Tag Archives: 2/5


In 2021’s The Voyeurs, writer and director Michael Mohan mined the depths of trashy 90s erotic thrillers to create his own take on the subgenre that almost pulled it off. He re-teams with that film’s now-ubiquitous star Sydney Sweeney for Immaculate, which plays in the popular pocket of religious horror involving nuns and Catholic iconography. In fact, during the pre-roll before this movie, a trailer appeared for The First Omen, another nun-based supernatural shocker debuting in theaters just a couple weeks from now. Last fall, The Conjuring Universe entry The Nun II scared up $270 million at the box office, so clearly there’s still plenty of holy water left in the well for making those women in black robes even more intimidating. Despite its artsy intentions, Immaculate simply doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the packed crowd.

Sydney Sweeney plays Cecilia, a devout young woman who travels from Detroit all the way to the countryside of Italy to join a convent that also serves as hospice for dying nuns carrying out their last days. She finds friendship in the rabble-rousing Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli) and mentorship in the unassuming Father Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte), who extended Cecilia the initial invitation to the nunnery. Almost immediately, she begins having ominous visions and troubling nightmares, all made worse when it’s discovered that she’s somehow pregnant, despite never having sex. Unable to come up with an explanation, Cardinal Merola (Giorgio Colangeli) deems the occurrence a miracle and tasks the nuns with giving Cecilia everything she needs to welcome this miraculous baby to the world. But their care becomes constrictive on Cecilia and she begins to suspect something sinister.

Though director Michael Mohan seemed to make a meal of his influences previously with The Voyeurs, Immaculate is much more self-serious by comparison and doesn’t embrace any potential camp in the premise. That’s a perfectly reasonable tack to take with this material but the issue is that he doesn’t do enough new with the actual story beats to justify such a stone-faced attitude. From the portentous cold open that foreshadows the predicament of our protagonist, the film is one moment after another of visual or sonic clichés that we’ve been trained to sniff out through years of movie watching. If a character is holding a lantern to light a room, you can get sure the wick will somehow get blown out and if they’re using a flashlight to pierce the darkness, you can be sure the batteries will act up.

Undoubtedly, the biggest draw for most people to Immaculate will be the presence of Sydney Sweeney, who also serves as co-producer and worked for years to get the script by Andrew Lobel turned into a feature. She’s in nearly every scene of the film and is certainly acting her heart out but there’s always this nagging feeling that her commitment to the role would fare better in a movie that really deserved it. Between her star power and the actual quality of the performance, Sweeney is one of the primary aspects that makes Immaculate watchable for long stretches. She hasn’t done much horror yet in her career — although the Amazon Prime original Nocturne is worth going back to check out, if you haven’t already — but she certainly makes a case here that she could do plenty more. If one of the film’s concluding scenes isn’t an audition reel for “scream queen”, I don’t know what is.

I just don’t quite know what exists at the screenplay level that screamed for this story to be told. There’s some subtext about female bodily autonomy and the patriarchal hold on religious leadership but none of it is realized in a way that seems especially subversive or meaningful. The film’s grueling final scene could ruffle some feathers but it’s not a conclusion that feels earned on the merit of what came before it. Most of the runtime is made up of admittedly eerie setups with tacky jump scare punctuations, scored with detuned piano plinking by composer Will Bates. Sound design is an under-appreciated art in horror cinema and while there are moments of tension aided by some creepy cues, there are also other spots where stock sounds just don’t do the trick. Though its title suggests brilliance and excellence, Immaculate just doesn’t stack up.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, a creature feature starring Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry that focuses on previously untold origins of the Titans and Skull Island while finding the titular monsters uniting against a mysterious Hollow Earth threat.
Streaming on Netflix is The Wages Of Fear, an action thriller starring Franck Gastambide and Ana Girardot about an illicit crack team that has 24 hours to drive two truckloads of nitroglycerine across a desert laden with danger in order to prevent a deadly explosion.
Premiering on Apple TV+ is Steve!, a two-part documentary that chronicles the life and career of Steve Martin, from his early struggles and meteoric rise to revolutionize stand-up to the current golden years of his acting era.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


With a couple exceptions, Matthew Vaughn is a director whose appeal largely eludes me. 20 years ago, his Guy Ritchie-aping Layer Cake was a sort of test run for Daniel Craig before his superb breakout as James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale. Vaughn’s films since then, from Kick-Ass to the Kingsman franchise, have always struck me as productions that try way too hard to push buttons and not hard enough to create a compelling story. His newest, the spy comedy Argylle, is his first PG-13 movie since X-Men: First Class, which presents a challenge to a storyteller who often leans on over-the-top gore and a slurry of salty language to punctuate his tales. If his latest feels neutered, it may not be because it feels like the R-rated content was cut out but rather that the entire movie was cut from the fabric of projects that pulled off this sort of caper more convincingly.

Argylle opens with the titular secret agent (Henry Cavill) on his latest mission in Greece, attempting to seduce a sultry asset named LaGrange (Dua Lipa), with members of his team Keira (Ariana DeBose) and Wyatt (John Cena) ready to provide backup. After a car chase that seems especially cartoonish, we realize we’re actually inside a story being created by Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), a successful author in the process of writing her fifth novel in the Argylle series. But while taking a train to visit her folks in Chicago, she’s intercepted by bonafide spy Aidan (Sam Rockwell), who claims her books are not only remunerative but seemingly prophetic. In fact, they’re so accurate to the real goings-on in international espionage that she’s being recruited to predict the next steps that will be taken by The Division, a nefarious organization that Aidan and his team aim to topple.

With its story-in-a-story structure and seemingly endless twists, Argylle feels like what screenwriter Shane Black would come up with if he were given 72 hours to do furious rewrites for 2022’s The Lost City. Instead of that Romancing The Stone riff, Vaughn goes the glossed-out route of recent globetrotting duds like Red Notice and Ghosted, with comparatively better, but still not very good, results. The cast, led terrifically by Howard as a charmingly flustered protagonist, certainly does their best to sell the material. Bryan Cranston and Samuel L. Jackson turn up as the heads of the rivaling spy organizations, while Catherine O’Hara is reliably excellent as Elly’s supportive mom. There’s no shortage of superlative talent on the screen but the nagging feeling persists that it would be better had all of these talented folks showed up for a project more deserving of their gifts.

It’s Vaughn and his writer Jason Fuchs who don’t bring their A-game to Argylle as their attempt to collision course several genres ends up in a multi-car pileup. As a send-up of the spy genre, it’s not particularly observant or witty in its rote execution of espionage pap. As an action movie, it falls back on the same chaotic formula of hastily-staged combat and cheeky disco tunes that Vaughn can’t seem to let go of. The comedy works in bits and pieces, thanks to the occasional inspired line read from members of the overqualified cast, but it’s not a consistently funny movie. There are moments that are meant to carry dramatic weight, one of which involves the overuse of a Beatles song that hadn’t even been released when this movie was presumably set, that don’t land because they feel like they’re from an entirely different film.

But worst of all, Argylle seems to be stuck in the same mid-aughts time loop that Vaughn finds himself in, where crime films like Lucky Number Slevin and Smokin’ Aces tried to outsmart audiences at every turn with one plot development more ludicrous than the last. To put it bluntly, there’s a reason those types of movies went away in the first place but Vaughn treats each of the reveals in his newest project like we’ve never seen this sort of thing before. It would also be palatable if it were breezily paced but at 139 minutes, the scenes of exposition and explanation don’t take long to bog things down. Argylle is being distributed by Apple Original Films, which means it will likely be on Apple TV+ later this year. With a flurry of familiar faces, it may play just fine on that streaming service but as a big screen affair, it isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this week:
Playing only in theaters is Lisa Frankenstein, a horror comedy starring Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse about a misunderstood teenager who reanimates a corpse from the Victorian era during a lightning storm and starts to rebuild him into the man of her dreams.
Also coming to theaters is Out Of Darkness, a horror thriller starring Safia Oakley-Green and Chuku Modu following a disparate gang of early humans who band together in search of a new land and suspect a malevolent, mystical being is hunting them down.
Premiering on Hulu is Suncoast, a coming-of-age drama starring Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson about a teenager who, while caring for her ill brother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist who is protesting one of the most landmark medical cases of all time.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Five Nights At Freddy’s

Now streaming on Peacock, and reportedly making a killing in theaters, the new video game adaptation Five Nights At Freddy’s may work as fan service for those who love the source material but won’t work for those looking for a satisfying horror movie. It doesn’t seem like it should be difficult to make a creepy movie about murderous animatronic robots — after all, Nicolas Cage starred in one (Willy’s Wonderland) a couple years ago — but director and co-writer Emma Tammi just doesn’t give this film what it needs. Stifled by too much exposition and heavy-handed character work, this could have worked as a lean-and-mean R-rated slasher but it flounders as an overwrought PG-13 ghost story. Unless its wall-to-wall fan service is meant to register as scary, I can’t imagine many will be spooked by this, even during the spookiest of all the seasons.

Five Nights At Freddy’s follows Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), a troubled mall cop who loses his gig after a violent misunderstanding with a civilian during his shift. Desperate to look after his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio) with their parents out of the picture and their aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) threatening a custody battle, Mike hastily takes a night guard position at an abandoned family entertainment center. Aside from a copious consignment of cobwebs, the Chuck E. Cheese facsimile sports a set of seemingly-defunct animatronic mascots, led by the top-hatted Freddy Fazbear. Mike’s first couple nights are uneventful, with fellow police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) showing up to keep him company, but eventually things go bump in the night and it’s up to Mike, Vanessa and Abby to investigate.

Scream alum Matthew Lillard pops up in a few scenes as a career counselor and serves as a sore reminder of a horror franchise that has an infinite amount of more humor and self-awareness than Five Nights At Freddy’s. Hutcherson does what he can to prop up the patchwork pathos behind his character but the childhood trauma material isn’t a good fit for a film that is supposed to revolve around killer robots. His repetitive dream sequences call to mind another horror series with a villain named Freddy at its center but the gloved nemesis of the Nightmare On Elm Street movies has a devilish persona that kept audiences coming back for decades. I’m not sure quite what this film has that will lead to that sort of longevity within the cinematic medium.

When Freddy and his autonomous crew do pop up, the film at least has more of a sense of menace than the ghost children that haunt Mike during his dream state and then his waking hours. Kudos to Blumhouse Productions and Tammi for getting Jim Henson’s Creature Shop involved with bringing the demented robo-critters to life. Even though the characters aren’t in the movie enough, the animatronics and puppeteering brings a tactility and presence to the Freddy’s foes that would have been lacking severely had they chosen CG effects instead. There’s a grueling sequence involving the spring locks inside one of the mascot’s outfits that was an effective piece of mechanical terror one may expect out of a Hellraiser entry. Sadly, the rest of Five Nights At Freddy’s is mostly anodyne by comparison.

If Blumhouse wanted to keep this film PG-13 to retain the core audience of teenage gamers, then I understand not making it an ultra-violent gorefest but is it too much to ask it to at least be creepy or unsettling? After all, not every horror movie has to be rated R and there are loads of examples that succeed with less severe ratings. I was shocked how little foreboding or tension there is in the build-up to the reveal of the Freddy’s crew, despite the film’s best intentions with a razor-sharp cold open. Regardless, Five Nights At Freddy’s has already made back quadruple its budget in box office sales, so there’s little doubt we’ll have more of these on the horizon. Perhaps they’ll find more clever and mischievous uses for the pizzeria-dwelling droids in the sequels but this inaugural entry gets things off to a creaky start.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is What Happens Later, a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and David Duchovny about a pair of exes who, after bumping into each other when their flights get delayed due to a snow storm, spend the night at the airport reliving their past.
Premiering on Netflix is Nyad, a sports biopic starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster about athlete Diana Nyad who, at the age of 60 and with the help of her best friend and coach, commits to achieving her life-long dream: a 110-mile open ocean swim from Cuba to Florida.
Streaming on Hulu is Quiz Lady, a comedy starring Awkwafina and Sandra Oh about a gameshow-obsessed woman and her estranged sister who work together to help cover their mother’s gambling debts.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Exorcist: Believer

With his Halloween trilogy now completed, director David Gordon Green now turns his attention to reviving another franchise that began in the 1970s with a smash horror hit. The Exorcist: Believer is the sixth installment in a film series that probably didn’t need much expansion outside the original chapter but since that film made over $400 million at the box office back in 1973, we continue to pay for the sins of curious moviegoers all those years ago. Universal, whose acquisition of the Exorcist rights was reported to have a $400 million price tag, is careful to follow the legacy sequel playbook they helped establish in 2015 with Jurassic World. Give the audiences plenty of elements they remember from the first film with enough new bits to feel like they’ve experienced something original. The formula this time around feels particularly hollow.

Similar to the Iraq-set prologue in The Exorcist, The Exorcist: Believer opens in a location apart from the rest of the story with a chilling preface. Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) and pregnant Sorenne (Tracey Graves) are honeymooning in Haiti when a giant earthquake levels their hotel. This forces Victor to choose between saving either their unborn baby or Sorenne after the latter is severely injured in the cataclysm. 13 years later, Victor is doing his best to raise daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) by himself while making end’s meet as a photographer. After school one day, Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) go out to the woods and attempt to convene with the spirit of Angela’s deceased mother. The pair is missing for three days after being found in a barn miles away from the woods with no memory of the missing time. Victor is, of course, relieved to have Angela back home but her strange behavior following the incident points to something more ungodly as opposed to just unusual.

From here, The Exorcist: Believer plays the hits it presumes the audience will want to hear. Beds are wet, bodies are levitated and the fog machines kick into high gear. Prior to this, Green at least tries to establish a worthwhile story before the movie becomes possessed by franchise necessities and studio notes. Put bluntly, Odom Jr. is insanely overqualified to play this thankless role but, ever the professional, he puts his all into it nonetheless. He and Jewett have a very believable and fun chemistry as a father and daughter brought closer together by tragic circumstances. Sadly, their connection means less as the film proceeds, since the plotline has to make more room for secondary characters played by Ann Dowd and Ellen Burstyn, the latter reprising from the 1973 original.

If The Exorcist: Believer is more discouraging than Green’s Halloween films, it’s because the filmmaker doesn’t seem to have a grasp on what makes the original film remarkable. It’s ironic because he could have made his Halloween movies simply about Michael Myers and the people he stabs but, to his credit, Green goes deeper than that with the Laurie Strode character and the trauma she’s endured. Conversely, Green ultimately demonstrates that what’s important to him about The Exorcist is preteen girls using foul language and vomiting pea soup on priests. Not only were those aspects actually transgressive at the time, when they’re simply old hat by now, but that first film is, rightly, about the priests and their faith being shaken by such evil events. Believer has a priest character, portrayed by E.J. Bonilla, who barely registers as an afterthought when all is said and done.

If Universal is dead set on having demons like Pazuzu and Lamashtu being their new spooky baddie like Michael Myers, they need to find someone who will engage with the material better for the sequels. Truth be told, Green should be past this “one for them” part of his filmography anyway at this point. He’s had an interesting career, to say the least, alternating between blisteringly affecting indies like Joe and Snow Angels to goofy stoner riffs like Pineapple Express and Your Highness before getting stuck in this franchise horror milieu. I know Blumhouse is always looking to franchise but it feels like they’d have more luck with a M3GAN series at this point. Regardless, The Exorcist: Believer is a humdrum sequel that true believers in The Exorcist will likely find to be sacrilegious.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, the concert film documenting the cultural phenomenon that is the ongoing titular concert series from pop behemoth Taylor Swift.
Premiering on Amazon Prime is The Burial, a legal drama inspired by true events starring Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones about a lawyer who helps a funeral home owner save his family business from a deceitful corporation.
Streaming on Netflix is The Conference, a horror comedy starring Katia Winter and Adam Lundgren in which a team-building conference for municipal employees turns into a nightmare when a mysterious figure begins murdering the participants.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

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