TEXAS, USA —
"Lightyear" is another one of those origin stories we didn't know we needed and probably did not. That said, the idea is clever: create a movie about a space hero so popular they want to make a toy out of him. (ala "Toy Story.") Much has been made of "Captain America's" Chris Evans voicing the 'real' Buzz and not the toy's longtime voice, Tim Allen. That's an easy one, to me. He's not the toy! The story has the space trooper getting trapped on an alien planet with some colleagues. He needs to achieve hyper speed to escape. (reminds me of 'Maverick' trying to reach Mach-10! LOL) Each time he tries and returns, his pals have aged four years, but he has not.
'Lightyear' diversifies its characters, with Uzo Aduba and Keke Palmer playing his black commander and her granddaughter. It has a couple emotional moments, but it lacks the sparkle of the "Toy Story" movies. In the second half, it's almost like they're trying to weave some "Star Wars" in there. To be honest, it becomes a bit of a snoozer. There's a surprise reveal involving the Darth Vader-like villain, 'Zurg,' that I won't spoil. There are also suggestions in the post-credit scenes that this series will continue. 'To infinity and beyond?' Gee, I hope not.
(Disney/Pixar. Rated PG. Running Time 1 hr. 40 mins. In Theaters Only)
Cha Cha Real Smooth
"Cha Cha Real Smooth" sounds like a dance movie, doesn't it? Actually, Andrew - played by Dallas writer-director Cooper Raiff - is fresh out of college with no clear life path (unless working at the food court counts). But he's the life of the party at Bar Mitzvahs for his little brother's friends. So, he takes a job as a party starter. The story is based on Raiff's school days at Greenhill School! Dakota Johnson (most recently in "The Lost Daughter") makes another thoughtful choice playing Andrew's dreamgirl, Domino - a single mother. Her daughter is autistic and is played by a first-time actress who's on the spectrum herself. But it's more complicated than that. Domino is engaged to a lawyer who offers the stability she longs for, yet she has such great chemistry with Andrew.
Johnson is also executive producer, her first with her production company. She worked closely with Raiff to develop the characters. I'm told she's the one who insisted Raiff play Andrew. To me, he comes off too old for the role, and that's about the only thing I can find wrong with this little prize. Raiff made this when he was just 23 years old. 23! It won the Audience Prize at Sundance. I'd say that's a crowd pleaser, and I'd say he has a bright future!
(Apple TV+. Rated R. Running Time 1 hr. 47 mins. In Theaters and Streaming)
The Phantom of the Open
You could do far worse at the theater than to pop into a little British charmer. And "The Phantom of the Opera" surely delivers. It tells the true-life story of Maurice Flitcroft. He's a blue-collar worker in the 1970s who believes in following your dreams. His wife supports him in his pursuits. The latest is fibbing his way into The British Open, as a pro. Of course, his qualifying round is the worst score in history! But he tries several more times in disguise. Meantime, he also encourages his twin sons to pursue their dreams of becoming international disco dancing champions. I kid you not. This is all true! The leads actors are the incredible Oscar winner, Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins, who should have won an Oscar by now. This film is funny and so sweet. Flitcroft actually becomes a folk hero in the U.S. and the ending with a presumed teen Tiger Woods will bring a tear to your eye. Don't skip this because you think it's a golf movie. It's much more.
(Sony Pictures Classics. Rated PG-13. Running Time 1 hr. 46 mins. In Theaters Only)
Brian and Charles
Talk about quirky, here's another one for ya! Brian is a melancholy guy who lives in cottage on the outskirts of a small village and fancies himself an inventor. One problem, none of his inventions succeed until he makes a robot out of some washing machine parts and a mannequin head, and it comes to life. That's Charles, played by Chris Hayward. David Earl plays Brian.
The movie is shot in mocumentary style. This roommate situation works fine until Brian decides to take Charles on some errands, and the town bully sees him. Charles also gets a little too confident in his ability to navigate the outside world and finds himself in dire straits. The duo first made this as a short film, but it was too precious for that, so they expanded it. You'll be glad they did, to just the right length that it doesn't become annoying.
(Focus Features. Rated PG. Running Time 1 hr. 30 mins. In Theaters Only)