Tag Archives: 2021

False Positive

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 2/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Luca

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 4/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Undine

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 4/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

A Quiet Place Part II

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 3.5/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Cruella

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 3/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Those Who Wish Me Dead

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 3/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 4.5/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Without Remorse

Without Remorse (technically Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse) is the sixth movie based on a Clancy novel but the first to make Clancy’s other famous spy character, John Clark, its primary player. The prolific espionage writer is known for creating Jack Ryan, played previously by heavyweights like Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin on the big screen and currently being portrayed by John Krasinski on the Amazon Prime series Jack Ryan. In the books, Clark is written as a more intimidating physical presence and more inclined to take retaliatory action than the more measured Ryan. It turns out that Michael B. Jordan, star of the Creed franchise and villain of Black Panther, is a nice fit for a more imposing protagonist to head up a lean and mean action film like this one.

We meet Clark alongside his crew of Navy SEALs in Syria as they rescue a high-value hostage who their boss, Director Ritter (Jamie Bell), tells them is being held by potential ISIS members. It turns out the captors were Russian military and months later, members of the SEAL team are assassinated on US soil as retribution . Caught in the crossfire is Clark’s pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London), whose attackers (save one) are killed by Clark soon afterwards. Thanks to a lead from friend in the CIA Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), Clark goes on a warpath to track down the final assassin and avenge his wife’s untimely death as well as the deaths of his former teammates.

We’ve seen this plot before and we’ve probably seen it done better too but what sets Without Remorse apart from its revenge movie peers is the effortlessly breakneck pace established by director Stefano Sollima. Using land, air, and sea as settings, he elegantly strings his efficiently brutal action setpieces together with just the right amount of interpersonal drama and tense geopolitical intrigue. The pace reminded me of an action-packed video game, specifically — and perhaps not coincidentally — the stealth shooting game Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. As with the recent Mortal Kombat reboot, we’ve seen Hollywood try to make video games cinematic but more uncommon and admirable are the films that evoke the excitement of discovering a video game in real time.

Whether he’s getting into a burning car for an “advanced interrogation” or shirtlessly preparing to take on a legion of armored prison guards, Jordan oozes the command and confidence vital for this role. Though the movie doesn’t utilize the full range of his charisma, Jordan also has an understated chemistry with Turner-Smith that blurs the line between the characters’ professional friendship and potential romance. The script is a collaboration between video game developer Will Staples and Hell or High Water scribe Taylor Sheridan and while the dialogue isn’t particularly noteworthy or inspired, it gets the job done. After all, Clancy books are notoriously long and distilling one into a 100-minute movie doesn’t necessarily make for the easiest adaptation.

Like nearly everything else in the movie industry these days, this film sets up an extended universe (Clancyverse has likely already been trademarked) for future content, confirmed by the post-credit stinger. I, for one, certainly wouldn’t be opposed to Michael B. Jordan teaming up with John Krasinski for a Clark/Ryan project, whether as a movie or new Amazon series. If they do, I hope they’re able to include stories with a bit more meat on the bone and rope in talented directors like Sollima for more first-rate action sequences. As both an adrenaline-pumping franchise-starter and throwback to 1990s action fare, Without Remorse is a guilty pleasure about which you don’t have to feel too guilty.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening only in theaters is Wrath of Man, a Guy Ritchie action thriller starring Jason Statham and Holt McCallany about a mysterious money courier who is on the hunt for the people behind his son’s murder.
Available to rent on demand is Mainstream, a dramedy starring Andrew Garfield and Maya Hawke about a young woman who finds a path to internet stardom when she starts making videos with a charismatic stranger.
Streaming on Netflix is Monster, a legal drama starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Jennifer Ehle about a teenage honor student whose world comes crashing down around him when he is charged with felony murder.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Mortal Kombat

When the first Mortal Kombat movie came out in the late summer of 1995, it was amid a string of early attempts like Double Dragon and Street Fighter to adapt fighting video games for the big screen. While all three titles feature fantastical elements, what set Kombat apart was an over-the-top brutality that relied upon a gratuitous amount of gore. New Line Cinema knew an R-rating would hurt the film’s box office viability, so it opted for a PG-13 version that may have pulled punches but brought in enough money to spawn a sequel a couple years later. Times have changed and audiences are now much more receptive to R-rated material, so Mortal Kombat has been brought back yet again but this time, it contains the exaggerated violence and bloody melee that fans pined for the first time around.

Diverting from the source material, the story this time revolves around Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a down-and-out MMA fighter whose dragon-shaped birthmark turns out to be an invitation of sorts to an otherworldly tournament called Mortal Kombat. The dark realm known as Outworld is one win away from taking over our Earthrealm, prompting the lightning god Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) to recruit marked individuals like Young and brash mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson) to defend their universe. Aiding in their effort are brothers Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), while Outworld baddies Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) summon all manner of bloodthirsty brawlers to hinder Earth’s chances.

With recent successes like Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, Hollywood again returns to the well of 1990s video game nostalgia but things are a bit different with this entry. Those two films were based on kids’ games and remain family-friendly PG fare but Mortal Kombat is, at last, true to the “rated M for Mature” nature of its source material. To that end, its authenticity to the experience of the video game may be enough to satiate the bloodlust of the franchise’s fans but isn’t likely to win over casual moviegoers. New characters are introduced with little fanfare and dispatched with even less regard, while the exposition-heavy dialogue does heavy lifting in between the numerous fight scenes to string together a cohesive yet painfully derivative plot.

1995’s Mortal Kombat was far from a cinematic masterpiece — and its sequel even less so — but that film at least had a knowing sense of how ridiculous the excesses of the video game were and played into them properly. The most disappointing aspect of this reboot is how fatally self-serious it is, giving into Hollywood’s penchant to “grittily reimagine” material that was intentionally corny at the outset. Besides a few well-earned bits of fan service and meta humor from the Kano character, first-time director Simon McQuoid treats this material with bone-headed gravitas intended to revitalize a franchise rather than faithfully render the tone of the video game. When Young inquires “Lord Raiden, can you send anyone anywhere?”, I howled with laughter at his stoicism while asking such a preposterous question but I doubt the movie was laughing along with me.

Fortunately, McQuoid still sees the value in the superpowers these characters possess and the bloody bedlam that they inevitably produce. The video game series is famous for its Fatalities, signature finishing moves of outlandish overkill that translate nicely to this R-rated iteration of the fighting game. My personal favorite implements the sharp-brimmed hat of good guy Kung Lao against the winged terror known as Mileena. But in between these flights of blood-soaked fancy, there is a movie that wants desperately to be taken seriously on the merits of its characters and story. It may be glib to suggest that I’ve grown past this particular franchise but would be more apt to say that we as a society have likely outgrown the need for much more Mortal Kombat kontent.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Premiering on Amazon Prime is Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, an action thriller starring Michael B. Jordan and Jodie Turner-Smith about a Navy SEAL who goes on a path to avenge his wife’s murder, only to find himself inside of a larger conspiracy.
Streaming on Netflix is The Mitchells vs. the Machines, an animated comedy starring Abbi Jacobson and Danny McBride about a family road trip that is interrupted by the sudden worldwide takeover of evil robots.
Also debuting on Netflix is Things Heard & Seen, a horror movie starring Amanda Seyfried and James Norton about an artist who marriage begins to reveal a darkness as she and her husband relocate to a storied new house.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup