Tag Archives: 2.5/5

Annette

For a band that’s toiled in obscurity for decades, Sparks is finally finding themselves squarely in the spotlight this year. Premiering at Sundance Film Festival back in January, The Sparks Brothers is a documentary/love letter from director/fanboy Edgar Wright covering 50 years of the duo’s idiosyncratic work in the music industry. Now comes Annette, an undeniably eccentric but frustratingly hollow musical that Sparks members Ron and Russell Mael conceived with French writer/director Leos Carax. Its oddball energy and conviction to its own brand of strangeness would suggest the singular vision of a stubborn auteur but apparently, this trio of outsiders found a common ground upon which to craft this audacious but arduous melodrama.

Meet Henry McHenry (Adam Driver). He’s a stand-up comedian whose persona hinges on the premise that he’s the last person who should be performing on-stage. He appears to crowds disheveled in a bathrobe, murmuring petty observations with his back to the audience, generating comedy from the mere fact that no stand-up in their right mind would go forward with this act. Somehow, McHenry has captured the affections of luminous opera singer Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), whose international popularity in the theater scene means that the couple is plagued by paparazzi nearly everywhere they go. With the world watching, Henry and Ann welcome their daughter Annette in the world but struggle to raise her together as Henry’s career stalls out while Ann travels the world to perform for sold-out crowds.

Beginning in a recording studio where the Mael brothers (playing themselves) address the audience and launch into the cheeky, walk-and-sing opener “So May We Start”, Annette benefits from an infectious and lively energy from the first frame. Sadly, it’s mostly a tease, promising a fun and rambunctious challenge to the conventional musical when what follows is a moody half-opera with saturnine pacing. It’s a film whose narrative shifts quite wildly around the halfway mark, following a tragic turn that has McHenry and an accompanist played by Simon Helberg renegotiating their relationships to Ann and Annette. Both halves are held together by themes from the allure of fame to the bounds of artistry, exploring the efficacy of entertainment in profoundly weird and sometimes unsettling terms.

Driver is quite excellent throughout, disarming our inclinations to write off his narcissistic protagonist by committing fully to his beguiling but compelling anti-comedy schtick. It’s hard to know where “McHenry” stops and McHenry begins, creating a line that Driver has some serious fun dancing around. He doesn’t have the strongest singing voice out there but as we found out from La La Land a few years ago, you don’t need world-class pipes to weave together some movie magic. His conviction to such a deranged but magnetic central character reminded me of his work in the similarly cockeyed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, doggedly holding the center in both of the deeply out-there tales.

The Sparks-crafted music that serves as the backbone for this project bares the off-kilter and droll watermark the duo has perfected over the decades but the coinciding lyrics are often redundant and deprived of subtlety. When Driver and Cotillard croon the lines “we love each other so much, it’s so hard to explain” over and over at one another, I actually laughed at how unsophisticated the underlying sentiment was and I don’t think that’s what Carax and crew intended. Then again, there are quite a few fourth-wall breaks, including a number where Helberg’s character spills his heart out to the audience while apologizing for having to get back to conducting an orchestra, so maybe I’m just not fully in on the joke. Those who want to take a dive in the deep end may give Annette the attention it demands but your best bet may be to stay out of the pool altogether.

Score – 2.5/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters and streaming on HBO Max is Reminiscence, a sci-fi thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson about a scientist who discovers a way to relive his past and uses the technology to search for his long lost love.
Playing only in theaters is The Night House, a psychological horror film starring Rebecca Hall and Sarah Goldberg about a widow who begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets.
Also playing in theaters and streaming on Paramount+ is PAW Patrol: The Movie, an adaptation of the popular animated children’s series starring Iain Armitage and Marsai Martin which finds the band of pups up against the evil mayor of their city.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Old

Since his ubiquitous breakout The Sixth Sense in 1999, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has managed to capture the attention of the movie-going and non-movie-going public alike with tantalizing high concept mysteries. His follow-up Unbreakable grafted the nascent superhero genre onto a thriller that asked “what if Superman lived in the real world and didn’t know he was Superman?” His existential science fiction tale Signs wondered “how would the world react if those farmers who saw crop circles were right after all?” While films like Lady in the Water and The Happening haven’t been as nearly as well-received as his earlier work, their loglines have undeniably lingered in the zeitgeist longer than their quality would suggest they would. I expect a similar fate for his latest project Old, a mercurial and macabre misfire whose promising pitch is undone by frustratingly marred execution.

The setting of Shyamalan’s story forms the basis for his water cooler-ready concept: a picturesque beach that causes unsuspecting visitors to age rapidly, turning hours spent in its “sands of time” into decades of their respective lives. The secluded stretch of seaside is located near a tropical resort, where guests like Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are gayly greeted with customized cocktails at check-in, while their kids Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and Trent (Nolan River) fawn over the 24-hour candy station. Looking for a less crowded spot to lay over their towels, the family takes a shuttle with other vacationers like Charles (Rufus Sewell) and Chrystal (Abbey Lee) to the aforementioned beach. It doesn’t take long for the supernatural effects of the area to induce panic among the group and leave them desperate to free themselves from its clutches.

Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. Old is a surprisingly dark and almost refreshingly morbid chiller from Hollywood’s most painfully earnest auteur. Not since Max von Sydow played chess with Death in The Seventh Seal have beaches and mortality been this inextricably linked. Shyamalan uses his terrifying set-up to explore the helplessness evoked by natural aging and the vulnerability of watching our loved ones grow up faster than we’d like. An hour away from one’s children on a normal beach means a break to get through two chapters of a book but on this beach, it means you’ve missed two years of their lives. The film is at its best when it ignores the rocky facets of its premise and explores the emotion of watching time evaporate so rapidly.

But a jumping-off point is only as good as the crystal-blue water below it and it doesn’t take long for the cliff jump that Shyamalan sets up to turn ugly. He’s never been the most elegant screenwriter but the dialogue here is about as on-the-nose and tin-eared as you’re likely to hear in any movie this year. Worse than the specific words characters use is their collective inability to grapple with the otherworldly effects of their surroundings, even when their presence and the nature of their power are beyond obvious. Shyamalan tries his best to patch over the script’s plot holes — there’s a brief explanation as to why fingernails and hair don’t grow rapidly along with the rest of the characters’ bodies — but the story just can’t hold up to however many waves of scrutiny a given audience is likely to send its way.

Most disappointing is the profound lack of chemistry between the qualified cast, given how great some of the actors have been in recent projects. Krieps was an absolute revelation in Phantom Thread, one of the finest films of at least the past ten years, but aside for a few moments of familial tenderness, she looks utterly lost here. The bright young talent Thomasin McKenzie appears as an older version of Maddox but strains too hard and forces awkward line readings past the point of salvageability. Even with limited screen time, other actors like Aaron Pierre and Lost‘s Ken Leung impart hollow performances to the flotsam. Old has a combination of campiness and creepiness that leads to some shining moments in the sun but it ultimately gets washed away by fragile filmmaking atop a faulty foundation.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters and Premier Access on Disney+ is Jungle Cruise, a fantasy adventure starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt about a riverboat captain and a British scientist who go on a perilous mission to find the Tree of Life.
Playing only in theaters is The Green Knight, a medieval epic starring Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander which tells the story of King Arthur’s headstrong nephew and his quest to confront the eponymous tree-like creature.
Also playing only in theaters is Stillwater, a crime drama starring Matt Damon and Abigail Breslin which follows a father traveling from Oklahoma to France to help exonerate his estranged daughter for a murder she claims she didn’t commit.

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

Voyagers

Making an unceremonious journey to theaters this weekend, the new sci-fi thriller Voyagers opens with an ominous title card about how the Earth is finally uninhabitable and we must go forth into the cosmos to find a new home. The year is 2063; the good news is that we’ve found a planet that can play host to humanity but the bad news is that the trip will take 86 years. So begins an unconventional mission, in which middle-aged scientist Richard Alling (Colin Farrell) boards a spaceship with 30 lab-bred boys and girls whose grandchildren will eventually reach the final destination. Naturally, Alling won’t be able to carry out the entire mission due to its length but his directive is to instead act as a paternal figure to the children as they grow up in their abnormal surroundings.

Part of this parenting task is keeping everyone calm and safe in their everyday life, made easier by a blue substance filled with emotional suppressants that the young cadets are made to ingest daily. The kids are none the wiser until they hit their late teens, when friends Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead) figure out there’s something in the water and stop drinking, while encouraging others like the chief medical officer Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) to do the same. It turns out chemical is no match for pent-up teenage hormones and when Alling dies from a freak accident, the ship descends into chaos as the young astronauts scramble to preserve the remnants of order that remain within their confined society.

Though it lifts heavily from both the forever prescient Lord of the Flies and George Lucas’ debut THX 1138, Voyagers introduces a promising premise and even touches on the thought-provoking allegorical themes from its chief influences. The nature vs. nurture debate is naturally front-and-center in a story primarily populated by characters whose entire existence was curated from its very inception. Man’s impulse towards destruction amid civilization comes into focus in the film’s second half, along with the interplay of the emotional impulses and rational thinking that dwell within us all. The film invokes these concepts in a capable manner but mainly in a frustratingly superficial manner and doesn’t draw many novel conclusions from these conundrums either.

Sadly, the actors don’t seem terribly game for such heady material and seemed pitched more towards a Hunger Games or Divergent type of young adult franchise. I’ve given Tye Sheridan a fair amount of chances at this point, between the rare Speilberg dud Ready Player One to his Cyclops role in the newer X-Men films, to say that I just don’t find him a compelling front man on-screen. Whitehead is another rising talent that strikes a bit more of a chord here as a feverishly menacing antagonist but isn’t above a totally unconvincing line reading or two either. Depp (yes, daughter to Johnny) is the biggest bore of the three, possessing neither the goofball charisma nor hard-earned pathos that made her dad an international star before personal issues stalled his career.

Director Neil Burger makes up for some of the flat acting with visual flourishes that personify the repressed emotions of these teenagers all coming back in a rush. Along with cinematographer Enrique Chediak, he composes a nice motif of the camera running up and down the futuristic corridors, mirroring the excitement and infinite possibilities of youth. Composer Trevor Gureckis compliments these images with a properly pensive score that also knows when to amp up the excitement during the movie’s more action-packed sequences. Engaging if not totally fulfilling, Voyagers has the components of contemplative sci-fi fare that is all too rare these days but ultimately stumbles due to its lack of conviction both in performances and storytelling.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is In the Earth, a horror film starring Joel Fry and Reece Shearsmith about a scientist and a park scout venturing into a nearby forest to find the cure for a disastrous virus.
Available to rent on demand is Monday, a romantic drama starring Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough about two strangers who come together one hot summer night in Athens, Greece.
Also available to digitally rent is Jakob’s Wife, a horror movie starring Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden about a small-town minister and his wife, the latter of whom discovers vampiric powers.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Malcolm & Marie

As the coronavirus continues to affect all manners of public and private life, we’re beginning to see its effect on the creative process for artists and thus, its influence on pop culture at large. Last month, HBO put out Locked Down, a romance-heist movie written and shot in secret during the ongoing pandemic. Now Netflix has released Malcolm & Marie, another project conceived as a result of covid-19 restrictions that also revolves around good-looking people arguing with each other inside their lavish residences. Thankfully, the film isn’t nearly as tone-deaf as celebrities recording themselves singing lines of “Imagine” from within their mansions but it’s also a far cry from the escapist entertainment that we could all use right about now.

We meet up-and-coming filmmaker Malcolm (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) as they return late from the premiere of his soon-to-be lauded independent feature. Malcolm puts on a James Brown record and drunkenly saunters through their opulent Malibu home while his young belle makes him some midnight macaroni and cheese. The mood seems to be celebratory and joyous, until he presses Marie on why she doesn’t seem to share his sense of ebullience. We find out that Malcolm neglected to thank her in the speech that he gave after the movie that evening, even expressing gratitude for the gaffer before her, and discover that there’s much more wrong at the foundations of their caustic relationship with one another.

The film’s dubious tagline implies that the titular couple are “madly in love” but it doesn’t take long into Malcolm & Marie for us to recognize that there is hardly any love here at all. Instead, they seem to vacillate between various degrees of lust and loathing while revealing deeper shades of ugliness about themselves in the process. These are two grotesquely self-involved individuals who would seem to model their lives after the “if you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” mantra. It’s painful watching them try to reconcile their differences on behalf of an obviously doomed and toxic relationship but clearly, writer/director Sam Levinson is intending to convey that agony in as visceral a manner as possible.

The scathing screenplay, which has its leads alternate bruising monologues spit venomously at one another, does have poignant insights about the insecurities of the creative process and the pressures of being a black creative in modern Hollywood. “You’re complaining about reviews that haven’t even been written yet,” Marie scolds Malcolm as he neurotically predicts how critics will receive his latest work while mansplaining the importance of William Wyler to her at the same time. As someone who writes about movies, it was hard for me not to blanch at the extended sequence where Malcolm bitterly breaks through the pay wall of the LA Times’ website to viciously dissect a reviewer’s insipid hot take of his new film line-by-line.

Washington and Zendaya, both of whom serve as co-producers of the film and the latter of whom works with Levinson on his HBO series Euphoria, are undoubtedly convincing at maintaining tension throughout their real time knock-down drag-out fight. The luminous black-and-white cinematography by Marcell Rév captures the two rising stars with an honesty and tactility that perfectly compliments the film’s fervent and urgent nature. So as to not upset Malcolm, I won’t guess which camera or lens Rév used but I can say with confidence that the movie looks much better than Netflix’s recent monochromatic misfire Mank. Handsome but hollow, Malcolm & Marie is an arduous lockdown-era therapy session between two people who shouldn’t be in quarantine with each other in the first place.

Score – 2.5/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Coming to HBO Max is Earwig and the Witch, the first CGI-animated film from Studio Ghibli starring Shinobu Terajima and Etsushi Toyokawa about an orphan girl who discovers that she’s the daughter of a witch.
Arriving on Amazon Prime is Bliss, a sci-fi romance starring Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek about a recent divorcee who meets a mysterious woman who tells him they’re living in a computer simulation that he created.
Available to rent digitally is Falling, a family drama starring Viggo Mortensen and Laura Linney about a middle-aged man whose father moves in with him and his husband after showing the first signs of dementia.

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

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

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

Originally planned for a theatrical release at the beginning of awards season, the well-intentioned but overbearing courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 arrives on Netflix this weekend with an Oscar checklist in hand. With its 1960s-set true story that has ties to current events and an Academy Award-winner screenwriter at the helm, it’s the kind of movie that’s seemingly designed in a Hollywood lab with the intention of hitting as many conventional voter criteria as possible. While writer/director Aaron Sorkin has writing credits like A Few Good Men and HBO’s The Newsroom that make him a good mark for this material, the film marks only his second time as a feature director after 2017’s Molly’s Game and he carries over some of the corny and sanctimonious tendencies from his worst writing into his new career of directing.

The titular trial is that of a band of seven anti-Vietnam War protesters, who allegedly conspired to incite violence among crowds outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Among the defendants is the altruistic Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and smirking Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), who possess wildly conflicting personalities but are unified by a common goal of disrupting the status quo. Tasked with trying the group of activists is Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a fresh-faced prosecutor facing off against the soft-spoken but determined defense attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance). Presiding over the months-long trial is the strict Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), who hurls contempt of court charges liberally in his attempts to maintain dominance over the often rambunctious courtroom.

Sorkin and his composer Daniel Pemberton get off to a questionable start, scoring an introductory montage of the 7 with oddly upbeat music that comes across as blithe and borderline flippant given the highbrow tone it’s presumably trying to set. The cues during the dramatic courtroom scenes are appropriately exuberant but rarely rousing, pumping up the orchestral horns and strings as they cloy with self-importance. Working with editor Alan Baumgarten, Sorkin employs a snappy zig-zag narrative strategy that frames the trial sequences with flashback cuts that pertain to witness testimonies. The editing is competent and never confusing as it zips back and forth chronologically but is too spastic when it come to dialogue-heavy scenes, whipping between routine shot/reverse shot compositions at an unnecessarily hurried rate.

The remarkably qualified cast, which also includes reliable character actors like John Carroll Lynch and John Doman, seems to generally be on the same page when it comes to the characters that they are rendering. If I had to pick a standout, I’d look to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, portraying Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale with proper conviction and compelling resilience. The simmer in his voice when he says, “they tried something peaceful; we’re going to try something else” is the stuff that Best Supporting Actor nods are made of. Another immensely talented actor, whose name I won’t mention for fear of spoiling the surprise, shows up in the third act for his own “you can’t handle the truth!” moment, even if it doesn’t land with quite the same kind of impact as its predecessor.

For all its self-righteousness posturing and dubious bits of supposedly true interactions, the movie left me with one chief qualm: what is Sorkin really trying to say here? Civil unrest and street riots are obviously hot topics this year but Sorkin remains frustratingly inert when it comes to having a novel perspective on the subjects. Outside of some witty exchanges and occasional bits of cheeky humor, Sorkin simply doesn’t inject enough of his voice into his surprisingly shallow screenplay. Even though the whole world is streaming, there isn’t enough of an edge to The Trial of the Chicago 7 to make it worth adding to one’s ever-expanding queue.

Score – 2.5/5

Other new movies this weekend:
Streaming on HBO Max is American Utopia, a Spike Lee-directed concert film capturing a musical Broadway performance from former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is What the Constitution Means to Me, another live recording of a Broadway performance; in this case, it’s Heidi Schreck’s play presenting multiple facets, historical perspectives and personal experiences with the U.S. Constitution
Available to rent on demand is Greenland, a disaster film starring Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin about a family struggles for survival in the face of a cataclysmic meteor event.

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

The King of Staten Island

If anyone knows arrested development, it’s Judd Apatow. As seen in comedy hits like Knocked Up and Trainwreck, he seems to have a soft spot for protagonists whose immaturity prohibits them from making that pesky transition into adulthood. In fact, it wouldn’t completely surprise me if his next project was actually called Adulting. Apatow also has a knack for taking an up-and-coming comedian’s persona and crafting a star-making vehicle around it, as he did with Seth Rogen in Knocked Up and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. Pair these predilections and you have The King of Staten Island, Apatow’s latest heartfelt dramedy which is centered around the life of SNL bad boy Pete Davidson.

Davidson plays Scott, a disaffected twentysomething who spends his days in a drugged-out haze playing video games with his equally aimless friends in his mom Margie’s (Marisa Tomei) basement. Even though his world is moving in slow motion, things are changing around him quicker than he’d like. His sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is moving out to go to college, his secret girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley) wants to go public with their relationship and Margie has found a new suitor in Ray (Bill Burr), a firefighter with two kids of his own. All of these forces conspire to compel Scott to address the issues that have kept him stuck for so long and to move into a more productive phase of his life.

Given their vast similarities, it’s difficult to tell exactly where Pete ends and Scott begins. They’re both New Yorkers with a dark sense of humor and a fondness for detailed tattoos. Davidson’s father (whose name, fittingly, was Scott) was a first-responder who passed away as a result of the 9/11 attacks, while Staten Island‘s Scott also lost his father in a firefighting accident. Both Pete and Scott also suffer from various physical and mental maladies from Crohn’s disease to borderline personality disorder, the latter of which led Pete to post several disturbing Instagram posts that led high-profile figures like his ex-fiancé Ariana Grande to express concern for his well-being.

The core issue with The King of Staten Island is that Apatow doesn’t expound on Pete’s troubled persona in a particularly meaningful or original manner. Throughout its bloated 135-minute runtime, the film insists that there’s more to Scott and his story than meets the eye but doesn’t stray far from the feel-good movie formula in doing so. The best stretches of the film recall 2009’s Funny People and how Apatow was able to recontextualize the career of veteran comedian Adam Sandler, who Davidson has actually impersonated multiple times on SNL. The trouble is that Davidson isn’t nearly as well known now as Sandler was then and unless you’re already acclimated to Davidson’s brand of slacker humor, it’s more likely that you’ll be put off by his antics as opposed to being drawn in by them.

Still, there is something potentially compelling about Davidson from a dramatic standpoint and he does have moments of raw vulnerability that could led to a more straight-laced acting career. In Sandler’s film debut Billy Madison, Roger Ebert said of Sandler that he’s “not an attractive screen presence” before revising his opinion when he went on to more successful serious roles down the road. Perhaps Davidson will eventually find his own Punch Drunk Love or Uncut Gems but in the meantime, indulgent pap like The King of Staten Island won’t do him many favors.

Score – 2.5/5

Also streaming this weekend:
Available on Netflix is Da 5 Bloods, the new Spike Lee joint starring Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors about four African-American veterans who return to Vietnam to search for buried treasure and the remains of their fallen squad leader.
Available on Disney+ is Artemis Fowl, an adaptation of the popular young adult novel starring Ferdia Shaw and Josh Gad about a pre-teen genius who uses magical forces to search for his missing father.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup