Tag Archives: 3/5

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Like its subject, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a bit difficult to entirely figure out. It’s a biopic based on a documentary that came out over 20 years ago, which does generate a new wave of sympathy for the late Tammy Faye Bakker but seems more than a little late to the party in doing so. Neither hagiography nor hatchet job, the film also can’t be described as a warts and all account of how she and husband Jim Bakker rose to prominence and fell from grace during the 1970s and 1980s. At times, the movie threatens to spin out of control with montages that condense far too much information but with a 126-minute runtime, it ultimately doesn’t seem to be in too much of a rush either. The one thing that’s clear is that Jessica Chastain puts everything she has into the lead role and gives the project the sense of purpose that it needs.

After a brief prologue set in the mid-90s, we travel back to mid-50s Minnesota, where Tammy Faye was raised to be God-fearing and proper by her stern mother (Cherry Jones). This upbringing later leads her to North Central Bible College in 1960, where she meets the handsome and charismatic Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). Smitten with one another, they get hitched and drop out of school to spread the word of the Lord on the road, eventually crossing paths with televangelist Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds). Working under him at his Christian Broadcasting Network, the Bakkers form their own channel called PTL and reign supreme in the televangelist market until sexual misconduct and fraud allegations bring their operation to a halt.

Director Michael Showalter made quite an impression with his excellent directorial debut The Big Sick in 2017 but his two films since then don’t quite transcend their respective genres. The direct-to-Netflix The Lovebirds was a solid base hit of a romantic comedy and The Eyes of Tammy Faye fits the same descriptor in biopic form. It hits many of the familiar beats, from early childhood to young love, from the soaring heights of success to the agonizing depths of failure. The overall shape of this narrative is nothing you haven’t seen a thousand times before and it’s a bit of a disappointment that Showalter doesn’t try a bit harder to shake things up. Aside from a few match cuts that generate some of the film’s best punchlines, it’s hard to see his artistry come through in the way the story is told.

Chastain, on the other hand, has an abundance of personality and perspective that come through in yet another terrific performance in her already laudable career. Tammy Faye Bakker was a larger than life figure and while Chastain wisely embraces the traits that the public knew best, she goes deeper to suggest desires and dreams that the cameras never captured. While it takes a bit of time for Jim to reveal his true colors as a cheat and a huckster, Tammy Faye ultimately comes across as a decent person whose enormous need for love and attention led to unprecedented audience sizes. I saw a good bit of Dolly Parton in Chastain’s performance, someone who also feels deeply, sings proudly and knows how to keep the public’s attention through the years.

A through line of the movie is Tammy Faye’s conversations with God throughout her life, growing more urgent and desperate the more dire her circumstances become. Prayer isn’t depicted very often in mainstream film, just as religion is typically relegated to faith-based movies that are released only to specific markets. The crisis of faith depicted in The Eyes of Tammy Faye isn’t the driving force of the plot but it’s a revealing track of character development that candidly reflects how beliefs can be shaken in trying times. When you strip away the layers of gaudy and gooey storytelling, there’s a more simple and moving story to be told that sadly feels the need to be done up to appeal to audiences.

Score – 3/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Dear Evan Hansen, a musical starring Ben Platt and Amy Adams about a high school senior’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance following the suicide of a fellow classmate.
Streaming on Netflix is The Starling, a dramedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd about a married couple who suffer a hardship and find their way through it with the help of a bird nesting in their backyard.
Premiering on Amazon Prime is Birds of Paradise, a drama starring Kristine Froseth and Diana Silvers about two ballet dancers who find their friendship tested when they compete for a contract to join an elite academy in Paris.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The 25th film in the all-encompassing Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings brings yet another superhero into the fold and with him, a new subgenre to the franchise. Like Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan from last year, this latest entry incorporates martial arts and the fantastical storytelling of wuxia fiction into a mostly satisfying action feature. It’s the MCU’s most inspired standalone entry since Black Panther but includes the most laborious exposition of any of their films since Doctor Strange (and that’s including the one where dozens of characters had to go on a time-travel heist). Despite the heavy amounts of backstory, the movie is as light on its feet as it can be and breezes by with well-placed humor and winsome performances.

When we meet San Francisco-based twenty-something Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), he’s in a bit of a rut. Valeting cars by day under the alias “Shaun” and hitting up karaoke bars by night with his rambunctious cohort Katy (Awkwafina), Shang-Chi’s millennial malaise dissipates suddenly when a bus confrontation forces him to tap into dormant hand-to-hand skills. The goons sent to fight him turn out to be a part of the dangerous Ten Rings organization, headed up by none other than Shang-Chi’s super-powered father Wenwu (Tony Leung). His plan to recover his wife and Shang-Chi’s mother Jiang Li (Fala Chen) from the cryptic land of Ta Lo seems fortuitous at first, until Shang-Chi learns of the violent measures Wenwu and his Ten Rings intend to take in the process.

My main charge against Marvel’s previous big-screen offering Black Widow was that it felt anonymous, as if you could plug any MCU character into the film as its protagonist and not much would be affected. Certainly, the same criticism cannot be applied to Shang-Chi. The most obvious way that the film distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack is with its dazzling fight choreography, particularly in two, Jackie Chan-influenced action setpieces from the first act. The first, in which “Shaun” turns into Shang-Chi before Katy’s eyes while he takes out several oversized foes, somehow gives the jaw-dropping bus brawl from Nobody a run for its money. The second is an extended sequence atop bamboo scaffolding high above Macau, which merges practical effects and CG to brilliant effect.

Reliance on backstory is often an Achilles’ Heel for those Marvel movies which serve as on-screen introductions to a new superhero and sadly, Shang-Chi‘s convoluted setup is its greatest weakness. The film opens with a gorgeous flashback, featuring a sort of “combat ballet” with echoes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but by the third act, the cutaways to the past become tedious. Director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton chooses to scatter his exposition throughout the narrative but does so with little regard for the overall flow of the film. The climactic battle is also overstuffed with magical creatures introduced late in the game, who ultimately take up too much screen time and distract from the (admittedly foolish) plan that the villain aims to carry out.

Despite the awkwardly placed bits of storytelling, the film remains engaging throughout mainly due to the liveliness of the performances. As the titular warrior, newcomer Simu Liu brings an earnest charm to his role that plays nicely against his fierce fighting abilities. Awkwafina has been on the rise over the past few years and she turns in another effortlessly funny sidekick performance while also not being relegated to a love interest for the lead. The menacing work from the great Wong Kar-wai collaborator Tony Leung will elate those still bitter about the Mandarin fake-out from 2013’s Iron Man 3. With some tighter direction, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings could have been one of the better chapters in the MCU canon but even as is, it’s another reliable entertainment from the most prolific assembly line in the business.

Score – 3/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Debuting on Amazon Prime is Cinderella, a romantic comedy starring Camila Cabello and Idina Menzel reworking the classic fairy tale into a modern-day musical.
Streaming on Netflix is Worth, a legal drama starring Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci about a headstrong Washington D.C. attorney who battles against bureaucracy and politics to help victims of 9/11.
Available to rent on demand is The Gateway, a crime thriller starring Frank Grillo and Olivia Munn about a social worker who intervenes when an inmate returns to his family and tries to lure them into a life of crime.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


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 Father

Despite it being a difficult subject to broach, dementia has been relatively popular in cinema over the past several months. Last summer saw the release of Relic, an Australian horror film that makes literal the treacherous indicators of a decaying mind. In the fall, there was Dick Johnson Is Dead, Kirsten Johnson’s unconventional Netflix documentary about her aging father’s worsening mental faculties. Just in time for Oscar season, we now have The Father, a prestige drama told from the perspective of a protagonist suffering from progressive memory loss. None of these three films will be easy for those who have loved ones suffering from similar ailments to watch and I suspect The Father could even be the most difficult to watch of the three.

Adapted from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play Le Père, the movie centers around octogenarian Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) and his slowly deteriorating state of mind. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) and her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell) have welcomed him into their London apartment, where he passes the time listening to opera and hiding valuables from caretakers that he deems untrustworthy. When Anne breaks the news that she and Paul are planning on moving to Paris, Anthony feels a sense of betrayal and fear of abandonment that reverberates through the rest of the story. As more characters are introduced, the sense of reality becomes more subjective as faces blur together and facts begin to lose their sense of permanence.

In his directorial film debut, Zeller demonstrates a keen ability to put the audience in the shoes of an essentially housebound man who grows more paranoid with each passing day. He has a way of making the limited confines even more stifling by filling the space with the loneliness of a man’s later years. When other characters do show up to the apartment, they are sometimes played by different actors who seem to have differing backstories from the people we think we know. Credit to the film’s deceptive nature also goes to editor Yorgos Lamprinos, who utilizes jump cuts and unconventional timing to give the film an off-kilter rhythm that mirrors an unsettled mind.

Despite establishing a uniquely deceptive tone that’s pitched somewhere between family drama and psychological thriller, the actual narrative is not as involving on its own merits. Even at just over 90 minutes, the film’s pace is often languid and not especially packed with incident. Perhaps this is a story better told on stage, where the singular location isn’t as much of a drawback and the atmosphere of the room heightens the experience. The theatrical aspect is carried over primarily in the central performance by Hopkins, which is indeed good work but exudes the kind of righteous anger that culminates in the film’s “stagiest” moments. It doesn’t feel as understated as the work that Colman and Sewell are doing here, although it’s possible that it was never supposed to anyway.

I applaud Zeller for creating a movie about dementia that so entrenches us in the experience of suffering from such a cruel and pernicious disease. The most effective scenes in the film recall the fear and insecurity that permeate heady alt-horror fare like last year’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things but it doesn’t feel like a gimmick or exploitation; it just feels real. Just recently nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it doesn’t seem likely to score any wins (especially since Chadwick Boseman is a lock for Best Actor) but the nods enough may draw enough attention for crowds to seek it out. The Father is certainly not an easy sit but it’s a brave portrayal of those struggling with senility and the caregivers on whom they rely.

Score – 3/5

Other new movies coming this weekend:
Premiering on Netflix is Bad Trip, a hidden camera comedy starring Eric André and Lil Rel Howery about two friends who embark on a cross-country road trip to NYC with pranks and misadventures along the way.
Streaming on HBO Max is Tina, a music documentary about Tina Tuner’s early fame, her private and professional struggles and her return to the world stage as a global phenomenon in the 1980s.
Opening in theaters is Nobody, an action thriller starring Bob Odenkirk and Connie Nielsen about a mild-mannered Good Samaritan who becomes the target of a vengeful drug lord.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The White Tiger

Based on the 2008 New York Times bestseller of the same name, The White Tiger tells the spirited story of Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), a successful young businessman thriving in modern-day Bangalore. Narrating his own tale in voiceover, we flash back to Balram’s early life fighting to survive in an impoverished Indian village after losing his father to tuberculosis. After a fortuitous run-in with a wealthy landlord, the resourceful Balram becomes a full-time driver for the solicitous Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his free-spirited wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra). The arrangement seems to be going well, until a night of recklessness forces Balram to reassess his relationship with his rich employers and the unequal society that keeps its most affluent citizens immune from consequences.

The film is written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, who made a splash in critics circles during the mid-2000s with acclaimed independent features like Man Push Cart and Chop Shop. While those two movies just barely broke the 80 minute mark, The White Tiger comes in at a much heftier 125 minute runtime and more often than not, its length can be felt. Though he has an accessible and exciting story in his hands, Bahrani seems slavishly devoted to each of the novel’s plot points and its dense themes involving social classism and globalization. The stylistic touches, like its evocation of the eye-rolling “you’re probably wondering how I got here” trope at the film’s opening, make the theatrics of Danny Boyle’s films seem like the stuff of genius by comparison.

Fortunately, Bahrani is adapting some sturdy material and Aravind Adiga’s novel gives the film plenty of hearty fodder to feed this robust rags-to-riches story. Its title, a reference to a rare and magnificent beast to which Balram is compared at a young age, is just one of the animal-based metaphors that is used to symbolize the perils of a seemingly impenetrable caste system. Balram explains India’s poor class as existing in a “rooster coop”, waiting at the market to get slaughtered one at a time, yearning for freedom while being unable or unwilling to escape from their daunting enclosure. But the tone of Balram’s narration doesn’t resemble that of a maudlin requiem for upward mobility; he often peppers in dark humor and irony to affably recontextualize his struggles and those of his people.

As the savvy protagonist, Adarsh Gourav lends a stirring mixture of down-and-out pathos and cheeky resilience to his compelling lead performance. Rajkummar Rao is equally winsome in his portrayal of a well-to-do tech mogul who takes Balram under his wing and gets closer to him than even he suspects. In a role that could have been one-dimensional and cloying, Priyanka Chopra conveys layers of conflict for a young woman torn between her roots in the United States and her charmed life in India. Each of the main three actors have an easy chemistry with one another, gratifying in times when affinity brings them together and heartbreaking in the moments when discord draws them apart.

With its story of a desperate driver looking to get in with a rich family, The White Tiger bears thematic resemblance with last year’s outstanding Best Picture winner Parasite but it lacks that film’s propulsive sense of narrative urgency. Since Bahrani gives us glimpses of both the film’s climax and ending within the first 10 minutes, there isn’t very much suspense built into how things play out. Even though this is more of a coming-of-age drama than a tongue-in-cheek thriller like Parasite, stakes still matter and I would have preferred to have been kept in suspense rather than waiting for the inevitable denouement. Netflix recently announced they’ll be releasing at least one new movie every week in 2021 and if The White Tiger is any indication, they’d do well to focus on quality over quantity.

Score – 3/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Available to rent digitally is No Man’s Land, a modern Western starring Frank Grillo and Andie MacDowell about a young man who flees to Mexico after accidentally killing an immigrant along the Mexico-Texas border.
Also available to rent digitally is Our Friend, a dramedy starring Jason Segel and Casey Affleck about a couple who finds unexpected support from their best friend after they receive life-changing news.
Debuting on Hulu is In & Of Itself, a filmed version of illusionist Derek DelGaudio’s Off-Broadway one-man stage show which explores themes of identity and illusion.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Following up his superb screenlife thriller Searching, writer-director Aneesh Chaganty expands his narrative scope with Run, another engaging nail-biter that doesn’t quite match the ingenuity of his debut. By comparison, it’s much more broad in its story beats and campy in its execution but at the end of the day, it delivers enough slick twists and turns in its lean 90-minute runtime to satisfy one’s Fall fright itch. As lopsided as the script can be, the film mainly succeeds on the strength of the performances by the two lead actresses, one who is steeply committed to this genre at this point in her career and another who is new to acting altogether.

We meet Diane (Sarah Paulson) on what should be the happiest day of her life but the critical condition of her premature newborn casts a pall over the delivery room. Flash forward 17 years and she’s adjusted the best that she can to the various health ailments that plague her homeschooled daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen). Wheelchair-bound and asthma-ridden, Chloe is clearly dependent on her ever-present mom for many physical tasks but can more than fend for herself from an intelligence perspective. It’s this intellect and curiosity that leads her to peel back a loosely adhered medication label and thus unravel a much deeper and darker mystery at the heart of her relationship with her domineering mother.

Fittingly slated to open in theaters on Mother’s Day weekend this past spring, Run is yet another 2020 release that got postponed indefinitely when the pandemic hit and found new life when a streaming service (Hulu, in this case) ponied up for the distribution rights. Unfortunately, this is a movie that benefits greatly from the experience of sitting in a darkened room with strangers whose hushed gasps and shrieks undoubtedly flavor the viewing. If theaters really are on their last legs, as many have suggested, is there anything that filmmakers can do to translate this phenomenon for audiences at home? Will studios even keep making thrillers like this in the first place? Questions like this disturb me more than anything in Run, although that isn’t a burden the film should have to carry.

In any case, the stellar acting is Run‘s strongest quality and the main area in which it distinguishes itself from the trashy Lifetime movie of the week that it could have been otherwise. Kiera Allen, who is disabled in real life, is outstanding as a smart and resourceful teenager who chooses not to define herself by her limitations. It helps to have such a cunning protagonist when we spend much of the running time working through obstacles with her in real time and Allen is more than up to the task. The film’s best scene, a lengthy setpiece in which Chloe must get from one bedroom window to another by crawling across the roof, gave me flashbacks to the famous Burj Khalifa sequence from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Paulson is very good as the increasingly insidious Diane, although she can practically play chilly and borderline psychotic in her sleep by this point. From her recent appearance as a sinister caregiver in Netflix’s Ratched to her role as a sinister caregiver in last year’s Glass, I’d like to see her display more range in her character choice for her next project. Similarly, the film occupies a familiar class of psychological thriller depicted in shows like HBO’s Sharp Objects and movies like Greta and Ma, although it would easily place first in a race between the three films. If it were playing at your local theater, Run might not warrant a hurried excursion but from the comfort of the couch, it should be enough to quicken one’s pulse.

Score – 3/5

New movies this weekend:
Streaming on Hulu is Happiest Season, a romantic comedy starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis about a young woman planning to propose to her girlfriend while attending her family’s annual holiday party.
Coming to Netflix is The Christmas Chronicles 2, a holiday comedy starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn about Santa teaming up again with a cynical teenager to stop a mysterious foe who threatens to cancel Christmas forever.
Opening only in theaters is The Croods: A New Age, an animated adventure starring Nicolas Cage and Emma Stone about a prehistoric family who is challenged by a rival family who claim to be better and more evolved.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Disney goes to the well once more with Mulan, another update on one of their beloved 90s animations that doesn’t supersede the original but at least gets points for trying to go about things in a relatively creative way. Unlike last year’s Aladdin and The Lion King, which were soulless cash grabs that lifelessly tried to recreate classic moments from their predecessors, this new version of Mulan feels more like a modern reimagining of the legend of Hua Mulan rather than a mindless remake of the 1998 Disney film. Gone are the Broadway-style music numbers and cutesy sidekicks, replaced instead by PG-13 wuxia (a term for martial arts stories set in ancient China) action and gorgeously lush set design inspired by genre classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.

Set in imperial China, the storyline follows the courageous and deft warrior Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei), whose parents Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) and Hua Li (Rosalind Chao) foist matchmakers on her so she can find a husband who will tame her wild spirit. Those plans are put on hold when Rouran warriors, led by the fearsome Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and his enslaved witch Xianniang (Gong Li), make their way towards the Hua’s village. An edict is put forth where a man from each family must join the fight against Khan’s army but the elderly Zhou is at risk for serious injury or even death should he offer his services to the military. To spare her father, Mulan poses as a young man and sets off to train as a soldier with the knowledge that her gender deception could be punishable by death.

Originally slated to grace screens nationwide back in March, Mulan is one of many victims of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and after months of delay, it now debuts on Disney+ with a $30 surcharge for “Premier Access”. While this is a responsible and sensible business decision on their part, it’s a bit of a shame that we likely won’t see this on the big screen any time soon since this is the best looking live-action remake that Disney has put forth yet. Transfixing images like the Emperor’s opulent, gold-plated throne or a collapsing avalanche with its ensuing fog of powder snow just don’t quite have the same power when watching at home, unless your TV is on par with the digital projection found in the cineplex.

While director Niki Caro makes some smart choices when it comes to action and imagery, the biggest missed opportunity here is in the depth of the storytelling and thematic material. Too often Caro and her quartet of screenwriters take the easy way out and settle for simple characterization on behalf of the protagonist and other supporting players. While the animated version of Mulan was also a fierce warrior, she doesn’t start out that way and has to steadily train her way up the ranks. Comparatively, Yifei’s Mulan is already a powerful fighter from the beginning with the aid of a magical level of chi that resembles The Force from Star Wars — one could easily make several parallels between this Mulan and Rey from the Disney-era Star Wars trilogy.

While most of the performances serve the film well, Yifei is not always as compelling as she needs to be in the title role. Her physicality and poise is often spot-on but she plays the character almost too stoically, offering little insight into Mulan’s inner world. Other actors, like the inimitable Donnie Yen as Commander Tung or Tzi Ma from last year’s excellent The Farewell, tend to fare better in their respective roles. While I appreciate Disney’s push for representation by casting all Asian or Asian-American performers, I wish they had gone a bit farther and just had the characters speaking Mandarin instead English. With Parasite winning Best Picture earlier this year, I would suspect that the subtitle barrier isn’t quite as imposing as it once was. Nevertheless, Mulan is a fine introduction to wuxia films that will hopefully inspire audiences to seek out better entries in the genre.

Score – 3/5

New movies this weekend:
Available for rental is Antebellum, a horror film starring Janelle Monáe and Jena Malone about an author who finds herself trapped in a nightmarish reality during the Underground Railroad period and must find a way to break free.
Streaming on Netflix is The Devil All the Time, a psychological thriller starring Tom Holland and Bill Skarsgård about a series of suspicious characters whose storylines converge on the backdrop of a small Ohio town.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is All In: The Fight for Democracy, a political documentary takes a look at the history of and current activism against voter suppression.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Project Power

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 3/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Even though Will Ferrell is a household name by this point, you’d have to go back to 2010’s The Other Guys to find a Ferrell-starring comedy that resonated with both audiences and critics. The 2010s have not been especially kind when it comes to lead roles for the oafish SNL alum, littered with dreck from Get Hard to Holmes & Watson with only minor gems like The House that got buried under terrible box office figures. His latest offering, Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, looks to replicate the joyous goofiness of Aughts underdog comedies like Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory and with the help of a strong supporting cast, it barely gets there.

Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong, a native to a small Icelandic town who has dreamed of winning the Eurovision contest ever since he was a boy, dancing frantically along to ABBA performing “Waterloo” in front of his TV. His comrade in musical stardom is Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), Lars’ childhood friend who makes up the other half of their fledgling pop duo Fire Saga. Their dreams seem to come into focus when their audition tape is randomly selected by Iceland’s Eurovision committee and they’re whisked away to Scotland to participate in the international music competition. Along the way, they run into challengers like the fiery Russia representative Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) and the seductive Greek singer Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut).

Using even rudimentary criteria, I wouldn’t necessarily classify Eurovision Song Contest as a particularly “good movie”. It’s at least a half-an-hour too long, there are more than a few punchlines that don’t work at all and the overall story arc is about as predictable as can be. Having said that, I chuckled consistently at its go-for-broke spirit and naïve playfulness and in these increasingly dispiriting times, that certainly must count for something. Ferrell is reprising his man-child schtick to limited effect, albeit with a silly accent thrown in for good measure, but McAdams proves after her outstanding turn in Game Night that she’s able to find just the right notes in a broad comedy like this.

Another standout among the supporting players is Stevens, who has been quite bad in recent films like Beauty and the Beast and The Call of the Wild but rebounds here nicely with haughty role clearly modeled after George Michael. A snippy conversation about gender fluidity that he has with McAdams’ character deep into the 2 plus hour runtime scores the biggest laughs in the entire film. It’s a shame that director David Dobkin couldn’t find more for Pierce Brosnan to do as Lars’ father, other than looking handsome and mortified as he watches his son fail on live TV. Given Brosnan’s role in the Mamma Mia! films, I’m shocked that they couldn’t at least manage a more overt ABBA connection for laughs.

While the songs aren’t as memorable as those from other musical comedies like Walk Hard or Music And Lyrics, the Fire Saga tracks “Husavik” and “Double Trouble” are sufficiently catchy. The funniest music moment comes courtesy of Lemtov’s uproarious tune “Lion of Love”, which Stevens performs with appropriately garish aplomb. Elsewhere, the film surprisingly does a decent job at incorporating Icelandic culture. The country’s picturesque scenery is highlighted on numerous occasions and if you think this movie doesn’t offer several Sigur Rós music cues at climactic moments, you have another thing coming. As innocuous distractions go, you could certainly do worse than Eurovision Song Contest.

Score – 3/5

New to streaming this weekend:
Available on Disney+ is Hamilton, a live Broadway recording of the smash hit musical starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. about the life of founder father and first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.
Available on demand is The Outpost, a war drama starring Scott Eastwood and Orlando Bloom about a small team of U.S. soldiers as they battle against hundreds of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Available on Netflix is Desperados, a comedy starring Anna Camp and Nasim Pedrad about a young woman who rushes to Mexico with her friends to try and delete a scathing email she sent to her new boyfriend.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup