If you feel like it has been a long time since the last superhero blockbuster spectacle then you’re right. Believe it if you dare, but it has been two whole weeks since the last one and, amazingly, we’ve all survived the drought without going spare.
Thankfully, this week sees the planet-wide release of The Flash and, even more thankfully, it’s pretty darn good.
With a heavy emphasis on humour (a third reason to be thankful) the film takes us into the world of Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), a socially awkward forensic scientist who also serves humanity as The Flash, a superhero who can run so fast he can make time go backwards.
Struggling to cope with having an imprisoned father falsely accused of murdering his mother when he was a teenager, Barry decides to zip back in time and alter events so that the tragedy never occurs.
Things don’t go as smoothly as he planned, of course. As we all know from the Back to the Future trilogy – playfully referenced throughout the film – once you mess with your timeline you create alternate universes and no end of headaches.
In Barry’s case he has to deal with his arrogant younger self (an impressive double performance), an elderly Batman (Michael Keaton, reprising his role from the early Tim Burton films), a sassy Supergirl (Sasha Calle) and the return of evil super-villain General Zod (Michael Shannon), who wants to destroy all humankind.
Given the many forgettable superhero epics we’ve endured over the past 15 years, The Flash is a way-above-average comic-book movie that moves briskly, delivers lots of well-judged laughs and hosts a good number of high-level action sequences.
Yet amidst all the mayhem, it never drifts too far from the emotional core of its story – quite an achievement in a movie era based on so much flash and dazzle.
In Elemental, the latest offering from the once-great Pixar animation studio, we enter a colourful world where citizens take the form of earth, air, water and fire, with the flame-headed “fire people” living in a ghetto on the outskirts of a beautifully designed Oz-like city.
Even though different elements aren’t supposed to mix, the short-tempered Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis) can’t deny her attraction to nerdy water person Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), even though he is forced to report her father’s shop for code violations.
Intended strictly for children, the super-high standard animation makes Elemental a delight for the eyes, though older viewers obliged to see the film with kids might find the thin love story a tad predictable and the unsubtle metaphors about segregation and co-existence a bit too obvious.
While sufficiently pleasant to sit through, the film is also surprisingly light on laughs. Directed by Peter Sohn, the film will hopefully fare better than his previous film The Good Dinosaur, (2015), which has the dubious distinction of being Pixar’s first box-office failure.
The white lies we often tell in the hope they will help make life easier form the basis of You Hurt My Feelings, a very good mature-age comedy-drama about two couples who have to assess whether protecting loved ones from the barbs of total honesty for the sake of being supportive is worth it.
Desperately trying to finish her second novel, writing teacher Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) encounters friction with her therapist husband Don (Tobias Menzies) when she discovers he doesn’t think her manuscript is as good as he tells her.
Meanwhile, her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) copes with her faltering career as an interior designer and the flailing fortunes of her husband Mark (Arian Moayed), who is having second thoughts about his vocation as an actor.
Funny and insightful, the film is an unusually sharp look at adult behaviour and the value of sincerity in an age when everybody seems to expect unconditional encouragement.
Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld; Veep) heads a very strong ensemble, with Menzies doing a very fine job as a therapist whose professional competence comes under fire from a warring couple seeking help with their combative marriage.
The value of hard work, persistence and good luck is celebrated in Flamin’ Hot, an uplifting comedy-drama on Disney+ that tells the supposedly true-life tale of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), an uneducated Mexican janitor at snack food giant Frito-Lay whose idea for Hot Cheetos boosted the company’s failing fortunes in the 1990s and went on to make billions.
Directed with a light touch and a feel-good vibe by Eva Longoria (of Desperate Housewives fame), it’s a warm story with a winning performance by Garcia as a working-class hero who goes from petty criminal to cleaner to marketing executive.
Here’s an interesting side note.
We all accept how films based on real stories involve some degree of artistic license “for the purposes of dramatisation”.
Yet precisely how true the story told in Flamin’ Hot is has been subject to serious dispute. The account given by Montañez in his book A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive, on which the film is based, was challenged in 2021 by The Los Angeles Times for its accuracy. The claim was that he wasn’t directly involved with the invention of the product.
A statement issued by parent company PepsiCo soon after, and before production of the film began, sought to settle the matter and clear the air by supporting Montañez.
Backpedalling an earlier comment, it clarified that his story was not an urban legend and that he was a valued member of the marketing team but that the development of Hot Cheetos might have involved other people working in a separate division of the company. The accuracy of the Times story was never challenged.
For what it’s worth, screenwriter Lewis Colick stood by the story while acknowledging how the facts could have been embellished.
Speaking to Variety (May 2021), he said how “enough of the story is true,” that the film honours the “essence” of the tale and that “we’re not in the documentary business”.