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Movie Planner: '20th Century Women' review, 'Xxx: The Return of Xander Cage'

Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann play mother and son in 20th Century Women.
Published Jan. 19, 2017

INDIE FLICKS: 20th CENTURY WOMEN

Five characters in search of a plot populate 20th Century Women, Mike Mills' follow-up to Beginners, which won Christopher Plummer an overdue Oscar. Mills may do the same for Annette Bening with a role based on his mother; his father's coming out inspired Beginners.

Bening plays Dorothea Fields, a single Santa Barbara mom in 1979, romanticized by Mills as a last stand of free spiritism — last call before Reagan and AIDS. Dorothea calmly raises her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), with advice bordering on pessimism, the only wisdom she's learned. Bening hits each regretful note of Mills' characterization, wringing his humor even drier.

Jamie's coming of age unfolds with patently indie-hip economy, orbited by more colorful satellites than anyone could expect in a life at once. Dorothea rents a room to Abbie (Greta Gerwig, wonderful again), a punk-hearted cancer survivor offering a different facet of feminism. Yet another is presented by Julie (Elle Fanning), a tease who sleeps around but only sleeps with Jamie.

The lone male influence is handyman William (Billy Crudup), working on Dorothea's home renovation that, like her life's, isn't happening. Like Jamie, William is at the mercy of diversely dynamic women around him, agreeably so.

These roles are reasonably detailed and finely performed but can't overcome Mills' anecdotal rhythms. Dialogue this sharp deserves a clearer target to hit. Always an expressive listener, Bening leans on that talent through a series of passive aggressions against Dorothea, pointing out flaws the mother knows are real. Everyone takes aim at her, some more than once.

By sheer repetition, 20th Century Women becomes Dorothea's coming of age story 40 years late. Mills' movie is ultimately as aimless as her life has been, messy and marked by fleeting pleasures but not enough. B-

ALSO OPENING:

xXx: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

Since Dwayne Johnson effectively snatched the Fast and Furious franchise from under Vin Diesel's hood, the Vinster needs a new ride. Which just happens to be an old ride retooled.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (PG-13) says all you need know in the title. If the capitalization doesn't seem odd and you know who the heck Xander Cage is, this movie is for you.

Back in 2002, Diesel rode the sleeper hit momentum of his first F&F gig to a starring role in xXx, which was not the porn movie the title suggested. Diesel played extreme sports athlete Xander Cage, infiltrating the Russian mob.

xXx did business similar to The Fast and the Furious and Diesel seemed like a box office stud for years to come. Then he believed the hype and wanted to be paid as such. Diesel priced himself out of sequels to both hits, giving more work to Paul Walker and Ice Cube.

Diesel made nice with one franchise, now the other. But the Vinster will never make Riddick a thing. Take that to the same bank he's laughing all the way to.

SPLIT

What we need right now is another M. Night Shyamalan joint, something to either love or hate. Split (R) looks like a prime candidate for a passionate response from both camps.

Shyamalan's latest thriller stars James McAvoy, right, as a mentally unstable guy with 24 distinct personalities, one of them a cold-blooded kidnapper. Just ask his latest captives, three teenage girls who'll die if they don't talk the other 23 into helping them escape.

Sounds like a nifty idea. McAvoy gets to flex some of the creepy acting muscles that made Trance such a guilty pleasure. One of the captives is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, whose turn in last year's The Witch still haunts me. It's time for Shyamalan to recover some dignity. A grisly grindhouse yarn could do the trick.

in theaters: our Top 5

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 A Monster Calls: A grieving boy gets tough love from a tree monster (voice of Liam Neeson).

2 Patriots Day: White-knuckle re-enactment of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack and manhunt.

3 Hidden Figures, above: True story of African-American women making NASA go 'round.

4 Fences: The role that deservedly won Viola Davis a Golden Globe and Denzel Washington a nomination.

5 Lion: An Indian boy is lost, adopted and reunited with his mother by using Google Earth.

UPCOMING RELEASES

(Dates subject to change)

Jan. 27: Gold; A Dog's Purpose; Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Feb. 3: Rings; The Space Between Us; Collide; The Comedian; Julieta

Feb. 10: The Lego Batman Movie; John Wick: Chapter 2; Fifty Shades Darker

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