Category Archives: Review

Review

The White Tiger

One Night In Miami

Wonder Woman 1984

Soul

Wolfwalkers

Mank

Run

The Nest

A Rainy Day in New York

Possessor

Bad Hair

On The Rocks

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

Dick Johnson Is Dead

The Devil All The Time

Antebellum

Mulan

Tenet

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

Unhinged

Project Power

Boys State

An American Pickle

The Rental

First Cow

Greyhound

Palm Springs

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Irresistible

Da 5 Bloods

The King of Staten Island

Shirley

The Way Back

The Invisible Man

The Hunt

Emma

Onward

The Call of the Wild

The Lodge

Birds of Prey

Gretel & Hansel

The Turning

Dolittle

Just Mercy

1917

Little Women

Uncut Gems

Richard Jewell

Frozen II

Knives Out

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The Lighthouse

Doctor Sleep

Countdown

Zombieland: Double Tap

Gemini Man

Joker

Hustlers

Ad Astra

The Peanut Butter Falcon

It Chapter Two

Luce

Ready Or Not

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

The Farewell

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood

The Lion King

Midsommar

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Yesterday

Toy Story 4

The Souvenir

Dark Phoenix

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Aladdin

Booksmart

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

High Life

Avengers: Endgame

Missing Link

Pet Sematary

Gloria Bell

Shazam!

Us

Apollo 11

Captain Marvel

Greta

At Eternity’s Gate

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Palace

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Serenity

Glass

If Beale Street Could Talk

Vice

The Favourite

Mary Poppins Returns

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A Star Is Born

Creed II

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Widows

The Grinch

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Sisters Brothers

Halloween

First Man

Venom

Night School

A Simple Favor

The Predator

The Nun

Searching

The Happytime Murders

BlacKkKlansman

Eighth Grade

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Blade Runner 2049 ****|****

Battle of the Sexes **½|****

Columbus ***|****

Mother! ***½|****

It ***|****

Good Time ***|****

Death Note **|****

Logan Lucky ****|****

The Glass Castle *½|****

Detroit ***|****

A Ghost Story **|****

Dunkirk **½|****

The Big Sick ****|****

Spider-Man: Homecoming ***½|****

Baby Driver ***|****

Menashe ***½|****

The Mummy *|****

It Comes At Night ***|****

Wonder Woman **½|****

War Machine *½|****

Alien: Covenant **|****

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ***½|****

Their Finest ***½|****

The Circle **|****

Free Fire ***½|****

Personal Shopper **½|****

Win It All ***|****

The Discovery **½|****

Life **|****

Beauty and the Beast *½|****

Kong: Skull Island **½|****

Logan ***|****

Get Out ****|****

John Wick: Chapter 2 ***|****

The Lego Batman Movie ***½|****

The Handmaiden ***½|****

Silence **½|****

Elle **|****

La La Land ****|****

Fences ***|****

Manchester by the Sea ***½|****

Rogue One ***|****

Nocturnal Animals **½|****

Moana ***½|****

Moonlight ****|****

Arrival ***½|****

Doctor Strange **|****

Ouija: Origin of Evil **½|****

The Accountant ***|****

The Girl on the Train **|****

The Magnificent Seven ***|****

Sing Street ***½|****

Green Room **½|****

Everybody Wants Some!! ***|****

Eye in the Sky ***|****

Midnight Special ****|****

Knight of Cups **|****

Snowden **|****

Sully ***|****

Hell or High Water ****|****

Don’t Breathe **½|****

Kubo and the Two Strings ***½|****

Sausage Party ***|****

Suicide Squad ***|****

Jason Bourne **|****

Star Trek Beyond **½|****

Ghostbusters **|****

De Palma **½|****

The Secret Life of Pets ***|****

Weiner ****|****

Finding Dory **½|****

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ***½|****

Love & Friendship ***½|****

The Lobster ****|****

X-Men: Apocalypse **|****

High-Rise *½|****

The Nice Guys ***|****

Born To Be Blue ***|****

Captain America: Civil War ***½|****

Keanu **½|****

Krisha ****|****

The Jungle Book **½|****

Only Yesterday ***½|****

Samurai Cop ****|****

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice *½|****

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot ***|****

10 Cloverfield Lane **|****

Zootopia ***|****

Gods of Egypt *|****

The Witch ***|****

Deadpool ***½|****

Hail, Caesar! **½|****

Anomalisa ****|****

Brooklyn **½|****

The Revenant ***½|****

The Hateful Eight **|****

Spotlight ***|****

The Big Short **|****

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ***½|****

Room ****|****

Creed ***|****

Spectre **|****

Goodnight Mommy ****|****

Sicario ***½|****

The Martian ***½|****

The Walk ***|****

The End of the Tour ***|****

The Tribe **|****

The Gift **½|****

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ****|****

Amy ***½|****

Ant-Man/Trainwreck

Minions **|****

Terminator Genisys *½|****

Love & Mercy ***½|****

Inside Out ****|****

Jurassic World ***|****

Entourage/Spy/Insidious: Chapter 3

Tomorrowland ***|****

Mad Max: Fury Road **½|****

Ex Machina ***|****

Avengers: Age of Ultron ***|****

While We’re Young ****|****

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter **½|****

It Follows ***½|****

A Most Violent Year ***½|****

Fifty Shades of Grey *½|****

Inherent Vice ***|****

Foxcatcher ***|****

Selma ****|****

American Sniper ***|****

Force Majeure ***½|****

The Imitation Game **½|****

The Theory of Everything **½|****

The Interview ***|****

Whiplash ****|****

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies *½|****

Top Five ***|****

The Overnighters ***½|****

The Babadook ***½|****

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 **½|****

Dear White People ***|****

Birdman ***|****

Dumb and Dumber To **|****

Before I Go To Sleep **½|****

Interstellar ***|****

Nightcrawler ***½|****

The Guest ***|****

The Skeleton Twins ***½|****

Gone Girl ****|****

 

The White Tiger

Based on the 2008 New York Times bestseller of the same name, The White Tiger tells the spirited story of Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), a successful young businessman thriving in modern-day Bangalore. Narrating his own tale in voiceover, we flash back to Balram’s early life fighting to survive in an impoverished Indian village after losing his father to tuberculosis. After a fortuitous run-in with a wealthy landlord, the resourceful Balram becomes a full-time driver for the solicitous Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his free-spirited wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra). The arrangement seems to be going well, until a night of recklessness forces Balram to reassess his relationship with his rich employers and the unequal society that keeps its most affluent citizens immune from consequences.

The film is written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, who made a splash in critics circles during the mid-2000s with acclaimed independent features like Man Push Cart and Chop Shop. While those two movies just barely broke the 80 minute mark, The White Tiger comes in at a much heftier 125 minute runtime and more often than not, its length can be felt. Though he has an accessible and exciting story in his hands, Bahrani seems slavishly devoted to each of the novel’s plot points and its dense themes involving social classism and globalization. The stylistic touches, like its evocation of the eye-rolling “you’re probably wondering how I got here” trope at the film’s opening, make the theatrics of Danny Boyle’s films seem like the stuff of genius by comparison.

Fortunately, Bahrani is adapting some sturdy material and Aravind Adiga’s novel gives the film plenty of hearty fodder to feed this robust rags-to-riches story. Its title, a reference to a rare and magnificent beast to which Balram is compared at a young age, is just one of the animal-based metaphors that is used to symbolize the perils of a seemingly impenetrable caste system. Balram explains India’s poor class as existing in a “rooster coop”, waiting at the market to get slaughtered one at a time, yearning for freedom while being unable or unwilling to escape from their daunting enclosure. But the tone of Balram’s narration doesn’t resemble that of a maudlin requiem for upward mobility; he often peppers in dark humor and irony to affably recontextualize his struggles and those of his people.

As the savvy protagonist, Adarsh Gourav lends a stirring mixture of down-and-out pathos and cheeky resilience to his compelling lead performance. Rajkummar Rao is equally winsome in his portrayal of a well-to-do tech mogul who takes Balram under his wing and gets closer to him than even he suspects. In a role that could have been one-dimensional and cloying, Priyanka Chopra conveys layers of conflict for a young woman torn between her roots in the United States and her charmed life in India. Each of the main three actors have an easy chemistry with one another, gratifying in times when affinity brings them together and heartbreaking in the moments when discord draws them apart.

With its story of a desperate driver looking to get in with a rich family, The White Tiger bears thematic resemblance with last year’s outstanding Best Picture winner Parasite but it lacks that film’s propulsive sense of narrative urgency. Since Bahrani gives us glimpses of both the film’s climax and ending within the first 10 minutes, there isn’t very much suspense built into how things play out. Even though this is more of a coming-of-age drama than a tongue-in-cheek thriller like Parasite, stakes still matter and I would have preferred to have been kept in suspense rather than waiting for the inevitable denouement. Netflix recently announced they’ll be releasing at least one new movie every week in 2021 and if The White Tiger is any indication, they’d do well to focus on quality over quantity.

Score – 3/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Available to rent digitally is No Man’s Land, a modern Western starring Frank Grillo and Andie MacDowell about a young man who flees to Mexico after accidentally killing an immigrant along the Mexico-Texas border.
Also available to rent digitally is Our Friend, a dramedy starring Jason Segel and Casey Affleck about a couple who finds unexpected support from their best friend after they receive life-changing news.
Debuting on Hulu is In & Of Itself, a filmed version of illusionist Derek DelGaudio’s Off-Broadway one-man stage show which explores themes of identity and illusion.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

One Night In Miami

Based on the smash stage play by Kemp Powers, the enthralling new biopic One Night in Miami depicts a fictionalized meeting between four burgeoning icons in the mid-1960s. We meet the first of the four, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), in the ring during the opening scene as he whales on a fellow boxer in Wembley Stadium. This victory leads to a title match in Miami against then-champion Sonny Liston, where Ali shocked the world by becoming the youngest fighter at the time to win the heavyweight belt. To celebrate his win, Ali invites his friends Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) over to his hotel room to share drinks and reflect on their past successes along with their future challenges.

One Night in Miami is the directorial debut by Regina King, the Academy Award-winning actress who most recently headed up the acclaimed HBO series Watchmen. Behind the camera, King establishes herself as a true actor’s director, bringing out the very best in each of the four talented performers despite the majority of the film’s “action” taking place within the confines of a single room. Films based around plays, like the fellow Oscar contender Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, typically face issues translating the limited settings of their source material to the screen but King proves that you don’t need to punch up the material to make it compelling. The way that she vividly catalogs the convictions and concerns between these four dominant male personalities is especially impressive for a first-time effort.

Adapting his play, screenwriter Kemp Powers (who also co-wrote Pixar’s Soul) considers the positions of each of the four legends at this point in history and how a hypothetical conversation between them might go. Their dialogue is vibrant and revealing, finding the quartet playfully ribbing at each other one moment and more sternly questioning one another the next. There are many topics covered during their all-night hangout but many of the exchanges center around each of the famous figures’ responsibility towards their race during the Civil Rights Movement. As to be expected, Malcolm X is the most confrontational towards each of his cohorts, pressing them explicitly on what they are doing in their respective crafts of music and sports to further progress for African-Americans.

With limited settings and dialogue as the primary driving force, the performances are critical for the film to operate and each of the actors brings something special to bring out the most in their real-life icons. Ben-Adir brings both the righteous anger and thoughtful introspection that we tend to associate with Malcolm X but also adds a dimension of childlike exuberance when he brings out his camera to capture the moment. Goree lends tremendous physicality and the obscene confidence that define Ali’s persona but he peels back the layers to reveal a young man who isn’t as sure-footed as he seems. Hodge is portraying who is arguably the least well-known of the four characters but feels right at home with an easy charisma and warmth.

Best of all is Odom Jr., who broke out when Hamilton hit Disney+ last summer and follows through with a deeply soulful and moving performance. As Cooke, he comes across as an easy target for Malcolm X’s repudiation but turns the tables in rope-a-dope fashion on the activist, whose life was cut short a year after the events of the film. We know that Odom Jr. is a talented singer but the way that he conjures the legendary singer’s tender timbre is magical, particularly in the film’s concluding moments. One Night in Miami is a stylish rumination on race and responsibility through the eyes of four larger-than-life figures whose human qualities are brilliantly presented.

Score – 4/5

Also new to stream this weekend:
Making a last-minute debut on HBO Max is Locked Down, a pandemic-set heist film starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor about a quarreling couple of diamond thieves who put aside their differences to pull off a lucrative new job.
Debuting on Netflix is Outside the Wire, a sci-fi action movie starring Anthony Mackie and Damson Idris about a drone pilot who is sent into a deadly militarized zone and must work with an android officer to locate a doomsday device.
Available to rent on demand is MLK/FBI, a documentary that explores the investigation and harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. by The Federal Bureau of Investigation through newly declassified documents.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Wonder Woman 1984

Following this month’s bombshell news that Warner Bros will be simultaneously releasing their 2021 slate of films in theaters and on their affiliated streaming service HBO Max, film journalists repeated the ominous query that’s been on their lips all year: are movie theaters doomed? The question coincides with the studio’s decision to test the waters on Christmas Day with Wonder Woman 1984, a follow-up to their 2017 mega-hit which would have netted them hundreds of millions in worldwide box office revenue had 2020 gone differently. Watching the would-be blockbuster on the same screen that I’ve been binging awards contenders for the past few weeks was a strange one, one that had me pining for the theatrical experience more than any film I’ve seen this year, if more for the context rather than the actual content.

Taking place decades after our initial adventure with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (a still-excellent Gal Gadot), we follow her as she mixes among the shoulder-padded masses of mid-1980s Washington DC while posing as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute. After befriending the bookish Barbara (Kristen Wiig, working from a familiar schtick) at work, the two come across an antique whose Latin inscription leads them to refer to it as a Dreamstone. Its presence draws the intense interest of fledgling businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, beautifully contrasting his composed work in The Mandalorian) as he pursues the era’s consumerist American Dream and wreaks havoc in the process.

After opening with a continuity-breaking flashback that exists solely to remind us we’re watching an expensive action movie, Wonder Woman 1984 continues with a Sam Raimi-aping montage in which our Friendly Neighborhood superheroine secretly saves beleaguered bystanders. It’s a sequence that sets a starkly different tone from its predecessor, a World War I-set origin story whose defining and still goosebump-inducing setpiece showcases the titular hero ascending out of the trenches and striding confidently through No Man’s Land. That its follow-up invokes The Greatest American Hero more than the Great War is a deliberate choice from returning director Patty Jenkins but not one that feels thematically consistent with the character set up by her previous film.

2017’s Wonder Woman hinges on a good-vs.-evil narrative that’s trite but palatable, whereas it doesn’t take much time for WW84‘s plotline to get more convoluted and knotty than a tangled-up Lasso of Truth. Without getting into too many plot details that may constitute spoilers, it’s enough to say that “wish fulfillment” is a story element that gets increasingly difficult to parse through when applied on a grander scale. Put frankly, the script, co-written by Jenkins along with Geoff Johns and David Callaham, is a mess of contradictory character motivations and muddled mythology peppered with lip-service 1980s references that don’t add up to much. I admittedly fell for a couple scenes that highlight developments of Wonder Woman’s powers, which recall the joy of discovery harkening back to Donner’s Superman films but feel lost among the crowded narrative.

This movie is yet another perfect example of DC’s Extended Universe being at odds against itself. The first five installments, which Zach Synder had a hand in one way or another, were often self-serious affairs that largely failed in their attempt to contrast the effortless effervescence of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Since 2018’s Aquaman, Warner Bros has tried to turn the tide and course-correct with more comedy-centric efforts like Shazam! and Birds of Prey but even those two films differ greatly when it comes to demographic and thematic goals. Now we have a Wonder Woman movie that bears little resemblance to its predecessor, which could work within a standalone franchise but does little in service of the larger superhero Universe. Wonder Woman 1984 is another mixed bag from a cinematic comic book collection that’s still in the midst of an identity crisis seven years in.

Score – 2.5/5

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Soul

For Pixar, past success has frequently stemmed from asking simple questions and providing answers in the most creative and entertaining ways imaginable. What if toys moved and talked when you weren’t in the room? What if the monsters in your closet were not only real but scaring you was their day job? What if a rat was the head chef of a five-star restaurant? Almost immediately, their abundantly ambitious and utterly absorbing new film Soul eschews these modest jumping-off points and tackles biggies like “why are we the way that we are?” and “what is the meaning of life?” Though the scope of this story and the avenues that it explores are deeper than some of the more elementary entries in the Pixar canon, it’s ultimately as fun and life-affirming as any entertainment you’re likely to find this year.

We meet beleaguered jazz pianist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) as he toils at his day gig, struggling to imprint his passion for music to a hapless bunch of middle school band students. A beacon of light shines as he gets a call from a former student (Questlove) to come sit in on a gig with sax diva Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). While excitedly running home through bustling streets of New York City, he falls down a manhole and we follow the blue-blobbed personification of his soul as it makes its way to The Great Beyond. Unwilling to accept his untimely fate, Joe breaks through to The Great Before, a world of pre-existence where those not-yet born develop their personalities before dropping down to Earth. It’s here that Joe gets paired with 22 (Tina Fey), a stubborn soul who refuses to acquire the necessary traits to move onto the next state of being.

Director Pete Docter, the mind behind other Pixar classics like Up and Inside Out, navigates the messy entanglements of the spiritual world and the existential quandaries that it presents with deftness of a master storyteller. He’s aided greatly by a top-tier screenplay — a joint work between Docter and screenwriters Mike Jones and Kemp Powers– which skillfully sets up the terms of The Great Before and conditions by which souls are to attain their idiosyncrasies. This sets up a running joke that is my favorite of any movie I’ve seen this year, in which the ornery 22 exasperates all manner of historical figures from Muhammad Ali to Carl Jung during their efforts to pass along worthwhile attributes.

Soul finds Pixar expanding their artistic palette even further than before, incorporating Picasso-like abstractionism and a storybook aesthetic seemingly inspired by the short films of Don Hertzfeldt. Docter and company retain Pixar’s trademark photorealistic qualities during the Earthbound parts of the story, specifically impressive when it captures the characters playing their instruments with musical precision. Like the piano-playing protagonist Sebastian in La La Land, Joe sees playing jazz as his life force and is bullheaded in his persistence to pursue it. But ultimately, Soul ends on a much different note than Damien Chazelle’s almost-Best Picture winner, presenting a moral as powerful and vital as anything that Pixar has offered up to this point.

The film’s vibrant and technically proficient jazz compositions come courtesy of Louisiana-based pianist Jon Batiste, who has also served as musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for the past five years. Collaborating on their second music score of 2020 after the Netflix dud Mank, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross contribute an electronic-based arrangement that serves as the intellectual counterpart to Batiste’s more heartfelt pieces. Pixar’s most accomplished and satisfying work in over a decade, Soul beautifully marries the head and heart in a way that’s genuinely therapeutic in a year as challenging as this one.

Score – 5/5

Also coming to streaming over the next two weeks:
Debuting on Netflix December 18th is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, an adaptation of the August Wilson play starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman about the titular blues singer and one of her explosive recording sessions in 1920s Chicago.
Available to stream in its entirety on Amazon Prime starting December 18th is Small Axe, a five film anthology series from 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen which covers the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s.
Coming to HBO Max on Christmas Day is Wonder Woman 1984, the blockbuster superhero sequel starring Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig that pits the titular heroine against a media businessman and a friend-turned-nemesis.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Wolfwalkers

Much like the Portland-based stop-motion outfit Laika, the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon has been building a strong resume over the past decade, even if their work has underwhelmed when it comes to box office numbers. Though all three of their films to this point have been nominated for Oscars in the Best Animated Feature category, they have yet to take home the trophy but this year may present them with their best opportunity yet. Their latest feature, the stunningly gorgeous and altogether magical Wolfwalkers, follows a similar narrative path to hits like How to Train Your Dragon and Pixar’s Brave but distinguishes itself with dazzling 2D animation. It has the kind of crossover appeal that could finally put Cartoon Saloon on the map for American audiences.

Set in 17th century Ireland, the story concerns the tenacious hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) and his teenage daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) as they seek to disband wolf packs that threaten their walled-in village. While venturing outside the city’s fortress one day, Robyn and her pet hawk Merlyn meet Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who belongs to a clan of “wolfwalkers”: magical half-humans who have the ability to take the form of wolves as they sleep overnight. We learn that Mebh is searching for her mother, who transformed into her animal form but hasn’t been able to reunite with her human body. As the barbarous “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney) seems to be Mebh’s mothers’s most likely captor, Robyn and Bill seek to set her free while changing the town’s attitude towards the forbearing creatures that lie outside their borders.

Incorporating aspects of both Celtic folklore and modern Japanese animation, Wolfwalkers celebrates the talented hands that crafted it within every beautifully-composed and detail-laden frame. While more recent animated films have tended to strive for precision and photorealism, Cartoon Saloon’s output recalls watercolor paintings that are intended to evoke emotion over exactness. Co-directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart set most of their story in an autumnal forest landscape where no two leaves seem to have the same exact color. The film’s jaw-dropping art design is a perfect fit for the magical and mystical qualities of the alluring tale at its center but also leaves room for some witty visual humor, as when a group of sheep plop out of an enclosure in one predefined cube.

Another manner in which Wolfwalkers separates itself from the pack of family-oriented animated films is in its breathtaking use and balance of light and shadow in each exquisite shot. As characters are exposed to more sunlight when it pokes through the tree cover of the woods, their translucent colors begin to softly fade and subtly remind one that this otherworldly landscape has long existed in darkness. The light scatters differently in this mystical forest, casting contours that don’t behave in the way that we expect and give us a new lens with which to gaze upon this captivating and surprising world. The technological improvements in computer-generated animation over the past 25 years have allowed the artform to improve by leaps and bounds but the goal of the artistry behind this film isn’t merely to impress but to inspire.

As in Laika’s most recent films Kubo and the Two Strings and Missing Link, Wolfwalkers is beyond impressive when it comes to its artistic prowess but comes up a bit short when it comes to narrative invention. Kids likely won’t mind and may even feel more at home with a more conventional story but it will be impossible for parents not to be able to recognize tropes from other family-friendly adventures. While Pixar has all the money in the world to throw at top-tier animation and some have accused them of thematic repetition, their ability to craft story beats of unparalleled poignancy is something that independent animation studios still have yet to emulate. Nevertheless, Wolfwalkers is Cartoon Saloon’s strongest effort yet and will hopefully enrapture enough audiences at home with its enchanting and vibrant palette.

Score – 3.5/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Streaming on Netflix is The Prom, a Broadway-adapted musical comedy starring Meryl Streep and James Corden about a troupe of theater stars who converge onto a small Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.
Available on HBO Max is Let Them All Talk, a Steven Soderbergh-directed dramedy starring Meryl Streep and Lucas Hedges about an author who goes on a trip with her friends and nephew to find fun and come to terms with her past.
Debuting on Disney+ is Safety, a sports biopic starring Jay Reeves and Corinne Foxx about a Clemson University freshman football player who secretly raised his younger brother on campus.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Mank

When 26-year-old Orson Welles developed his debut film Citizen Kane in 1941, he famously demanded complete creative control over the project and even though it was extremely uncommon for a first-time director, RKO Pictures wisely heeded his wishes. Almost 80 years later, director David Fincher currently finds himself in a seemingly similar situation of artistic authority with Netflix. Starting out early as an executive producer on their first hit series House of Cards and continuing as a showrunner for the similarly successful Mindhunter, he’s built up enough goodwill with the streaming behemoth to bring a long-gestating biopic to life. It’s difficult to associate the term “passion project” with a director as notoriously analytical and meticulous as Fincher, but whatever soft spot he had for his latest film Mank would have gone better untouched.

It’s 1940 and revered screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) is at something of a low point. After sustaining a broken leg from a car accident, he’s bedridden and perpetually at the bottom of a bottle when wunderkind Orson Welles (Tom Burke) reaches out for help with a new project. Given a 60 day deadline, “Mank” dictates his script one word at a time to his secretary Rita (Lily Collins) as she types out what would become the Oscar-winning screenplay for Citizen Kane. We flip back and forth through time as we see Mank’s apparent influences on his Shakespearean story, including his relationship with powerful magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Hearst’s gregarious mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

Scripted by David Fincher’s late father Jack before his passing in 2003, Mank is undoubtedly well-researched both in regards to Kane‘s towering mythology and to the culture of post-Depression show business. Packed with snappy dialogue from the primary players that cultivated Kane and niche references to the economic and political climate of 1930s California, the exhaustive script is likely on the money when it comes to historical accuracy. But just because it’s right doesn’t mean it’s compelling and even though the majority of the characters are fantastically witty, their journeys and motivations are thoroughly uninteresting. Unless you’re up on your intermediate knowledge of early Hollywood, you may have a hard time following when and where you are in the story but you’ll have a harder time caring either way.

Fincher, who somehow made computer hacking exciting in his Kane-inspired The Social Network, can’t do the same for on-screen script writing. Shot digitally in black-and-white by DP Erik Messerschmidt and scored by Bernard Herrmann-inspired composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Mank aptly apes the inimitable style of its predecessor. Sporting a runtime 12 minutes longer than the film that inspired it, the wearisome biopic also recalls Kane‘s then-revolutionary labyrinthine plot structure by way of superimposed screenplay excerpts that shift the chronological gears more fitfully than a crummy Series 60 Cadillac. Fincher seeks to make clear the inextricable link between his film and Kane but instead gets closer to the unruly and listless nature of another Welles film: The Other Side of the Wind, which was coincidentally revived by Netflix in 2018 after decades of developmental disrepair.

Much like the film in which he’s starring, Oldman is straining hard for Oscar adoration but his performance is stiflingly rote for an actor of his range and caliber. In the film’s inevitable string of award nominations, I fear the Academy will overlook the work of Tom Pelphrey, who was excellent as Ben in the most recent season of Netflix’s Ozark and marks Mank’s brother Joseph as the film’s lone engaging character. The movie’s most engrossing scene, a confrontation between the two brothers about the dangers of releasing the potentially controversial script, comes much too late in the story to set things right. Perhaps the first boring movie that Fincher has ever made, Mank is a frenzied footnote-laden film which aspires to be a Peloton workout for cinephiles but ultimately comes across as a trivial exercise in self-importance.

Score – 2/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Debuting on Amazon Prime is Sound of Metal, a music-based drama starring Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke about a heavy-metal drummer whose life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.
Coming to premium on demand is Ammonite, a period romance starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan about a burgeoning relationship between an acclaimed but overlooked palaeontologist and a young tourist.
Also available to rent digitally is Black Bear, a dramedy starring Aubrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott about a filmmaker at a creative impasse who seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Run

Following up his superb screenlife thriller Searching, writer-director Aneesh Chaganty expands his narrative scope with Run, another engaging nail-biter that doesn’t quite match the ingenuity of his debut. By comparison, it’s much more broad in its story beats and campy in its execution but at the end of the day, it delivers enough slick twists and turns in its lean 90-minute runtime to satisfy one’s Fall fright itch. As lopsided as the script can be, the film mainly succeeds on the strength of the performances by the two lead actresses, one who is steeply committed to this genre at this point in her career and another who is new to acting altogether.

We meet Diane (Sarah Paulson) on what should be the happiest day of her life but the critical condition of her premature newborn casts a pall over the delivery room. Flash forward 17 years and she’s adjusted the best that she can to the various health ailments that plague her homeschooled daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen). Wheelchair-bound and asthma-ridden, Chloe is clearly dependent on her ever-present mom for many physical tasks but can more than fend for herself from an intelligence perspective. It’s this intellect and curiosity that leads her to peel back a loosely adhered medication label and thus unravel a much deeper and darker mystery at the heart of her relationship with her domineering mother.

Fittingly slated to open in theaters on Mother’s Day weekend this past spring, Run is yet another 2020 release that got postponed indefinitely when the pandemic hit and found new life when a streaming service (Hulu, in this case) ponied up for the distribution rights. Unfortunately, this is a movie that benefits greatly from the experience of sitting in a darkened room with strangers whose hushed gasps and shrieks undoubtedly flavor the viewing. If theaters really are on their last legs, as many have suggested, is there anything that filmmakers can do to translate this phenomenon for audiences at home? Will studios even keep making thrillers like this in the first place? Questions like this disturb me more than anything in Run, although that isn’t a burden the film should have to carry.

In any case, the stellar acting is Run‘s strongest quality and the main area in which it distinguishes itself from the trashy Lifetime movie of the week that it could have been otherwise. Kiera Allen, who is disabled in real life, is outstanding as a smart and resourceful teenager who chooses not to define herself by her limitations. It helps to have such a cunning protagonist when we spend much of the running time working through obstacles with her in real time and Allen is more than up to the task. The film’s best scene, a lengthy setpiece in which Chloe must get from one bedroom window to another by crawling across the roof, gave me flashbacks to the famous Burj Khalifa sequence from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Paulson is very good as the increasingly insidious Diane, although she can practically play chilly and borderline psychotic in her sleep by this point. From her recent appearance as a sinister caregiver in Netflix’s Ratched to her role as a sinister caregiver in last year’s Glass, I’d like to see her display more range in her character choice for her next project. Similarly, the film occupies a familiar class of psychological thriller depicted in shows like HBO’s Sharp Objects and movies like Greta and Ma, although it would easily place first in a race between the three films. If it were playing at your local theater, Run might not warrant a hurried excursion but from the comfort of the couch, it should be enough to quicken one’s pulse.

Score – 3/5

New movies this weekend:
Streaming on Hulu is Happiest Season, a romantic comedy starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis about a young woman planning to propose to her girlfriend while attending her family’s annual holiday party.
Coming to Netflix is The Christmas Chronicles 2, a holiday comedy starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn about Santa teaming up again with a cynical teenager to stop a mysterious foe who threatens to cancel Christmas forever.
Opening only in theaters is The Croods: A New Age, an animated adventure starring Nicolas Cage and Emma Stone about a prehistoric family who is challenged by a rival family who claim to be better and more evolved.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Nest

It’s commonplace for haunted house movies to follow a familiar formula: happy family moves into a new home, tensions escalate as supernatural events occur and the fraught family members band together to fight off the malevolent apparitions. In his outstanding sophomore outing The Nest, writer-director Sean Durkin inverts this equation, taking a family already reeling from years of mistrust and instability and instead of serving them up the typical ghosts and monsters, he uses the chilly setting to further exacerbate existing wounds. As with his similarly brilliant debut, 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Durkin examines frayed family dynamics within the structure of a slow-burn thriller where irrevocable tragedy is only a crooked look or misplaced insult away.

We meet the ambitious scoundrel Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) as he makes a call to an old employer and wakes his steely-eyed wife Allison (Carrie Coon) with the news that they’ll be moving back to his native London for a new job opportunity. It’s the “greed-is-good” era of the 1980s and Rory is hungrier than ever, even if this move marks their fourth in ten years. Rory has essentially made the choice to pursue the position on his own, asking neither for permission nor forgiveness, but it doesn’t take long to learn that he and Allison are hardly on the same page about anything. As the pair “settle” into their dreary England estate with kids Sam (Oona Roche) and Ben (Charlie Shotwell), resentment continues to build and the chasm of conflicting personalities between the four grows wider.

Richly conceived and near-flawlessly executed, The Nest truly is a triumph on every meaningful level of artistic merit. Durkin, who did spend part of his childhood in 1980s South England, mines the more irksome cultural disparities between British and American life as just one of the pin pricks of malcontent that fracture the O’Hara clan. With this groundwork in place, he constructs supremely well-observed characterizations within a fittingly economical screenplay that tells us everything we need to know about these people without a word of excess. The direction is brutally patient and tonally congruent, with Durkin beautifully demonstrating a balance between tension and release. Were this movie to play in theaters nationwide, I would fully expect jeers akin to “don’t go in that room!” from audiences, only adapted for a chilly story of domestic strife rather than a jump scare-laden horror movie.

In roles that are perfectly attuned to the strengths of the actors, Coon and Law do some of the most wrenching and compelling work of their already accomplished careers. Law’s performance recalls the charming deception of his Talented Mr. Ripley character Dickie Greenleaf but he trades Dickie’s carefree spirit for Rory’s palpably desperate sense of determination that is sickeningly enthralling to behold. Coon is equally electrifying as a no-nonsense horse trainer who is in lock-step with her compliant stallion but can’t seem to put the reins on her recklessly impulsive husband. Their inevitable scenes of verbal conflict match the bruising staying power of the culminating scene from last year’s Marriage Story, though I doubt The Nest will inspire nearly as many misbegotten memes.

In one of the year’s most hypnotically effective musical scores, composer and Arcade Fire band member Richard Reed Parry pits discordant piano against apprehensive woodwinds to musically mirror the story’s central conflict. The diegetic soundtrack aptly interpolates 80s hits like the wistful Thompson Twins track “Hold Me Now” and, in a particularly cathartic sequence, the ebullient Communards dance tune “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. It’s been 9 long years since Sean Durkin broke out and if he has more films in him with a quality level similar to The Nest, I hope we won’t have to wait 9 more for his next mesmerizing masterpiece.

Score – 4.5/5

New movies to stream this weekend:
Available to watch on Hulu is Run, a suspense thriller from the director of Searching starring Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen about a homeschooled teenager who begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her.
Out for digital rental is Jiu Jitsu, a martial arts fantasy starring Tony Jaa and Nicolas Cage about an ancient order of expert fighters who must square off against a vicious race of alien invaders in a battle for Earth.
Debuting next Tuesday on Netflix is Hillbilly Elegy, a Ron Howard drama starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams about a law student drawn back to his hometown as he grapples with his Appalachian family’s struggles.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

A Rainy Day in New York

By now, we all know Amazon is notorious for their two-day shipping but if your name is Woody Allen, you apparently have to wait two years for your movie to arrive. Due to be released by Amazon Studios back in 2018, Allen’s latest comedy A Rainy Day In New York was shelved after sexual assault allegations resurfaced against him amid the Me Too movement and the film finally slinks onto on demand this week. The last decade has not been particularly kind to the prolific writer-director, who followed up his critical smash, 2011’s Midnight In Paris, with a handful of releases like the middling Rainy Day that haven’t come close to matching the praise that romp received.

Allen’s tale this time revolves around Gatsby Welles (Timothée Chalamet), a college student who takes a trip from Upstate New York into the city with his girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning). On assignment to interview revered indie director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), Ashleigh splits off with Gatsby early on with plans to reunite at a fancy cocktail bar but the fates conspire to keep them separated. Ashleigh becomes further entrenched in Pollard’s work when he wants to screen his latest film for her, while Gatsby ambles around the city and runs into Chan (Selena Gomez), the sister of one of his ex-girlfriends. The misadventures of the two continue throughout the afternoon as moody rainclouds conjure up a slew of slippery scenarios among a talented cast that also includes Jude Law and Diego Luna.

It’s been a tradition among Allen’s films for the protagonist to imbue the neurotic and nebbish qualities of Allen’s persona and A Rainy Day In New York confidently follows suit with the perpetually put-upon Gatsby. While certain actors like Larry David and Jesse Eisenberg are a natural fit, Chalamet is frankly way too cool and confident to convincingly play an anxiety-ridden handwringer and I rolled my eyes nearly every time his character stammered through ten-cent words. Fanning fares much better in her role, channeling Annie Hall-era Diane Keaton energy with nervous hiccup fits and all. She’s nothing short of supremely charming as she keeps getting pulled into mishaps that get more convoluted as the story moves along.

While Allen’s screenplay features some reliably witty one-liners and exchanges by generable likable characters, its themes of infidelity and big city living hardly break new ground in his oeuvre. The direction is similarly lazy, bouncing from subplot to subplot with only a third-act monologue by Cherry Jones serving as the film’s chief inspired moment. Alisa Lepselter’s editing juggles Gatsby’s and Ashleigh perspectives well but the tempo doesn’t always lock in where it should be during the dialogue-heavy scenes. When it’s all said and done, this is a romantic’s view of New York through the eyes of a hopelessly romantic lead character and Allen is doing his best to impart that sense of metropolitan wonder.

Like fellow recent release On The Rocks, which also wrapped well before the pandemic, this film unintentionally makes one nostalgic for a time when individuals could chat closely without the necessity of a face mask. As Chalamet and company participate in maskless walk-and-talks while name-checking artists like Charlie Parker and Akira Kurosawa, I had to turn off the voice in my head yelling “don’t they know how irresponsible they’re being?” Even the simple sight of a couple huddling close to share an umbrella during a downpour inexplicably made my eyes a bit misty. Like the old soul at the center of its story, A Rainy Day In New York is an old-fashioned, escapist romance that isn’t as inspired as it should have been but isn’t as tiresome it could have been.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies this weekend:
Premiering on Netflix is Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, a Christmas musical starring Forest Whitaker and Keegan-Michael Key about a toymaker and his granddaughter who construct a magical invention in time for the holidays.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, a Werner Herzog documentary about meteors and comets while investigating their influence on ancient religions and other cultural and physical impacts they’ve had on Earth.
Only playing in theaters is Freaky, a slasher black comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton that reimagines the Freaky Friday formula by body-swapping a high school student and a deranged serial killer.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Possessor

For decades now, filmmaker David Cronenberg has been provoking audiences with a signature brand of body horror through works like Videodrome, Crash (no, not the Best Picture winner) and A History of Violence. It’s been some time since his latest effort, 2014’s disappointing Maps to the Stars, but luckily, David’s son Brandon has seemingly followed closely in his father’s footsteps. His second feature, Possessor, is a sci-fi horror hybrid that does indeed bear the mark of predecessors like Scanners and The Fly but establishes a contemplative pace and existential disposition that deepens its mesmeric power. It’s a brutal and uncompromising vision that may not be the best entry point for newcomers to the genre but should thoroughly please those who revel in the creatively horrifying.

We meet Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) during a normal day of her thoroughly abnormal profession: she’s an assassin, of sorts, who uses brain implant technology to transplant her consciousness into the bodies of unwitting bystanders. On the heels of another vicious job, Tasya’s handler (Jennifer Jason Leigh) fills her in on their new target: Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), a young programmer who uses VR to unethically mine data for a powerful tech company. The head of said corporation, John Parse (Sean Bean), is the father of Colin’s girlfriend Ava (Tuppence Middleton), which makes Colin a sensible mark to take John out of the picture on behalf of Vos’s client. The normally unflappable Vos begins to falter in her approach as Colin resists the body-mind control process and their psyches begin to battle one another for dominance.

With firm control over his story and its themes, Cronenberg investigates the terrifying prospect of losing control of oneself with arresting imagery and ingenious personifications of physiological phenomena. He marries the illusory concept of invading someone else’s mind and body like a parasite with the visceral tactility of the wretched instruments that it takes to make such an infiltration possible. Early on, we see Tasya “calibrating” her brainwaves with what looks like a portable transistor radio and the machine that allows her to enter her subject’s brain is connected through what appear to be standard audio cables. In the wrong hands, these prop design choices could seem foolish and archaic but it demonstrates Cronenberg’s dedication to an inventive cyberpunk-inspired aesthetic that, ironically, moves the genre forward.

At times, Possessor resembles an arthouse take on Inception, as it also involves ousting a CEO at the behest of a client through metaphysically manipulated means, but you don’t even need to get past the opening scene to see where it diverges violently. Like his father, Conenberg has little compunction about making his viewers squeamish in the pursuit of ferociously virtuosic violence. But also like David, Brandon argues for the savagery on-screen as a vehicle to depict the dark intangibles of human nature in ways that this breed of science fiction can do better than any other genre. Behind the camera, cinematographer Karim Hussain fixates on unsettling shots like palms rippling under an air hand dryer and bathes the frame in stark blues and oranges to promote a constant sense of disorientation and unreality.

The always captivating Andrea Riseborough is outstanding as a woman whose crumbling sense of reality has left her emotionally bereft from those with whom she’s meant to be closest. In what could be another Christopher Nolan callback, one scene depicts Tasya as she’s asked to grapple various mementos from her past and explain their significance to her handler. Riseborough’s expressions are flawless in these moments, as she struggles valiantly to reorient herself while suggesting that she may not even care to do so. Christopher Abbott is also excellent in a role that calls for him to primarily act as if he’s not actually in control of his body, which I imagine is even more challenging than it seems. Disturbing yet enriching, Possessor is a shocking reflection on the fleeting nature of identity and the confounding complexities of consciousness.

Score – 4/5

New movies this weekend:
Available to rent digitally is The Informer, a crime thriller starring Joel Kinnaman and Rosamund Pike about an undercover ex-convict who becomes incarcerated again in order to infiltrate a mob at a maximum security prison.
Also available to watch on demand is The Dark And The Wicked, a horror film starring Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. about a patriarch farmer whose growing illness manifests waking nightmares for the members of his family.
Another digital release is Triggered, a mystery movie starring Reine Swart and Liesl Ahlers about nine campers who wake up with suicide bombs strapped to their chests with varying times on their countdown clocks.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup