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Review: 'Hold Your Fire,' 'Licorice Pizza' and other movies to watch this weekend

LA Times logo LA Times 5/20/2022 Noel Murray

‘Hold Your Fire’

A fine companion piece to last year’s Oscar-nominated Stanley Nelson documentary “Attica,” director Stefan Forbes’ “Hold Your Fire” tells the story of an explosive early 1970s hostage situation that had a relatively peaceful outcome, due to lessons learned from past standoffs. Forbes uses a gripping oral history of the 1973 siege of a Brooklyn sporting goods store as a way to argue that one skilled negotiator can save more lives than dozens of armed cops.

The negotiator in this case was Harvey Schlossberg, who pioneered a lot of the techniques police forces adopted after years of high-profile disasters like the Attica prison riot. Schlossberg first made his reputation when four men attempted to steal guns from a Williamsburg shop and ended up killing a policeman and getting penned in by the NYPD. Using techniques like “dynamic inactivity” — persuading hostage-takers to set aside their plans for a while and just talk — Schlossberg de-escalated a situation that threatened to become even more violent.

Forbes was able to interview Schlossberg before the police psychologist died last year and also spoke with two of the robbers and some of the police — the latter of whom still aren’t sure that listening to criminals is preferable to crushing them. Taken together, and combined with some exciting vintage footage of the Williamsburg incident, the multiple perspectives in “Hold Your Fire” add up to a fascinating look back at a still-raging debate over the true purpose of policing.

‘Hold Your Fire.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 33 minutes. Starts May 20, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; also available on VOD

‘Torn Hearts’

Like Donny and Marie Osmond, the psychological thriller “Torn Hearts” is a little bit country and a little bit … well, not rock ’n’ roll, exactly. Call it a throwback to the ’60s and ’70s, when Hollywood legends like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford played scary older women haunting creaky houses. In “Torn Hearts,” that dangerous grand dame is a legendary and influential country music singer-songwriter named Harper Dutch, played by the always commanding Katey Sagal in a performance pitched between pathos and sociopathy.

Harper torments an up-and-coming Americana duo, Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) and Jordan (Abby Quinn), who knock on the door of her decaying pink mansion to ask for her advice — and maybe to get her to agree to a career-boosting collaboration. Harper’s been a recluse since her sister and musical partner, Hope, died, but as she plays little mind games with the girls, getting them sloppy drunk and encouraging them to criticize each other, they begin to wonder if years of mourning have driven their idol to madness.

Director Brea Grant and screenwriter Rachel Koller Croft don’t treat their country music milieu like a gimmick. The movie’s songs are good, its real-world Nashville references are on point, and “Torn Hearts” has something to say about how the music business encourages women to step on their peers on the way to the top. The dark twists and bloody mayhem of the film’s final third feel disappointingly abrupt and rote after all the thoughtful set-up, but the picture still mostly works, thanks to an energized cast, Croft’s sharp dialogue and Grant’s punchy style. “Torn Hearts” takes chances, mixing backstage melodrama and gothic horror in ways both heartfelt and clever.

‘Torn Hearts.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 37 minutes. Available on VOD

‘Machination’

The opening minutes of the psychodrama “Machination” might seem uncomfortably familiar after the last few years. A woman named Maria (Steffi Thake) comes home, takes off her mask and gloves, strips down to her underwear and proceeds through an elaborate ritual to cleanse herself of any stray particle that may infect her with the plague floating around outside. The next day, she does it again. Then she stops going out altogether but keeps obsessively scrubbing herself and her surroundings — until the viewer starts to wonder whether the real problem is with Maria and not the pandemic.

Co-directed by Ivan Malekin and Sarah Jayne — with a story and dialogue developed via extensive rehearsals and improvisation — “Machination” is a very short feature film built around one simple idea. It uses the recent global health crisis as the impetus for a harrowingly intimate character study about a woman whose past traumas have been dredged back up by her pandemic-era obsession with cleanliness. It’s not an easy movie to watch, but it’s admirably unflinching in the way it observes Maria’s tics and phobias, showing how even something as seemingly benign and beneficial as hand-washing can become emblematic of a deeper self-loathing.

‘Machination.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 2 minutes. Available on VOD

‘Toscana’

The culture-clash romance “Toscana” is like an EU-certified version of a Hallmark Channel Original Movie — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be. Anders Matthesen plays Theo, a demanding Danish chef who inherits his estranged father’s estate in Tuscany and travels there intending to sell it. Then he becomes entranced both by the region and by the property’s soon-to-be-married caretaker, Sophia (Cristiana Dell’Anna). She teaches him how to slow down and loosen up, while he shows her how to turn the natural resources all around her into culinary art. Their story proceeds more or less as expected. But the scenery in “Toscana” is stunning, the stars are likable and — as is usually the case with movies like these — there’s some real satisfaction in seeing how all the dots get connected.

‘Toscana.’ In Danish and Italian with English subtitles. Rated TV-MA for language. 1 hour, 30 minutes. Available now on Netflix

Also on VOD

“Hatching” has been freaking out audiences since it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, with its story of a seemingly picture-perfect Finnish family that goes through some strange times when their gymnast daughter, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), becomes a kind of a “mother” to a giant egg … and then to the creature that eventually emerges from it. Available on VOD

“The Valet” is an English-language remake of a popular French film about a superstar (played in this version by Samara Weaving) who enlists a parking attendant (Eugenio Derbez) to pretend to be her boyfriend to cover up an affair. As these two very different people learn about each other’s very different lives, they’re inevitably drawn together for real. Hulu

Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

“Licorice Pizza” is writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s most charmingly shaggy movie to date: a low-stakes, episodic comedy about a couple of Hollywood-adjacent youngsters (played by Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman) cooking up moneymaking schemes circa 1973. The film is funny, odd and sometimes inappropriate — a whole vibe, as the kids say. Universal

“Belle” is the latest visionary anime feature from writer-director Mamoru Hosoda, who tells a winding and inspired story about a shy schoolgirl who becomes an international superstar in a virtual reality space, then gets drawn into the sometimes dangerous drama of online rivals and haters. The DVD and Blu-ray edition contain multiple revealing behind-the-scenes featurettes. Shout! Factory / GKIDS

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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