Category Archives: Review

Review

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Malignant

Kate

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The Night House

Annette

CODA

The Green Knight

Old

Space Jam: A New Legacy

Pig

Black Widow

Werewolves Within

False Positive

Luca

Undine

A Quiet Place Part II

Cruella

Those Who Wish Me Dead

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Without Remorse

Mortal Kombat

Stowaway

Voyagers

Godzilla vs. Kong

Nobody

The Father

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Cherry

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

Minari

Nomadland

Little Fish

Malcolm & Marie

Palmer

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 ****|****

 

Pig

Nicolas Cage. Since sneaking on-screen as Brad’s Bud in Fast Times at Ridgemont High almost 40 years ago, he’s forged an ironclad foothold in our pop culture consciousness with over 100 film roles to his name. Over the past 3 years, he’s appeared in 10 direct-to-VOD movies, almost all of which I’ve seen and are admittedly terrible. But Cage is an actor that knows when certain projects are worthy of his best and the new indie drama Pig is one of the defining examples of his career. When the film’s trailer was released last month, depicting it as a revenge movie in which Cage’s character seems to go on a rampage looking for his lost pig, the internet was understandably alit with choruses of John Oink and Bacon as a swine-based swap for Taken. But those coming into this expecting Cage to ham it up will hopefully be delighted to have an entirely different kind of meal served to them.

Cage stars as Rob, a reclusive forager living in the vast Oregonian woods with an affectionate and intelligent truffle-hunting pig always by his side. One of Rob’s only visitors is Amir (Alex Wolff), a Portland-based purchaser who drops by once a week to buy the in-demand truffles and sell them to the city’s most competitive chefs. The value of such a potentially profitable pig is realized when Rob’s prized pet is stolen from him one night, prompting him to pair with the now disadvantaged Amir to track down the pig-nappers and punish them for their crimes. The journey into Rob’s former hometown does indeed unveil a specific set of skills that he possesses but they aren’t as bloodthirsty and violent as the narrative might suggest.

As much as the marketing of Pig painted it to have the singular focus of a traditional revenge movie, the movie is not only about much more than one thing but it’s also incredibly wise about the other topics it chooses to invoke. For one, it’s a melancholic but relentlessly optimistic portrait of broken men blindly scouring the world for power and purpose in the absence of women for whom they’ve cared. It’s a sensitive examination of toxic masculinity that doesn’t resort to having female characters chew male characters out about their indiscretions. Watching these men flail about as they try to put themselves back together is more painful than the fury behind any scornful words that could be uttered at them.

In the film’s meditation on man’s place in nature amid the creeping forces of commerce and capitalism, Pig reminded more of last year’s quietly moving First Cow than your typical Liam Neeson-starring vengeance tale. “There’s nothing for you here anymore,” a suspect laments to Rob, “There’s nothing here for most of us. You don’t keep a grip on it, that’s pretty much it.” These lines have an extra layer of shattering context given the social unrest that has pervaded Portland as of late but even taken on a more broad level, they speak to a sense of identity that urban living promises to the young and idealistic but naturally can’t fulfill for everybody. More than anything else, the movie beautifully explores past lives, future selves and the mess we create in between.

An actor who is frequently charged with “over-acting”, Cage proves once again after his wordless Willy’s Wonderland performance from earlier this year that his best version of more is less. His Rob is a character who seems to be hovering above these characters and this story, not in an arrogant or dismissive way but in a way that suggests an ethereal sense of empathy. He listens, and listens intensely, and when he speaks, he chooses the fewest amount of words for the highest level of emotional impact. It’s calm and controlled work but not self-consciously so and quite simply, it’s one of the very best performances of his career. Sensitive and smart, Pig is a hidden gem that will reward adventurous moviegoers who choose it from the menu of uninspired selections that are being offered up weekly both at home and in theaters.

Score – 4.5/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters and on HBO Max is Space Jam: A New Legacy, a sports comedy starring LeBron James and Don Cheadle which finds another basketball icon getting sucked into an animated world to play a high-stakes game of hoops.
Playing in theaters and available to rent digitally is Die In A Gunfight, a stylized update of Romeo and Juliet starring Diego Boneta and Alexandra Daddario which finds a pair of star-crossed lovers flanked by a jealous ex-boyfriend and two rival families.
Streaming on Netflix is Gunpowder Milkshake, an action thriller starring Karen Gillan and Lena Headey about a mother and daughter assassin duo out to protect an 8-year-old girl caught in the middle of a gang war.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Black Widow

In an early scene from The Avengers, still the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s finest entry, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff is being interrogated by Russians when she gets a phone call from S.H.I.E.L.D. handler Agent Coulson. “I’m in the middle of an interrogation, this moron is giving me everything,” she protests while the Russian general and his henchmen look confused. “I don’t give everything,” he barks back, not even realizing how much he just got played. Almost 10 years later, Romanoff and Johansson finally get their own headlining feature in Black Widow, a too-little-too-late prequel that sidesteps the qualities that make the character distinct in favor of generic action setpieces and family-based pathos.

The film takes us back to 2016 after the events of Captain America: Civil War, which find Romanoff on the run from the US government for violating the Sokovia Accords. She flees to a safe house in Budapest, where she is surprised to find her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) hiding out as well. Growing up in Russia, both Natasha and Yelena were trained to become deadly spies under the Black Widow program, now ruled by the power-hungry Dreykov (Ray Winstone) who utilizes mind control to keep his burgeoning assassins in line. Incensed by the idea that hundreds of women have lost their free will to a madman, the sisters team up with their estranged father (David Harbour) and mother (Rachel Weisz) to take down Dreykov and his elusive training grounds known as the Red Room.

When Avengers director Joss Whedon spoke years ago about a potential Black Widow project, he envisioned it as a paranoid spy thriller in the vein of John le Carré. While I can’t imagine Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios would go for something that subdued at this stage in the game, I would still love to see that movie. Instead, the final product here feels much more anonymous by comparison with some glimmers of personality but far too many action beats that don’t seem germane to this character. I kept thinking during Black Widow how much different it would be if it were another Avenger like Hawkeye in the main role and I doubt the end result would’ve been altered very much.

The best parts of the film play like both a far less pretentious re-do of the Jennifer Lawrence dud Red Sparrow and a female-centric take on The Bourne Supremacy. When Natasha and Yelena chart out their mission, we get a sense of both their shared skills and shatterproof sisterhood as they plot together. A sequence late in the film is cross-cut with a prior scene of planning, giving us just enough insight to figure out how carefully those moments were configured and how the cat-and-mouse game may transpire. Unfortunately, director Cate Shortland doesn’t have as firm a grip on editing and timing for the majority of the film. A prison break scene that serves as the Black Widow‘s major action sequence has admirable stunt work but is marred by dubious staging and an uneven rhythm.

Johansson is strong as ever as a character she’s played for over 10 years now but the movie’s secret weapon is Pugh as Natasha’s younger sister. After a Bourne Identity-aping brawl during the sisters’ reintroduction, Yelena doesn’t waste much time razzing Black Widow for her penchant for posing when alongside her fellow Avengers. “I doubt a god from space has to take ibuprofen after a fight,” Yelena smirks. That Romanoff is a human among superheroes is one of the qualities that reportedly drew Johansson to the role but in an effort to super-size her narrative, Black Widow forgets the cunning and intellect that made the character unique in the first place.

Score – 2.5/5

More movies currently in theaters:
Playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock is The Boss Baby: Family Business, an animated comedy starring Alec Baldwin and James Marsden continuing the story of an infant hedge fund CEO who meets his match in the form of another “boss baby”.
Playing in theaters and streaming on Hulu is Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), a Questlove documentary which unearths never-before seen footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
Playing only in theaters is The Forever Purge, a dystopian horror film starring Ana de la Reguera and Josh Lucas that concludes the Purge franchise with the story of a Mexican couple who clashes with a group of outsiders who unlawfully continue the Purge on their own terms.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Werewolves Within

When it comes to films based on video games, the track record over the past 25+ years has been something less than stellar. Of the dozens of live-action adaptations, Rotten Tomatoes has only graded 2 — Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog — as Fresh, while 11 of them have a meager 10% critical approval to their name. Given all this, it’s not much of an overstatement to call Werewolves Within the strongest such adaptation to date. Derived from the 2016 virtual reality game, it may not be as well known as titles like Super Mario Bros. or Mortal Kombat but the framework of its deduction-based playing mechanics align perfectly with the whodunit movie genre. This ended up also being the case for the 1985 cult classic Clue, almost certainly the best film based on a board game.

The setting of this claustrophobic mystery is the blustery village of Beaverfield, where good-hearted forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) has recently arrived for his latest posting. He’s assigned to oversee the construction of a proposed gas pipeline that has created division amongst the otherwise genial folk of the quaint town. As he checks into the local inn, the town’s chipper postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) catches him up on Beaverfield’s most notable citizens, who incidentally find themselves all under the same roof thanks to a fierce snowstorm. Gossip about a werewolf loose in town combined with foul play near a backup generator that leaves the inn-mates without power leads them to point fingers at one another in hopes of finding out who’s responsible for the mischief that’s afoot.

Director Josh Ruben follows up last year’s Scare Me with another comedy horror film largely confined to a single location, relying on some creative camera tricks and swift editing to make up for the modest budget. Where Werewolves Within distinguishes itself is in its eclectic and well-cast cavalcade of players, integral for a whodunit like this to really take off. It may not have the star power or lavish production design of something like Knives Out but these lesser-known actors make the most of their revolving screen time as they poke through alibis and assign motives to one another. If the movie has a weak point (a silver bullet, perhaps) on the directing side of things, it’s that the squabbling between the Beaverfieldians can make an already crowded movie feel a bit overstuffed.

Thanks to born-to-do-this screenwriter Mishna Wolff, the accusatory dialogue between the townspeople is often as chilly as the howling winds that blow outside the wooded inn. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Trish, but everything in these woods eats tiny little dogs,” one townsperson blithely blurts out to a grieving dog mom while neglecting to break direct eye contact with his phone. Wolff also works in some cheeky nods to the country’s current sociopolitical divide that don’t have all that much bite but also aren’t likely ruffle the fur of audiences, regardless of their political inclinations. After all, the spirit and words of Fred Rogers are unironically invoked several times during the movie and if his message of compassion and empathy leaves viewers cold, then there may be no hope for them anyway.

The guilty party or parties may remain hidden for most of Werewolves Within but fortunately, the film is a constant comedic spotlight for two possibly familiar faces who will hopefully score more starring roles in the future. Sam Richardson, who’s popped out in brilliant TV series from Veep to I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, is perfect as a perky straight man trying to ease tensions among the paranoid townspeople. Milana Vayntrub, who sports some outstanding comedic instincts here, may be even more recognizable not from a television show but rather from a ubiquitous series of AT&T commercials that have aired since 2013. The two have an infectious on-screen chemistry that make Werewolves Within a great pick for your next movie night, whether you’re snowed in or not.

Score – 3.5/5

More new movies streaming this weekend:
Streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime is The Tomorrow War, a sci-fi action movie starring Chris Pratt and J. K. Simmons depciting a war against an alien invasion and mankind’s new ability to draft soldiers from the past to help fight the aliens.
Streaming exclusively on HBO Max is No Sudden Move, a period crime thriller starring Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro about a group of small-time criminals whose plan to steal what they think is a simple document goes awry.
Streaming exclusively on Netflix is America: The Motion Picture, an adult animated comedy starring Channing Tatum and Olivia Munn that re-imagines the American Revolution through a more colorful and intentionally anachronistic perspective.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

False Positive

“This pregnancy [stuff] is no joke!”, one mom-to-be proclaims to another over lunch in False Positive, a fitfully inspired but thoroughly distracted horror film about the terrors of new motherhood. The line is courtesy of star and screenwriter Ilana Glazer, departing from 5 seasons of the hit Comedy Central series Broad City to make the transition to film in a more serious role. Though the tone of the material is different than what she’s written before, it would seem to be just as personal and potentially autobiographical, as she and her partner announced a few months ago that they were expecting their first child. Unfortunately, her perspective on the subject is sadly obscured in a script that can’t seem to settle on what it wants to say about bringing a new life into the world.

Glazer stars as Lucy Martin, a copywriter who has been trying for years to get pregnant with her reconstructive surgeon husband Adrian (Justin Theroux). With time ticking away on the biological clock, the Martins call in the big guns by way of top-5-in-the-country fertility specialist Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan) and his Stepford Wife-like nurse Dawn (Gretchen Mol). Through Hindle’s patented method, a hybrid approach of IVF and IUI, Lucy does indeed become pregnant but the persistent nausea is the least of her new concerns. Difficult decisions about the baby-to-be have to be made early, creating a rift between Adrian and Lucy and causing the latter to find support in the form of the also-pregnant Corgan (Sophia Bush). But no amount of camaraderie can shake Lucy’s feeling that something about her “birth story” is completely amiss.

There’s a shot around the halfway mark of False Positive that sums up Glazer and director John Lee’s thesis statement in one cleverly-composed image. Adrian stands to the side of a reposed Lucy as Dr. Hindle stands behind her over the examination table but the characters’ positions make it appear as though Lucy isn’t actually present with them. As many loose plot threads and thematic ambitions as the film contains, I take its central message to revolve around women’s diminished agency when it comes to birthing decisions in modern medicine. My favorite extrapolation of this idea is the recurrence of the phrase “mommy brain”, blithely uttered by both male and female characters, to dismiss concerns of pregnant women and leave them vulnerable to gaslighting and other forms of manipulation.

But there’s just too much else going on in the film’s lean 92 minute runtime to bring the potency or urgency of that message home. Described in the press as being “a contemporary take on Rosemary’s Baby“, the movie has less to do with Polanski’s pregnancy paranoia tale than something like Midsommar, a horror movie about a woman able to see evil clearly amid a group of men who remain blind to it. Where that film leans into its creepy cult conceit, False Positive asks us to suspend disbelief that Brosnan’s Dr. Hindle could be anything but a mad scientist with nefarious plans. The movie’s back half leans hard into the unreliable narrator trope we’ve seen often in horror movies, culminating with a confusing Peter Pan metaphor and an off-putting ending whose shock value is totally unearned.

Making her first foray into drama, Glazer gives a committed performance in the lead role but all of the other actors don’t seem to have a grasp of the material or the conviction to carry out its concepts. Theroux doesn’t add much to his role as the absent husband and his lack of chemistry with Glazer makes their relationship less credible, especially when one considers the difficult journey their characters have endured together. Brosnan is fine in his villainous role but he can play suave and phlegmatic in his sleep. I would’ve much rather seen this cast, who has more comedic chops than it may seem at first glance, play in a sharply-penned comedy about modern pregnancy anxieties than watch them toil in a boilerplate chiller like this. Underwritten and dependent on tired genre clichés, False Positive would have benefited greatly from a longer gestation period.

Score – 2/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is F9, the latest in the Fast & Furious franchise starring Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in which Dom and the rest of his carjacking crew square off against his estranged brother.
Streaming on Netflix is The Ice Road, a disaster thriller starring Liam Neeson and Laurence Fishburne about a tough-as-nails big-rig driver who leads an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save a group of trapped miners.
Coming to theaters this weekend and available to digitally rent the following weekend is Werewolves Within, a comedy whodunnit starring Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub about a snowstorm that traps the residents of a small town in a local inn with a lycanthrope.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Luca

When it was announced back in March that Luca, the terrific new offering from Pixar, was going to stream exclusively on Disney+ with no upcharge, reports came out that those who worked hard on the project were upset with the decision. Sure, Soul debuted for “free” on the streaming platform last holiday season when the pandemic still had movie theaters closed nationwide but that seemed to be a one-time Christmas present from Bob Iger to the world. Starting with Mulan last fall, three movies have carried the Premier Access tag so far with two coming next month and while I’m sure Pixar creatives don’t want to shake down families for an extra $30 on top of a monthly subscription, making their films “free” inherently devalues their worth by comparison. Ironically, the quality of Pixar’s latest works has dwarfed that of the Premier Access titles thus far.

The story centers around teenaged Luca (Jacob Tremblay), an inquisitive sea monster living underwater below the Italian town of Portorosso with his overprotective mom (Maya Rudolph) and dad (Jim Gaffigan). Growing tired of his simple life herding bug-eyed goatfish, he follows the adventurous Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) to land one day as they magically transform into human teenagers once they remove themselves from the water. The two become fast friends, gathering “human stuff” like the Magic Singing Lady Machine (their name for a phonograph) while pining for the pinnacle of adolescent freedom: a Vespa scooter. Along the way, Luca and Alberto meet booksmart Giulia (Emma Berman) and her intimidating father Massimo (Marco Barricelli), a fisherman who has tangled with mythical sea monsters during his career.

On the surface, Luca has obvious Disney touchstones from The Little Mermaid to Finding Nemo but I was impressed by how much Studio Ghibli inspiration could be found, especially from works like Spirited Away and Ponyo. Like those two Miyazaki features, this Pixar outing considers the beauty of friendship and the innocence of childhood against the backdrop of cultural and familial constraints. As excellent as last year’s Soul was, it was a philosophically dense meal that was aimed more at adults as opposed to younger audiences. Though Luca is far from an immature or trivial movie, it may be the most “kid-friendly” non-sequel Pixar has made since The Good Dinosaur, though the execution and story in this film is structurally more sound and sophisticated.

As is the common but still necessary refrain for Pixar films, the animation here is not just breathtaking but somehow even life-affirming in its impeccable beauty. Using the idyllic Italian Riviera as a canvas, director Enrico Casarosa and his animation team recall every inch of the coastal towns and the sparkling sea that surrounds them in vivacious detail. Somewhere in between Finding Nemo‘s vibrancy and The Good Dinosaur‘s photorealism, the style here resembles a postcard from a family member or friend discovering a new part of the world for the first time. Ratatouille‘s Remy the rat would also drool at the delectable dishes prepared by Massimo, primarily pesto pasta concoctions so tasty that the trio of teenagers literally eat them by the handful.

The voice cast has quite a few first-time actors and actresses but is anchored by young but established talents like Tremblay and Grazer, the latter of whom does some outstanding voice work here. His voice has dropped an octave or two since his role in 2019’s Shazam! and it’s a perfect fit for a big brother type whose experience and zest for life are infectious and winning. Sacha Baron Cohen also steals an early scene as Uncle Ugo, a cantankerous anglerfish whose presence threatens Luca with his potential banishment to the deep sea if he keeps up his curiosity for “land monsters” and their dwellings. Even though travel is becoming more popular as the threat of COVID-19 subsides, Luca is a summer vacation in which you can partake without even leaving your couch.

Score – 4/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, an action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson continuing the story of a bodyguard and his hitman associate whose wife has recently been kidnapped.
Also playing in theaters exclusively is 12 Mighty Orphans, a sports drama starring Luke Wilson and Martin Sheen telling the true story of a high school football coach leading a scrappy team of underdogs to the state championship during the Great Depression.
Debuting on Netflix is Fatherhood, a family dramedy starring Kevin Hart and Alfre Woodard about a recently widowed father who struggles to raise his daughter after the unexpected death of his wife.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Undine

For those unfamiliar with German director Christian Petzold, the main thing to know is that he doesn’t mind keeping his stories — and, by extension, his audiences — under an alluring shroud of mystery. His World War II-set masterwork Phoenix tells a tense tale of mistaken identity that doesn’t fully reveal its depths until its breathtaking final minutes. His follow-up Transit depicts a refugee fleeing occupied France who impersonates a dead writer, though it takes about halfway through the runtime to even put that together. However, his latest film Undine may be his most straightforward work yet: a fantasy romance adapted from European mythology in which the fate of two lovers undulates amid a sea of uncertainty.

We meet Undine (Paula Beer) as she’s in the middle of a tense and even menacing breakup conversation with her boyfriend Johannes (Jacob Matschenz), who said that he’s met another woman. Despite the awful news, she pulls herself together and returns to her job of lecturing tourists on the history of Berlin’s urban development. Her poised speeches capture the attention of industrial diver Christoph (Franz Rogowski), whose meet-cute with Undine after his tour involves a shattered fish tank and the newly-acquainted pair lying on the ground under it. It doesn’t take long for the two to become smitten and fall deeply in love with one another, until a pair of well-hidden secrets threatens to throw cold water on their fresh relationship.

Reuniting from Transit, Beer and Rogowski once again sport a world-class chemistry that’s both classically romantic and also endearing in a more modern sense. When they look into each other’s eyes, it’s nearly impossible for one not to want them to be with each other forever. Fans of The Office will rejoice in a reference to a CPR trick synced to the tempo of Bee Gees’ classic “Stayin’ Alive”, whose inclusion in the film could seem corny but Beer really sells her character’s connection with the song through her new beau. Rogowski, whose resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix still remains uncanny to me, steadily augments the longing in his face with each departing train ride that Undine takes to the other side of the city.

Like any made-for-movie romance, there is a titanic tragedy at the foundation of their blossoming affair but in this case, the nature of the “iceberg” is perhaps best left for audiences to discover on their own. Petzold carefully arranges clues and hints to the circumstances of the pair’s divide starting from the opening scene as he weaves folklore and history into this modern dark fairytale. Even Undine’s orations on architectural concepts of post-GDR Berlin threaten boredom upon first exposure but gradually transform into a poignant metaphor about the ability to rebuild oneself after a painful past. The irresistible connection between the two leads should be enough to keep viewers glued to the screen but there’s also plenty under the surface that’s worth diving into.

Using a sparse but effective list of musical selections, Petzold most notably employs a lovely piano-based Bach concerto as a recurring theme for Undine and Christoph. He also insinuates a creeping sense of unreality while exploring some of the story’s more fantastical elements, as when the camera on Christoph’s diving suit picks up images that differ from what we see earlier from his perspective. Elegant and enchanting, Undine makes it easy for one to get swept up in the tidal waves of adoration and yearning between its conspicuously charming couple.

Score – 4/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Premiering both on HBO Max and in theaters is In The Heights, a musical starring Anthony Ramos and Leslie Grace telling the story of a New York City bodega owner who saves his money in hopes of a better life.
Playing only in theaters is Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, a live-action/CGI comedy starring James Corden and Margot Robbie continuing the story of the titular hare as he makes a trip into the big city.
Streaming on Paramount+ is Infinite, a sci-fi actioner starring Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor about a man who discovers that his hallucinations are actually visions from past lives.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

A Quiet Place Part II

After a 14-month delay, the follow-up to 2018’s surprise hit A Quiet Place is finally being released in a place that has been all too quiet the past year: our movie theaters. A Quiet Place Part II is another potent creature feature from writer/director John Krasinski, whose presence on-screen may be reduced this time around but his creative control behind the camera is on full display. Horror sequels have a bad habit of over-explaining the origins of their monsters or expanding their cinematic world too quickly; Krasinski wisely avoids both of those pitfalls while matching (if not exceeding) the tension produced by his predecessor. It obviously would help to have seen A Quiet Place first before picking up with this chapter but even audience members who go in blind shouldn’t have much trouble getting wrapped up in the film’s scares.

A Quiet Place begins on “Day 89” after Earth is overrun by terrifying creatures who hunt anything that makes noise; Part II goes back to show us the events of “Day 1” when the monsters first attack. After that extended prologue, we join Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) with her newborn baby along with daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe), right after the events of the first film. With their home now destroyed, the family ventures out beyond the sand path and happens upon a seemingly abandoned steel factory. There they find Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a former family friend doing his best to survive after the loss of his children and more recent loss of his wife. Together, they work together to stave off the horrifying creatures and find a way to finish them off for good.

Restraint is a rare quality among horror movies, and especially ones as highly anticipated as A Quiet Place Part II, but Krasinski has again struck a fine balance between tension and release that permeates the film’s scariest moments. He explores and makes terrific use of new spaces, venturing past the cornfields of the original to a larger world that includes Emmett’s grimy bunker and a set of abandoned train cars. Complimenting some top-notch sound design, composer Marco Beltrami returns with a spine-tingling music score that is used sparingly but effectively. There are plenty of nail-biting scenes in this lean and mean sequel but the climax, beautifully edited by Michael P. Shawver, seamlessly weaves together three separate stories in a sequence that will leave audiences breathless.

If Krasinski’s script is light on nuance and character development, his performers make up the difference with heartfelt and beautifully lived-in performances. Blunt capably takes over the spotlight from both her real-life and fictional husband as a fierce matriarch saddled with a precious newborn but blessed with two children nearly as resourceful as she is. Simmonds is again terrific in a commanding and cunning role that properly empowers the deaf community without pandering to them. Though Murphy has appeared in plenty of Christopher Nolan’s movies, it seems like it’s been a while since he’s had a lead film role and he’s an outstanding addition to this eminently talented cast.

Like the best post-apocalyptic features, the pair of these films asks us to consider how much can be lost so quickly and to cherish the things in our lives that we may take for granted. The COVID-19 pandemic seemed destined to deal the final blow to movie theaters but through patience and resiliency, we gather together once again. Besides someone shouting “that’s Jim!” when Krasinski first appeared on screen, the audience at my IMAX screening was exceedingly respectful and properly enraptured by the presence of a screen alit once more. The movies allow us to sit as silent strangers in the dark but become acquainted and united with each other through light and magic. May A Quiet Place Part II be the first of many more movies to brighten our faces amid the darkness.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters and playing on HBO Max is The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, a horror movie starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga that continues the story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they take on another terrifying case.
Playing only in theaters is Spirit Untamed, an animated adventure starring Isabela Merced and Jake Gyllenhaal about a young girl who moves from the city to a small frontier town and befriends a wild mustang named Spirit.
Available to rent on demand is Undine, a myth-based romantic fantasy starring Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski about a mermaid posing as a German historian who must kill her cheating boyfriend and return to the water.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Cruella

When it comes to franchise building and marketing, Warner Bros has been emulating Disney for so long, it was only a matter of time before the House of Mouse reciprocated in kind. After the first trailer for Cruella was released a few months ago, many commented on how similar it looked to the promotions for Joker, from its gleefully unhinged tone to the gothic style of its title cards. Would this be Disney’s version of a darker, grittier origin story for one of its most notorious villains? After an all-too-common covid-related delay, the film now arrives in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access with most of the Joker inspiration being held for the final act, preceded by a mostly enjoyable mélange of The Devil Wears Prada and The Favourite.

We meet Estella de Vil (Emma Stone) shortly before her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) dies tragically in a cliffside accident, leaving her to fend for herself on the crowded streets of London. She makes fast friends with grifting brothers Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), creating disguises for their homespun con jobs. Thanks to some sneaky maneuvering by Jasper, Estella lands an entry-level position at an extravagant fashion house headed up by the chilly Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson). After toiling under her rule as a ruthless and cutting (quite literally, in one scene) designer, Estella concocts an alter ego called Cruella, an iconoclastic firebrand aiming to take the fashion world by storm and take Hellman out in the process.

Director Craig Gillespie, who painted a sympathetic portrait of another villainous female figure in the cheeky biopic I, Tonya, crams truckloads of exposition into Cruella‘s opening act. This kind of table-setting has been commonplace for Disney’s live-action spinoffs like Maleficent and its sequel, reorienting how we see previously animated antagonists before they turn to their wicked ways. This passage is the most tedious section of the film, setting up an ambitious and potentially interesting character in the most bland and paint-by-numbers way possible. Perhaps it’s not the movie’s fault that I’m completely underwhelmed by origin stories at this stage in the game but it doesn’t help that Stone narrates in voiceover with tired quips like “there’s many more bad things coming, I promise!”

But a funny thing happens around a third of the way through: the movie actually starts to click. Unsurprisingly, this is around the time Emma Thompson’s character, a dead ringer for Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly character in Prada, comes into focus as Estella’s opposing force. Stone and Thompson are electrifying as they go at each others’ throats, in more subtle ways when Estella is working under the Baroness but more bombastically once Cruella is unleashed. Part of Cruella’s plan is to show up the Baroness at her own events wearing outfits that are increasingly head-turning and headline-inspiring. It’s a devilishly decadent game of oneup(wo)manship guaranteed to score Best Costume Design nominations around awards season.

A third act twist elevates the stakes of the revenge even higher and makes good on the Joker similarities forecast in the teaser trailer, specifically in a mansion-set scene where Nicholas Britell’s music score does some heavy lifting. Up to that point, Gillespie flexes Disney’s music licensing budget by compiling an enjoyable but ultimately exhausting barrage of 1970s tunes from bands like The Clash and Blondie. If his influence from Scorsese wasn’t apparent enough in his previous film, he ends this movie with a one-two punch of a character breaking the fourth wall and a Rolling Stones cut that may or may not tie in with the title character’s last name. At a stout 134 minutes, Cruella isn’t the most brisk walk down the runway but it struts with a confidence that’s intermittently infectious.

Score – 3/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Opening only in theaters is A Quiet Place Part II, a horror film starring Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy about a family continuing to survive in a world overrun by terrifying creatures that hunt by sound.
Streaming on Hulu is Plan B, a teen comedy starring Gus Birney and Mason Cook about a pair of high school students on the search for a Plan B pill after a regrettable first intimate encounter.
Premering on HBO Max is Oslo, a historical drama starring Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott about the development of the pivotal 1990s Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Though the last 10 years have been quite eventful for movie star and mother of 6 Angelina Jolie, very little of her life has taken place on-screen. She was the title character in a pair of Maleficent films and voiced a character in the Kung Fu Panda franchise but besides those roles, she’s understandably focused instead on her laudable humanitarian work and working on passion projects behind the camera. Her latest thriller, Those Who Wish Me Dead, marks the first time she’s led a big-budget action movie since 2010’s Salt and it’s a reminder of how much her unique energy and screen presence has been sorely missed the past decade. In fact, the film’s main fault is that it gets distracted from her character too often and gets bogged down in lurid but comparatively empty genre obligations.

Jolie plays Hannah, a gutsy smokejumper reeling from the trauma of the three lives lost in a forest fire that she and her team stopped too late. A failed psych evaluation after the incident gets her reassigned to a fire lookout tower deep in the forest, where she spots young runaway Connor (Finn Little) in a clearing one day. His father Owen (Jake Weber), a forensic accountant, attempts to find safekeeping at his policeman brother-in-law Ethan’s (Jon Bernthal) home after discovering evidence against some dangerous men. Two ruthless hitmen (Aidan Gillen & Nicholas Hoult) catch up with Owen and Connor on the road, murdering the father while losing the son to the dense woods. Hannah and Connor must evade the assassins while also dealing with all the dangers that Mother Nature throws their way.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is the third film from writer/director Taylor Sheridan, whose pulpy neo-Westerns Hell or High Water and Wind River found conflicted protagonists fighting against the brutal and uncaring forces of nature. Instead of the arid plains of Texas or the frozen tundras of Wyoming, Sheridan sets his story this time amid the vast wilderness of Montana, where finding cell phone service is as unlikely as finding someone who doesn’t have intermediate survival skills. He and cinematographer Ben Richardson capture the lush landscape with fertile greens and fiery reds that find themselves at odds with each other. While the computer-generated lightning effects are wholly unconvincing, the combination of practical and digital fire in the film’s ablaze climax is first-rate.

The events that get the players to that thrilling third act are compelling enough but more fiddly than a story like this really requires. Hannah is set up as a female firebrand amid an order of fraternal firefighters, willing to throw around salty language to fit into the boys club, but her characterization is largely abandoned to make room for the convoluted crime plot. At one point, Tyler Perry pops up as a mob boss who stares at the middle distance while delivering a tough guy monologue to a henchman, only to disappear for the rest of the movie. Sheridan, whose screenwriting credits also include Sicario and its sequel, has penned a screenplay that too often loses sight of its characters amid the smokescreen of action-filled setups and payoffs.

Thankfully, the sturdy performances see this thriller through. Jolie brings the same kind of unpredictability and vulnerability that made her a star around the turn of the century in films like Gone in 60 Seconds and Girl, Interrupted. Newcomer Medina Senghore makes the most of her limited screen time as Ethan’s six months-pregnant wife, emerging from her compromised position as a credible threat for the pair of trained triggermen. Gillen is especially menacing as a determined killer who doesn’t let getting run over by a car and getting half of his face burned stop him from achieving his mission. Despite suffering from a totally unmemorable title (From The Ashes, for one, would’ve worked better), Those Who Wish Me Dead is another no-nonsense frontier story from a filmmaker who puts the “stern” in neo-Western.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Streaming on Netflix is Army of the Dead, a Zack Snyder-directed horror action film starring Dave Bautista and Ella Purnell about a group of mercenaries who plot a heist on a Las Vegas casino during a zombie outbreak.
Available to rent on demand is Four Good Days, a family drama starring Glenn Close and Mila Kunis about a mother helping her daughter work through four crucial days of recovery from substance abuse.
Opening in theaters is Dream Horse, a sports movie based on a true story starring Toni Collette and Damian Lewis about a small-town bartender who begins training a racehorse with the help of her friends and family.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Originally titled Connected and due to arrive in theaters last fall, the superb new animated comedy The Mitchells vs. the Machines is now available on Netflix for families everywhere to binge over and over again. Fortunately, it’s a movie packed with so many laughs and warm moments that rewatches will actually feel warranted and reward viewers with bits they may have missed the first or second time around. It comes courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation and Lord/Miller Productions, the same collaboration that yielded amazing results with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a few years ago. Like that film, Mitchells starts off with concepts and characters that feel very familiar but demonstrates a willingness early on to dig deeper with some exceptionally sharp writing and direction.

The titular family is, by their own admission, a bit of an odd bunch. There’s Katie (Abbi Jacobson), an aspiring film student who makes goofy but inspired movies starring her younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) and their derpy pug Monchi (“voiced” by celebrity pet Doug the Pug). Her mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) is supportive of their endeavors but her techno-resistant father Rick (Danny McBride) finds himself growing distant from his smartphone-addicted daughter, made worse after he accidentally totals her laptop. In a well-intentioned but blatantly impulsive act of repentance, he cancels Katie’s California-bound flight and packs up the family for one last cross-country road trip over orientation week. As bad luck would have it, their trek coincides with a robot uprising brought on by out-of-control virtual assistant PAL (Olivia Colman).

Rianda, who also serves as director and co-writer with Jeff Rowe, tackles well-worn subjects like reliance on glowing devices and “quirky” dysfunctional families through a completely fresh lens. Cross-generational attitudes about the prevalence of technology are often portrayed one-dimensionally in the media but The Mitchells vs. the Machines doesn’t settle for an easy conversation about it. Sure, Katie’s preference to live her life through a screen bothers her dad and Rick’s helplessness in navigating the internet embarrasses his daughter but the film seeks to bridge the gap with empathy between the two camps. The virtues and pitfalls of the natural world and the AI-driven technoscape are explored with a welcome amount of even-handedness and intelligence.

Of course, humor also helps solidify these bonds and this movie has enough gags to keep viewers of all ages laughing throughout. What family can’t relate to Rick’s plea that everyone put their phones down for 10 seconds of uninterrupted eye contact with one another, only to find that it’s more awkward and unnatural than it sounds? With references to works that range from the more recognizable The Dukes of Hazzard and Kill Bill to more niche picks like Portrait Of A Lady On Fire and They Live, there’s an unquestionable amount of inspiration behind the innumerable jokes. This is also one of the first films I’ve seen that manages to keep up the breakneck pace of Gen Z comedy, implementing TikTok rhythm and meme culture in a way that doesn’t feel condescending or contrived.

The stacked voice cast ties everything together, with Jacobson and McBride effortlessly selling the heartfelt father-daughter dynamic while scoring huge laughs along the way. SNL alum Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett are downright hilarious as a pair of defective robots who unwittingly guide the Mitchells, while Eric Andre finds himself in a rare straight man role as a foil to Colman’s exceedingly witty PAL. Chrissy Teigen and John Legend naturally play the picture-perfect Posey family next door, whose seemingly obvious fate is subverted in a nicely choreographed punchline. Set to a raucous and upbeat soundtrack that perfectly matches its idiosyncratic verve, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is wise and weird in all the best ways.

Score – 4.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Spiral: From The Book of Saw, the ninth installment in the Saw horror series starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson about a new crew of detectives tasked with tracking down the Jigsaw Killer.
Also opening in theaters and streaming on HBO Max is Those Who Wish Me Dead, a neo-Western starring Angelina Jolie and Nicholas Hoult about a teenage murder witness who finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness.
Premiering on Netflix is The Woman in the Window, a psychological thriller starring Amy Adams and Gary Oldman about an agoraphobic psychologist who suspects foul play when her across-the-street neighbor suddenly disappears.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup