Twisters

Released in the summer of 1996, the hokey blockbuster Twister is best remembered for its larger-than-life marketing and its (at the time) cutting-edge visual effects but not much else beyond that. As that’s the case, it likely wasn’t up next on many legacy sequel bingo cards but 28 years later, we have Twisters. Helmed by Lee Isaac Chung, the director of 2020’s superb indie Minari, it’s a disaster movie that wouldn’t need to be as good as it is to grab some cash from the cyclonic summer box office and dissipate as mysterious as it appeared. But against all odds, this is the rare belated sequel that not only justifies its existence but actually bests its predecessor in most every way. With help from Amblin Entertainment heads Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall and a story from Top Gun: Maverick‘s Joseph Kosinski, the film marries an old-fashioned storytelling sensibility with outstanding CG effects.

Following a stunning prologue that reminds us of nature’s devastating and overwhelming power, we center in on Kate Carter (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a brilliant meteorologist who has seemingly put her storm chasing days behind her. Out of her past comes Javi (Anthony Ramos), a former colleague who now runs a mobile radar company whose aim it is to 3D model tornadoes for research. After some convincing, Kate joins Javi on the road again and swiftly gets sucked back into the wild subculture of tornado chasing. Now at the center of this cyclonic coterie is YouTuber Tyler Owens (Glen Powell), the self-appointed “Tornado Wrangler” whose mile-wide, cud-eating smile has riled up over a million subscribers. Gusts of romance slowly swirl between Kate and Tyler as they track twisters across rural Oklahoma and try to get close —but not too close— to the action.

It would be generous to say that the character development in Twister isn’t terribly sophisticated and while Twisters doesn’t have exquisitely-rendered types by comparison, they’re an improvement nevertheless. The central conflicts between the two leads in each film harken back to old Hollywood, with Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt giving big His Girl Friday energy in their Twister, while Daisy Edgar-Jones and Glen Powell in Twisters conjure up a love-hate tussle out of The Shop Around The Corner. A big reason the bickering between the protagonists works better here has loads to do with the terrific chemistry between Edgar-Jones and Powell, the latter of whom is working hard to secure his Next Big Thing status in Hollywood. Between Kate’s measured approach and Tyler’s roguish impulses, we know the pair will find an overlap and it’s good fun watching them get there.

Twisters doesn’t quite have as deep a bench of supporting characters as its forerunner, which boasted memorable turns from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Lois Smith, amid a bevy of recognizable character actors of the era. But like Twister, there’s delight here in the colorful cast of characters that the movie is able to wrangle up for this slightly less ridiculous story. Tyler’s caravan includes wild-eyed turns from up-and-coming actresses Sasha Lane and Katy O’Brian, while Kate’s crew features future Superman actor David Corenswet and an irresistible performance by Maura Tierney as Kate’s charmingly pushy mom. While the two films don’t technically have any characters that overlap, the personalities that pack the cars zooming across the perilous plains are cut from the same cloth.

It may seem strange to talk this long about Twisters and not focus on the visual effects, which have always been the lynchpin of the disaster movie genre. While it’s hard to know how well they’ll hold up 28 years from now, the combination of CGI and practical effects certainly look convincing by current standards. The sound design is equally convincing, each gale whipping around terrifyingly in surround sound that is even more punctuated in IMAX screenings. Many films in the genre seem to delight in the damage and the scope of the spectacle but embedded in this film is a reverence for the human toll that dangerous weather can take. Those looking to leave their homes to escape for a couple hours will find a satisfying shelter in Twisters.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Deadpool & Wolverine, a superhero sequel starring Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman, which finds vulgar sword-wielding Deadpool teaming up with an alternate version of X-man lead Wolverine as they square off against a common enemy.
Also playing in theaters is The Fabulous Four, a road comedy starring Susan Sarandon and Bette Midler, following three friends as they travel to Key West to be bridesmaids at a surprise wedding of their friend’s from college.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Cirque Du Soleil: Without A Net, a documentary about the titular contemporary circus act which depicts their struggle to reopen their flagship production more than a year after an abrupt global shutdown.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Longlegs

After a months-long viral marketing campaign that put forth cryptic teaser clips and coded messages inspired by Zodiac Killer-esque symbology, the unholy and unforgettable horror-thriller Longlegs has crawled into theaters in its terrifying full form. It’s both a film that wears its influences —Silence Of The Lambs and Seven are givens — on its sleeve and one that keeps reinventing itself with every hairpin turn of the central mystery. Even with the presence of genre stalwart Maika Monroe and perhaps the most predictably unpredictable performer around in Nicolas Cage, there’s little comfort in the familiar here. There are horror movies that aim to scare audiences with spooky spontaneity and knee-jerk thrills and then there are those which actively work to unnerve and unsettle us. The latest from writer-director Osgood Perkins falls in the latter category.

Monroe stars as Lee Harker, a cloistered and committed young FBI agent whose next-level intuition helps her quickly break open an elusive case that compels her boss Agent Carter (Blair Underwood) to assign her to one that’s been even more beguiling. Over the span of multiple decades, a serial killer known as Longlegs (Cage) has seemingly been involved with numerous murder–suicides in the Pacific Northwest, with only coded messages left behind as evidence. Harker makes quick work of the seemingly indecipherable notes and finds a pentagram-predicated pattern within the clues, although there still aren’t precise signs who the killer’s next victim might be. Throughout her monomania in cracking the case, Harker maintains connection with her pious mother Ruth (Alicia Witt), who worries that Lee chasing a devil-devout deviant may cause her to lose herself in the process.

At the outset, Longlegs posits itself as more of a procedural thriller before slowly morphing into art horror by its conclusion, with some unexpected but much-needed chuckles peppered in. Four films in, Perkins seems to be most interested in telling scary stories from different subgenres, his I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House in the gothic ghost story tradition and Gretel & Hansel in the vein of dark fairy tale. His latest most closely resembles his 2015 outing The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a superb supernatural chiller about two students left behind a boarding school over winter break. While Longlegs is somehow even creepier than that film, it’s also Perkins’ most accomplished work so far, made of moments that exude ardent craft and nuanced precision.

Everyone in front of the camera is more than game for his vision, with Monroe as our audience surrogate into this twisted tale much in the way Jodie Foster was for Silence Of The Lambs. In films like It Follows and Watcher, she plays characters who just try to stay one step ahead of the evil forces stalking them but here, her Harker is much more capable in her ability to snuff out the nefarious forces at play. As we often see in movies about detectives whose job consumes their lives, Monroe taps into the social awkwardness that comes with someone whose head is always somewhere else. Mostly it’s underscored as a predominant personality trait among the most determined agents but sometimes it’s keenly played for laughs; when Agent Carter’s 8-year-old daughter asks Harker if she’d like to see her room, Perkins smash cuts to the agent sitting rigidly on the little girl’s bed through social obligation.

Underwood also puts forth easy-to-overlook work as Harker’s veteran superior but I imagine one of the main hooks for those drawn in by Longlegs this month will be Nicolas Cage, whose character’s full appearance has been withheld in promotional materials. Some may complain that Cage doesn’t appear in the movie more, while others may wish that he was used more sparingly but regardless, he predictably makes a meal of his deranged and haunting character. Perkins wisely gives us swift glimpses of the towering occultist figure before giving us the squirm-inducing close-ups of Cage’s face. While it’s only been out several days, Longlegs already seems to carry with it a staying power uncommon for the majority of current horror output.

Score – 4/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Twisters, a disaster movie starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Glen Powell following a retired tornado-chaser and meteorologist as they’re persuaded to return to Oklahoma to work with a new team and new technologies to track severe storms.
Premiering on Disney+ is Young Woman And The Sea, a sports biopic starring Daisy Ridley and Tilda Cobham-Hervey telling the true story of Gertrude Ederle, an American swimming champion who became the first woman to swim 21 miles across the English Channel.
Streaming on Netflix is Skywalkers: A Love Story, a documentary involving a daring couple that travels to Malaysia to climb a 118-story skyscraper, attempting a bold acrobatic stunt on the spire to salvage both their career and relationship.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Fly Me To The Moon

Lifting off in time for the 55th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the crowd-pleaser Fly Me To The Moon deliberately fudges the facts of the Space Race to spin an alternate history yarn that plays like a cheeky counterpart to For All Mankind. That Apple TV+ series, in addition to recent films First Man and Apollo 11, have approached the subject of the moon landing under more understandably serious terms but in his latest feature, director Greg Berlanti seems more concerned with the central romance than the outcome of the momentous spaceflight. Even if the sparks between the two leads can’t quite compete with the fire from space shuttle ignitors, the playful story has just enough gas in the boosters to get things off the ground.

It’s 1969 and NASA launch director Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) is running out of money and time to make good on JFK’s promise to the nation at the beginning of the decade to land man on the moon. Enter Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson), a Don Draper-styled ad exec who is brought in to pitch both Congress and the American people on why the underfunded space agency deserves their attention. Though Davis and Jones routinely butt heads after an enkindled meet-cute — the former as straight-laced as they come, with the latter having no compunction about stretching the truth — a mutual admiration between the two emerges. A third party enters their orbit in the form of Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson), a Nixon-backed government official in charge of overseeing a “backup” production of the moon landing to save face for the Russians, should the cameras on the spacecraft malfunction.

While part of Fly Me To The Moon does invoke a faked version of the lunar landing, Greg Berlanti and his screenwriter Rose Gilroy don’t delve deep into the decades-old conspiracy theory and instead treat the subplot with a waggish “what if?” curiosity. Tasked with creating a realistic set that could pass for the moon, Jones recruits a perpetually flustered director — the self-proclaimed “Kubrick of commercials”, a nod to Kubrick’s purported role in the “staging” of the moon landing — played by Jim Rash. A little of his “I can’t work like this!” schtick goes a long way but the mechanics behind how the production crew attempts to disguise a sound stage as the moon are right in line with the film’s chipper energy. Think Argo by way of Green Book (with even fewer gravitas-bludgeoned pitstops) and you’d be on track with the kind of peppy timbre Berlanti is working to cook up.

Johansson and Tatum certainly lay on the charm as thick as they can but their characters tend to work better on their own terms as opposed to when they’re meant to come together. Johansson’s Jones is a fun gender-swapped take on a “Mad Men” Manhattanite, maneuvering the misogynistic marketing world of the era with wiles and wit to spare. Tatum’s Davis is a beleaguered straight arrow whose earnestness and traditional work ethic aren’t treated as punchlines but rather as obstacles for a mission with a dwindling deadline. Thematically, they’re believable as both foils and flirts for each other but the actors don’t quite have the out-of-this-world chemistry you’d hope for. Originally Chris Evans was slated to take up the Tatum role and based on his previous work with Johansson, that pair would have played excellently off one another.

Similarly, Berlanti was a substitute in the director’s chair for Jason Bateman, who left the project a few months in, reportedly due to creative differences. Based on Bateman’s recent directorial output for series like Ozark and The Outsider, it’s not hard to imagine he’d want to take this story in a darker and more caustic direction. Instead, we get a much more lighthearted tale that opens with a montage catching us up with Space Race headlines, concludes with a shot of a pesky feline that endlessly eludes escape and countless Motown needle drops in between. There have been so many accounts of the Apollo 11 mission which treat it with befitting reverence that it doesn’t hurt to have it as a backdrop for a more mushy iteration and those who prefer their movies to have more minimal stakes may even prefer Fly Me To The Moon.

Score – 3/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Longlegs, a horror thriller starring Maika Monroe and Nicolas Cage following an FBI agent as she uncovers a series of occult clues that she must solve to end the terrifying murder spree of a serial killer.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Divorce In The Black, a romantic thriller starring Meagan Good and Cory Hardrict about a young woman who is left devastated when her husband abandons their marriage and concerned about his actions when she tries to move on.
Premiering on Disney+ is Descendants: The Rise Of Red, a fantasy musical starring Kylie Cantrall and Malia Baker about the daughters of the Queen Of Hearts and Cinderella as they team up to stop an event that would cause grave consequences.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Bikeriders

Based on an evocative photobook of motorcycle club members from the 1960s, The Bikeriders works best as a mood movie if nothing else. Writer-director Jeff Nichols conceived of a story around the images from Danny Lyon’s photojournalist chronicle but the narrative mainly serves to weave together punctuated character beats. It’s a film fixated on faces, how they move and how they linger from moment to moment. We often talk about blockbusters or big action movies as those that demand to be seen on the big screen but this is an instance where a “smaller” production benefits from the larger format. The gorgeous cinematography from Adam Stone allows images from a specific subculture and setting to wash over us with a power uniquely tailored for the theatrical experience.

Set between 1965 and 1973 in Chicago and the surrounding areas, The Bikeriders centers around three central figures involved with the motorcycle gang known as the Vandals MC. The outlaw group is led by Johnny (Tom Hardy), a wild card who rarely speaks without a cigarette tucked between his lips. Johnny treats younger member Benny (Austin Butler), who puts up a tough front but hides a sensitive side, like a younger brother and a protégé who can keep the club roaring forward once he bows out. When Kathy (Jodie Comer) sets foot inside their bar one evening, everyone sets eyes on her but it’s Benny who takes her home on his bike at the end of the night. Things in the Vandals are good for a time, until unwieldy expansion and culture clashes threaten to tear the group apart for good.

Using a framing device in which Danny Lyon is actually a character in the movie (played by Mike Faist) documenting the events, The Bikeriders shares DNA with the more modern crime saga Hustlers. Both feature a similar structure, where an interview chronologically after the events of the movie sets the scene, even if the criminals they’re depicting have entirely different backgrounds and motivations. As much as Hustlers was influenced by Scorsese’s seminal Goodfellas, The Bikeriders similarly bears the master’s mark and also draws inspiration from Casino as well, with its focus on a trio of two men and a woman witnessing the slow decline of a criminal enterprise. If you’ve seen any of these films already, you’ll likely be ahead of Nichols as he tells his years-long story but the foibles of these characters keep things relatively fresh.

Though the roles they’re playing aren’t always the most three-dimensional, each of the actors bring an entrancing and even endearing quality to their ne’er-do-wells. Jodie Comer is best known for playing characters who also sport her native British tongue but she pulls off a rapturously authentic Chicago accent here and has all the trophy wife mannerisms down pat too. Never one to shy away from a dialectical challenge, Tom Hardy carries over the accent he learned to play midwest-based gangster Al Capone and also brings his unpredictable propensity for violence. Reprising the animal magnetism he culls from playing Elvis Presley a couple years ago, Austin Butler is effortlessly cool as a wayward scamp who needs more guidance than he knows.

A charge has been brought against both movies and TV shows of the past several years that dialogue has gotten more unintelligible, forcing many to opt for subtitles when available. There are several potentially guilty culprits for this concerning trend: poor sound mixing or stylized sound mixing that favors effects over dialogue, more understated performances or smaller speakers in the case of home viewing. Regardless, I need to give kudos to the sound team on this project for working hard to capture dialogue on-set — or after the fact with lines that weren’t obviously voiced over — that was never difficult to understand. Butler and Hardy are two actors who certainly aren’t known to project or enunciate in a good amount of their roles but it was a relief to hear them loud and clear. The engines may roar in The Bikeriders but thankfully, they don’t drown anything out.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is A Quiet Place: Day One, a horror prequel starring Lupita Nyong’o and Joseph Quinn rewinding back to events before the first Quiet Place when bloodthirsty alien creatures with ultrasonic hearing first invade New York City.
Also playing in theaters is Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1, an epic Western starring Kevin Costner and Sienna Miller which chronicles a multi-faceted, 15-year span of pre-and post-Civil War expansion and settlement of the American west.
Streaming on Netflix is A Family Affair, a romantic comedy starring Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron about a young woman, working as the personal assistant to a self-absorbed Hollywood star, who discovers that her boss is having a secret romantic relationship with her widowed mother.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Inside Out 2

Insofar as the covid pandemic turned everything inside out, fewer studios took a harder hit than Pixar. Onward‘s March 2020 theatrical run was abruptly cut short, their next three movies debuted on Disney+ and their theatrical return with Lightyear in summer 2022 drastically underperformed at the box office. Even Elemental‘s sleeper run last year after a weak opening weekend cast doubts on the Pixar brand as the money-making juggernaut that it’s been for almost 30 years. A sequel to one of their best films certainly seems a reasonable way to get things back on track and while I have no doubt Inside Out 2 will put Pixar in a better place financially, it’s a strong achievement artistically as well. This is the studio’s best follow-up to an original IP since Toy Story 2, one that unpredictably builds on the magic of its predecessor in exciting and enchanting ways.

Two years after Inside Out, our protagonist Riley (now voiced by Kensington Tallman) is officially a teenager, which spells trouble for the five anthropomorphized emotions in her head. Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (now voiced by Tony Hale), Disgust (now voiced by Liza Lapira) and Anger (Lewis Black) seem to have a good system down, until a “Puberty Alarm” on the mind console blares out the night before Riley heads to hockey camp. Suddenly, new emotions pop up in headquarters and start taking over, the most quarrelsome being Anxiety (Maya Hawke). Less bothersome but still impactful are others newcomers Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser). Anxious to take over, Anxiety banishes the original five from the control room, who spend most of the film working their way back to balance out Riley’s emotional state.

As much as Inside Out was a coming-of-age story about the value of the basic emotions in the human experience, Inside Out 2 examines the more complicated feelings that crop up as we get older. Anxiety, then, is something of a perfect antagonist this time around, as it’s not simply happy or sad as it’s ceaselessly energetic. Maya Hawke does a terrific job at capturing the manic and infectious timbre that approximates the sounds anxiety would make if it could be personified. Amy Poehler is excellent again as Joy, who tries to align her goals with Anxiety but demonstrates that the paths to get there are drastically different. Of course, the ideal would be to have a balance of all these emotions but the teenage years are all about things being thrown out of whack and the bustling power struggle between Joy and Anxiety is a superb cipher for this stage of life.

Just as Inside Out 2 makes room for more complex emotions and thornier narrative implications, it also deepens the original’s adroitness for visualizing psychological concepts. Building on the lessons learned from that chapter, Joy creates a “Sense Of Self” section of Riley’s head, where the multi-colored memory orbs introduced in Inside Out float on a translucent lake where elegant strands spring out of the water. When plucked, these strings echo affirmations like “I’m a good person” and analogize one’s self-esteem. After Anxiety takes the wheel, these threads turn jagged and contain thoughts like “if I make the hockey team, I won’t be alone.” Now, a more simple animated movie would have these be purely negative thoughts that obviously need to go but “if I’m good at hockey, I’ll have friends” isn’t a bad sentiment on its own. The issue is how Anxiety applies these thoughts to Riley’s psyche, beautifully capturing how logical fallacies, thought loops and cognitive biases can crop up in our brains.

Building upon the incredible “abstract thought” section of Inside Out, the sequel implements different animation styles for several new characters that pop up during Joy and company’s journey back to headquarters. 2D remnants from a TV show Riley watched when she was younger, Bloofy and Pouchy (voiced by Ron Funches and James Austin Johnson, respectively), toss out questions to a non-existent audience in the back of Riley’s mind. There’s also the Final Fantasy-influenced Lance Slashblade and ominous Deep Dark Secret, who incidentally looks like the Paul Walter Hauser-voiced character from this year’s Orion And The Dark. There’s also a frantic setpiece involving a house-of-cards cubicle farm of Projections that sneaks in clever references to both 1984 and the “distracted boyfriend” meme. As much as I love Inside Out, I didn’t expect to enjoy a sequel to it quite this much but Inside Out 2 is a fully-realized successor that delights and surprises with its imagination and ingenuity.

Score – 4/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters is The Bikeriders, a crime drama starring Jodie Comer and Austin Butler which tells the true story of the Chicago outlaw motorcycle club known as the Vandals MC as their club evolves over the course of the 1960s.
Also coming to theaters is The Exorcism, a supernatural horror film starring Russell Crowe and Sam Worthington about a troubled actor who begins to exhibit a disruptive — and possibly demonic — behavior while shooting a supernatural horror film.
Streaming on Netflix is Trigger Warning, an action thriller starring Jessica Alba and Anthony Michael Hall following a skilled Special Forces commando who takes ownership of her father’s bar after he suddenly dies and soon finds herself at odds with a violent gang running rampant in her hometown.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Marvelous Mrs. Meryl: The Deer Hunter

Originally posted on Midwest Film Journal

At this point, it’s difficult to imagine that another performer will top Meryl Streep’s record for Oscar nominations in the acting categories. Over the past 45 years, she’s been nominated for either Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress a combined 21 times. It’s a mind-blowing figure and while acting awards don’t mean everything, they certainly contribute to Streep’s status as one of the most gifted actresses in film history. Her first Oscar win came in 1980 for her work in the divorce drama Kramer Vs. Kramer but her first nomination came the year prior for a film that had nominations in 8 other categories and wins in 5. Though The Deer Hunter can be seen as a movie dominated by masculinity, Streep provides a crucial counterbalance in a role that helped shoot the young actress into stardom.

Set during the late 60s in the Southern Steel Valley near Pittsburgh, The Deer Hunter centers around the relationship between three close friends before, during and after their deployment in Vietnam. The leader of the trio is Mike (Robert De Niro), who everyone seems to instinctually follow out of the steel mill when the 5 o’clock bell has rung. Right by his side is Nick (Christopher Walken), who is housemates and likely best friends with Mike as well. Then there’s the soft-spoken Steven (John Savage), who may not have Mike or Nick’s assertiveness but has loyalty to spare, evidenced by the fact that he’s marrying Angela (Rutanya Alda) even though she’s pregnant with another man’s baby. Shortly after Steven and Angela’s spirited wedding, the three men go off to war and what they experience together alters their relationship with each other and their community forever.

Streep plays Linda, whose soft features and warm demeanor have captured the affection of both Mike and Nick. She’s introduced in The Deer Hunter adorn with a lovely bridesmaid’s dress while anxiously preparing a meal for her alcoholic and abusive father. In an attempt to flee from his monstrous presence, she asks Nick if she can stay at their house while they go on a hunting trip and later when they go overseas to fight. Later at the wedding, Nick returns the favor and hastily ups the ante with an even more serious question: asking if she’ll marry him. Even though glances across the dance floor imply that she also has feelings for Mike too, she excitedly says “yes” to Nick’s proposal and awaits their return home so they can have a wedding of their own.

The second act of the film largely centers on the three brothers in arms during their time in the Vietnam War, which leave each of them broken in different ways. Steven loses both of his legs due to a fall from a helicopter, while a PTSD-ridden Nick goes AWOL and recklessly drifts from one Chinese gambling den to another. Mike returns to his small hometown of Clairton and while Linda is overjoyed to see him, she is understandably worried about her absent fiancé. The final act is where Streep’s performance really shines, imbued with quiet yearning and shattering heartache that realigns the emotional core of the film. After Mike finds Linda crying in the grocery store where she works, Linda laments “did you ever think life would turn out like this?” to him in the car a moment later.

As it turns out, Streep may have been mining from ongoing personal experiences when crafting her Oscar-nominated performance. During the filming of The Deer Hunter, Streep was in a committed relationship with John Cazale, who also stars in the movie as one of Mike’s hunting buddies in his final film role. Tragically, Cazale was diagnosed with lung cancer that quickly spread to his bones, a fact that he withheld from the production studio EMI because he was worried he would be pulled from the production for insurance reasons. Robert De Niro was fully behind his friend and co-star, threatening to walk if the EMI dismissed him from set and, as it was finally revealed just a few years ago, De Niro was the one who paid Cazale’s insurance premium so he could stay on. Since the clock was ticking, director Michael Cimino shot all of Cazale’s scenes first and sadly, Cazale passed shortly after filming wrapped.

Even though Streep and Cazale don’t share many scenes together in The Deer Hunter, the real-life events give both of their performances an added layer of sorrow even independent of one another. ”I was so close that I hadn’t noticed his deterioration,” Streep later said of Cazale. ”John’s death came as a shock to me because I didn’t expect it.” In the film, Linda doesn’t deal with the same circumstances that Streep had to travail off-set but her character does suffer heartbreak and loss all the same. When Linda first embraces Mike upon his arrival home, she lets out such a cry of relief and surprise that it hits the senses like a thunderbolt. But when she realizes that Nick isn’t going to make it back, her spirit sinks as high as it rose when Mike hugged her at their door. Streep doesn’t have an abundance of screen time in The Deer Hunter but she pours her heart into every second that she’s on screen.

The Watchers

This summer, one Shyamalan simply isn’t sufficient. While M. Night Shyamalan has the concert-set thriller Trap due out this August, his daughter Ishana Night Shyamalan has struck first blood with The Watchers, a supernatural horror offering based on A.M. Shine’s breakthrough novel. Though she’s worked as second unit director on her father’s recent films Old and Knock At The Cabin, while also writing and directing a handful of episodes for the Apple TV+ series Servant, this is Ishana’s first time writing and directing for the big screen. Her directorial debut displays promise from the outset with a tantalizing hook and properly spooky atmosphere but eventually comes undone with inconsistent pacing and telegraphed third-act developments.

The Watchers centers around Mina (Dakota Fanning), a young American stuck in the haze of her troubled past while working at a pet shop in Ireland. Tasked with delivering a prized parrot to a customer hours away from the store, Mina finds herself lost in the deep Irish forest with a broken down car. Soon night falls and worrisome noises draw her to the only building in the area and a woman called Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), who is standing by the open door offering Mina shelter. The situation doesn’t get any less strange when Madeline demands that Mina stand with her, along with two other lost forest dwellers Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), in front of a one way mirror so the quartet can be observed by an unseen entity. Can the four of them find their way out of the woods before the creatures they call “The Watchers” penetrate their bunker?

Like her father’s most memorable movies, Ishana Night Shyamalan’s The Watchers has a high-concept premise perfect for an enticing teaser trailer, which fittingly debuted before fellow Warner Bros release Dune: Part Two earlier this year. From a marketing perspective, it’s fortunate that the clip features the most accomplished stretch of filmmaking front-and-center. The four members of “The Coop”, the characters’ name for the enclosure they find themselves in, kill time playing records and DVDs until the sun goes down and ritual dictates that they gather in front of the glass to be “watched”. It’s a juxtaposition between mundane domesticity and paranormal ceremony previously employed by similarly grabby entertainments like Lost and 10 Cloverfield Lane.

It’s never an easy thing to follow up on such a persuasive pitch with a narrative that cleverly unpacks the opening gambit and that’s where The Watchers predictably falters. The more we learn about the titular observers, the less interesting the story at large becomes. Instead of focusing on the troublesome and tense aspects of sharing a confined living space with three other strangers, Shyamalan decides to press forward with the more generic horror elements of her tale instead. It’s not necessarily that the reveal of who The Watchers are is disappointing but as a director, Shyamalan can’t exactly figure out where she wants to take things from there. Once the bird flies the proverbial coop, it doesn’t land in territory we haven’t seen dozens of times before.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have appealing aspects. It’s exceptionally well shot by cinematographer Eli Arenson, who beautifully captures both the haunting beauty of the Irish countryside and the chilly interiority of The Coop. The shots of Mina and the others interacting with the one way mirror are aided by gorgeous computer-generated effects that gorgeously render reflections that point to the movie’s theme of doubles and competing halves of one’s identity. It’s also nice to see Dakota Fanning in a starring role again after a smaller part in last year’s The Equalizer 3. Even if her character’s personal journey isn’t quite as interesting as the supernatural elements at play, Fanning makes Mina a protagonist with whom it’s easy to sympathize. The Watchers isn’t the strongest start for Ishana Night Shyamalan but there are still seeds of a promising storyteller to watch for.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing exclusively in theaters is Inside Out 2, an animated sequel starring Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith following the personified emotions of a teenage girl as new feelings like Anxiety and Envy enter the mix.
Screening at Cinema Center is Tuesday, a fantasy drama starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Lola Petticrew about a mother and her terminally ill daughter as they’re visited by a size-altering macaw that’s the personification of death.
Streaming on Hulu is Brats, a documentary about the Brat Pack, a group of young actors who frequently appeared together in coming-of-age films in the 1980s, and the impact on their lives and careers.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

In A Violent Nature

Years ago, GEICO had an ad spoofing the stupidity of horror movie protagonists where a group of teens on the run from a killer opt to hide behind a wall of hanging chainsaws over hopping in a running car. Following their decision, we get a close-up of the killer standing right behind them, who lifts up his mask to reveal how befuddled and somehow disappointed he is by their idiocy. The new Canadian slasher film In A Violent Nature hinges on a hook left hanging by the ad: what if we spent a whole horror movie following the deranged murderer instead of the clueless campers? There have been so many Friday The 13th sequels, it’s a wonder they hadn’t tried it before but now that it’s finally here, I only wish that it had come sooner; it’s the best movie of its subgenre since last year’s Thanksgiving.

We open on a static shot of a locket hanging on a beam in a deep woods abandoned shed, where voices talk out of frame and a hand belonging to Troy (Liam Leone) reaches out to nab the jewelry. Little does he know, that necklace is all that was keeping the decades-old corpse of Johnny (Ry Barrett) buried in the ground and moments after Troy departs with his buddies, the zombified Johnny wriggles free from his earthy prison. We stick with him as he wanders through the forests of Ontario, silently watching over a campfire where the group of friends swap scary stories. They eventually bring up the White Pine Slaughter, an urban legend where an unseen force allegedly got brutal revenge on a group of loggers who covered up the murder of the “mentally hindered” Johnny when he was just a boy. Unfortunately for them, the revenge isn’t quite over yet.

After this bit of exposition, In A Violent Nature doesn’t bother to explain much more along the lines of character motivation as, in one sense, we’ve seen this movie before. Once Johnny claims his first victim, the survival instincts of the remaining campers reliably kick in and they attempt to take actions that won’t instantly doom them. By keeping the perspective on the zombified killer as he lumbers through nature, it could be said that Johnny is the closest thing the film has to a true protagonist. We aren’t exactly rooting for him to kill everyone in this group…but aren’t we? He’s modeled very similarly to Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked face of the Friday The 13th series who drowned as a boy at Camp Crystal Lake due to the negligence of the staff. If Jason can be seen as the “hero” of that franchise, then it’s not difficult to view Johnny in the same way here.

Though In A Violent Nature has long takes and a slower pace, don’t let that fool you into thinking that the movie takes itself too seriously. Some of the kills here are the most gloriously over-the-top that I’ve seen in a slasher, including a cliffside slaughtering that is so immoderate that it’s difficult not to chuckle. That’s not to say that this is a horror comedy but it certainly knows where it came from and leans into the camp of its predecessors. In his debut, writer/director Chris Nash has clearly done his homework, thought about what we’ve already seen before in these films and then commits to how to give us a new perspective. Plot-wise, this movie is hardly reinventing the wheel but in terms of direction, it’s pretty much one-of-a-kind.

Another way that In A Violent Nature carves out its own path is in its audio presentation, which forgoes a musical score for the eerie sounds of the deep forest and the detailed sound design during the slayings. It’s another way that the movie is a subtractive exercise, taking away the conventions upon which audiences typically rely to heighten the overall experience. In a brief sequence that is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, one of the characters is running fast enough that her white shirt is barely visible and her screams are barely audible over the ominous symphony of cicada chirps. It sets up a denouement that is more tense and unnerving than the brutality that precedes it, capping off In A Violent Nature as appointment viewing for horror fans.

Score – 4/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Bad Boys: Ride Or Die, a buddy cop action comedy starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reuniting a pair of Miami PD’s finest as they investigate corruption in the department but subsequently find themselves on the run.
Also playing in theaters is The Watchers, a supernatural horror film starring Dakota Fanning and Georgina Campbell following a young artist who gets stranded in the forest and becomes trapped alongside three strangers, who are stalked by mysterious creatures each night.
Premiering on Netflix is Hit Man, a romantic action comedy starring Glen Powell and Adria Arjona involving a professor moonlighting as a hit man for his city police department who finds himself attracted to a woman who enlists his services.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Back in 2015, the Mad Max franchise got a fast and furious revitalization with the universally-lauded Mad Max: Fury Road, which introduced the fearless Imperator Furiosa, portrayed by Charlize Theron. To fill out his Mad Max universe a bit more, mastermind George Miller has returned to direct Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, a prequel that doesn’t necessarily improve its predecessor but at least gives us an excuse to revisit this vivid and distinctive cinematic landscape. For some, the film will come across as a sampler platter that cobbles together aspects of the franchise to make a decent enough meal. For others, this could be seen as the most accessible chapter in the series and might be an unexpected favorite for those who haven’t spent much time in this world yet. For me, it’s an improvement on Fury Road but still falls short of the mark of greatness.

Filling in for Charlize Theron, Anya Taylor-Joy and Alyla Browne play younger versions of the Furiosa we knew from Fury Road. We first meet her in the heart of the Green Place, an oasis in the otherwise barren wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia. When a biker gang from the outside world stumbles upon their paradise, Furiosa is kidnapped and taken back to the gang’s leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) as a bargaining chip to find the Green Place once more. That plan doesn’t come to fruition, so he later trades her to warlord and Citadel leader Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) in exchange for control over an oil refinery called Gastown. The agreement between Dementus and Joe doesn’t take long to sour, leading Furiosa and fellow Citadel soldier Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) to lead an assault on Gastown and reclaim it for the Citadel.

Where Fury Road was essentially a two hour-long chase with brief interjections of character development, Furiosa is more conventional in terms of its narrative arc. It’s still an action movie through and through but there are more scenes that are dialogue-driven and meant to dig in deeper with their characters. Ironically, Furiosa is a very tight-lipped character and even fakes being mute for a section of the film, which leads one to wonder why Miller thought this was the best character to put at the center of a spin-off. Fortunately, Anya Taylor-Joy is able to tell much of Furiosa’s backstory with her expressive face and impressive physicality. As good an actress as Charlize Theron is, I’m glad they didn’t try to cast her again and de-age her with CG effects. Taylor-Joy does a tremendous job filling some presumably sand-filled combat boots.

As with Fury Road, the main selling point of Furiosa is the impeccably coordinated action setpieces involving overpowered automobiles and the madmen who crawl in and out of them at top speeds. Perhaps I was even more taken with them this time around because there’s more breathing room around them. The film is split up into 5 chapters and the middle section, titled “The Stowaway”, is 30 minutes of stellar action choreography that benefits from being preceded by scenes of more subdued tension. Set around the Citadel’s “War Rig” tanker as it’s being ambushed by raiders en route, the extended sequence features one ingenious moment of kinetic precision after another. Attacks not only come from the ground all around the War Rig but also from the sky, thanks to parasailing bandits who latch onto the tanker.

On paper, Furiosa could be considered a disappointment in terms of what a prequel should do. It doesn’t really expand on the mythology of this world, nor does it give us a much better sense of who Furiosa was before the events of Fury Road. It’s also about 30 minutes longer than its 2015 companion and, at times, feels its length. And yet, the movie delivers simply because the world that George Miller has created is so spectacularly different from anything else out there in the cinematic realm. The characters are so bizarre, the setting is immaculately rendered and the timbre of the action is a gleeful lunacy that no other director can convincingly replicate. Furiosa might be frustrating for those who consider Fury Road an instant classic but I found the balance of action and story worked even better than I expected.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Ezra, a dramedy starring Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne about a stand-up comedian who goes on a life-changing cross-country road trip with his autistic son.
Also playing only in theaters is In A Violent Nature, a slasher starring Ry Barrett and Andrea Pavlovic which follows a mute killer who targets a group of teenagers in the Ontario wilderness, with the events observed largely from the killer’s perspective.
Streaming on Max is The Great Lillian Hall, a drama starring Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates about a beloved Broadway actress who begins to forget her lines and must reckon with the sacrifices she made for her career.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

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