Tag Archives: 2/5

Gran Turismo

Sony takes another shot at adapting a popular PlayStation series for the big screen with Gran Turismo, a stock sports biopic to go along with their stock action-adventure Uncharted from last year. This year’s offering inherently has a bit more going for it, as the racing genre naturally translates to the cinematic and tying the video game to real-life events also hits Hollywood’s penchant for true stories. There are some reliably exciting race sequences in the film, and some augmented effects that help unpack the mechanics of the sport, but the narrative itself is frustratingly frictionless. Outside of the actual race scenes, director Neill Blomkamp isn’t able to develop or sustain authentic stakes for his characters, instead relying on ineffectual antagonists that get shuffled around chumps like at the bottom of a leaderboard.

The film begins with marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) pitching an idea to Nissan International that involves getting the best Gran Turismo gamers in the world behind the wheel of actual race cars. Soon enough, GT Academy is born and Moore has to find someone who can turn these virtual motorists into qualified competitors on the racing circuit. Enter Jack Salter (David Harbour), a gruff, washed-up former driver who would rather take a chance on bedroom dwellers than suffer the arrogance of affluent posers who think they can buy their way into the sport. An online tournament is held and 9 sim racers are selected for the Academy; among them is Cardiff-based Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), whose father Steve (Djimon Hounsou) was a notable pro footballer. Despite their differences in temperament and skill set, Jann and Jack weave through the obstacles of the international racing scene together.

The mentor-mentee relationship between Jack and Jann is just one of the many tropes Gran Turismo indulges in its narrative but Harbour and Madekwe give everything they can to characters that are routinely underwritten. The pair is also saddled with repetitive and derivative dialogue at every turn; if I had a dollar for every time Jack barked some variation of “this isn’t a video game; this is real life!”, I’d have enough to buy my own Nissan GT-R sports car. Despite this, their performances are about the only thing worthwhile off the track in the movie and the scenes where their characters find ways to relate their experiences to one another are the clear high points. Bloom, on the other hand, is playing to the rafters with every line and lends zero discernible personality traits to his already paper-thin character.

Where Gran Turismo fails as an underdog sports movie is giving the audience a sense of how the protagonist actually works his way up from the bottom to be a champion. This seems like a given but the actual “how” behind a video gamer turning into a pro racer leaves plenty to examine in ways that an okay boxer turning into a great boxer in another story would be self-evident via training montage. Sure, Gran Turismo has montages where Jann deftly avoids the chopping block at the Academy and seems to progress as an actual racer but the movie never really delves into what prepares him for expertise in this world outside of knowing the tracks from the game. Too often, Blomkamp sidesteps process in favor of platitudes and keeps us out of the driver’s seat when it comes to involving us in Jann’s evolution.

With its central theme of partnership in racing and a climax set during the 24 Hours Of Le Mans race, it seems inevitable to compare this movie to 2019’s Ford v Ferrari, which smokes Gran Turismo in every category. But the most important way that film succeeds in comparison is that it works hard to convey the sensation of how it feels to be behind the wheel of one of these powerful vehicles. For all of its footage of competition and cars zooming by, Gran Turismo feels comparatively artificial and less tangible, likely due to the sometimes jerky CG effects in the sequences where cars collide with one another. The film is based on a video game and, at times, simply feels like watching a video game play out. For fans of the Gran Turismo franchise, that may be enough to rev up their engines but most moviegoers will feel like they got stuck with a lemon.

Score – 2/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is The Hill, a sports biopic starring Dennis Quaid and Colin Ford about the real-life journey of baseball player Rickey Hill and his struggle with a degenerative spinal disease as his fights to join Major League Baseball.
Premiering on Netflix is You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah, a family dramedy starring Sunny Sandler and Samantha Lorraine about a pair of best friends whose plans for their respective coming-of-age parties are threatened by middle school drama.
Streaming on Hulu is Vacation Friends 2, a buddy comedy sequel starring Lil Rel Howery and John Cena about a couple who meets up with another couple while on vacation in Mexico and sees their friendship take an awkward turn when they get back home.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Insidious: The Red Door

After stalling out with a pair of tenuously-related prequels, the Insidious franchise inevitably returns to the original family that scared up millions of dollars at the box office almost a decade ago. Insidious: The Red Door is both a direct sequel to 2013’s Insidious: Chapter 2 and a purported conclusion to the entire series, although I doubt Blumhouse will be able to fight the allure of a spin-off or two. A staple in front of the camera for both the Insidious and Conjuring horror franchises, Patrick Wilson puts on the director’s cap for the first time here in a genre that he’s come to know quite well. While he has noble instincts for developing dramatic stakes and tension within supernatural sequences, he doesn’t yet have the chops to pay off those elements in fulfilling ways. This film isn’t as scary as it needs to be and it’s not as quite poignant as it wants to be either, making for a disappointing end to this otherwise great trilogy.

After having the horrifying memories of demonic possession repressed through hypnosis, Josh Lambert (Wilson) and his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) have grown apart despite their shared trauma. Seeing an opportunity for them to close the emotional gap, Josh’s ex-wife and Dalton’s mom Renai (Rose Byrne) suggests that Josh drop Dalton off for his first day at college. Though the trip ends in a bitter argument between the two, they separately have incidents that call back to their time in the perilous spirit realm known as The Further. Using their shared ability of astral projection, Josh and Dalton navigate the ghouls and lost souls that roam the creepy ghost world in order to close the door on The Further once and for all.

To the degree that Insidious: The Red Door works, it’s best realized as a sins of the father family drama about two men trying to overcome bitter estrangement and ancestral foibles. Simpkins, who was 9 years old when the first Insidious was released, has since made appearances in big budget fare from Jurassic World to Iron Man 3 and he clearly has the pedigree to play the now grown-up Dalton. He’s basically the lead this time around and he does a fine job transmuting his angry young man energy into something more tender by the movie’s conclusion. Wilson also gives a commendable performance as a man who doesn’t understand his own layers of hurt and makes an earnest effort (after initial pushback) to remedy his pain. I wish Simpkins and Wilson had more scenes together, given that their chemistry really makes their moments some of the movie’s best, but the structure of the narrative intentionally keeps their characters apart.

Regardless, most won’t go into Insidious: The Red Door expecting familial pathos and will understandably hope to be on the edge of their seat instead. Unfortunately, the horror aspects are where the film is most underwhelming, as Wilson just doesn’t quite have the knack for how to effectively pull off scares. A setup he uses frequently is that of an out-of-focus figure in the background slowly creeping towards our protagonists and while he finds a few noteworthy variations on this foundation, he doesn’t have the follow-through. Consider a scene where Josh is playing a memory game with photos on a window, where a figure he doesn’t see gets closer each time he lifts up one of the photos. Instead of having the figure’s face eventually right up to the glass, it just breaks through the window before that and spoils the setup. The rhythm with these jump scares just isn’t quite right and even those in the audience who aren’t horror connoisseurs are bound to notice.

The first two Insidious movies found a wonderful balance of time spent in the real world and time spent in The Further and not only is the ratio off in The Red Door but the look of The Further lacks the suspense that it did in those previous chapters. Director James Wan previously visualized this chilling spirit world as a reverberant abyss where a lantern could barely pierce through the darkness and fog but Wilson mostly opts for a more generic ghostly terrain when characters inhabit The Further. Cinematographer Autumn Eakin has a few tricks up her sleeve, including a sequence lit by string lights that will please fans of early Stranger Things, but the look of this film is predominantly murky. While fans of the Insidious series may appreciate the closure that The Red Door gives its characters, they’d do well to look to the first two entries for formidable frights.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters on Wednesday is Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, an action sequel starring Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell following superspy Ethan Hunt and his IMF team as they track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands.
Streaming on Netflix is Bird Box Barcelona, a post-apocalyptic horror thriller starring Mario Casas and Georgina Campbell about a father and daughter who join up with others to try and survive a dystopian future in which no one survives looking at entities that have invaded and roam the earth.
Streaming on Hulu is The Jewel Thief, a crime documentary which details the unbelievable first-hand account of Gerald Blanchard, one of the most creative, calculating and accomplished criminal masterminds in modern history.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


The pulpy actioner Hypnotic is the kind of movie that entrances one with just how many other movies it very closely resembles — say, Danny Boyle’s Trance, for starters. Its general premise has been covered before in both cinematic adaptations of Stephen King’s Firestarter and the “Pusher” episode of The X-Files, while director Robert Rodriguez borrows liberally from the styles of Rian Johnson and Christopher Nolan in the process. Heck, there was even a forgettable Netflix thriller that came out two years ago that was also titled Hypnotic and both films share similar elements of reality-bending and psychological manipulation. If the movie had managed to wield these influences wisely, then it could have been salvageable but with a progressively preposterous plot and lifeless performances, this is one you’ll want to snap away from your memory immediately.

Ben Affleck stars as Daniel Rourke, an Austin PD detective who hasn’t been the same after his daughter was abducted from a playground years prior. His partner Nicks (JD Pardo) treads lightly with him and tries to keep his head on straight as they go about their work, which includes responding to an anonymous tip at a bank one day. The appearance of a mystery man, played by William Fichtner, at the scene causes Rourke to give chase, only to be thrown off the trail by what seems to be the perp’s ability to control the minds of strangers. The bank tip is traced back to Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), a fortune teller with whom Rourke meets and learns of Hypnotics, individuals trained by a shadowy government organization to psychically control others. With the help of Diana, Rourke follows the clues that point to the powerful Hypnotic known as “Lev Dellrayne”, in the hopes that it will lead him to his missing daughter.

Most specifically, Hypnotic recalls a mid-aughts Philip K. Dick action movie adaptation like Minority Report or Next — in fact, Affleck himself even starred in one: Paycheck. Working with DP Pablo Berron, Rodriguez’s camerawork also borrows the saturated hues and harsh shadows of a Jerry Bruckheimer product from that era. Rodriguez’s screenplay, penned with co-writer Max Borenstein, similarly indulges in the hard-boiled dialogue you’d expect from a pre-Transformers Michael Bay picture. In fact, if the action in Hypnotic was more wall-to-wall and there were more explosions and lampposts, one could be convinced that this was a lost film Bay shot in secret with Affleck in between Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. Even though Bay has moved on to better fare since then, apparently Affleck inexplicably finds himself obligated to star in instantly dated potboilers like this.

It would make more sense if Affleck gave a committed or compelling performance in Hypnotic but he seems like he couldn’t care less about his character or what he’s going through. He’s almost comically gruff and stoic as our primary protagonist, until he gets completely sidelined by an avalanche of reveals and twists in the third act. Braga and Pardo don’t make much of an impression in supporting roles but they’re saddled with dialogue that’s either leaden with sci-fi exposition or cop movie clichés. “Mind control? Bank accounts? Sounds like my ex-wife!” Nicks scoffs at Diana during their first meeting. The all-too-brief presence of veteran players Jeff Fahey and Jackie Earle Haley further underscores the notion that Rodriguez should have diverted some screen time away from Affleck to highlight more engaged performances.

Though Rodriguez has often worn many hats during his previous productions, it’s not clear why he put so much of his time and effort into a project that is working at the direct-to-streaming level. He’s a fascinating filmmaker who’s working outside the traditional Hollywood machine, alternating between passion projects like Machete and family entertainment like the Spy Kids series. I don’t know where his latest venture fits within his previous filmography but I respect someone who puts everything they have into an undertaking, even if it’s ultimately unsuccessful. Rodriguez came up with this story, co-wrote the script, co-shot and co-produced the movie, along with editing it by himself. How many creatives working with a $65 million budget can say that?

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Speeding into theaters is Fast X, the tenth chapter in the Fast & Furious franchise starring Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez involving the son of a drug lord who seeks revenge on the Fast crew for the loss of his family’s fortune at their heist in Rio de Janeiro.
Streaming on Hulu is White Men Can’t Jump, a sports comedy remake starring Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow about a pair of young basketball hustlers who team up to earn extra cash.
Available to rent is Outpost, a thriller starring Beth Dover and Dylan Baker about a survivor of a violent attack who searches for strength in the solitude of a lookout job but finds that her demons are still catching up with her.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


The new horror comedy Renfield begins with a fantastic premise for a 5-minute sketch. After hearing a couple people in a self-help group share details of their toxic relationships, the titular character (played by Nicholas Hoult) opens up about how terribly his boss treats him. The support group leader (played by Brandon Scott Jones) asks Renfield what would happen if he put his needs above his boss’s, allowing Renfield to surmise that doing so “won’t allow [his boss] to grow to full power.” Dramatic irony starts to set in as we get the sense before the characters do that this isn’t a typical superior-subordinate situation, at which point Renfield’s boss crashes the meeting. Turns out, he’s Dracula (played, because of course, by Nicolas Cage) and Renfield is his familiar and personal assistant.

The problem with Renfield is simple: it doesn’t know how to meaningfully expand upon this premise. It would be fun to see how Dracula and Renfield interact, comically juxtaposing the Count’s unwavering bloodlust biddings with the typical requests an underling would fulfill at a traditional desk job. Perhaps Renfield could meet someone that he was supposed to bring to his vampiric master as bait and fall for them instead, allowing for the story to go in a more romantic direction. We get bits and pieces of those narrative inklings but the film is more interested in the bloody bits and pieces that come from a super-powered Renfield laying waste to groups of criminals. The movie takes the easy way out, centering its narrative around a trite cop-and-robbers storyline with Awkwafina playing a traffic cop looking to move up in the department and Ben Schwartz as a haywire drug dealer.

That’s not to say that Renfield doesn’t have its moments. Cage has turned the vampiric into comedic previously with 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss and he’s as good as you would expect him to be playing the most infamous bloodsucker of them all. In fact, the Vampire’s Kiss scene where Cage barks at his psychiatrist about an employee putting documents outside of alphabetical order wouldn’t even be out of place in this movie. Oddly enough, Cage’s performance here is the more restrained of the two but he still finds the right opportunities to chew (bite?) the scenery. There’s an expository scene early on that intentionally evokes the feel of the classic 1931 Dracula movie, Cage naturally channeling Bela Lugosi and all, and I wish we could have stayed in that setting longer.

Instead, director Chris McKay favors a seedy modern-day New Orleans environment similar to the one from Netflix’s Project Power starring Jamie Foxx. I wish McKay had taken more cues from Day Shift, another Jamie Foxx-starring Netflix movie that also involves vampires but delivers much more compelling action and comedy along the way. Like Cocaine Bear, another Universal Pictures movie from earlier this year, Renfield traffics in a CGI overkill of gleeful violence that isn’t as edgy as it thinks it is. When it comes to bad guy bloodletting, there’s a creative death here and there but most of the digital gore becomes a bore and a chore to sit through after a while. The bar for action on film keeps being raised by standard-bearers like the John Wick and Mission Impossible series and while Renfield may not be aiming that high, the action setpieces in the new Dungeons & Dragons movie were much better than what we get here.

In addition to Cage, the cast does what they can to make the most out of a script by Ryan Ridley that mainly plays like half a dozen half-coagulated ideas that never congeal. Hoult is a strong match for the beleaguered bossed-around sidekick, transmuting the haughty nature of his characters from The Favourite and The Menu into a subservience that inspires both pity and laughs. Awkwafina has been terrific in recent movies from The Farewell to Shang-Chi but she’s the wrong fit for this role, especially since a character avenging the death of her police captain father is a plot tangent that didn’t even need to be included. Of course it’s impossible to buy Schwartz as a mob enforcer named “Teddy Lobo” and McKay can’t decide if we’re supposed to take him seriously as a secondary antagonist. If you retain the same jumping-off point for a story and the presence of two Nics, Renfield has the makings of a killer comedy but as is, it feeds off all of the wrong action-comedy tropes.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Evil Dead Rise, a horror film starring Lily Sullivan and Alyssa Sutherland which follows two estranged sisters whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a primal battle for survival.
Also playing in theaters is The Covenant, an action thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim which takes place during the War in Afghanistan where a US Army Sergeant ventures to repay a life debt to his Afghan interpreter.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Ghosted, an action comedy starring Chris Evans and Ana de Armas about a man who falls head over heels for a woman before making the shocking discovery that she’s a secret agent.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Shazam! Fury Of The Gods

Let’s start with a confession: I was wrong about 2019’s Shazam! After rewatching the movie this past weekend, I stand by some of the quibbles from my original 2/5 review — the villain is dopey and it strains too hard for earnestness — but I also admit that it works more than it doesn’t. Especially in comparison to its new sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the original film has loads more personality and intention than I initially recognized. Though it carries over a few elements that made its predecessor a success with critics and audiences, this new chapter is otherwise about as undercooked and generic as a superhero movie could be. Perhaps in four years time, I’ll look back and find that I’m wrong about this entry too but my confidence in my current assessment is sky high.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods begins with an all-too-familiar prologue, where a shadowy new villain pops up and causes chaos in an unsuspecting crowd. In this case, it’s Atlas daughters Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) breaking into a Greek museum and stealing the broken magic staff discarded in the first Shazam! We’re then reintroduced to Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and the rest of his foster siblings, who all now have Shazam-like counterparts that allow them to fight crime all around their hometown of Philadelphia. When the daughters of Atlas kidnap family member Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), the rest of the “Shazamily” must rescue him and stop the daughters before their plan to terraform the Earth comes into fruition.

As you may get the sense from that description, Fury of the Gods is mostly a hodgepodge of other superhero movies; there’s some Man Of Steel, some Thor: Love and Thunder and they even lift a doctor bit from Forgetting Sarah Marshall for good measure. West Side Story breakout Rachel Zegler’s Anthea rounds out a trio of villains who are about as lifeless as Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana was in the first Shazam! with much more scattershot accents. Mirren does her standard British, Zegler does standard American and Liu alternates between the two, sometimes within the same scene. Both the limitations of their superpowers and the details of their evil plan are vague and confusing. It seems like they should have the upper hand just about the entire time but they get hoodwinked by the Shazam crew in the most facile and unclever ways.

The driving force behind the first Shazam! was the performance of Zachary Levi as the “Shazamed” version of Billy Batson and its sequel continues to score some laughs out of the body swap premise where an adult acts like a teenager. In fact, Asher Angel isn’t in the film much at all, leaving Levi to turn his juvenile mugging and quippy line reads up to 11 throughout the entire movie. He’s doing his best but the material simply isn’t here for him this time around and the gimmick was already utilized so thoroughly in the first entry. There’s the occasional bit that lands — Mirren reciting a poorly-dictated note from the “Shazamily” got a couple chuckles from me — but it feels like Fury of the Gods makes much more time for murky mythology than it does for comedy.

Due to the constantly changing nature of the DC Extended Universe, every new entry seems to prompt the question “where do they go from here?” There are three new movies planned for release this year — The Flash is up next in June — and then the whole franchise is set to be rebooted with the James Gunn-led Superman: Legacy in 2025. It’s hard to know how the Shazam characters will factor into either of those universes and it’s possible that Fury of the Gods is the last Shazam! film that we’ll see for quite some time, if not ever. Frankly, the DCEU is a mess as it is right now and a fresh start will hopefully give this sector of comic book movies a renewed sense of entertainment and purpose. Until then, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a placeholder that only the most ardent of superfans should indulge.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is John Wick: Chapter 4, an actioner starring Keanu Reeves and the very recently departed Lance Reddick which continues the saga of the titular assassin as he faces a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Reggie, a documentary covering baseball megastar Reggie Jackson as he contemplates his legacy as one of the first iconic black athletes, a pioneer in the fight for dignity, respect, and a seat at the table.
Premiering on Netflix is Furies, a Vietnamese action prequel to 2019’s Furie starring Veronica Ngo and Dong Anh Quynh about a mysterious woman who trains a trio of girls to take revenge on a criminal gang.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Australian actress Frances O’Connor makes both her directorial and writing debut with Emily, a pseudo-biopic about revered writer Emily Brontë that intentionally fudges the facts surrounding the 19th century author. Though her lone novel Wuthering Heights is widely regarded as a literary classic, details of Brontë’s personal life weren’t especially well-documented before her untimely death at the age of 30. That means making her the subject of a biographical drama calls for inferences to be drawn from what is written about Brontë and for extrapolations to be rendered under artistic license. I’m neither an English nor a history major, so I didn’t go into this movie expecting to pick it apart for accuracy but simply to get the sense of how this reclusive young woman concocted such a galvanizing piece of literature seemingly out of nowhere. What I got was a bundle of period piece clichés and a story that always seems at odds with itself.

We meet Emily Brontë (Emma Mackey) on what seems to be her deathbed, with sister and fellow writer Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) trying to get answers before it’s too late about how she conceived of Wuthering Heights. We’re taken back years in Emily’s life to her 20s, where she fosters a relationship with her other sister Anne (Amelia Gething) and gets into trouble with her brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead) while Charlotte is away at school. One day, handsome clergyman William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) joins her father’s parsonage as a curate and begins teaching French to Emily. There doesn’t seem to be much of a spark between the two at the outset but over the course of their lessons, an affection develops between Emily and William. Due to the latter’s position in the church, a relationship would be potentially deemed scandalous and must be kept a secret from friends and family.

The largest miscalculation O’Connor makes in Emily is laboring under the regressive notion that the audience will only be interested in Brontë’s life if she has an attachment to a fetching suitor. There’s more than enough at the edges of this rote romance involving Emily’s family life to justify a story solely about them rather than shoehorning in a man about whom very little is known. Although Emily’s sisters don’t get nearly enough screen time to develop their characters and define their influence on her life, Branwell factors into the storyline and his kinship with Emily serves as the film’s sole instances of insight into Emily’s character. I can’t imagine this was O’Connor’s intent but I half-wondered if she was steering us towards a love triangle between William and Branwell; after all, Emily has practically no chemistry with William, while Branwell seems to invigorate her spiritually and creatively.

Mackey and Whitehead make the most of their scenes together, tapping into a mutual mischievous streak that infuses this otherwise murky and morose tale with some much-needed personality. The film’s best scenes are in their minute moments of bonding, whether they’re spinning around the lush countryside in an opium-tinged splendor or heckling William with bleating noises during one of his sermons. Emily’s terse interactions with Charlotte and genial exchanges with Anne are breadcrumbed throughout the narrative but there’s no good reason for these notable figures to be as sidelined as they are. Jackson-Cohen is positively a bore as the staid hunk with whom Emily inexplicably falls in love; though his character here isn’t nearly as monstrous as the one he played in The Invisible Man, he’s just as imperceptible (albeit for a different reason).

While Emily is an easy enough film to take in aesthetically, O’Connor stumbles when it comes to finding its central message. Too often, she relies on montages that don’t convey much meaningful information and are pedestrian in terms of visual storytelling. Abel Korzeniowski’s musical score swells, time speeds up but not much of an impression is ultimately left from these sequences. O’Connor also traffics in some pretty dodgy banalities that tend to plague this genre; characters run around in the rain so often in this film that I started to subconsciously beg them to stay inside. Elsewhere, she attempts to incorporate other genres, as with an awkward and mean-spirited seance scene that briefly indulges the supernatural but doesn’t tie back to the plot later on. A more honest inquisition into the life of this solitary novelist would hold true cultural value but Emily too often takes the easy way out.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Creed III, a sports drama starring Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors following the titular heavyweight as he dukes it out with a childhood friend-turned-foe who resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison.
Also playing only in theaters is Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, a spy action comedy starring Jason Statham and Aubrey Plaza involving a team of special agents who recruit one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars to help them on an undercover mission.
Available to rent is Palm Trees and Power Lines, a coming-of-age drama starring Lily McInerny and Jonathan Tucker about a disconnected teenage girl whose relationship with an older man starts out promisingly but gets more complicated over time.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Knock At The Cabin

Due to the overwhelming popularity of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan has been pigeonholed as a director whose films always have a twist ending. While some of his movies after those two initial breakouts have indeed had third act rug-pulls, the majority of his work tends to be based on an elevator pitch of an idea that begs resolution. The Happening‘s was “why are people spontaneously killing themselves?” Old‘s was “what’s going on with this beach?” After Earth‘s was “who told Shyamalan it was a good idea to make this movie?” His latest high concept contraption, Knock At The Cabin, sports another tantalizing quandary but instead of the open-ended mystery that Shyamalan typically favors, there are really only one of two possible general resolutions for this specific gambit.

The story is set around a family of three — fathers Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), along with their seven-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) — as they vacation at a secluded cabin in the woods. While collecting grasshoppers, Wen is approached outside the cabin by Leonard (Dave Bautista), a hulking second grade teacher who exchanges questions with her. Things get more ominous when three others in Leonard’s group — Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) — also emerge from the woods brandishing makeshift weapons. Wen runs inside to warn her dads of the approaching quarrelsome quartet, who force their way into the cabin after a struggle and make a severe claim: that one of the three family members must willingly sacrifice themselves in order to prevent a closely impending apocalypse.

It would stand to reason that the rest of Knock At The Cabin from that point on would be a psychological thriller, wherein the family being held hostage would engage in a battle of wits with the interlopers to gain the upper hand. But that’s already making the assumption that the invaders are incorrect and misguided in their conviction that the world will end very soon if this sacrificial act isn’t carried out. Shyamalan instead spends most of the running time setting up a binary equation where we won’t know whether or not the apocalyptic premonitions are founded until the very end of the movie. Not only does this limit the scope and impact of the inevitable conclusion but it makes the preceding events more redundant than they needed to be. Leonard poses the question “will you make a choice?” to the family repetitively and takes action when they routinely refuse to commit the necessary penance; in the immortal words of Rush: “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

After Old, Knock At The Cabin is the second movie in a row that Shyamalan has adapted from existing source material; this time, he’s recruited co-writers Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman to bring Paul G. Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World to the screen. While Old was seemingly affected by the fact that it was shot during the COVID-19 pandemic, with unappealing cinematography and awkward editing that tried to disguise that the actors weren’t on set at the same time, Shyamalan’s latest effort isn’t marred by the same issues. The camerawork by Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer has some flashy tricks up its sleeve but mainly settles for a handsome yet foreboding palette upon which these characters can express their anxieties and intentions. A few sequences, like one in which two characters struggle for a gun in a thumbprint-locked safe, crackle with an energy that isn’t sustained throughout the movie.

Bautista continues a streak of acting wins following last year’s Glass Onion and a smaller part in Dune: Part One that will likely be expanded in Dune: Part Two later this year. As the main spokesman for the four antagonists, he proves that he has the dramatic chops to lead an ensemble chamber piece like this. As with other wrestlers-turned-actors, filmmakers have learned how to use his oversized frame to their advantage. Leonard is positioned as a gentle giant whose hand is forced by supernatural circumstances; in his introductory scene with Wen, the pair even take turns plucking flower petals to invite allusions to Frankenstein. Shyamalan is able to create suspense for a few minutes at a time but the longer Knock At The Cabin goes on, the more obvious it becomes that he loses sight of the story that he ultimately wants to tell.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Magic Mike’s Last Dance, the conclusion to the Magic Mike trilogy starring Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek Pinault following the titular male stripper as he heads to London with a wealthy socialite who lures him with the offer of a lifetime.
Streaming on Amazon is Somebody I Used To Know, a romantic comedy starring Alison Brie and Jay Ellis about a workaholic whose trip to her hometown reunites her with an ex-boyfriend and finds her meeting a young woman who reminds her of the person she used to be.
Premiering on Netflix is Your Place Or Mine, another romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher about a man who looks after the teenage son of his best friend while she pursues a lifelong dream as they swap houses for one life-changing week.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths

After winning Academy Awards for Best Director back-to-back years for Birdman and The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu had many doors open to him in terms of what project to pursue next. That he walked through the one labeled “creative control with Netflix” is not surprising, given the kind of story he had in mind, but no less disappointing upon the final result. Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths is very obviously the most personal film Iñárritu has made thus far but it’s also the most stubbornly formless and painfully pretentious one as well. It’s a remarkably self-involved effort from a director who isn’t known for modesty to begin with and while it’s a project that may mean a great deal to him, there’s simply no room left in the audience for us to take this story in.

Bardo loosely chronicles the day-to-day affairs of Mexican filmmaker/journalist Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who lives in Los Angeles with his wife Lucía (Griselda Siciliani) and teenage son Lorenzo (Iker Sanchez Solano). He’s in line to receive a coveted journalism award in the States, about which he has mixed feelings because he senses that it’s due to geopolitical glad-handing more than his merit. His insecurity about his work is exacerbated by Luis (Francisco Rubio), a talk show host who was once friends with Silverio but jettisoned their relationship during the respective rises to fame. Along the way, he also tries to patch things up with his estranged daughter Camila (Ximena Lamadrid), who is living in America as well, before receiving the commendation for his life’s work.

But Bardo isn’t driven by plot as much as it’s jerked in different directions by the protagonist’s indulgent reveries, which take up the majority of the 160-minute runtime. These tangents naturally cause the audience to speculate whether these scenes are happening in reality or just in Silverio’s head but after a while, it’s unlikely they’ll care much either way. The surrealist sequences implement imagery from a host of origins, including figures from the Mexican–American War and conquistadors from centuries earlier who come to life before Silverio’s eyes. Sometimes the scenes are more along the lines of heightened reality, as when Silverio imagines a worst-case scenario talk show interview after he cancels at the last minute. There’s a darkly comedic running gag about a baby that Silverio and Lucía lost shortly after labor that weaves in gallows humor quite deftly.

There’s a running subtext in Bardo about Silverio’s (and, presumably, Iñárritu’s) internal conflict between living in the United States and yet still feeling like his home is still south of the border. When Silverio returns to Mexico and attends a party for his upcoming award, members of his extended family repeatedly rib him about sucking up to the “gringos” in Hollywood. There’s a lengthy sequence in which he recalls his emigration process to the US and then another in airport security where his citizenship is called into question by a couple TSA agents. Iñárritu obviously has a unique perspective on being torn between two countries that don’t fully accept him and him trying to work out these feelings through this film are by far its most illuminating aspects.

If he had made a movie that was more focused on this subject — or just more focused overall — it could have worked but there’s just too much filler that adds up to nothing. Iñárritu has showcased influence from cinematic luminaries like Fellini and Buñuel in the past but in trying to emulate the masters, he flies too close to the sun this time around. Luis gives an excoriating speech to Silverio about halfway through the film, concerning what he thinks about his new documentary, and it’s clear Iñárritu wrote in an attempt to inoculate himself from potentially similar criticisms about Bardo. The attempt at self-deprecation whiffs more of defensiveness than the worthwhile self-awareness that the filmmaker was able to mine more successfully in Birdman. When Netflix distributed Roma with Alfonso Cuarón in 2018, it was a love letter to his upbringing in Mexico City but by comparison, Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths feels like a love letter Iñárritu wrote to himself.

Score – 2/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Avatar: The Way of Water, the highly-anticipated sci-fi epic starring Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña continuing the story of the Na’vi alien race and the fight to protect their planet Pandora against a familiar threat.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Nanny, a horror movie starring Anna Diop and Michelle Monaghan about an immigrant caretaker based in New York City who is forced to confront a concealed truth that threatens to shatter her precarious American Dream.
Screening at Cinema Center is Triangle of Sadness, a dark comedy starring Woody Harrelson and Charlbi Dean centering around a fashion model celebrity couple who join a cruise for the super-rich that doesn’t go according to plan.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Black Adam

Swooping in to spoil spooky season, the latest addition to the DC Extended Universe exacerbates the franchise’s identity crisis that has existed since its inception with Man Of Steel in 2013. Though Black Adam had been in development years before that Superman flick kicked off the whole shared universe, it finally lands with its original star attached and truckloads of marketing in its wake. It’s often said that movie studios look to replicate the “Marvel formula” when creating new superhero films but with this new offering, it seems Warners took their cues from Sony’s Spider-Man Universe instead. Like Venom and Morbius, Black Adam has historically been depicted as a villain in the comics but for the purposes of the movies, now he’s an anti-hero who’s just misunderstood.

Our story begins around 2600 BC in the fictional city of Kahndaq, where Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is bestowed powers by the Council of Wizards from Shazam! to escape a power-hungry king. In present day, archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and her crew conjure up the super-powered Teth-Adam while trying to track down an artifact known as the Crown Of Sabbac. Recognizing the oppressive crime syndicate Intergang as similar to the tyrannical forces he opposed thousands of years ago, Teth-Adam uses his powers to pick apart the mercenaries and liberate the people of Kahndaq. Concerned over the violent tactics that he uses to impose his will, the Justice Society of America, led by Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), look to set boundaries for the newly-awakened metahuman.

Johnson is one of the most bankable actors on the planet right now, so casting him in a movie from what is easily the most lucrative film genre at the moment makes overwhelming financial sense for Warner Bros. The issue is that his Black Adam is a joyless bore, utilizing none of the charm or charisma that turned wrestler The Rock into action star Dwayne Johnson. There are some one-liners that work in the film, dutifully delivered by Brosnan and Hodge, but they’re all fish-out-of-water punchlines where Black Adam is the butt of the joke. Adrianna’s son Amon, played by Bodhi Sabongui, is also meant to register as overly-exuberant comic relief but his fanboy giddiness while pitching catchphrases to Black Adam runs thin quite quickly.

Often, the secondary and tertiary characters are the most interesting ones that Black Adam has to offer but even they feel carbon-copied from existing superhero fare. The breadth and depth of Doctor Fate’s powers aren’t clearly conveyed but he shares enough in common with the MCU’s Doctor Strange that comparisons are inevitable. Justice Society of America newcomers Cyclone and Atom Smasher come across as retreads of Storm from the X-Men series and the Giant-Man from Marvel, respectively. Though these DC characters existed in comics well before their Marvel counterparts, this is the first time they’re appearing on screen and it’s hard not to think they’re late to the punch Additionally, the villain character played by Marwan Kenzari may take the crown as the DCEU’s most unconvincing antagonist.

Black Adam doesn’t reinvent the wheel as much as Johnson is endlessly touting that it does on social media but some of the action is more creatively violent than the DC movies have gotten to be in the past. Sure, there are bloodless fight scenes and bodies being flung in the air with no thought to how they might land but there are also moments of ruthlessness that are consistent with how the title character is set up. But director Jaume Collet-Serra uses the same brand of speed-ramped phantasmagoria that Zack Snyder popularized in his contributions to the franchise. Not all of the CG effects here look bad but the shots that do look especially unconvincing, recalling Johnson’s dreadfully-rendered Scorpion King character from The Mummy Returns over 20 years ago. Once Warners figures out how to implement Black Adam into their ever-expanding franchise, then he could serve as a nice counterpoint to the more straight-laced superheroes but his first time out is a dud.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Prey For The Devil, a supernatural horror movie starring Jacqueline Byers and Colin Salmon about a nun who prepares to perform an exorcism and comes face-to-face with a demonic force that has mysterious ties to her past.
Expanding to local theaters is Till, a biographical drama starring Danielle Deadwyler and Jalyn Hall follows a mother who vows to expose the racism behind her son’s brutal lynching while working to have those involved brought to justice.
Premiering on Netflix is Wendell & Wild, a stop-motion horror comedy starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele about two scheming demon brothers who enlist the aid of 13-year-old to summon them to the Land of the Living.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


On its surface, Amsterdam has the hallmarks of a refined mid-budget studio film for which critics and cinephiles clamor routinely. Arriving at the beginning of the oft-competitive awards season, it’s helmed by an acclaimed writer/director in David O. Russell and sports an even more accomplished ensemble cast. It’s a movie about serious subjects that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is based on a true story (with wink-wink exceptions) that doesn’t slavishly adhere itself to the facts. Most importantly, it belongs to a group AMC refers to as Artisan Films, a term for pretty much any movie that leaps over the low bar of not being based on existing IP. Given all this pedigree, it’s a massive disappointment with sparks of genius that get snuffed out by an avalanche of dead-end plot points and a myriad of fussed-over characters.

After a “you’re probably wondering how I got here” prologue set in the early 1930s, Amsterdam flashes back to World War I where infantry doctor Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) meets fellow soldier Harold Woodsman (John David Washington). The brothers in arms are wounded during battle and treated by nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie), whose eccentricities and magnetism draws the three of them together through wartime and afterwards when the trio move to Amsterdam together. After carefree years of dancing and palling around, Burt and Harold eventually leave for New York City, the former beginning his own medical practice and the latter becoming a lawyer. The death of their mutual commanding officer Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) brings them back together but a curious autopsy sends them on a chase for clues when they begin to suspect murder.

It’s about halfway through its runtime that Amsterdam finally focuses in on its real-life inspiration: the uncovering of a fascist political conspiracy by a group of oligarchs to overthrow FDR and install a dictator. While such a true story is worth investigating at feature length, the film gets way too bogged down with a cavalcade of detectives, spies, and hitmen to retain narrative cohesion. Familiar faces from Zoe Saldaña to Taylor Swift to Chris Rock show up to impart some passing notes on the storyline but don’t have a lasting impact beyond being recognizable. Most of the movie plays like a flittering hummingbird, rapidly whipping its pretty wings while staying roughly in the same place to sip on the nectar of vacuous words.

With films like The Fighter and American Hustle in his oeuvre, Russell has proven in the past that he can wield a star-powered cast but the story in Amsterdam simply gets away from him. Credited as the sole screenwriter, he gets too tangled up in knotty espionage threads and dubious romantic through lines to reach a clear set of themes that resonate. With a tighter screenplay, it’s possible that Russell’s brand of controlled chaos could have given this movie the verve that it needed to hum but without the right music, it’s just a cacophony of discordant allegros. The actors, which also include Oscar winners like Robert De Niro and Rami Malek, do what they can with the herky-jerky material and occasionally manifest moments of manic brilliance but ultimately, it all goes to pot.

I attended an IMAX screening of Amsterdam, a presentation typically reserved for big budget blockbusters due to the larger screen and enhanced sound, but I appreciate that 20th Century made it available in that format. Emmanuel Lubezki, the visionary cinematographer behind works like Birdman and The Revenant, brings forth signature touches like roving close-ups and extended takes to draw us into these characters. His camera also loves the faces of these movie stars and seems to revel in both their beauty and their imperfections. As social creatures, our eyes are drawn to faces and subconsciously, we go to the movies to study them and, hopefully, to learn something new about each other. It’s just a shame that Amsterdam has little to offer beyond that.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters and streaming on Peacock is Halloween Ends, a slasher sequel starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Andi Matichak that allegedly caps off the showdown between masked murderer Michael Myers and perpetual survivor Laurie Strode.
Streaming on Hulu is Rosaline, a romantic comedy starring Kaitlyn Dever and Isabela Merced which retells Shakespeare’s most well-known story from the point of view of Romeo’s titular ex-girlfriend, who Romeo first claims to love before he falls for Juliet.
Happening at Cinema Center from October 13-16 is the Hobnobben Film Festival, which will screen a festival-record 128 films over the four-day event. Go to hobnobben.org to learn more about the festival, including the full schedule and ticket information.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup