Watch or skip? Jennifer Lawrence in Dam; Daniel Radcliffe in Weird – The Patriot Ledger | Episode Movies

There’s a binary thread running through this week’s movie releases, featuring two Mars rovers, two country music icons and two lost souls grappling with PTSD. Then there’s “Weird Al” Yankovic. He is an undisputed disruptor. What else is new? But are these films worth your time? Read on and decide if you should watch or skip the following:


As the title suggests, theater director Lila Neugebauer’s debut film is all about finding sanctuary from the crushing waves of PTSD. New Orleans residents Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) and James (Brian Tyree Henry) have suffered very different traumas, but find that the aftermath is just as devastating, whether the damage is caused by war or drunk driving became. The two actors (literally) cast off the ruse to conjure haunting displays of emotional paralysis that can only be healed through their shared experience of survivor guilt. Lawrence is the main attraction, returning to the unadorned rawness of her work in Winter’s Bone, playing a woman who struggles to get over a childhood only slightly less hurtful than the IED that has temporarily crippled her inside and out . But Henry outshines her in nearly every scene as his James emerges from a self-inflicted fugue state, persuaded not by Lynsey’s undeniable beauty but by her empathy and understanding of how to allay grief. It’s not perfect. Neugebauer and a trio of authors take a somewhat simplistic approach to examining the complexities of the fractured psyche. But “Causeway” remains effective, proving that there’s nothing harder than forgiving yourself when it comes to absolution. (R for some language, sexual innuendos and drug use; Streaming on Apple TV+ Nov 4; Grade: B)

"Good night Oppy" (Nov. 4, theaters; Nov. 23, Amazon Prime Video): The crowd-pleaser chronicles the interstellar voyage of Opportunity, a rover that was sent to Mars on a 90-day mission, but stayed 15 days instead years survived the red planet.

‘Good night Oppy’

Is it possible to love and mourn an inanimate object? When it comes to the twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, it’s a resounding yes. What documentary filmmaker Ryan White (“Ask Dr. Ruth”) is creating is a real-life “WALL-E” of sorts, telling the remarkable tale of two machines — and the people who make the high-tech pile of nuts and bolts brought to life at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Just as parents send their grown children out into the world, highly educated engineers weep at the sight of rovers being launched into space and never seen again. But don’t worry, they zoom regularly once Spirit and Opportunity land safely on opposite sides of the Angry Red Planet. The parent unit sends care packages containing music and software updates hundreds of thousands of miles, and its descendants send back amazing, detailed videos proving that water once existed on Mars. We see some of these shots. But I would have liked to have seen more of that and less of White’s over-reliance on computer-animated re-enactments (from George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic) where the camera is pointed at the rovers, not the planet. It still has an impact. The main reason for this is the “eyes”, which are actually cameras, which the animators give pet-like characteristics to. Unfortunately, like Rovers, the Rovers don’t live forever. And when they die, you shed a tear. But you marvel at the lives they led, both surviving long past their built-in 90-day lifespans. Even more admire her parents, the scientists who have dedicated more than a decade of their lives raising the metallic babies of which they have been more than proud. (PG for some soft language; limited theaters November 4th, then streaming Prime Video November 23rd; Grade: B)

Tanya Tucker, left, and Brandi Carlile in "The Return of Tanya Tucker - Starring Brandi Carlile."

“The Return of Tanya Tucker: Starring Brandi Carlile”

First-time director Kathlyn Horan isn’t content with presenting just one great country, but offers two to double our enjoyment. And, wow, are they something to behold, one at the peak of her talent and fame, and the other coaxed out of a nearly 20-year hiatus to return to the studio under the tutelage of two whippersnappers in Carlile and producer shooter Jennings. Focus is on Tucker, the hard-living tabloid darling of the 1970s and 80s, and the various battle scars she wears as proudly as a war veteran. But Carlile is just as front and center, both geeking in the presence of her hero and being a strict parent when her “baby” begins to stray from the right path. They make a terrific couple, but even more rewarding is their collaboration on Tucker’s comeback album (she calls it a “relaunch”) While I’m Livin, which earned them both Grammys for writing the touching Bring My Flowers Now . For her part, Horan displays the shakiness of a first-time director, as evidenced by her film’s lack of cohesion and purpose. It’s never clear if the focus is on Carlile or pink-haired Tucker, still as argumentative and independent as ever. But the nostalgia inspired by photos and film clips of Tucker in her prime obscures every bump in the narrative. And when the two icons unite voices, it is the sound of angels. (R for Speech; in limited theaters November 4; Grade: B)

Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al Yankovic and Rainn Wilson as Dr.  Demento in Weird: The Al Yankovich Story.

“Strange: The Al Yankovic Story”

Harry Potter has a squeeze box and daddy will be laughing all night. Yes, that really is Daniel Radcliffe under the trademark Jheri Curl and Flieger in portraying the prolific pontificate of the Weird Al parody. And he acts like a surgeon and dares the idiotic by daring us to endure his fat Amish paradise. And if you can’t subscribe, eat it. Since the real “Weird Al” co-wrote this re-imagining of the story with director Eric Appel, rest assured that absurd is the word, as no previous rock ‘n’ roll biopic has escaped scorn. Supported by Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna and Rainn Wilson as Mentor – or “Dementor” – Doctor Demento, Radcliffe isn’t just a hoot, it’s a revelation. A good eight inches shorter than the real Al, but more than capable of rocking the accordion, Radcliffe takes you on an over-the-top journey that highlights the obligatory sex, the drugs, and the takedown of the Medellin cartel. Most of this hedonistic activity is facilitated by Wood’s single-minded sending up of the money-obsessed Material Girl. From The Doors to Bohemian Rhapsody, nothing is safe from a deserved skewer. Are there cameos? Fortunately dozens of them. Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol? Yes, please. (Streaming on Roku starting Nov. 4; Grade: B+)

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