Things are getting weirder.
I had a great lineup of movies for you this week, but here’s what happened: The latest X-Men film “The New Mutants” is opening, but only in theaters, which remain closed in California.
There’s a chance Bay Area residents may still be able to see it in drive-ins, but the website West Wind (https://www.westwinddi.com) has not confirmed whether it will open in either its Concord or San Jose locations. (Check back on Friday.)
“The Personal History of David Copperfield,” starring Dev Patel and directed by Armando Iannucci (“The Death of Stalin”), is also scheduled to open in theaters. I was unable to see either film in time for review.
I did get to see the new “Bill & Ted,” which I’ll report on separately.
So we’re left with three interesting movies. Two even have exclamation points in the titles!
“Get Duked!” premiering Friday on Amazon Prime, is a zany, rambunctious comedy set in the Scottish Highlands.
It involves a decades-old program in which U.K. youths are plunked down in the middle of nowhere and are expected to survive using teamwork, foraging and orienteering.
This year, four city kids are participating. The first three are burnout delinquents: Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and D.J. Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), the latter a would-be, up-and-coming hip-hop star, and a legend… in his own mind.
Teamed up with nerdy, friendless Ian (Samuel Bottomley), they are given a map — cellphones don’t work — the delinquents immediately tear a chunk from it to smoke some pot.
Unfortunately, their adventure takes a turn when they discover that they are being hunted by a figure called “The Duke” (Eddie Izzard), as a way of ridding the U.K. of its undesirables.
Two local cops (Kevin Guthrie and Kate Dickie), thrilled with the prospect of chasing something other than bread thieves, are on the case.
Scenes involving a failed attempt to make a murder look like a suicide, powdered soup, psychedelic rabbit poop, a very sharp fork, and, yes, a performance by DJ Beatroot, constantly surprise and inspire genuine giggles.
“Get Duked!” (originally titled “Boyz in the Wood”) manages to be anarchic and demented in the framework of a cuddly, coming-of-age story, not unlike 2013’s “The Kings of Summer” or 2016’s “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.”
However, “Get Duked!” has less going on than those movies. It’s more disconnected from reality, and anything resembling depth is cheerfully chucked. The only real connective tissue is the inevitable growing together of the four friends, and their inevitable leaving this situation as slightly better human beings.
Writer-director Ninian Doff makes his feature debut after a career in music videos (Migos, Royal Blood, the Chemical Brothers), and his sweeping outdoorsy look and smart use of space not only enhances the humor, but is pleasing to the eye.
Americans may want to turn on optional English subtitles to help disentangle the thick Scottish accents, but some viewers instead may want to jump into the happy, goofy jam several more times.
Starring: Eddie Izzard, Kate Dickie, Samuel Bottomley, Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben, Viraj Juneja
Written and directed by: Ninian Doff
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Available on digital/VOD, “Centigrade” is one of those “trapped” movies in which people are stuck in a confined location for an indefinite length of time.
Sometimes these movies focus on a single character, as in “127 Hours,” “Buried” or “All Is Lost,” and sometimes they focus on a duo or a group, as in “47 Meters Down,” the original “Frozen” (not the Disney film), or “Devil.”
“Centigrade” is about a married couple, which, in retrospect, was probably not a good idea.
In the story, pregnant, published writer Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) is on a small book tour in Norway with her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza).
They wake up in the car, having pulled over during a storm, to find that they are stuck, buried in snow and ice.
Naomi immediately starts harping on poor Matt. She also does unwise things like leaving the cap off of the water bottle, allowing spillage of their precious supply.
And when she suddenly gets a phone signal, she wastes the precious few seconds she has wailing “Daddy!” and weeping, without giving useful information.
Director Brendan Walsh, making his feature debut after working in TV, finds an impressive array of interesting and varied compositions from inside the car, using the icy blue patterns on the widows as light sources.
It’s a technically well-made movie, to be sure, but it leaves many logical questions unanswered, such as… ahem… ongoing bathroom needs, as well as a tin of chocolates that is brought up early on as something significant, then forgotten.
Moreover, it can’t find, or perhaps has no time to find in 89 minutes, much balance or history in the relationship.
It feels more like a divorce story than a suspense story. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for the couple, especially with dialogue like “What is your problem?” and “What do you want me to say?”
It also contains perhaps more nerve-rattling baby cry sounds than any movie since “Eraserhead.”
Ultimately, it’s less of a nail-biter than it is dispiriting, and disappointingly weighted toward a male point of view. Perhaps this is one movie that might have benefitted from a woman’s touch.
Starring: Genesis Rodriguez, Vincent Piazza
Written by: Daley Nixon, Brendan Walsh
Directed by: Brendan Walsh
Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes
There’s a moment in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” in the midst of all the social unrest of 1967, wherein a television set is on in the background of an apartment in a Black neighborhood, tuned to some cheerful show starring an all-white cast.
It’s a brilliant moment that underlines the tone-deaf nature of systemic racism. Fortunately, the following year, 1968, a show debuted that provided an alternative.
The documentary “Mr. Soul!” tells the story of the variety show “Soul!,” which ran on the educational network NET from 1968 to 1973, and of its brilliant and charismatic creator/producer/host Ellis Haizlip.
It’s available through the Roxie Theater’s virtual cinema program (https://www.roxie.com/mr-soul/), in which 50% of ticket sales go to keeping this local treasure afloat.
Written and co-directed by Ellis’ niece Melissa Haizlip, “Mr. Soul!” relies on modern-day interviews with many behind-the-scenes folks, as well as some of its onscreen guests, and younger viewers that were inspired by the show, such as The Roots’ Questlove.
Actor Blair Underwood provides narration over animated stills in which spoken words magically appear in written form.
But the doc’s real draw is the amazing archival footage. It includes performances (or snippets of performances) by Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Ashford & Simpson, The Delfonics, Kool & the Gang, the insane Pharoah Sanders, and many more, plus poets and dancers, and notable guests such as Muhammad Ali, Sidney Poitier, James Baldwin, and Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee.
Then there’s Ellis himself, who died in 1991. Openly gay, he adopted a calm, intellectual screen presence, with his neat wardrobe, glasses and huge mustache, and his soft-spoken, measured voice.
A highlight is watching him conduct interviews, flinging hardballs disguised as softballs, and even taking on controversial figures such as Louis Farrakhan.
His interview with Betty Shabazz is a model of empathy, attempting to reach her as a human being, and not just as Malcolm X’s widow.
Sadly, the doc does invoke news footage and harsh images from the time, illustrating how progressive movements like the “Soul!” show were seen as enemies of established, white society. And it’s heartbreaking to consider how little has changed.
But the glorious takeaway is that “Soul!” was such a positive force for as long as it was. It was a celebration of Blackness, Black culture and Black creativity that was long overdue, and is much needed again.
Starring: Blair Underwood, Harry Belafonte, Questlove, Nikki Giovanni
Written by: Melissa Haizlip
Directed by: Melissa Haizlip, Sam Pollard
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes