Flora And Son

Few people have translated to film the unique and powerful way that music brings people together better than writer/director John Carney. His films Once, Begin Again and Sing Street aren’t exactly musicals, in the traditional sense, but they all involve characters who are transformed by their musical experiences with one another. As one may imagine, they all also feature terrific original songs too, with Once‘s “Falling Slowly” even picking up an Oscar for Best Original Song in 2008. In these ways, his new film Flora And Son fits in very nicely with the rest of his filmography, retaining the traits of Carney’s other work while breaking the mold some with characters that have a bit more of an edge to them. The movie is ultimately as earnest and sweet as the other entries in what could be considered his “Music Cinematic Universe” but I appreciated that he made the main players here a bit more messy.

The titular character in Flora And Son, played by Eve Hewson, is a single mother in Dublin trying her best to keep her troubled teenage son Max (Orén Kinlan) out of trouble. Money’s tight and jobs are scarce but after leaving her babysitting gig one day, Flora finds a beat-up acoustic guitar that she fixes up at a local guitar shop to give to Max for his birthday. It turns out he doesn’t care to learn guitar, favoring hip hop and electronic music instead, so Flora decides to take initiative herself and start guitar lessons online with California-based teacher Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It’s a development that comes to the surprise of her ex Ian (Jack Reynor), whose rock and roll days as bassist in a band seemed to be behind him but could return if it means getting closer to his son Max.

One of the ways Flora And Son expands on the music-centric inclinations of Carney’s previous output is the way that he depicts how technology can shorten the distance between people trying to make a connection. In a funny montage, Flora scrolls through various YouTube guitar tutors and is turned off by their ostentatious openers and tiresome theatrics. She admits to Jeff that the reason she chose him as a virtual guitar teacher is because he seems more authentic than the rest of the “posers” out there on the Internet. Remote learning certainly existed before the pandemic and certainly still has its obstacles but Carney reminds us how miraculous it is that we can communicate with others across the planet in real time. When you bring music into the equation, the connections can become that much more inspiring and soul-strengthening.

Carney’s films are often hopelessly romantic and Flora And Son is no exception. Though Hewson and Gordon-Levitt initially communicate through their respective laptops, it doesn’t take long for movie magic to depict them in the same setting, even though they’re not actually physically present with one another. It’s a smart directorial choice, allowing the two actors to break out of the limitations of a computer screen and occupy the same shared space. The duo have an easy chemistry with one another and relay their fears and dreams with heart-on-one’s-sleeve abandon. Gordon-Levitt has a bit of a softie persona as is and while it’s undoubtedly a welcome sight to see him singing his heart out with an acoustic guitar, it’s also exciting to see Hewson’s character soften her edges some as the movie progresses.

I’m also encouraged by how Flora And Son drives home how relatively easy it is for anybody to engage with music creation in one way or another. Though Max turns down the guitar, Flora finds out later on that he’s been making beats and crafting verses in GarageBand, a music program that comes pre-installed on all Apple computers. When he unplugs his headphones and plays a track of his through a set of Genelec speakers, Flora sees her son in a new light and even starts improv singing a hook over the music bed. It opens up a new world for them and also opens the door for some reconciliation with Flora’s ex-husband Ian too, who has been adrift in life after giving up his music. Flora And Son knows that life as a professional musician isn’t for everyone but even a little bit of musical expression in one’s life can be massively rewarding.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Creator, starring John David Washington and Gemma Chan, is a sci-fi action thriller set in a future where humans are at war with artificial intelligence, in which a former soldier finds a robot in the form of a young child who holds the key to a world-ending weapon.
Saw X, starring Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith, is a horror sequel that takes place weeks after the events of the original Saw, where the Jigsaw Killer travels to Mexico after learning of a potential “miracle” cure for his terminal cancer.
PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie, starring Mckenna Grace and Taraji P. Henson, is an animated sequel in which a magical meteor crash lands in Adventure City and gives the PAW Patrol pups superpowers, transforming them into The Mighty Pups.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Dumb Money

The always whip-fast and sometimes whip-smart finance comedy Dumb Money opens with a definition of its title: a term for what Wall Street investors call amateur day traders looking to get a piece of the action. It functions as a cheeky biopic of very recent history, when individual “retail investors” took arms against the hedge funders who claimed to know the market better than everyday people. Based on The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, the author whose The Accidental Billionaires served as the basis for David Fincher’s The Social Network, this alt-finance David and Goliath story cuts corners to maintain its nimble pace at the expense of its characters. But in their tightly-allotted screen time, every member of the impressive ensemble cast cashes in with moments of wit and humanity that pay dividends.

It’s the summer of 2020 and YouTuber Keith Gill (Paul Dano) has a bit of a wild idea. As his social media persona Roaring Kitty, he tells his fanbase he’s invested over $50,000 of his personal savings in video game retailer GameStop, which was trading for about $3 a share at the time. Thanks to the hive mind of the subreddit r/WallStreetBets, users from all walks of life, like college students Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold) to nurse Jennifer (America Ferrera) and store clerk Marcus (Anthony Ramos), begin to invest. Soon enough, the phenomenon of the “meme stock” is born, to the chagrin of hedge fund managers like Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), who have effectively bet against GameStop. The short squeeze triggers a congressional hearing that also implicates Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan), the mind behind the brokerage app that made the tsunami of trading possible.

The reasonable question to ask going into Dumb Money is “how much do I need to know about investing to keep up with this movie?” While director Craig Gillespie won’t expect you to know the intricacies of the stock market or the purview of the House Banking Committee, it would help going in to know how apps like Reddit and Robinhood generally work. Thankfully, Gillespie doesn’t resort to the glib fourth-wall breaks that plagued The Big Short and his previous biopic I, Tonya. He trusts scribes Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo to lay out what we need to know on the financial side and have the interpersonal conflicts fill in the gaps. The script also throws out fun tidbits like the fact that GameStop was able to be deemed an “essential business” during the covid pandemic simply because they sell computer mice.

Understandably, the easiest way into this story is through Gill and Dano continues a strong streak of lived-in and accessible performances that shed the self-conscious insularity of his earlier work. While the movie seems to sell Gill short in terms of his real-life sound financial analysis, instead portraying him as more of a cat-crazy goofball, Dano imbues the character with a spirited underdog quality that makes him difficult to root against. Pete Davidson also serves as a fun comic foil to Keith as his slacker brother Kevin, who teases him both in real life and behind an internet cipher, all while borrowing his car without asking. When Keith sets Kevin straight on the difference between Jimmy Buffett and Warren Buffett, Kevin retorts, “see, you’re neither of the Buffetts!”

In addition to the The Accidental Billionaires connection, Dumb Money aims to be the rabble-rousing younger brother to The Social Network in several other ways. Its brisk pace across numerous players and locations is assured by editor Kirk Baxter, who won an Oscar with Angus Wall for assembling David Fincher’s 2010 masterpiece. The misguided music score by Will Bates tries desperately to mimic the nervy propulsion behind Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s brilliant music for that same movie. But of course, both films are telling true stories based around technology that were turned around into the cinematic realm quite quickly; The Antisocial Network is just barely two years old and we already have a movie based on it. Dumb Money may be short-sighted in its summation of the real-life events but it’s a flashy and fun way into the rapidly-changing world of DIY investing.

Score – 3/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Expend4bles, an action sequel starring Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone continuing the adventures of a band of mercenaries who have been tasked with a mission to stop a terrorist organization that aims to ignite a conflict between Russia and the U.S.
Also playing exclusively in theaters is It Lives Inside, a supernatural horror movie starring Megan Suri and Neeru Bajwa about a teenager who has a falling out with her former best friend and, in the process, unwittingly releases a demonic entity that grows stronger by feeding on her loneliness.
Streaming on Hulu is No One Will Save You, a sci-fi thriller starring Kaitlyn Dever and Dari Lynn Griffin following an exiled anxiety-ridden homebody as she battles an alien who’s found its way into her home.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Shiva Baby writer and director Emma Seligman teams back up with its star Rachel Sennott for Bottoms, another sex comedy that’s paradoxically weirder and somehow more mainstream than Seligman’s 2020 debut. As co-writers this time, Seligman and Sennott have created a vision of modern high school life so farcical that it occasionally makes John Hughes High from Not Another Teen Movie seem authentic by comparison. The football players are effeminate wimps who dance to “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” during chore time, while the cheerleaders forgo choreographed routines in favor of wet T-shirt displays. A prominently-displayed poster in the hallway implores “You’re prettier when you SMILE! He could be looking at you right now!” My advice for those going into this movie is don’t take it too seriously because it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Bottoms stars Sennott as PJ, a brash but awkward high schooler who spends almost all of her time with the comparatively more reserved Josie (Ayo Edebiri) as they pine for a pair of cheerleaders. PJ fancies Brittany (Kaia Gerber), while Josie has a thing for Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), though neither of the girls have the social currency to make the relationships happen. A so-called violent altercation with star quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine) causes Josie to lie to their principal about a self-defense class that she runs with PJ, one that they subsequently start when they get the sense it could draw Brittany and Isabel in. Loosely supervised by their teacher Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch), the program quickly devolves into a “fight club” where classmates like Hazel (Ruby Cruz) use the opportunity to vent their frustrations through fisticuffs.

The central conceit of Bottoms plays with Gen Z’s concepts of masculinity vs. femininity and spectrum sexuality but its treatment of the material harkens back to pervy throwback comedies from Animal House to Revenge Of The Nerds. Anyone going into this film expecting something more buttoned-up because it depicts a generation some perceive as “perpetually offended” might be surprised how far the humor goes in places. There were a couple jokes involving sexual assault and suicide that I thought tested the boundaries of good taste and even though my laughter was laced with nervousness, I laughed nonetheless. Some of the seemingly one-off bits also set up running jokes, as when Josie uses shorthand with the school janitor to ask him to paint over presumably often-written homophobic slurs on her and PJ’s lockers.

Though it’s not as strong a film as Booksmart, Bottoms feels like even more of a spiritual successor to Superbad than Booksmart does in hindsight. Sennott channels the loudmouth desperation of Jonah Hill’s Seth, while Edebiri echoes a placid sweetness similar to that of Michael Cera’s Evan. Like Hill in Superbad, Sennott occasionally pushes her character into places of unpleasantness that can make her difficult to root for at times but her comedic sensibilities remain strong regardless. Edebiri continues her superb streak of summer successes with a winning combination of brains and charm that flourishes most during the movie’s myriad scenes of improvisation. But the biggest surprise is Lynch, the former NFL running back whose comedy career may have begun the day he repeated the phrase “I’m here so I won’t get get fined” to the media leading up to Super Bowl XLIX. He has a great knack for delivery and I hope directors continue to find ways to use “Beast Mode” in comedies down the road.

Like her 78-minute feature debut Shiva Baby, Seligman paces Bottoms breathlessly, barely allowing for any character development and sometimes stepping over jokes that could use a little more screen time. There’s a subplot involving a conniving footballer played by Miles Fowler that is such a cliché that the excuse Sennott and Seligman would likely come up with about how it’s making fun of said cliché doesn’t quite cut it. The film works best when it briefly subverts teen comedy beats rather than relying on them for the narrative, as when a female classmate proclaims “I’m going to reverse-stalk my stalker!” after Josie delivers an impassioned speech. At the end of the day, the most important aspect of a comedy is the strength of its jokes and more often than not, the laughs in Bottoms are tops.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing exclusively in theaters is A Haunting In Venice, a new Hercule Poirot mystery starring Kenneth Branagh and Kyle Allen, in which the famed detective has another case to solve after a séance he reluctantly attends produces a murder.
Streaming on Netflix is Love At First Sight, a romantic comedy starring Haley Lu Richardson and Ben Hardy about a couple passengers who spontaneously begin to fall for each other on their international flight from New York to London.
Premiering on Amazon Prime is A Million Miles Away, a true story starring Michael Peña and Rosa Salazar which tells the tale of the first migrant farmworker to ever travel to space.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Equalizer 3

When it comes to Hollywood math, only one sequel doesn’t quite square the equation and so, nine years after vigilante actioner The Equalizer, we have a trilogy capper in the form of The Equalizer 3. Only somewhat less unnecessary than the 2018 follow-up that preceded it, this final chapter is the shortest of the three films, even though it doesn’t always feel like it due to the uneven pacing from returning director Antoine Fuqua. Though this does have some of the brutal violence that’s come to define this series, The Equalizer 3 is also the least action-heavy in the trilogy but at least it’s in favor of a more contemplative character study about a hitman coming to terms with his life of murder. The movie luxuriates in its coastal Italian setting with gorgeous cinematography from Robert Richardson and tries to capture the nuances of Italian culture when it’s not indulging in farcical stereotypes.

We open in Sicily, where one-man wrecking machine Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is waiting for a mafia boss at his winery with a dozen of his bodyguards dead throughout the compound. McCall finishes his business there after the kingpin arrives there but sustains a bullet wound in the back during the action that ensues, leaving him scrambling near the Amalfi Coast. He’s taken in by a friendly doctor named Enzo (Remo Girone) back to his quaint home town of Altamonte, where McCall takes time to recover from his injury and, in the process, finds a soft spot for the kind people who have welcomed him there. Despite the peaceful locale, trouble brews under the surface as mob enforcer Marco (Andrea Dodero) shakes up local restaurant owners for money and crosses McCall in the midst of his misdeeds.

When McCall inevitably dispatches Marco and his accompanying thugs, the aftermath triggers involvement from a young CIA agent played by Dakota Fanning, who travels to Italy to sniff McCall out. Washington and Fanning previously worked together for Tony Scott’s Man On Fire when Fanning was just 9 years old and aside from the novelty of the reunion, the two have a fun cat-and-mouse energy that gives The Equalizer 3 a boost from time to time. Unfortunately, her character’s presence also comes with strings attached in the form of a superfluous subplot steeped in the Syrian drug trade that makes the story more complicated than it needs to be. There’s a stretch in the middle of the film where Denzel disappears from the movie entirely and alternating scenes of interrogation and tough guy intimidation temporarily render the narrative indecipherable.

Naturally, this movie needs Denzel and apart from the scant scenes of savage score-settling, The Equalizer 3 finds a bit of a groove in McCall reckoning with the violent life that he’s led. The first two films find his character trying to pass the time and distract himself by working at a hardware store or as a Lyft driver but this entry feels like a proper “retirement” installment. Though action movies from earlier this year like Fast X and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One had detours in Italy, this movie actually finds purpose in the location and goes a bit deeper than the picturesque scenery. McCall strikes up a kinship with a waitress played by Gaia Scodellaro, who serves as his guide around the village as he gets to know the shopkeepers and street merchants in the area. He feels as though he could live the rest of his life there and Fuqua adds some elegant touches that make us believe it.

Conversely, the antagonistic forces in The Equalizer 3 couldn’t be implemented much more inelegantly than they are. Marco is really the only villain with even a trace of a personality to him and when he’s offed, it’s up to his big brother and his attaché of goons to pick up the slack. This series isn’t known for its richly-rendered baddies but at least Fuqua and recurring scribe Richard Wenk had the good sense to give the over-the-top villain of the inaugural entry a fittingly ridiculous name of Teddy Rensen. None of the faceless thugs here come close to the menace that Marton Csokas creates in his performance as Rensen in The Equalizer or that Pedro Pascal does for The Equalizer 2, which is problematic for a concluding chapter. If you’re not going to have a strong villain, at the very least don’t have a scene of henchmen chewing on pasta and gulping wine as they stand around a table trying to figure out how to deal with the protagonist like they do here. Fans of Denzel Washington can at least celebrate the fact that The Equalizer 3 means the equation is complete and the venerable actor can lend his considerable talents elsewhere.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters is The Nun II, a supernatural horror film starring Taissa Farmiga and Jonas Bloquet about a strong evil that haunts a town in 1950s France as word gets out that a priest has been violently murdered there.
Also coming to theaters is My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, a romcom sequel starring Nia Vardalos and John Corbett which finds the Portokalos family on a trip to Greece for a family reunion after the death of one of their beloved family members.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Sitting In Bars With Cake, a dramedy starring Yara Shahidi and Odessa A’zion which follows two best friends in their 20s navigating life in L.A when one of the pair receives a life-altering diagnosis.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup