Tag Archives: 2022

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

When Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was released 15 years ago, it skewered music biopics like Walk The Line and Ray so thoroughly that the subgenre was in danger of ever recovering. The comedy went on to inspire a fake trailer for a real music icon a few years later, a three-minute clip for a movie dubbed Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. But as the straight-faced music biopic came back with commercial hits like Bohemian Rhapsody and Elvis, so has the satire of the same subgenre. 12 years after the Funny or Die clip that teased a tongue-in-cheek look at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s life and career, we now have a full-length feature to match. Expanding from his original comedy short, director and co-writer Eric Appel throws a bushel of comedy concepts into his directorial debut with predominantly ripe results.

After an uneasy childhood with his father and mother (played by Toby Huss and Julianne Nicholson, respectively), Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) moves away from home and tries to make it on his own as a musician. Making bologna sandwiches for his roommates one day while “My Sharona” plays on the radio, inspiration strikes and he replaces the original words with silly lyrics of his own. His newfound proclivity for parody songwriting catches the ear of Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), an eccentric radio broadcaster who offers to manage “Weird Al” (a stage name he comes up with for his new client) in his burgeoning career. The duo find that when Al spoofs a song, the original artists benefit from an increase in record sales and when Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) notices this “Yankovic Bump” phenomenon, she decides she wants in.

Where Walk Hard covered a fictional music icon in Dewey Cox, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story involves an artist who’s not only still alive but is still making music — a reminder: stay through all the end credits for some extra yuks. While the ludicrous exaggerations and hilarious falsehoods about how the real-life Al rose to fame are naturally the funniest aspects of the film, separating them from the nuggets of truth is good fun too. Some of the movie’s events, from a young Al becoming inspired to pick up the accordion from a door-to-door salesman to his first recording being done in a public bathroom, are actually true to life. On the other hand, one can assume a pool party Al attends with all manner of personal idols from drag queen Divine to surrealist artist Salvador Dalí didn’t quite occur as portrayed on-screen.

As ridiculous a scene as this seems, music biopics still stretch artistic license and try to get away with a milder version of these “fortuitous meetup” moments in their films. Weird also goofs on the “eureka!” beat to which we’ve become accustomed, a bit of dramatic irony where we in the audience know even more than our protagonist just how impactful a moment of inspiration will be for their journey. Not only does Al stare at a packet of bologna with growing intensity but the title words of “My Sharona” repeat over and over as he does, reminding us just how ham-fisted these “made-for-movie” moments can be. Some of the more broad comedy, like a subplot involving Al rescuing Madonna from the clutches of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, recalls the antics of real-life Al’s foray into movies with his 1989 cult classic UHF.

Adapting a fake trailer into a 100-minute movie comes with expected obstacles and there are points where Weird makes a better case for itself as an hour-long comedy special as opposed to a full-fledged film. Even though he’s thumbing his nose at the fall from grace and subsequent redemption arc we see in these narratives, Appel runs low on steam in the third act before landing things nicely with a final scene that sums things up in suitably outlandish fashion. When people watch comedies, they may note while watching the points at which the story gets in the way of the laughs but in retrospect, what matters most is the sequences where the humor truly clicks. Those who like their biopics to stick close to the facts will wince throughout Weird: The Al Yankovic Story but those who jive with “Weird Al” Yankovic’s playfully irreverent spirit will eat it up.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a Marvel superhero movie starring Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o about the leaders of Wakanda fighting to protect their nation against invading forces from a hidden undersea city after King T’Challa’s death.
Streaming on Netflix is My Father’s Dragon, an animated fantasy starring Jacob Tremblay and Gaten Matarazzo about a young runaway who searches for a captive dragon on Wild Island and finds much more than he could ever have anticipated.
Continuing at Cinema Center is Moonage Daydream, a documentary about rock iconoclast David Bowie compiled of live concert footage and previously unreleased footage from Bowie’s personal archives.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


The cultural conversation around “separating the art from the artist” has been around for decades but the public discourse surrounding the philosophy has been especially fervent over the past few years. How much of the messiness of one’s personal life is permissible to spill into their professional creative work? At what point do we deem their improprieties too great a liability to continue to support one’s art, no matter how essential it may seem to be? Does a pattern of ostracism or vigilantism create a chilling effect for creators to speak openly and honestly in public forum and stifle artistic expression? Should the works of those artists whose misdeeds reach criminal level be expunged? The new film Tár doesn’t just wrestle with these questions; it deepens their meaning and gives us a new narrative upon which to consider our answers.

Tár tells the story of Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic with an unparalleled résumé so voluminous that it would likely spill off the bookplate of a sheet music stand. She’s led her orchestra through all of Mahler’s symphonies, save his sweeping number 5, which will be recorded live before an audience and pressed to vinyl. Tár’s day-to-day is guided by her personal assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and her nights are spent in a spacious apartment with her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), who is also the principal first violin player in the Philharmonic. The addition of young Russian cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer) to the orchestra and the emergence of incriminating allegations against Tár from a former conducting apprentice lead to mounting pressures that threaten to knock the renowned maestro off her raised podium.

Lydia Tár is not a real person but from the opening moments of his first film in 16 years, writer/director Todd Field presents a profile so precise that some may be fooled into thinking this is a biopic. Tár throws a lot at its audience from the outset — even aside from the full set of opening credits and acknowledgements — but that’s by design. Tár is a larger-than-life figure whose body of work is meant to be as intimidating as her physical body is in the tight low angle shots where her arms span the frame. This is masterful filmmaking covering a gargantuan figure that is told through a symphony of moments so small, they can sometimes be easy to miss on the first pass. These carefully orchestrated phrases and movements lead to a breathtaking finale as salient and satisfying as any conclusion I’ve seen for a film so far this year.

In an opening interview, Tár speaks on the grave importance of time to her work and the same can be said for the way that Field chooses to arrange and pace this fall from grace story about assiduous ambition and accrued arrogance. Some scenes, like a mesmerizing one-take during a teaching session at Juilliard, flow gracefully for minutes at a time, while the sequences of the orchestra playing tend to be cut at a quicker tempo to match the dynamics of the pieces they’re performing. With editor Monika Willi, Field establishes a storytelling method that is pensive and patient, more indicative of masters from East Asian cinema than any modern American filmmakers I can recall. The ambiguity and subtext that Field leaves for his audience to parse over reminded me of the way Lee Chang-dong or Wong Kar-wai trust their viewers to unpack the complexities of their stories.

Cate Blanchett has won two Academy Awards, the first for portraying chatty screen legend Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator and the second for her work as the manic protagonist of Blue Jasmine. While both are fine performances, they showcase more surface-level delights as opposed to the more considered and nuanced roles Blanchett has taken at other points in her career. Her work in Tár is truly the entire package and calling it the finest performance in her filmography doesn’t feel like a stretch at this point. Field says that he not only wrote his script with Blanchett in mind for the title character but that if she had turned down the project, he never would have made the movie. It’s certainly not every actor who has screenplays tailor-made for them but when directors and performers are working harmoniously at the highest levels, the results can be transcendent.

Score – 5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Armageddon Time, a coming-of-age story starring Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong about a teenager living in 1980s New York who is sent to his older brother’s private school after being caught using drugs with his friend.
Premiering on Netflix is Enola Holmes 2, a mystery sequel starring Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill continuing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s now detective-for-hire sister as she takes her first official case to find a missing girl.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Causeway, a psychological drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry about a soldier who suffers a traumatic brain injury while deployed in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home.

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

Halloween Ends

The leaves are changing to golden hues, the brisk air smells of Pumpkin Spice Latte, and that can only mean one thing: a new Halloween sequel is on Peacock. Whether Halloween Ends, the thirteenth installment in the Halloween franchise, will truly be the series’s last is still a bit of an open question, given how lucrative these films continue to be. But at the very least, it does seem to be the definitive end for the trio of films that writer/director David Gordon Green started in 2018 with legacy sequel Halloween and its 2021 follow-up Halloween Kills. As a trilogy capper, it wraps things up about as well as it could have and the quality level is consistent with the other two recent entries. If you were a fan of those two, then Ends is unlikely to disappoint. If, like me, you’ve been underwhelmed with this slasher series, then you may do better to select from the plethora of other recent quality horror titles for spooky season this year.

Halloween Ends picks up 4 years after the events of Kills, with the town of Haddonfield still traumatized from Michael Myers’s latest slaying spree and subsequent disappearance. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has since bought a house in town with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and is writing a memoir about her encounters with evil incarnate. Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) is doing his best to learn Japanese and got himself a new guitar to pluck around with. Everyone is just trying to move on. That includes Corey (Rohan Campbell), still tormented from a babysitting gig years ago that unexpectedly turned deadly during his watch. But as this series has proven over and over, evil never dies and Myers does eventually come out of hiding to wreak havoc on Halloween night once more and to finish his face-off with Laurie.

As much as Universal is touting Halloween Ends as a feature-length showdown between Michael and Laurie, most of the film’s narrative revolves around the relationship that develops between Corey and Allyson. Outside of their individual hangups — Corey has a dead-end job at a salvage yard, while Allyson gets overlooked for a charge nurse promotion because she won’t sleep with her boss — they both share pain related to how residents of Haddonfield see them. They’re local legends for the wrong reasons and diner-goers and bar patrons don’t miss an opportunity to remind them about every chance they get. Of course, their struggle mirrors the conflict Laurie has had with Michael all these years but Corey and Allyson being young and eager to leave town makes their cause easy to root for as well.

Thematically, Halloween Ends ponders the nature of evil, most notably in a monologue Laurie gives about external evil borne of negative circumstances and internal evil borne of one’s reaction to them. The idea that bullies, who show up in this film even more than its two direct predecessors, act negatively against others to poorly cope with their own struggles is not a new one. While the movie does shed new light on what becomes of the bullied when they decide to fight back, it doesn’t exactly tie in with how the rest of the franchise functions. In the very first Halloween, Michael Myers is a disturbed child who murders his babysitter for reasons we and he don’t fully understand. He comes back later as an adult and goes on a killing spree without an explanation of how he got that way. To quote Scream, “it’s scarier when there’s no motive.”

I have nothing against the slasher genre; I’ve enjoyed both X and Pearl from this year alone and recent reboots of Candyman and Hellraiser have worked for me, in addition to the subversive Happy Death Day entries. But I think it’s time to retire Michael Myers at this point. He’s had quite the run over the past six decades, with some great movies and not-as-great movies under his belt. Even as an embodiment of pure evil, to paraphrase series protagonist Dr. Loomis, he just isn’t much of an interesting character anymore. He’s a mute antagonist whose levels of physical strength and vulnerability have varied greatly over the years — and even sometimes within the same movie. If Halloween Ends inspires the beginning of a brand-new slasher series, or different kind of horror subgenre entirely, then this new trilogy will have served its purpose.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing exclusively in theaters is Black Adam, a DCEU superhero movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Aldis Hodge chronicling a super-powered being who is hungry for justice after being awoken from his Egyptian tomb after nearly five thousand years of imprisonment.
Also coming only to theaters is Ticket to Paradise, a romantic comedy starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts about two divorced parents who travel to Bali after learning that their daughter is planning to marry a man whom she has just met.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Raymond & Ray, a family dramedy starring Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke about two half-brothers who reunite at the funeral of their father, with whom both had a poor relationship.

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


Capping off an uncommonly strong month for cinematic horror, the frightfest Smile stars Sosie Bacon as Dr. Rose Cotter, a psychologist who’s been putting too many hours into her job at a New Jersey-based psychiatric ward. Right before ending her shift one day, she meets with disturbed PhD student Laura (Caitlin Stasey), who says she is being stalked by an evil grinning figure that takes the appearance of other people she knows. The appointment turns even more tragic and leaves Rose irrevocably shaken, to the growing concern of her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) and her boss Dr. Desai (Kal Penn). Rose begins seeing the malevolent entity that Laura described, prompting her to go to her policeman ex-boyfriend Joel (Kyle Gallner) to find a chain connecting these “smiling” sightings that are now plaguing her.

Smile effectively combines two horror reliable subgenres: transmissible curse films like It Follows or The Ring — going further back, it most resembles the supernatural cop thriller Fallen — and personified trauma movies like Hereditary and The Night House. It also leans on a rich history of creepy cinematic smiles for chills, the most haunting of which still belongs to Conrad Veidt’s character from the silent picture The Man Who Laughs. Adapting from his short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, writer/director Parker Finn takes the material seriously but does have some fun playing with the audience’s expectations. This is a movie that shamelessly includes jump scares but, naturally, Finn’s hope is that their placement may still surprise you. When the camera stays on Cotter as she opens her refrigerator, will there be someone behind the door when she closes it?

As an overworked doctor already at her wit’s end before the film’s inciting event, Bacon is terrific at putting us in the mindset of someone whose grip on reality is slowly becoming more tenuous. Her screen presence and nervy resolve while being terrorized by a distorted-faced bogeyman remind me of Neve Campbell, who returned to the Scream franchise again earlier this year in the series’s fifth installment. As compared to the Scream films, the terror in Smile is more psychological in nature, since the characters around Cotter can’t see the horrifying creature that impersonates her friends and family. She reaches out to people she thinks she can trust, like her sister Holly (Gillian Zinser) and her therapist Dr. Northcott (Robin Weigert), but there’s no telling when the shapeshifting smirker could rear its smiling head.

Mental health is a subject that horror films have addressed responsibly and not-so-responsibly over the years — more recently, I would put 2022’s Abandoned in the latter category — but Smile builds it into the narrative sensitively and intelligently. As a child, Cotter witnessed her wayward mother overdose on unnamed prescription pills, leaving an indelible mark on her even as she treats patients going through the same sort of mental illnesses that afflicted her mom. The way that the film personifies the cyclical nature of traumatic events is disturbing and shocking at times but doesn’t feel exploitative of these characters or their issues. The people around Rose who know about her relationship with her mother assume that she’s succumbing to genetically-passed psychosis and Finn leaves the door open enough to suspect that they could be right.

Shot by DP Charlie Sarroff largely in shallow focus and with colors that look like they’ve had the life drained out of them, Smile is a admirably bleak affair that nevertheless finds purpose in its protagonist’s quest for vindication. Finn also sprinkles in typically innocuous smiles, like those found on families from vintage print ads or found on the lower end of the Wong-Baker pain scale, to perpetually unnerving effect. Being Finn’s full-length feature debut, the film could have benefitted from more judicious editing but in general, the pacing felt just right for a movie with a sadistically patient antagonist that waits for the right moment to strike. Beaming with a strong central performance and a potent concept, Smile is an elemental chiller that sinks its teeth in and never lets go.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Amsterdam, a mystery comedy starring Christian Bale and Margot Robbie involving three friends—a doctor, a nurse, and a lawyer—who become the prime suspects in the murder of a US Senator in the 1930s.
Also playing in theaters is Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, a musical comedy starring Shawn Mendes and Javier Bardem adapted from the popular children’s book about a family moving into a new home, where they find a singing saltwater crocodile living in the attic.
Premiering on Hulu is Hellraiser, a supernatural horror remake starring Odessa A’zion and Jamie Clayton about a young woman struggling with addiction who comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon evil extradimensional beings.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Don’t Worry Darling

Hot off its Venice International Film Festival premiere earlier this month, Olivia Wilde’s sophomore directorial effort Don’t Worry Darling lands in theaters with a whole mess of PR in tow. Reports of casting shake-ups and alleged on-set conflicts painted the picture of a troubled production before a disjointed press circuit further exacerbated the optics surrounding the film. It’s to the movie’s credit that all of this baggage begins to evaporate quite quickly, like a dream upon waking, after the lights dim and the projector begins to flicker. Unfortunately, the end result still isn’t good enough to overcome all the expectations most audiences will have going into the theater, nor is it bad enough for the hate-watching crowds to get their kicks either.

Set in an idyllic community deeply steeped in mid-century architecture and fashion, Don’t Worry Darling is told through the eyes of Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh), a stay-at-home wife who dutifully sees her engineer husband Jack (Harry Styles) off every morning. She spends her days rigorously cleaning the house and sharing a mid-day martini with next-door neighbor Bunny (Olivia Wilde) before preparing a lavish dinner just in time for Jack’s arrival back home. Alice’s utopian life in the town of Victory starts to fall apart when her friend Margaret (KiKi Layne) begins to press Frank (Chris Pine), the founder of the all-encompassing Victory Project, for details around the enigmatic operation. After seeing a plane crash in the desert one day, Alice makes a trip to investigate the wreckage but instead finds the Victory Headquarters, causing her to ask questions similar to the ones Margaret asked before suffering an alleged “accident”.

Anyone who has seen the trailer for Don’t Worry Darling, which played ad nauseam in theaters this summer, won’t be surprised that some of the film’s stronger points are its surface-level delights. The set design, location work and production design are absolutely first-rate, meticulously evoking a 1950s postcard-prepped Palm Springs paradise that is exquisitely rendered at every turn. The masterful cinematographer Matthew Libatique, whose work on Black Swan underscores the ballet classes that Alice takes in this film, beautifully renders these picturesque settings while implying a darkness under the surface. Juxtaposing the carefree doo-wop and jazz hits on the soundtrack, John Powell’s haunting music score blends chopped-up breaths and grimy synths to perpetually chilling effect.

It’s all fantastic window-dressing but the script for Don’t Worry Darling dooms itself by putting all its eggs in the basket dedicated to the central mystery concerning what is really happening at Victory. Wilde occasionally drops paltry breadcrumbs leading to the late third-act development but spends too much time spinning her wheels with one psychological horror trope after another. Without getting into details that would constitute spoilers, the reveal feels cobbled together from other movies and TV series that have explored its implications and ramifications more thoroughly and intelligently. Wilde adds some layers of gender politics and social commentary that feel fresh and germane to the story but not enough to triumph over the nagging questions that theatergoers will have when the credits roll.

The stacked ensemble cast, which also includes Gemma Chan and Nick Kroll, does everything they can to bring this wonderland to life. Translating the terrors of her Midsommar character into a somewhat similar scenario, Pugh is reliably outstanding at bringing us into the shattered psyche of a woman at odds with the perfidious paradise around her. Pine is also excellent as a confident and charismatic authority figure who conjures platitudes about progress and positivity so seductively that they start to sound profound in no time. Styles is fine conveying what is admittedly a pretty bland character but based on the strength of his latest album, I hope he makes music a bigger priority than acting from here on. Don’t Worry Darling has plenty going for it but ultimately comes undone by a backloaded screenplay that favors surprises over subtlety.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Bros, a romantic comedy starring Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane about a New York museum curator with commitment issues and insecurities about his homosexuality who attempts a relationship with a workaholic lawyer.
Streaming on Disney+ is Hocus Pocus 2, a supernatural comedy starring Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker bringing back the Sanderson sisters 29 years after the events of the first film as they face off against a new trio of high school students.
Premiering on Netflix is Blonde, a historical drama starring Ana de Armas and Adrien Brody which tells a fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe from her tragic childhood to her meteoric rise to fame and her untimely death at the age of 36.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


When writer/director Ti West debuted his slasher film X at South By Southwest this past March, he announced that he secretly shot a prequel back-to-back with it that would fill in the backstory for X‘s elderly killer. Nine months later, we have Pearl, a horror movie as indebted to Technicolor melodramas of the 1950s as X was inspired by independently-produced slashers of the 1970s. Though this chapter takes place in 1918, when talkies hadn’t even been invented yet, West also taps into a golden age of Hollywood aesthetic with allusions to The Wizard of Oz and early Disney features. It’s in service of a villain origin story that generates a laudable amount of sympathy for its subject, mainly due to another outstanding performance from Mia Goth.

60 years before the events of X, the young Pearl (Goth) lives and works on a farm with her stern German immigrant mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) and her invalid father (Matthew Sunderland) while waiting for her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) to return from the Great War. Unsatisfied with the squalor of her circumstances, Pearl goes to the theater in town to watch the Palace Follies dancers and aspire to a more glamorous life. She meets a handsome projectionist (David Corenswet), who immediately takes a liking to her and encourages Pearl to pursue her dancing dreams. Pearl’s sister-in-law Mitzy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) informs her that a nearby church is holding auditions for a new chorus line member, which Pearl naturally sees as her ticket off the farm.

Even those who haven’t seen the companion piece X should be able to surmise that Pearl’s dreams of stardom don’t exactly pan out as she’d like but the film’s merits allow it to stand alone and make this a story worth delving into. While some of the early stylistic touches can come across as self-indulgent, which isn’t terribly out of character for West as a director, Pearl gradually begins to settle into itself as a sort of twisted fairy tale with themes similar to those in X about fame and fortune. There are other shared details with its sequel, from the screening of a stag film to the appearance of a certain hungry alligator, that should delight those who saw West’s previous effort. There are also numerous parallels drawn between the Spanish flu outbreak of the era to the COVID-19 pandemic, the latter of which actually helped West to pursue production for this unlikely prequel.

Goth, who co-wrote the Pearl script along with West, donned layers of makeup to play the older version of her character in X but is able to be much more expressive here as the ingénue-turned-murderer. As she performs tasks like feeding the farm animals or bathing her father, it almost seems like Goth could break out into an “I Want” Disney song at any moment, even though she also exhibits disturbing tendencies from the get-go. Her wide-eyed innocence giving way to madness reminded me of Shelley Duvall, particularly in her tormented performance from The Shining; one imagines Goth had an infinitely more enjoyable time making this movie. She does an excellent job getting us inside Pearl’s headspace, especially in a flawlessly-performed barn-burner of a third-act monologue which is presented in an unbroken take.

As he did during SXSW, West announced during Pearl‘s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month that X would get yet another entry in this series called MaXXXine, following the title character into the 1980s. Interestingly enough, Maxine was also played by Goth, meaning that her dual role in X will now have a prequel for one of the characters and a sequel for the other. It’s been quite a treat watching this peculiar trilogy emerge piece by piece as West and Goth find new ways to flesh out the flawed characters from this slasher series. Both films so far have leaned more heavily towards style than substance but then there are moments, like the aforementioned confessional monologue from Pearl or the “Landslide” sequence from X, that achieve unreserved beauty and wisdom. Horror often depicts humans at their worst but Pearl makes room for the hopes and desires that drive us to be better.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Don’t Worry Darling, a psychological thriller starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles about a 1950s housewife living with her husband in a utopian experimental community who begins to worry that his glamorous company could be hiding disturbing secrets.
Streaming on Peacock is Meet Cute, a romantic comedy starring Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson about a young woman who discovers a time machine in a nail salon and uses it to continually fix elements of a date she had the previous night.
Premiering on Apple TV+ is Sidney, a documentary honoring the legendary Sidney Poitier and his legacy as an iconic actor, filmmaker and activist at the center of Hollywood and the Civil Rights Movement.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup