Allison Janney has spent much of her career playing women who can outthink and outtalk just about anyone. As the title character in the thriller “Lou,” Janney again plays someone two or three steps ahead of whomever crosses her path — though this time she doesn’t talk so much, because she doesn’t want to risk spilling one of her many secrets.
Directed by Ann Foerster from a screenplay co-written by Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley, “Lou” stars Janney as a reclusive landowner in a small Pacific Northwest coastal community in the late 1980s. Set during a dangerous storm, the film follows Lou’s cash-strapped tenant Hannah (Jurnee Smollett), who needs help when her unreliable ex, Phillip (Logan Marshall-Green), kidnaps their young daughter for reasons that may have something to do with the other shady guys who are creeping around in the woods. As Lou heads out into the rain-soaked wilderness to straighten all this out, she proves so surprisingly capable at tracking and killing that Hannah quickly realizes that her prickly landlord must have a dark past.
The mystery of who Lou is and why she takes an interest in Hannah isn’t as surprising as the movie makes it out to be; but Janney is so commanding as an unlikely action hero that the picture still works. The plot races from one tense outdoor confrontation to the next, as “Lou” tells a simple but effective story about two women enduring the harshness of the elements and the machinations of violent men.
‘Lou.’ R, for violence and language. 1 hour, 47 minutes. Available on Netflix
Like a lot of recent movies and TV shows about time-loops, the romantic dramedy “Meet Cute” doesn’t waste time setting up its premise. Kaley Cuoco plays Sheila, who in the opening scene hits on Gary (Pete Davidson) in a bar, and confesses something: She has access to a time machine that can reset the past 24 hours, and she has been using it over and over to relive their first magical night together. Director Alex Lehmann and screenwriter Noga Pnueli presume their audience is familiar with the likes of “Groundhog Day” and “Palm Springs,” so they get straight to the action, which sees Sheila repeatedly tweaking small details in her never-ending date with Gary.
Unlike “Groundhog Day” and “Palm Springs” (and “Russian Doll,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Happy Death Day,” “Source Code,” etc.), “Meet Cute” falls into a rut fairly quickly, because it lacks the breadth of imagination that makes the best time-loop stories work. All of Sheila’s machinations come from a mundane place: She’s broken and Gary’s broken; and so they spend most of their time together just enjoying the wonders of New York City while comparing their respective traumas. Even the rules of the time-loop stop mattering after a while.
Lehmann does make the city look magnificent; and Cuoco and Davidson throw themselves fully into these characters, who are equal parts funny, awkward and dark. But while there’s the germ of a great time-loop plot idea here — the notion that even the greatest date won’t keep a person happy forever — Lehmann and Pnueli don’t expand on it enough, or do anything surprising or cool. The one idea turns out to be the only idea, and barely worth repeating.
‘Meet Cute.’ TV-MA, for violence, coarse language and smoking. 1 hour, 29 minutes. Available on Peacock
Natascha McElhone is a wonder in writer-director Valerie Buhagiar’s charming dramedy “Carmen,” a film about a long-overlooked woman who finally comes out of her shell and puts a lifetime of silent observations to use. McElhone plays Carmen, who has spent decades working as a housekeeper for her brother, a Catholic priest on the island of Malta. When he dies, the diocese evicts her; but Carmen still has the keys to the church, where she hides out and secretly hears confessions from women who prefer her practical advice to her brother’s old-fashioned penance.
“Carmen” relies too much on coincidences to keep its story going; and Buhagiar threads in a few too many impressionistic flashbacks to the heroine’s youth and to the romance her family forced her to abandon. But McElhone strikes a fine balance between humor and pathos, playing someone who has spent 30 years watching — and forming opinions — as her neighbors have struggled with the complications of couplehood, parenthood and making ends meet. When she starts breaking rules, making money and dressing pretty, Carmen find herself both exhilarated and terrified. The audience gets to feel all this right along with her, as she lives what she’d previously only studied.
‘Carmen.’ In Maltese and English with English subtitles Not rated. 1 hour, 27 minutes. Available on VOD
‘The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales’
The activist and filmmaker Abigail Disney has often been critical of the company her grandfather Roy and her granduncle Walt co-founded back in the 1920s, but she’s rarely taken her family’s legacy on as directly as she does in the documentary “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” which she co-directed with Kathleen Hughes. The movie follows Disney’s efforts in recent years to shame the Walt Disney Co. for the vast disparity between its executive compensation and the paltry wages paid to its lowest-level employees, who sometimes have to rely on food banks and unsafe housing to survive.
As Disney makes clear, her family’s business is far from the worst offender when it comes to robbing workers of their fundamental dignity. But because of what Walt Disney represents — and because the company used to be a relatively responsible corporate citizen — she and Hughes use them as an example of how far American business has drifted from its mid-20th century ideals. This is an unapologetic advocacy doc; and as such it’s likely to rub some viewers the wrong way. But even those who want to watch it just to argue should find that “The American Dream” is a worthy opponent.
‘The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 27 minutes. Available on VOD
‘Me to Play’
Veteran New York actors Dan Moran and Chris Jones spent decades working on the stage and screen before both men were stricken with the debilitating physical effects of Parkinson’s disease, which has made it difficult for them to remember lines and hit marks. Director Jim Bernfield’s short and sweet documentary “Me to Play” follows Moran and Jones as they work with some of their old colleagues to mount a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame,” a play with existentialist and apocalyptic themes that the two leads find especially resonant. The film charts the often difficult rehearsal process, while also spending time with the actors’ family members and friends, who in some cases are unusually honest about what a nightmare it’s been to see someone they love decline. “Me to Play” doesn’t make some grand pronouncement about living with illness or theater as therapy. It’s a small slice of life about a couple of guys trying to exemplify that classic Beckett quote: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
‘Me to Play.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 12 minutes. Available on VOD and Fandor
Also on VOD
“Nope” is the latest mind-bending genre film from “Get Out”/“Us” writer-director Jordan Peele, who this time fuses horror, science-fiction, westerns and social satire in a story about horse-ranchers encountering space aliens. The ace cast includes Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Steven Yeun in a movie that defies easy description or explanation and is best experienced with as little advance knowledge as possible. Available on VOD
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“Exotica” was a pivotal film for the Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan, applying his fascination with sexual desire and modern alienation to a captivating and accessible story about a man trying to overcome personal tragedy through the rituals of strip club table dances. The extras on the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray contextualize the movie’s place in Egoyan’s career, via in-depth conversations and multiple bonus films. Criterion