Tenet

In writer/director Christopher Nolan’s excellent The Prestige, Nikola Tesla (memorably played by David Bowie) tell’s Hugh Jackman’s character “You’re familiar with the phrase ‘man’s reach exceeds his grasp’? It’s a lie: man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” Thankfully for us, Nolan has quite a bit of nerve. For over 20 years, he’s been making some of the most narratively dense and visually ambitious films to come out of Hollywood. Perhaps the only big-budget auteur still around, Nolan is likely the only director working who could convince Warner Brothers to release his latest behemoth exclusively to theaters during a global pandemic. After all the false starts and delayed releases, Tenet is finally here and it’s another imaginative and immersive entertainment that will undoubtedly reward multiple viewings.

The quietly commanding John David Washington stars as The Protagonist, an unnamed CIA agent who is recruited by a secret organization known as “Tenet” after a test mission in Kiev. He meets with a fellow spy named Neil (Robert Pattinson) before pursuing his next, world-altering mission. Through a series of operatives, the Protagonist learns of “inverted material”, whose entropy has been reversed so that it can travel backwards through time. The distribution of said material leads him to Russian arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and his distant wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who are involved in a plot that could unspool the fabric of time itself.

Following the releases of Memento in 2000 and Inception in 2010, Nolan has continued his rich tradition of opening each new decade with a top-tier, mind-bending thriller whose title titillates with just a single word. Like those previous films, the time in Tenet unfolds in a profoundly unconventional manner and half the fun of watching is in trying to keep up with all of the plates that Nolan is spinning. He seamlessly marries the intricate plot structure of heady time travel fare like Primer with the jaw-dropping action setpieces one would expect from an entry in the Bond or Mission Impossible franchises. The intensely convoluted storyline is bound to leave some viewers frustrated and confused but personally left me eager to unpack its secrets and twists as I reflect on the experience in hindsight.

As one would expect from a Nolan action film at this point, Tenet is impeccably crafted on multiple technical levels. The larger-than-life musical score from Ludwig Göransson throbs with wall-to-wall synths that appropriately sound like they’re being ripped through the time-space continuum. The sharp camerawork from Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema beautifully frames the action with mesmerizing clarity — one shot in particular recalls one of the most iconic moments from The Wizard of Oz. But the real MVP behind the camera is Jennifer Lame, who should be a hands-down frontrunner for the Best Editing Oscar whenever the Academy Awards end up happening next year.

I had a great time watching Tenet, the first film I’ve seen in a theater in almost 6 months, but Nolan’s movies continue to have a lingering issue with sound mixing that renders too much of the dialogue unintelligible. Dunkirk gets a bit of a pass since it’s a war picture and the screenplay was light on characters conversing but the script this time around is loaded with metaphysical concepts that are imperative in order to decode the story. I’m looking forward to rewatching Tenet from the comfort and safety of my home, with subtitles active and the rewind button close within my grasp. Whether you choose to brave the theaters or wait for Tenet to become available to rent, it’s a first-rate brainteaser that’s well worth unraveling.

Score – 4/5

New movies this weekend:
Opening in theaters is The Broken Hearts Gallery, a romantic comedy starring Geraldine Viswanathan and Dacre Montgomery about a heartbroken young woman who starts a gallery where people can leave mementos from past relationships.
Available to stream on Netflix is The Social Dilemma, a documentary that investigates the dangerous impact that social media platforms have had on our society.
Also debuting on Netflix is The Babysitter: Killer Queen, a horror comedy sequel starring Judah Lewis and Hana Mae Lee about a high school teen who has another run in with a satanic cult after he escaped one years ago.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

Charlie Kaufman is stuck in his head and he can’t get out. Throughout his filmography, from his screenwriting debut Being John Malkovich to his recent directorial effort Anomalisa, he has specialized in characters with a fierce sense of interiority and has captured solipsistic conflict in a wholly unique way. Kaufman’s latest work, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, is his first adaptation since 2002’s Adaptation but the cerebral writer-director applies his own unmistakable voice to the Iain Reid novel upon which his film is based. Even for a filmmaker who doesn’t exactly traffic in light fare, Kaufman has put together what is perhaps his most challenging movie yet and while it may not be his most rewarding, it offers another tantalizing glimpse into the mind of a true original.

We open on a snowy winter afternoon as Jake (Jesse Plemons) picks up his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) in his car so that they can travel to the modest farmhouse where he grew up. The two have only been dating several weeks and yet, Jake feels confident enough in the relationship to bring his new partner to see his mom and dad (Toni Collette and David Thewlis, respectively) for the first time. However, we learn through voiceover that Jake’s girlfriend isn’t nearly as enthusiastic about the budding “romance”, a sentiment expressed in the film’s opening line that also serves as its title. When the couple arrives at their destination, all seems to be well at first but peculiarities begin to stack up as the night moves on.

About half of I’m Thinking of Ending Things plays like a remake of Meet The Parents if it were directed by David Lynch, filled with absurdist humor and tricky editing that intentionally jars the audience’s sense of time and space. The other half, mainly consisting of the couple’s car-confined conversations during a snowstorm, is even more philosophical and verbose by comparison. But what unites these two halves is Kaufman’s pervasive sense of existential anxiety paired with a mordantly funny perspective on human nature. His illuminating screenplay, which extensively references works of great thinkers like Pauline Kael and William Wordsworth, is filled with dialogue by characters desperate to make sense of their thoughts and to find their place in a perpetually confounding world.

If this all sounds like a heavy meal, that’s because it is. Stretches of the movie make Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, his morose meditation on mortality and failure, seem like a crowd-pleaser by comparison. But where that film ultimately comes together in a relatively satisfying resolution, I’m Thinking of Ending Things seems to spiral even further into obscurity as it reaches its beguiling conclusion. Paradoxically, Kaufman’s least accessible film is being released on Netflix, where hundreds of millions of viewers will have the opportunity to stream it as many times as it takes to properly decode the knotty narrative. On a platform with a seemingly infinite amount of content, will audiences be willing to give multiple viewings to such a heady outing?

My gut tells me that many won’t and there will undoubtedly be those who are frustrated enough with the experience to not even make it through one full viewing, which is understandable. As Kaufman gets further from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his best-regarded and most well-known film, he has gotten even more uncompromising and even obstinate in his artistic vision. I wish this time around, he had chased the sublime balance of heart and head that he mastered with Sunshine but even Kaufman’s headier pursuits trump the plethora of braindead content streaming these days. Deliriously surreal and all-consuming, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a brazen inquisition of the human condition from one of the best in the business.

Score – 3.5/5

More new movies this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Tenet, the highly-anticipated Christopher Nolan thriller starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson about a spy who utilizes time manipulation to prevent World War III.
Available to rent on Disney+ is Mulan, a live-action remake of the 1998 animated film starring Liu Yifei and Donnie Yen about a young Chinese maiden who disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father.
Available to rent on demand is Feels Good Man, a documentary about the creator of the comic character Pepe the Frog who struggles to reclaim control of his creation after it’s re-purposed by political activists online.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Unhinged

As theaters begin to open up again around the country, one question lingers in the minds of potential moviegoers: is there anything out right now that’s even good enough to justify the trip? That question looms large over the new psychological thriller Unhinged, which has been marketed as the first wide theatrical release since the COVID pandemic shut theaters down way back in March. With its menacing tone and sinister lead performance by Russell Crowe, it’s certainly not the most inviting “welcome back” to the multiplex but it may draw curious crowds despite itself.

Crowe plays a hulking juggernaut credited only as The Man, who we first see sitting in a rain-battered pickup truck as he pops some pills before breaking into a house and murdering the occupants. We then meet Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a single mom who encounters bumper-to-bumper traffic while running late to take her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school. Pulling off at a nearby exit, she levels a prolonged horn honk at the pickup truck in front of her, only to be confronted by The Man in the driver’s seat. When she refuses to apologize to him — he didn’t move promptly through a green light, after all — The Man wages all-out war on Rachel and her family as payback.

If you lop off the lengthy opening credits, whose loaded images of civil unrest must have been added late into post-production to evoke the current cultural climate, Unhinged stands at a lean and mean 75 minutes. In that respect, the film mainly stays within its lane of trashy B-movies that have come before it but never quite catches up to the quality of better road rage films like Duel and Changing Lanes. A major factor that flat-tires the storyline is just how inexplicably untouchable The Man is throughout his violent rampage. Director Derrick Borte bends over backwards to explain the beleaguered police are just spread too thin but no matter how preoccupied your police force is, I’m pretty sure you can make time for the guy committing multiple homicides in broad daylight with plenty of witnesses.

Despite working from a strained script with only small bits of character development sprinkled in, Crowe and Pistorius often carry the movie on the strength of their intense performances alone. Although he gets off to a rocky start with a horribly misjudged Southern accent in his first speaking scene, Crowe quickly rebounds as he crafts an apoplectic antagonist who is genuinely unsettling and intimidating. Pistorius is even better as a new divorcee who already seems to be at her wit’s end before she meets Crowe’s Man but somehow finds more room to convincingly descend into personal ruin. Even though there are numerous scenes where the two actors are simply barking at their cell phones while driving, they’re able to translate the tension and sell that they’re having their terse conversations in real time.

It’s when Borte tries to awkwardly graft socially conscious themes onto his gritty thrill ride that the film veers a bit too far into “We Live In A Society” territory. The movie does tap into our collective anxiety from time to time but doesn’t tend to investigate it in a particularly thoughtful or empathetic way. When The Man waxes poetic about how uncaring the world is and what exactly pushed him over the edge, it implies that we’re supposed to feel sympathy for a character who is unmistakably the villain of this story. Despite some sturdy performances and effectively suspenseful sequences, Unhinged simply isn’t worth racing out to the theaters for any time soon.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies this weekend:
Opening in theaters is The New Mutants, a superhero horror film starring Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy which is the long-delayed conclusion to the X-Men movie franchise.
Available to rent on demand and watch in theaters is Bill & Ted Face the Music, a time travel comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter that reunites the titular amiable slackers after their Excellent Adventure from 31 years ago.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime is Get Duked!, a British black comedy starring Eddie Izzard and Kate Dickie about four city boys on a wilderness trek as they try to escape a mysterious hunter.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Project Power

Even though movie theaters are still closed nationwide, it’s still technically the summer movie season and blockbusters aren’t canceled if Netflix has anything to say about it. Their latest alt-superhero film Project Power follows in the trajectory of recent streaming output like the Chris Hemsworth-starring Extraction and Charlize Theron-starring The Old Guard and continues Netflix’s quest to compete with Hollywood directly with mid-size budget action movies. While it doesn’t quite fill the void of big-budget tentpole entertainment that still has yet to debut on streaming services, Project Power is diverting and fleetingly entertaining enough to earn a spot on one’s Watch Next queue.

Set in near-future New Orleans, the story centers around a newly-designed, high-tech street drug known as Power, which grants its taker five minutes of a seemingly random superpower. Some addicts catch on fire like the Human Torch, while others have super speed like the Flash and some unfortunate souls literally explode within moments of taking it. The dangerous pill soon takes over the local drug market, motivating young dealers like Robin (Dominique Fishback) to step up their game and police officers like Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to be even more vigilant. Power also draws in the presence of The Major (Jamie Foxx), a mysterious man desperate to dissect the distribution chain and take down the equally mysterious forces at the top.

Now that the X-Men film franchise is basically in shambles (save the ever-pending The New Mutants), Project Power serves as a moderately successful stop-gap of a superpower showcase. Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, whose 2010 documentary Catfish coined a term that has since swam its way into the cultural lexicon, know that Power‘s power lies mainly in its propulsive setpieces and less in its murky mythology. Though there’s a poignant subtext about overcoming systemic inequality, Mattson Tomlin’s script doesn’t have much else on its mind besides shuffling these three, relatively thin characters from place to place so they can level up to the next bad guy.

Thankfully, the trio of performers are all-in for this somewhat silly premise and give it the star power to take things up to the next tier. After a brief reprieve from the limelight, Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings a loose charm and swagger to his rogue cop role that has been sorely missed over the past few years. It’s also good to see Jamie Foxx in an all-out macho lead that reminded me of his work in Django Unchained back in 2012. But the real scene-stealer is Dominique Fishback, who exhibits terrific chemistry with Foxx and creates what is easily the most authentic character on-screen. A bonding scene with Foxx, in which she crafts freestyle raps around words like “seismograph” and “antibiotic”, is arguably more impressive than any of the preceding action sequences.

Like last month’s The Old Guard, Project Power is beset by the same villain issues that have plagued many a superhero movie before it. While it’s fun to watch Gordon-Levitt duke it out with a henchman Powered by ultra-flexibility or watch Foxx take out a whole room of strapped-up baddies, the Men Behind The Curtain are the same old boring bureaucrats we’ve seen in countless action pictures. It doesn’t help that their plan ultimately hinges on several glaring improbabilities that are nearly impossible to square from a logistical perspective. If you don’t use too much brain power, Project Power is a sleek and suitable digression from these less-than-ideal times.

Score – 3/5

New to streaming this weekend:
Opening in limited theaters is Unhinged, a thriller starring Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius about a young woman who is harassed by a seemingly unstable stranger following a road rage incident.
Available on Disney+ is The One and Only Ivan, a fantasy movie starring Sam Rockwell and Angelina Jolie about a gorilla who tries to piece together his past with the help of an elephant as they hatch a plan to escape from captivity.
Available on demand is Tesla, an unconventional biopic starring Ethan Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan about visionary inventor Nikola Tesla and his interactions with Thomas Edison.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Boys State

Making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the enthralling and massively entertaining documentary Boys State hits streaming this weekend and announces itself as one of the year’s best movies. Chronicling the 2018 edition of the American Legion leadership program that gives the film its name, directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine showcase the hundreds of Texan teenagers who gathered to construct a fictitious representative government from scratch. Over the course of a week, the spirited youngsters divide up into two parties of Nationalists and Federalists and elect officials in positions ranging from party chair to governor.

Though they capture input from many of the participants, Moss and McBaine focus on a handful of teens who seem to show the most promise from the outset. There’s Federalist party chair Ben Feinstein, a quick-witted, conservative-minded double amputee who quickly learns the lay of the land and boosts fellow Federalist Eddy Conti to gubernatorial candidacy. Comparatively, Nationalist Steven Garza is more reserved but no less inspiring as a sincere progressive inspired by the likes of Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders. Other Nationalists who rally behind Garza for governor are the eloquent and charismatic party chair René Otero and square-jawed rabble rouser Robert Macdougal.

What’s most fascinating about Boys State is how thoroughly it lays out the beauties and shortcomings of the American democratic process within the context of the current political climate. Though it’s explained early on that the Nationalists and Federalists needn’t adhere to any “guidelines” set by the existing Republican or Democratic parties, it doesn’t take long for the two groups to resemble their real-life counterparts. The testosterone-driven electorates are only slightly exaggerated cyphers for the actual crowds of rally-goers who express their approval or dismay in no uncertain terms. The process of watching the candidates feed off of their energy and change their political strategy accordingly is fascinating to behold.

Lest I make the movie sound like something only a polysci major would enjoy, it’s crucial to note that Boys State is a fun watch even if you favor the personalities over the politics. There is plenty of humor and tension as these strangers come together, try to figure each other out and build something meaningful in such a short amount of time. “I think he’s a fantastic politician,” Otero says of rival Feinstein. “But I don’t think a ‘fantastic politician’ is a compliment either,” he adds after a beat. As the film moved breathlessly to the climactic election night, I could not have been more captivated while waiting to hear the results, even knowing that they didn’t have any actual consequence on the real-life political landscape.

McBaine and Moss, the latter of whom headed up the terrific 2014 doc The Overnighters, weave together all of these public and private moments with both commendable sensitivity and spellbinding momentum. Since 1937, the Boys State program has produced scores of notable alumni from Dick Cheney to Bill Clinton and even film critic Roger Ebert. After seeing this movie, it’s difficult to imagine that ambitious figures like Feinstein and Otero won’t one day have political influence which matches that of the program’s biggest breakouts. Equal parts riveting and revealing, Boys State is a vision of American politics that distills our hopes and fears into one supremely entertaining package.

Score – 4.5/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Available on Netflix is Project Power, a New Orleans-set action movie starring Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt about a pill that gives the taker superhuman abilities for five minutes.
Available on Disney+ is Magic Camp, a family comedy starring Adam DeVine and Jeffrey Tambor about a struggling magician who returns as a counselor to the camp he attended as a child.
Available on demand is Sputnik, a sci-fi horror film starring Oksana Akinshina and Fyodor Bondarchuk about the lone survivor of a space accident who is unknowingly harvesting an alien creature in his body.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

An American Pickle

The new streaming service HBO Max scores their first big original feature with An American Pickle, a well-intentioned but largely inert comedy that can’t quite capitalize on its clever conceit. Adapted from the four-part New Yorker novella Sell Out, the movie is co-produced by childhood friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg but it lacks the signature brand of raunchy humor that the duo solidified with hits like Superbad and This Is the End. Instead, director Brandon Trost vacillates between broad comedy and saccharine family drama within a stifling PG-13 framework.

Rogen does double duty as both Herschel and Ben Greenbaum, the former a struggling immigrant worker from the 1920s and the latter a meek app developer living in present day Brooklyn. Thanks to a bizarre accident involving a giant vat of pickles, Herschel’s body is preserved for a century and when a drone knocks the lid off of his containment tank, he awakens completely unchanged but in a world that has since passed him by. He then meets Ben, his great-grandson and only surviving relative, who initially welcomes the idea of acclimating Herschel to his new environment but quickly sours to his austere disposition.

The elevator pitch for An American Pickle boils down to a clear-cut fish out of water story, although perhaps “mensch out of brine” would be a bit more fitting in this case. It’s a fun premise, one that could juxtapose a previous generation’s concept of rugged physical labor with the millennial’s more techno-centric workplace, among other things. For some reason, screenwriter Simon Rich sends Herschel and Ben their separate ways early on for contrived reasons and pits them against each other for the majority of the story. This not only makes little sense from a dramatic perspective but also makes the humor more mean-spirited than it needs to be as Ben actively sabotages Herschel on multiple occasions.

Of course, I don’t have a problem with darker comedies; Rogen made quite a good one years ago with Observe and Report and he’s also flexed some impressive dramatic chops in films like Take This Waltz and Steve Jobs. Despite crafting two distinct roles with one requiring that he grow an uncomfortably long beard, Rogen just doesn’t seem to have the assistance that he needs here both on and off screen. Nearly every supporting player gets a maximum of 2 or 3 scenes with one of Rogen’s characters, which naturally doesn’t give them enough time to establish themselves within the story. Given that this is primarily a comedy, it would help if these side characters had funny lines to share but more often than not, they don’t.

The movie gets off on the right foot with a prologue setting up Herschel’s life in the fictional Eastern Europe town of Schlupsk, where a series of shovel-based sight gags amusingly sell our hero’s misfortune. Cinematographer John Guleserian gives these early moments a distinctive visual style, using a 4:3 ratio with a hazy edge of frame that recalls silent films from the era in which the scenes take place. It’s an ambitious place to start a Seth Rogen comedy but past that opening, the film is comparatively much more complacent. With aimless direction and a lackluster script, An American Pickle puts its star in quite the conundrum indeed.

Score – 2/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Available to rent on demand is She Dies Tomorrow, an arthouse horror film starring Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams about a young woman whose existential dread manifests itself into a contagious disease.
Available on Netflix is Work It, a dance movie starring Sabrina Carpenter and Liza Koshy about a college freshman who enters a dance competition with a group of her fellow students.
Available to rent on demand is I Used To Go Here, a comedy starring Gillian Jacobs and Jemaine Clement about a writer who is asked to speak at her alma mater by her former professor.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Rental

Following in the footsteps of his big brother James, Dave Franco makes his directing debut with The Rental, an insipid and immature horror-thriller that never finds a sense of place or purpose. Franco tries to shake up the well-worn slasher genre by throwing in the romantic hang-ups of the mumblecore genre but he doesn’t seem to have the mechanics of either genre down. Existing at the intersection of Drinking Buddies and I Know What You Did Last Summer, it lacks both the amiable character chemistry of the former and the over-the-top gory kills of the latter.

We’re introduced to co-workers Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) as they drool over a oceanview AirBnb and since they just finished a big project, they reward themselves by booking it for a weekend away. Along with Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and Mina’s boyfriend/Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), the group makes their way to the picturesque rental property. The sweet deal starts to sour when property manager Taylor (Toby Huss) gives them creepy vibes right from the get-go and it doesn’t take long for unresolved sexual tension to rear its ugly head. After making other unsettling discoveries about the house, the four vacationers become the target of a series of violent confrontations from an unseen force.

The setup for The Rental (four friends going away for the weekend) is about as old as the slasher genre itself, so the devil, as they say, is in the details. The biggest issue with the film is that the screenplay, co-written by Franco and Joe Swanberg, doesn’t adequately capitalize on this hackneyed jumping-off point. Although Mina is certainly the most likable of the four friends, all of the characters are generally repugnant in their behavior and are increasingly difficult to empathize with. It certainly doesn’t help that Franco indulges some improvisational banter from the quartet, particularly a banal set of exchanges interpolating the word “bro”.

Franco also carries forth another proud tradition of bad slasher movies: dumb people making dumb decisions just so the plot can move forward. These four seem to be in their mid-30s and yet they have the decision-making abilities and childish senses of humor that would seem more in-line with a misfit group of teenagers. As the circumstances behind the characters’ stay become deadly, several obvious solutions emerge only to be brushed aside in favor of other hair-brained schemes. It all leads to a head-scratching anticlimax topped off with some overbearing social commentary about The Way We Live Today. That the most chilling portion of the movie plays out over the end credits tells you everything you need to know about the previous 88 minutes.

Perhaps fitting for the on-screen buffoons, there are amateur mistakes made off-screen as well. While some of the cinematography by Christian Sprenger takes advantage of the idyllic locale, several key shots are sloppily rendered and unnecessarily murky. The editing by Kyle Reiter cuts away from or omits so many shots of potential violence that it almost seems like they were shooting for a PG-13 rating. Normally I wouldn’t dock a film for holding back on violent images but when we’re talking about a slasher movie, modesty is often not a virtue. If the ScareBnb horror subgenre is to continue, it needs better torch-bearers than The Rental.

Score – 1.5/5

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

First Cow

In Kelly Reichardt’s gorgeous and stirring new Western First Cow, we learn nearly everything we need to know about the main character before he utters his first words. Set in 1820s Oregon during the frontier days, the film introduces us to Otis “Cookie” Figowitz (John Magaro) as he carefully scavenges for berries and mushrooms to feed his boisterous band of virile fur trappers. On his search, he happens upon a lizard writhing on its back and gently flips it back on its feet, a small gesture of grace that clearly sets him apart from his comparatively more gruff comrades. In an uncivilized land, even small acts of civility can go a long way.

During another outing in the woods, he encounters an on-the-run Chinese immigrant named King-Lu (Orion Lee) and true to his character, Cookie offers to cook for him. Together, they find both friendship and a business opportunity, realized when King-Lu partakes in one of Cookie’s delicious “oily cakes” (think an old West version of a fried donut) and encourages him to set up a shop for them. It doesn’t take long for them to sell rapidly (like hotcakes, as the expression goes) and catch the tastebuds of the aristocrat Chief Factor (Toby Jones), whose wealth affords him the luxury of having the first cow in the Oregon territory. Little does Factor know, Cookie and King-Lu are actually using milk stolen from his prized cow to make their fast-selling confection.

Teaming up with frequent screenwriting collaborator Jonathan Raymond, Reichardt has crafted yet another naturalistic and patiently-paced picture that solidifies her as a powerhouse of independent cinema. To watch one of her films is to inherit a new mindset of how movies can move within us and inspire us to see the world in a brand new way. As with almost all of her other work, Reichardt also serves as the editor and establishes a measured tempo from the outset. The present-day prologue opens with a tugboat moving slowly from one side of the 4:3 frame to the other, cutting just before the vessel entirely clears the shot. First Cow is filled with small choices like this that may seem insignificant but bear the mark of a meticulous artist with breathtaking control of her craft.

Reichardt’s vision is aided greatly by two fantastic lead performances by Magaro and Lee, whose on-screen chemistry is the heart and soul of the film. Magaro’s work as the soft-spoken Cookie reveals the vulnerability and open-heartedness of a gentle spirit who wants to make the world a better place, even if it’s just in small ways. The scenes in which Cookie makes small talk with the cow as he’s milking her are filled with a tenderness and reverence for animal life that I found to be incredibly moving. Lee brings a combination of entrepreneurial gumption and fugitive’s vigilance to his portrayal of the wise and slyly funny King-Lu.

Despite its relatively sparse narrative spread out over a 2-hour runtime, Reichardt packs the film with rich symbolism and subtext about American enterprise and the capitalistic forces that are constantly at play. A river-set scene around the film’s midpoint, during which Cookie and King-Lu debate on what it takes to get ahead in this still-developing land, lends fascinating insight into the decision-making process behind even the most modest of start-ups. First Cow is a delicate and quietly observed work from a filmmaker who continues to brilliantly blaze her own trail in the wild frontier of modern moviemaking.

Score – 4/5

New to streaming this weekend:
Available on demand is The Rental, a horror film starring Dan Stevens and Alison Brie about two couples who rent a vacation home and begin to suspect the owner of the home is spying on them.
Available on Netflix is The Kissing Booth 2, a teen romantic comedy starring Joey King and Joel Courtney about a high school senior who juggles a long-distance relationship with a new friendship with a classmate.
Available on Amazon Prime is Radioactive, a biopic starring Rosamund Pike and Anya Taylor-Joy about Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie and her discovery of the elements radium and polonium.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Greyhound

Based on the 1955 C. S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd, Greyhound stars Tom Hanks as Commander Ernest Krause, a steely World War II Navy captain leading up an Allied convoy through the treacherous “Black Pit” of the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded on all sides by Nazi U-boats, Krause and the men aboard the USS Keeling are threatened day and night by enemy ships outside of their line of sight. We see the Battle of the Atlantic through the eyes of the intrepid US soldiers as they fend off the German fleets and courageously make their way to the ports of Liverpool.

This is hardly Hanks’ first involvement in a WWII project. As the lead in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and executive producer for HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific, he’s been behind some of the best depictions of the War on both the big and small screen. It’s strange, then, that he would come to the well once more for a film that’s so under the pedigree of his previous work. Hanks not only stars in the film but also translated Forester’s book into a screenplay that reads more like an instruction manual for how to steer a boat rather than a script for a feature film.

Ultimately, it’s Greyhound‘s strict adherence to accurate wartime jargon and seaman’s parlance that sinks it. Certainly realism and authenticity are qualities worth aspiring to but not at the expense of fleshed-out characters and compelling dialogue. Often times, it feels like Hanks threw naval buzzwords like “bearing”, “rudder” and “starboard” into a bingo cage, spun it around and penned the selections. Attempts at character development, like a miscalculated flashback to Krause’s love interest played by Elisabeth Shue, fall well short of what we need to emotionally invest in the largely nameless members of the crew. While the film’s impressive action sequences are all well-shot and tightly edited, they could just as easily appear in any other seabound war picture.

The direction by Aaron Schneider is so workmanlike, it makes Ron Howard seem quirky by comparison. Take away the opening and closing credit sequences and the film barely crosses the 80 minute mark. Each extended siege is solemnly bookended with fadeouts to title cards with the times and locations of the major portions of the mission. Even though Schneider has the ability to show us at least some of the enemy’s perspective, he locks his focus on the members of the Greyhound as the supposedly tense scenes of conflict boil down to Krause barking out commands and underlings scribbling down coordinates. Composer Blake Neely tries to juice things up with a predictably bombastic score but the film works best in the quieter moments, especially when one of the Nazi U-boat captains known as Grey Wolf taunts the Greyhound crew with antagonistic rhetoric via radio.

It’s not difficult to see what would draw Hanks to this role, as it’s squarely within his well-defined wheelhouse of All-American heroes like Captain Phillips and Captain Sully. While arguably no one does it better than he does, I’d like to see Hanks step a bit outside of his comfort zone more often at this stage in his career. Perhaps someone could take a crack at writing a believable antagonist role for arguably the most likable actor in Hollywood history. Even with a sturdy performance at the helm, Hanks’ star power alone isn’t enough to keep Greyhound afloat.

Score – 2/5

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

My thoughts on the movies