Tag Archives: 2019

Gemini Man

It’s two Will Smiths for the price of one in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, a clunky and dated would-be action thriller with a tired premise and even more exhausting execution. Pushing the current film trend of digitally “de-aging” actors to its breaking point, Lee continues his trajectory of foisting cutting-edge technology upon stories that don’t merit the slick upgrades in the first place. He’s proven with films like The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain that he doesn’t need 4K resolution or high frame rate presentation to tell a great story. It all starts with a well-crafted screenplay and all the high-tech bells and whistles can’t disguise the terrible dialogue and exposition on the page.

Smith stars as Henry Brogan, an esteemed assassin on his way to retirement after 25 years of service for the DIA. His final hit, carried out against a terrorist traveling on a bullet train, is called into question when one of Brogan’s inside contacts informs him that the man was actually a civilian biochemist. Shortly after, Brogan discovers he’s being surveilled by a fellow agent named Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and after DIA soldiers descend upon their location, the two make a run for it. The man behind the mission to take out Brogan is Clay Varris (Clive Owen), the leader of a black ops unit who used Brogan’s DNA to create a copy of him and has sent the clone to take him out.

To create the idea of a younger-looking Will Smith, Lee uses a combination of motion capture from Smith’s performance along with the increasingly prevalent de-aging effect to composite a new character. As far as we’ve come with technology, the results of this experiment still aren’t entirely convincing. In most of the action scenes, especially the characters’ first bike-bound confrontation in Colombia, Junior (the name for Brogan’s clone) often moves with a weightless artificiality that rarely feels credible. Most of Junior’s scenes are shot either at night or in dimly-lit rooms, for reasons that become devastatingly obvious when a scene late in the film set in broad daylight reveals just how dismal the de-aging effect can look.

No amount of cosmetic retouching can hide the fact that this script, which has allegedly been kicked around Hollywood since the late ‘90s, is simply abysmal from start to finish. The dialogue, which includes yikes-inducing lines like “it’s not gun time, it’s coffee time” and “I’m finding myself avoiding mirrors recently”, is wall-to-wall tin-eared. It’s the kind of shoddy screenplay that sets up a character’s bee allergy so blatantly from the onset that we have to assume a payoff is coming later on, though “payoff” is perhaps much too generous.

Smith does what he can to pack maximum gravitas into his mirthless mercenary but it’s ultimately the same kind of stilted dramatic performance we’ve seen from him on multiple occasions. Like his work in recent clunkers like Collateral Beauty and Bright, he loads the characters from his dramatic work with an irrevocable joylessness so as to garner respect from audiences and fellow actors alike. I was no fan of the Aladdin remake from earlier this year but it was at least good to watch Smith have fun — and, heaven forbid, smile — on screen again. Gemini Man should serve as a reminder that it’s best for some movie ideas to stay buried.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, once again follows the Sleeping Beauty antagonist as her goddaughter Princess Aurora is proposed to by Prince Phillip, sparking a war between humans and fairies.
Zombieland: Double Tap, starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, brings back the band of misfit zombie fighters as they meet new survivors of the apocalypse while squaring off against an evolved threat.
As part of Fright Night, Cinema Center will be screening 1989’s Pet Sematary. Local artists will be in attendance to re-create iconic movie posters for sale. Those who dress up in zombie garb will receive a $10 ticket & a complimentary small popcorn.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Joker

The Clown Prince of Gotham struts onto the big screen once again in Joker, a bold and bleak reinterpretation of the modern comic book movie that is destined to send shockwaves through the genre. Using gritty psychodramas like Taxi Driver and Blow Out as a blueprint, writer/director Todd Phillips tells a new origin story for the Batman baddie that draws on the character’s extensive mythology along with myriad other cinematic influences. While it may not be more than the sum of said influences, Phillips mines enough stylistic gold from past films to allow his dark character study to thrive on its own distinctive terms.

It’s 1981 and just like the mean streets of New York, Gotham City is plagued with rampant crime and abject poverty. Amongst its downtrodden citizens is Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a professional clown who aspires for a career in stand-up comedy. Besides the presence of his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), with whom he shares a drab apartment, Fleck leads a distressingly lonely life exacerbated further by mental illness tenuously kept in check by seven different medications. After a pair of violent attacks against him, Fleck reaches a breaking point and vows to turn against the city that has turned its back against him his whole life.

Sporting a disturbingly gaunt frame and a creepy smile devoid of happiness, Phoenix’s performance is Joker’s primary selling point and it’s nearly impossible to imagine the film without it. Save a handful of supporting characters with a few scenes a piece, the two-hour runtime belongs almost entirely to Phoenix as he masterfully portrays Fleck’s slow descent into unbridled madness. His interpretation of this iconic character will no doubt draw comparisons to previous iterations, especially Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn in The Dark Knight, but the details and nuances that Phoenix bring to his performance give us an entirely new angle on the supervillain.

It’s been said of the Joker character that the most unsettling aspect of his mythology is that he doesn’t have one set origin story; Ledger’s Joker even cycles through multiple anecdotes so we can’t be sure which is the truth. Phillips, then, is doing something quite daring here: cutting through the ambiguity and saddling this Joker with a fleshed-out tragedy that implicitly makes him more empathetic in the process. This choice may come across as thuddingly literal and obvious for some and while I admit most of the enjoyment to be had with the film is surface-level, it’s an admirable surface nonetheless.

Like his central character, Phillips is a gifted mimic as he overtly references films ranging from Chaplin’s Modern Times and Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, in which Robert De Niro has much more screen time than he does here. Thanks to excellent cinematography by Lawrence Sher, the film has a larger-than-life scope that is at once overwhelming and intimate. While the script is overwritten and redundant at times, Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver glimmer enough insight into this broken man’s psyche to make his journey a plausible one. In a world overrun with one superhero movie after another, Joker makes the case that we could use more told from the perspective of the supervillain.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Gemini Man, starring Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, pits an aging government assassin against a younger clone of himself who is able to predict his every move.
The Addams Family, starring Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron, brings the delightfully macabre clan to the 21st century as they face off against a reality TV host looking to capitalize on their image.
Jexi, starring Adam DeVine and Rose Byrne, follows a lonely bachelor who becomes even more addicted to his smartphone when an update implements an A.I. life coach that he begins to fall for.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Hustlers

It’s exotic dancers vs. Wall Street sharks in Hustlers, a flashy crime drama with a great ensemble cast but a somewhat predictable story that could have dug a bit deeper. Inspired heavily by crime capers like Goodfellas and Ocean’s Eleven, it delights in showing us the intricacies of the scam at the heart of the story while also hanging some bittersweet personal notes on the main players’ relationships. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria funnels her Scorsese and Soderbergh influences into something that might feel a bit too familiar to fans of the genre but should be a breezy diversion for those looking for a fun girls’ night out.

Based on a 2015 New York magazine article, Hustlers stars Constance Wu as Destiny, a Queens native who cycles through a variety of odd jobs until she lands a spot at the popular strip club Moves. It is there that she meets veteran stripper Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who quickly takes her under her wing and shows her the ropes (perhaps “poles” is more apt.) Things are going well at Moves, until the 2008 financial crisis quickly puts the brakes on the money train and Destiny finds herself unable to support her newborn daughter. Desperate to stay afloat in the brutal economy, Ramona hatches a scheme with a pair of other protégées to drug wealthy Wall Street executives, drag them to the club and run up their credit cards against their knowledge.

As Janet Jackson tells us in song during the film’s opening line, “this is a story about control” and the film’s Robin Hood-esque tale of the disenfranchised stealing from one-percenters resonates even a decade after the markets crashed. It may be difficult for some to empathize with these criminals, even given how greedy and vile their victims are portrayed to be, but what is more disappointing is that Scafaria doesn’t seem to imbue the film with much moral ambiguity. We follow the scammers each step of the way, confident that they’re in the right because of their downtrodden circumstances, but it’s more difficult to square when they begin showering each other with expensive gifts from their ill-gotten gains.

The biggest reason it’s easy to track with these women, despite their dirty deeds, is that the performances are honest and open-hearted across the board. Wu has loads of charisma as a character who starts from an innocent enough place but is slowly seduced by the extravagant possibilities of Ramona’s machinations. Lopez is even better as the cool and confident culprit who asserts her dominance early on with a jaw-dropping dance set to Fiona Apple’s 90s hit “Criminal” and never lets up.

Scafaria leans on a framing device that ping-pongs the narrative back and forth between 2008 and 2014, which tends to spell things out a bit too much and doesn’t raise the stakes as much as it should. Besides that, the editing by Kayla Emter is first-rate and gives the film flair and style between every cut. One edit, marrying a scene from 2008 in which Destiny hopes her newborn is male with a smash cut to 2011 showcasing her newborn daughter, is both hilarious and devastating at the same time. Hustlers is a whirlwind of a heist movie that likely won’t linger long in the mind afterwards but is nevertheless enjoyable in the fleeting moment.

Score – 3/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro, tells a new origin story for the Batman supervillain as a failed stand-up comedian who turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City.
Lucy in the Sky, starring Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm, is a sci-fi drama based partially on a true story about an astronaut who begins to lose her connection with reality after returning from a length space mission.
Pain & Glory, starring Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, is the latest project from Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar about a fictional film director who reflects on the choices that he’s made in his life.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Ad Astra

Brad Pitt gives a career-best performance as an unflappable astronaut pushing the boundaries of outer space in Ad Astra, a ruminative and rich examination of a seemingly impenetrable man. Those expecting a science-fiction adventure like Apollo 13 or Armageddon may want to recalibrate their expectations; this film’s philosophical and psychological streak puts it more in the company of films like Solaris and last year’s First Man. It asks us to consider the mindset of a person who willingly risks their life to push forward into dark void of space and also to consider how that unimaginable journey would inevitably change them.

Pitt plays Roy McBride, who, in a similar fashion to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, tells the audience in opening voiceover narration “I always wanted to be an astronaut.” He admits the biggest reason for this is his father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), also a highly revered astronaut before he disappeared on his final mission called The Lima Project. After a harrowing early scene that showcases Roy’s expertise and resiliency, he’s brought in for a new mission to investigate cosmic pulses near Neptune that are causing worldwide electronics malfunctions on Earth in a catastrophe nicknamed “The Surge.”

As McBride travels from the Moon to Mars and ultimately to Neptune, we’re reminded each step of the way just how harsh and unforgiving the environment around him is. Once we leave the comparatively bright setting of Earth, McBride’s surroundings seem to only get more bleak and dangerous from there on out. At one point, he has to wade through pitch-black waters in order to catch a shuttle with only a precarious rope as his guide. In case he needed a reminder that space is not designed around comfort, the stewardess on his trip to the Moon nonchalantly relays that the cost for an in-flight blanket would be $125.

Director James Gray, who also examined the psyche of a fearless pioneer with his last film The Lost City Of Z, fashions his brand of stoic storytelling onto a fittingly stoic protagonist. As a profoundly withdrawn man whose cool exterior slows chips away, Pitt is excellent at conveying the subtle emotional changes within his character. With the film’s themes concerning fatherhood and parental neglect along with Pitt’s pensive voiceover throughout, I was reminded of Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, where Pitt played the father figure instead of the son as he does here. While I would argue Gray doesn’t quite have the writing chops to mirror the hushed narration of Malick’s best work, the technique works more often than it doesn’t.

With cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who also shot Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar, Gray paints a portrait of outer space marked by its stark isolation with touches of beauty along the way. His film is an anxious one, where stress and worry permeate through both the most battle-tested veterans and the most air-tight capsules alike. It can be a dispiriting and depressing ride at times, though not as much as High Life from earlier this year, but Gray leaves the door open for hope and reconciliation to carry his audience to the end. Ad Astra reminds us that regardless of the traveler, the journey is often more important than the destination.

Score – 4/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Abominable, starring Chloe Bennet and Sarah Paulson, is an animated adventure tale about a magical Yeti who looks like reconnect with its family on the top of Mount Everest.
Judy, starring Renée Zellweger and Finn Wittrock, is an Oscar-aspiring biopic centered around the life and career of American icon Judy Garland, focusing specifically on a run of sell-out concerts she put on in 1969 London.
Opening at Cinema Center is Ay Mariposa, a documentary set along the US-Mexico border wall that follows a protester, a migrant worker and a symbolic butterfly as they adjust to the changing political climate.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Peanut Butter Falcon

The charming and endearing new indie The Peanut Butter Falcon stars Zack Gottsagen as Zak, a young man with Down syndrome living in a North Carolina nursing home under the supervision of Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). With the assistance of his wily roommate Carl (Bruce Dern), Zak escapes the facility one evening and stows away on a small fishing boat. We learn that the boat belongs to a rebellious fisherman named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who is on the run from rival fishermen for poaching their equipment. Together, Tyler and Zak begin to bond with one another while making their way to a wrestling camp in Florida where Zak hopes to learn the secrets of the pros.

The film occupies a number of genres at once: it’s a buddy movie, it’s a road movie (well, sea movie might be more fitting), it’s a quirky dramedy and it’s even a bit of a thriller. In its overall form, it mirrors the Mark Twain novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is referenced overtly in the film during a conversation between Tyler and Eleanor. Despite these comparisons, The Peanut Butter Falcon paves its own way with characters that feel believable and with story twists that give it a unique sense of style. The title, which references the idiosyncratic wrestling name that Zak eventually gives himself, is perhaps the first sign that this movie marches to the beat of its own drum.

The relationship between Tyler and Zak, which gets off to a rocky start but blossoms into a deep friendship throughout the story, is the key to the film’s heart and the actors do terrific work in crafting their characters. In his first on-screen performance, Gottsagen brings loads of personality to a role that could have been one-dimensional in a lesser film. LaBeouf has never been better than he is here, effortlessly peeling back the layers behind his charater’s gruff exterior to reveal a more vulnerable side. As good as their acting is separately, the electric chemistry between both actors is the strongest single element of the film.

The writing and directing duo comprised of first-timers Tyler Nilsson and Michael Schwartz is working with a kind of story that we’ve seen before, both in overall form and specific moments. There are some cliches that are indulged and scenes that strain credulity even in a free-wheeling adventure like this. Having said that, the dialogue is frequently incisive and cuts to the core of the characters while sharing wisdom and truth in the process. Nilsson and Schwartz also make the most of their swampy South Atlantic locale, showcasing muggy, miserable conditions in one scene while contrasting it with the gorgeous, endless sea in the next.

The earthy cinematography by Nigel Bluck is both aesthetically pleasing and thematically relevant, using wide shots at the beginning of Tyler and Zak’s journey to depict the “distance” between their characters while moving in closer as the story progresses. The mix of bluegrass and folk music from acts like the Punch Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show settle in nicely to the background and fill out the sonic palette. If you’re in the mood for a movie that will put a smile on your face and brighten your view of humanity, then The Peanut Butter Falcon is your ticket.

Score 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, tells the tale of an astronaut who undertakes a new mission to uncover the truth about his missing father and the doomed expedition he took 30 years ago.
Downton Abbey, starring Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery, adapts the smash TV show for the big screen to follow the Crawley family as they welcome King George V and Queen Mary onto their estate.
Rambo: Last Blood, starring Sylvester Stallone and Paz Vega, brings the ruthless action hero back one last time to save his niece after she is taken hostage by an uncompromising Mexican cartel.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

It Chapter Two

When Andy Muschietti’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling novel It was released in 2017, it scared up box office numbers that not even the most optimistic figures could have predicted. Two years later, Muschietti and crew are back with some new cast additions to tell the second half of King’s 1000+ page story. Like its predecessor, It Chapter Two is surprisingly thorough in the translation of its source material but more importantly, it’s true to the darkly nostalgic spirit of the book. On the whole, the follow-up isn’t as successful as the first film but its go-for-broke attitude among a sea of uninspired blockbusters is admirable if nothing else.

27 years after the Losers’ Club made a pact to stop the evil clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) if he should ever re-emerge in Derry, the evil entity rises up from the sewers once again. Now all in their early 40s and spread out in various parts of the country, each of the members gets a call from Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the one Loser who never left Derry, with the bad news. With trepidation, the gang returns to their old haunts, with Bill (James McAvoy) returning in his de facto leader role. The bickering between jokester Richie (Bill Hader) and the panicky Eddie (James Ransone) resumes right where it left off while the long lost romance between Bev (Jessica Chastain) and Ben (Jay Ryan) is also re-kindled.

Flaunting a 170-minute runtime, the most glaring issue with It Chapter Two is its length. There’s a reason most horror films tend not to break the two-hour mark: it’s difficult to keep an audience in suspense for that amount of time, no matter how good the premise is. That would also explain why it doesn’t take much time for the bevy of CG-based scares to get redundant, despite some worthwhile setups. The most terrifying scene, in which Bev returns to her childhood apartment with a precarious new tenant, was thoroughly spoiled in the theatrical trailer. Thankfully, the film doesn’t rely on its horror elements as much as its predecessor and the dramatic and comedic beats often trump the creepy creature effects.

It certainly had some humor to it but there’s no mistaking its intentions as a horror movie above all. What surprised me most about its sequel is how often and how hard at laughed while watching it, likely more than I did for most straight-ahead comedies released this summer. The biggest contributing factor for this is Hader, who continues to put together an impressive post-SNL resume with roles that play to his comedic strengths while deepening his dramatic chops as well. His Richie is a fun audience surrogate as someone who takes the terrors of the story seriously but often responds with humor as a way of combating his fear.

Another strength of the original was its stellar casting and the adult counterparts for the young actors are exceedingly well-realized. The resemblance between Eddie actors James Ransone and Jack Dylan Grazer is particularly uncanny, evidenced by a shot that overlays both actors’ faces on top of one another to eerie effect. Similar looks aid continuity but more importantly, the performances by the adult actors mirror the respective work by the younger actors to great effect. As a blockbuster horror entry with plenty of ambition, It Chapter Two floats more often than it sinks.

Score – 3/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Goldfinch, starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman, tells the story of a boy who is taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients during the late-2000s financial crisis.
Opening at Cinema Center is Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, a documentary about the Grammy Award-winning singer who broke out in the folk music scene of the 1960s and solidified herself as the “queen of country rock” in the ensuing decades.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Luce

Based on the play by JC Lee, Luce stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. as the titular African-American teen who seems to have it all: excellent grades, track and field records and a captain’s spot on the debate team. He’s the shining example of a perfect high-school student that has won over his peers and the faculty — “this one’s my thoroughbred,” the principal dotes on him with a hearty pat on the shoulder. Everyone seems to look up to Luce but no one is prouder of him than his adoptive parents Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter (Tim Roth), who rescued him from war-torn Eritrea when he was 7 years old.

Among a sea of approval, there remains a lone holdout in the form of Luce’s stern debate teacher Harriet (Octavia Spencer). After she assigns her class an essay to be written from the perspective of a historical figure, Harriet is disturbed when Luce chooses to write convincingly in the voice of a violent dictator. She takes it upon herself to search through his locker and when she finds a bag filled with dangerous fireworks, Harriet confronts Amy with her findings. Tensions continue to simmer as Amy and Peter naturally come to their son’s defense amid the allegations while Harriet continues to push forward with her crusade against the star pupil.

Luce made a splash when it debuted at Sundance earlier this year and in some ways, it’s not difficult to see why: it has a clean look, a stellar cast and a provocative story about race and privilege. Unfortunately, the film is consistently marred by its reach exceeding its grasp when it comes to the overall narrative intent. On the whole, the script by JC Lee and Julius Onah, the latter of whom also serves as director, is both overwritten and underdeveloped. There are intriguing plot points that arise and some terrifically tense moments where characters’ intentions begin to turn but all of these elements build to a climax that could more aptly be described as an anti-climax.

Unsurprisingly, Luce shines brightest when the light is cast on its young star Kelvin Harrison Jr. As an upstanding teen who may be harboring some dark thoughts, he does an fantastic job at wielding his intellect for empathy with his friends and subtle menace with his foes. Spencer, whose performance in Ma earlier this year was that film’s sole highlight, turns in more great work her as a woman rife with personal issues who gets in over her head trying to investigate an unimpeachable target. Watts and Roth, who also played a married couple in 2008’s Funny Games, work well together as Luce’s biggest advocates, although their accent work is a bit shoddy at times.

The cinematography by Larkin Seiple leans heavily into an overexposed and chilly aesthetic that is effective to a degree but everything is so plain and bright, it began to feel like every scene took place in a hospital. The music by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury alternates between ponderous organ dirges and abrasive trap beats, a interesting combination that nevertheless left me with sonic whiplash. Luce wants to be a conversation starter that will linger with audiences after the credits roll but it’s far too opaque and circumspect to inspire much more than a few talking points.

Score – 2.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
It Chapter Two, starring James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, revisits The Losers’ Club as they are terrorized again by the killer clown Pennywise 27 years after the events of Chapter One.
After The Wedding, starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams, tells the story of an orphanage founder who travels to New York for a wedding where dark secrets from the past come to light.
The Peanut Butter Falcon, starring Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson, is an adventure about a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Ready Or Not

The Most Dangerous Game gets a darkly comedic twist in Ready Or Not, a proudly R-rated cat-and-mouse chase with gruesome delights and a wicked sense of playfulness. Opening with a shot of a grinning devil, the film lives up to its initial pledge by delivering some deliciously demented setpieces on top of a story about the burden of tradition and the ties that bind. With its tongue thoroughly in cheek for all of its 91 minute runtime, it reminded me of similarly salty horror peers like The Cabin in the Woods and especially the excellent You’re Next, which it sometimes mirrors to an uncomfortable degree.

Samara Weaving stars as Grace, a young bride-to-be smitten with the good-natured and attentive Alex (Mark O’Brien). It just so happens his obscenely wealthy family made their fortune by creating games of all sorts through the generations — as Alex cheekily puts it, they’re a “gaming dominion” — so Grace only thinks it’s slightly odd that they want to play a game of hide-and-seek on their wedding night. Little does she know, Alex’s family turns out to be a very serious set of players, which becomes obvious as they mount crossbows and shotguns in their pursuit of the hiding Grace.

There’s Daniel (Adam Brody), Alex’s hard-drinking brother who puts up a sardonic front but seems to have a soft spot for certain members of the family. That includes their sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), who pops just the right combination of pills to remain alert for the evening. Their parents Tony (Henry Czerny) and Becky (Andre MacDowell) seem perfectly coiffed for the wedding but devolve into two entirely different people as the night of madness and mayhem marches on. And then there’s Helene (Nicky Guadagni), the stone-faced matriarch whose every line of dialogue drips with sarcasm (“you continue to exist,” she greets someone at one point.)

Weaving, who made the most of a ditsy role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and also shined in Netflix’s horror comedy The Babysitter, proves to be a excellent scream queen. As a fearless and foul-mouthed “final girl” on the run from one deranged family member to another, she brings plenty of relatability and raw power to her breakout performance. I also appreciated Czerny playing against type as the seemingly calm and composed head of the house who gradually loses his cool in tremendous fashion.

The directing duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett commit to creative choices that pay off more often than they don’t. The dimly-lit castle-like setting, adorn with affluent accoutrements like massive buck mantles and even larger paintings, is perfect for the sadistic chase at the film’s core. The cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz makes use of the popular “shaky cam” technique, which works fine for tense tracking shots but makes much less sense for more foundational shots like one of Grace standing under a doorway. If you’re in the mood for a gory and gregarious dark comedy, then Ready Or Not may be perfect for your next game night.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Don’t Let Go, starring David Oyelowo and Storm Reid, follows a father who is heartbroken by his family’s death but soon gets a call from his niece, who is somehow two weeks in the past.
Opening at Cinema Center is The Nightingale, which tells the story of a young convict seeking revenge for a horrible act of violence perpetrated against her family.
Also playing at Cinema Center is Mike Wallace Is Here, a documentary about the titular American journalist who was a host of CBS’ 60 Minutes for 50 years.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Based on the best-selling novel by Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette stars Cate Blanchett in the title role as an agoraphobic misanthrope with a mysterious past. Residing in Seattle with her tech mogul husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) and her bright daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), she does just about everything she can to avoid other people, including her snippy neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig). After Elgin attempts to stage an intervention along with their psychiatrist Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer), Bernadette finds a way out of the situation and promptly disappears without a trace. It’s up to Elgin and Bee to follow what sparse clues they have and bring their Bernadette back safely.

Coming off of three solid outings in Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Last Flag Flying, director Richard Linklater seems as lost as his prickly protagonist with this material. As someone who hasn’t read the book, I struggle to find what Linklater found so enticing in the original text that he felt the need to adapt it into this obvious and pandering melodrama. He seems to be channeling his inner Cameron Crowe, leaning on an obnoxiously plucky music score by Graham Reynolds and Sam Lipman to hone in on maudlin characters revelations that one could see coming a mile away.

The verbose screenplay, penned by Linklater along with Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr., focuses too much on the wordy monologues that Bernadette barks at her personal assistant via e-mail or at the random acquaintances she chooses to engage. We do get detailed portrait of our central character and some insight into what would cause her actions but almost all of the other supporting characters are given short shrift. The tantalizing mystery teased in the film’s title is answered astonishingly early in the runtime and the motivations behind it are often obscured by subplots so spasmodic that I almost lost track of all the ultimately meaningless threads.

As usual, Linklater has assembled an excellent cast of talented performers that make the most of their roles. A commanding Blanchett, riffing on her manic, mile-a-minute-talking role from Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, gives soul to a character that comes across rather soulless on the page. The always welcome Laurence Fishburne turns up in a small role as a colleague of Bernadette’s, who patiently waits through her long-winded rambling before politely jumping in with “you done?” Best of all is Emma Nelson as Bernadette’s staunchest defender, whose emotional arc is one of the strongest points of the film.

Perhaps fans of the novel will find much more to like about the movie but I’ve found that more often than not, those who have read the source material for a given adaptation tend to scrutinize it a bit harder than those who go in fresh. After all, it’s easy to do a real-time play-by-play analysis when you’re familiar with the story but even with no points of comparison, I found myself vacillating between boredom and bewilderment. For a film that is at least tangentially related to architecture, it’s ironic that Where’d You Go, Bernadette has issues at its foundation that should have been remedied well before the finishing touches were applied.

Score – 2/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:

Ready or Not, starring Samara Weaving and Adam Brody, is a dark comedy thriller about a newlywed who joins her husband and his well-to-do family in a high-stakes version of hide-and-seek.
Angel Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman, is the third installment in the action-packed series about a Secret Service agent once again protecting the President from terrorist attacks.
Overcomer, starring Alex Kendrick and Priscilla Shirer, is a faith-based drama about a high school basketball coach whose championship dreams vanish when he receives unexpected news.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup