entertainment.

‘Run Sweetheart Run.’ R, for horror, violence, bloody images, language, sexual references and brief nudity. 1 hour, 43 minutes. Available on Prime Video

black and white photo of a man playing a trumpet

Louis Armstrong in the documentary “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues.”

(Louis Armstrong House Museum)

‘Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues’

Louis Armstrong is a complicated figure in both the history of popular music and the history of American race relations. An adept trumpeter with a memorably raspy voice, Armstrong helped introduce the world to the smoky, languid, New Orleans style of jazz, and in the process became one of the highest-paid and most respected Black entertainers of his era, appearing in Hollywood movies and playing the best concert halls and hotels. But that success came with compromises, including avoiding civil rights activism and continuing to play the same snappy songs while younger horn players were revolutionizing jazz.

Director Sacha Jenkins’ lively and provocative documentary “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” takes in the totality of the man: the ground he broke, the choices he made, the people he inspired and the people he let down. Drawing heavily on Armstrong’s personal audio tapes — supplemented by old interviews and archival TV and movie clips — Jenkins puts the man some called “Satchmo” or “Pops” into a larger cultural context, considering the limits of his times and the remarkable progress he made in spite of them. “Black & Blues” isn’t a straightforward biography so much as a collection of engaging anecdotes and keen observations, meant to spark a renewed appreciation for someone too often misunderstood.

‘Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues.’ R, for language. 1 hour, 47 minutes. Available on Apple TV+; playing theatrically, Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood; Landmark Westwood

‘Silent River’

The most obvious point of comparison for writer-director Chris Chan Lee’s surreal neo-noir “Silent River” is David Lynch, given that its plot has so much in common with the likes of “Lost Highway,” “Mulholland Drive” and “Twin Peaks” — including doppelgängers, parallel realities and a character who is more an automaton than a man. But Lee brings his own tone and style to the piece that keeps it from being derivative.

West Liang plays Elliot, a desperate man in the process of losing his business and his wife when he checks into a near-empty hotel under a weird-looking sky. There he meets Greta (Amy Tsang), who looks exactly like his wife and is traveling with a robot named P2 (Max Faugno) who resembles Greta’s late husband. Lee structures the film like a mystery, which gives it a sharp hook in the early going but leads to an inevitable letdown in the final stretch when the answers prove less interesting than the questions. Still, there’s a strong sense of displacement in “Silent River,” which captures the eerie otherworldliness of liminal spaces like hotels, where everything feels like a slightly off-kilter version of reality.

‘Silent River.’ Not rated. 2 hours, 1 minute. Available on VOD

‘The Lair’

The first 20 minutes of the monster movie “The Lair” is some of the best work the veteran horror/fantasy filmmaker Neil Marshall has ever done. With almost no dialogue, Marshall sets up the film’s story in one long action sequence, which sees Royale Air Force fighter pilot Kate Sinclair (played by Charlotte Kirk, who also co-wrote the script) getting shot down in a remote part of Afghanistan, where she stumbles across an underground bunker containing mutated beasts. Once she gets rescued by an eclectic band of soldiers — with a mix of races and genders, mostly conforming to broad stereotypes — “The Lair” grinds to a halt for a while, as each new cast member gets an introduction. Marshall recovers well in the film’s back half, though, which features plenty of two-fisted combat scenes and gory splatter, laced with dark humor. “The Lair” doesn’t finish as spectacularly as it starts; but that just means it’s a good genre picture and not a great one.

‘The Lair.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 37 minutes. Available on VOD; playing theatrically, Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood


Despite its thick layer of social commentary, the British thriller “Hunted” is ostensibly an old-fashioned “Most Dangerous Game” riff, similar to dozens of survivalist chase movies released over the past 100 years. Also known as “Hounded” (a better title), the film follows a band of thieves who get baited into a heist at a remote country estate where the snooty Lady Redwick (Samantha Bond) and her family captures and hunts them, after lecturing their prey about the moral decline of the working class. Compared to the controversial human-hunting picture “The Hunt,” “Hunted” is less incendiary and less ambitious, with nothing especially revelatory to say about the wealthy’s sense of entitlement. But director Tommy Boulding and screenwriters Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Lines do deliver a lean, effective action film, with lots of shooting, stabbing and clever traps. It’s ideal for anyone who enjoys the sound of tortured screams in a bucolic English countryside.

‘Hunted.’ R, for violence and language. 1 hour, 34 minutes. Available on VOD

Also on VOD

A man, left, and a woman, both gags tied around their faces, lean into each other

Iwan Rheon and Catalina Sandino Moreno in the movie “Barbarians.”

(IFC Midnight)

“Barbarian” is one of the year’s best horror films: a consistently sly and witty thriller that it’s best to know as little as possible about before watching. Written and directed by Zach Cregger, the movie begins as the story of a business traveler (Georgina Campbell) who books a sketchy rental property in a crumbling Detroit neighborhood; but the directions the plot takes from there are both impossible to predict and often intensely frightening. Available on VOD

Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

“The Invitation” is a modern reimagining of old European vampire legends, with Nathalie Emmanuel playing an ordinary American named Evie who learns she has a genetic connection to an aristocratic — and spooky — English family who wants to meet her. A trip filled with adventure and romance — including a passionate fling with a handsome lord (Thomas Doherty) — takes a dark turn once Evie discovers her hosts’ grim plans. Sony

This story originally appeared on LATimes

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