Tag Archives: 2023


Christopher Nolan has often spoken of the influence that fellow British director David Lean has had on his films before but the careers of the filmmaking giants are continuing to mirror one another in intriguing ways. Like Lean, Nolan started small with low-budget mysteries like Memento and Insomnia, graduating to genre-defining classics Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, similar to the way Lean delivered a pair of all-timer Dickens adaptations with Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. If Dunkirk was Nolan’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, then it stands to reason that Oppenheimer would be his Lawrence of Arabia, an epic biopic sprung from a similarly complicated and tortured soul. Like that film, Nolan’s latest is both a state-of-the-art technical marvel as well as a propulsive and poetic character study of the highest order.

In the finest performance of his already consummate career, Cillian Murphy portrays titular theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer throughout an almost 40 year span of his life. He studies at Harvard and the University of Göttingen in Germany before teaching quantum physics at Berkeley. It’s there he meets fellow professor Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett) and young member of the Communist Party Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), the latter with whom he engages in a hot-cold tryst. After becoming aware of his brilliant contributions to the field, General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) visits Oppenheimer to confer about the Manhattan Project. Recruiting scientists Edward Teller (Benny Safdie) and Robert Serber (Michael Angarano), among many others, Oppenheimer sets up shop in Los Alamos to develop a weapon that could either light the sky on fire or secure lasting world peace.

Anyone who has seen one of Nolan’s movies before knows that the chronology naturally cannot be that simple and the director casts these bespoke biopic beats on a timeline that whips back and forth like a clotheslined sheet during a storm. Nolan frames the main narrative against two hearings at different points in history that would affect Oppenheimer’s legacy: one involving the continuation of Oppenheimer’s government security clearance and another involving the Senate confirmation hearing of Atomic Energy Commission head Lewis Strauss, played by Robert Downey Jr. The latter storyline is shot in black-and-white, which helps to delineate it from the rest of the action visually but also dramatically, as it’s removed from Oppenheimer’s subjective perspective. It’s also notable as Oppenheimer is the first feature to implement black-and-white photography within an IMAX presentation.

Collaborating again with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and editor Jennifer Lame, Nolan crafts another densely-packed epic that bears every signature touch that he’s showcased thus far in his oeuvre. He throws his audience in the deep end right away but trusts that they’ll catch up with the fast-paced dialogue, which is organically comprised of both heady scientific concepts and well-placed historical markers. The breakthrough here is the sound design, which has received well-deserved criticism over his past few features. Nolan’s penchant for keeping Tom Hardy’s mouth covered rendered much of his dialogue in both The Dark Knight Rises and Dunkirk to be either difficult to understand or downright unintelligible, where Tenet suffered from both issues despite Hardy’s absence. There are several key moments of sound mixing and editing in Oppenheimer that are downright brilliant and will have you on the edge of your seat.

Nolan is no stranger to qualified ensemble casts but this may just be the most impressive assembly he’s gathered for any of his projects to date. The frame is packed with familiar faces, including Nolan favorites Kenneth Branagh and Gary Oldman, who consistently make the most of their screen time and imbue their characters with distinct qualities that make them unforgettable. I was particularly struck by Benny Safdie, who made a name for himself as co-director of anxious thrillers like Good Time and Uncut Gems, but continues to make a case for himself as a unique screen presence. Even characters that are underserved, like Emily Blunt’s Kitty Oppenheimer, are given scenes that allow them to grab hold of the film and not let go until they’re ready. As someone who saw and very much enjoyed Barbie, I would encourage all to engage in the Barbenheimer double feature but if you only have time to see one, give it to Oppenheimer.

Score – 4.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Haunted Mansion, a horror comedy starring LaKeith Stanfield and Tiffany Haddish about a single mother and her son who hire a former paranormal investigator turned tour guide after they move into a mansion that they discover is haunted.
Also playing in theaters is Talk To Me, a supernatural horror film starring Sophie Wilde and Alexandra Jensen about a group of friends who learn how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand but unleash terrifying supernatural forces in the process.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is The Beanie Bubble, a comedy biopic starring Zach Galifianakis and Elizabeth Banks about a frustrated toy salesman who collaborates with three women on what would become the biggest toy craze in history.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

When Mission: Impossible – Fallout was released in 2018, many immediately heralded it as a new apex for the long-running action spy franchise and one that would be difficult to supersede. 5 years and 1 global pandemic later, we have half of a sequel that is already 163 minutes on its own, with a concluding chapter coming next summer. That Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One doesn’t top its predecessor could be seen as a disappointment, but given that it’s a stronger action outing than just about anything else in the genre that’s been released in theaters this year, there’s still plenty to celebrate. Even more than usual, Tom Cruise seems to have put everything he has into this particular entry and his mind-boggling work ethic comes through every second he’s in frame.

This time around, superspy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is on the hunt for two halves of an interlocking key that seems to be crucial for controlling The Entity, an all-powerful AI that has outgrown its intended use and is headed towards sentience. After retrieving the first portion of the key from returning Mission agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Hunt bumps into professional pickpocket Grace (Hayley Atwell) while attempting to recover the other half-key. She forms an uneasy alliance with Hunt, along with IMF cohorts Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), when he promises her protection from Gabriel (Esai Morales), a menacing mastermind who has a history with Hunt and appears to be working on behalf of The Entity.

After beginning with a tensionless and series-worst cold open, Dead Reckoning Part One finds its footing once Cruise steps out from the shadows and even more so when he pairs back up with Rebecca Ferguson, with whom he has effortless chemistry on-screen. Since appearing first in 2015’s Rogue Nation, she’s done other franchise films like Dune and series like Apple TV+’s Silo but she’s always a most welcome presence in these movies as a fearless foil for Cruise’s Hunt. Along with Atwell and Morales (both quite good in their respective roles), other newcomers include Pom Klementieff, playing against type as a ruthless assassin, and Shea Whigham, playing to his strengths as a gruff enforcer on Hunt’s tail. Henry Czerny returns from a long series hiatus, having last appeared in the first Mission: Impossible film, and he does what he can to rekindle the seething intensity he brought all those years ago.

Like Ferguson, director and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie is also returning to this franchise for the third time but he still hasn’t been able to top the high water mark that is Rogue Nation. Dead Reckoning Part One has the well-designed car chases and death-defying stunts that you’d hope for but they don’t flow together as organically as they did in McQuarrie’s previous two efforts. More importantly, the story just isn’t there this time around; I’m more dubious of Fallout‘s convoluted plotline than most but at least the narrative itself is engaging on a fundamental level. Hunt vs. artificial intelligence may seem like a relevant pitch, given how prevalent generative AI seems to be in our current cultural conversation, but its permutation here feels underdeveloped and, at times, a bit silly.

Along with other recent blockbusters like Fast X and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Dead Reckoning Part One continues the recent trend of big summer movies concluding with substantial cliffhangers, though at least the Mission: Impossible series has the courtesy of denoting that with “part one” in the title. While this chapter certainly moves along more briskly than its hefty runtime would suggest, I find it hard to believe that McQuarrie and his co-writer Erik Jendresen couldn’t have written a more concise story upon which to hang these action sequences and cast of characters. In addition to what I would expect would be even more thrilling scenes of gravity defiance, Part Two should also shed more light on the shared past between Hunt and Gabriel, along with more clues about how The Entity came to be. If McQuarrie can tap back into the elegant storytelling he’s demonstrated before, it could make for a strong stopping point for this superlative series.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters is Barbie, a fantasy comedy starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling following a pair of less-than-perfect dolls as they are expelled from the utopian Barbie Land and go on a journey of self-discovery to the real world.
Also coming only to theaters is Oppenheimer, an epic biopic starring Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt telling the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who helped develop the first nuclear weapons on the Manhattan Project.
Streaming on Netflix is They Cloned Tyrone, a sci-fi comedy starring John Boyega and Jamie Foxx about a series of eerie events that thrusts an unlikely trio onto the trail of a nefarious government conspiracy.

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

Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny

When George Lucas first developed the Indiana Jones character, his quests were meant to mimic the rousing movie serials from Lucas’s childhood in the 1940s. Now that Raiders of the Lost Ark is over 40 years old, perhaps it’s inevitable that Indy’s fifth and final adventure Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is imbued with a type of 1980s nostalgia for the original Indy trilogy. Those films were intentionally throwbacks even in their day, meaning that this latest chapter is necessarily even more old-fashioned, but that’s always been the cornerstone of what makes these modified swashbucklers work. Stepping in for Steven Spielberg, director and co-writer James Mangold brings some of the master’s signature touches to the film but brings his own instinct for kinetic storytelling to the table as well.

After a thrilling prologue set in the final days of World War II, Dial of Destiny flashes forward to 1969, where history is being made in front of the eyes of professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) as man first walks on the moon. However, Jones has his eye on more ancient history; specifically, the Siege of Syracuse in 213 BC. It was there that mathematician Archimedes created a device known as the Antikythera, a dial that can point its possessor to cracks in time through which they can travel. Half the mechanism has been lost through the centuries but Jones has the other half in his collection, prompting his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) to help him reassemble the artifact before German physicist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) can get to it first.

If there’s such a thing as an “Indiana Jones formula”, then Mangold follows it closely for Dial of Destiny. There are MacGuffins, there are Nazis, there are chases, all set to the musical score of the best film composer to ever do it. Were Disney to treat this like their other George Lucas acquisitions, there’d be a new Indiana Jones movie every two years but since it’s been 15 years since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, these adventures feel more momentous by comparison. The development for the new faces around Indy isn’t as strong as it could have been but the performances make up the difference. Waller-Bridge is a snappy foil for our aging protagonist and while Mikkelsen is basically playing a cardboard cutout of a villain, he’s certainly having a fun time doing it.

Much has been made of the de-aging that’s been performed on the 80-year-old Ford for Dial of Destiny, both the facial variety for flashback scenes and the physical kind for action sequences where Indy appears particularly agile. With a few exceptions, I think the process generally works quite well and helps to hide the seams. Sure, Indy’s artificially younger face isn’t as naturally expressive as it could be and there are some clunky shots, particularly a scene of Indy jumping atop a moving train, that look undeniably inauthentic. Nevertheless, the majority of the terrific chase sequences feel especially tactile and impactful, thanks to top-tier stunt work and outstanding editing. The movie has the character beats and the archeological sleuthing that you want from an Indiana Jones outing but Mangold knows we’re also in the theater for exhilarating action and he delivers.

Mangold also understands the star power of Harrison Ford and wields it intelligently here. I have no doubt that several stunt doubles were used in lieu of Ford in some of the trickier shots but Mangold does a laudable job maintaining the illusion that it’s really him the whole time. Dial of Destiny may also mark the end of a trilogy, of sorts, in Ford’s career. Over the past ten years, he’s brought back iconic characters Han Solo and Rick Deckard for legacy sequels that were not only stellar films in their own right but also implemented Ford wisely within their respective narratives. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny may not be as strong as Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Blade Runner 2049 but it’s a properly entertaining sendoff to everyone’s favorite archeologist-adventurer.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Insidious: The Red Door, a supernatural horror film starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne set ten years after the events of the first two Insidious films, which finds Dalton grown up and ready to go to college but still plagued by demons from the Further.
Also playing in theaters is Joy Ride, a comedy starring Ashley Park and Stephanie Hsu about four Asian-American childhood best friends as they bond even closer while they travel through Asia in search of one of their birth mothers.
Streaming on Netflix is The Out-Laws, a crime comedy starring Adam DeVine and Pierce Brosnan which follows a bank manager on his wedding week whose bank is robbed by criminals that he very strongly suspects might be his future in-laws.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Asteroid City

Wes Anderson is the type of director whose work is so firmly situated in the cultural consciousness that even those who have only seen one or two of his films can immediately recognize his style. Over the years, parodies of Anderson doing X-Men or a horror movie have popped up on YouTube and SNL and more recently, AI has been used to create fake trailers for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings in Anderson’s emblematic style. The question around Asteroid City, the latest from the oft-caricatured auteur, is whether Anderson would drastically change things up to keep audiences guessing or continue with the muted and mannered methodology to which viewers have become accustomed. For the most part, Anderson plays to his strengths in terms of aesthetic and tone but the difference here is in the richness of emotions from the film’s panoply of characters.

Set within a play of the same name, Asteroid City takes place in a fictional desert settlement named after a meteorite that landed thousands of years ago and created a crater where a science fair is now held annually. Rolling into town for the 1955 Junior Stargazer Convention are five teenaged honorees, there to show off their impressive retrofuturistic inventions, along with their respective families. Fittingly, one of the teenagers, Woodrow Steenbeck (Jake Ryan), is nicknamed “Brainiac” and brings with him his photographer father Augie (Jason Schwartzman) and three sisters. He strikes up a fast friendship with fellow Stargazer Dinah Campbell (Grace Edwards), whose actress mother Midge (Scarlett Johansson) similarly begins a relationship with the recently-widowed Augie.

Being a Wes Anderson movie, Asteroid City additionally boasts dozens of other eccentric players and ornate vignettes to detail this world-within-a-world. He’s assembled impressive casts before but this may be Anderson’s most stacked ensemble to date; when superstars like Tom Hanks and Steve Carell pop up only for a few scenes each, seemingly because the film is already bursting at the seams with talent, it becomes even more apparent the embarrassment of riches this project has become. The sheer amount of familiar faces, which also includes Anderson stalwarts like Jeffrey Wright and Tilda Swinton, may connote that these characters are disposable or replaceable but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of their stories are funny and some of them are sad but they’re all interesting and would be worth diving into on their own terms.

The writing in Anderson’s work is often droll and direct, ripe for satire but also whip smart and difficult to emulate authentically. Asteroid City has several trademark pithy exchanges, the first conversation over phone between Augie and his father-in-law being a clear example, but over time, the dialogue becomes more reflective and introspective. The play can be seen both as a Cold War parable and a pandemic allegory, where isolation and fear underscore human’s desperate need for connection. Augie and Midge’s tryst is fueled by conversations between open windows in adjacent motel rooms, their framing resembling the video chat confines of computer screens. When juxtaposed with an alley-set chat between the actor playing Augie and the actress that was to portray Augie’s wife, Anderson’s comment seems to be that people will cross any barriers to carry out meaningful conversation.

If things in Asteroid City weren’t metatextual enough, there is another layer of artifice by way of a TV show narrated with Rod Serling-like candor by Bryan Cranston about how the play was performed. Though these scenes are in black-and-white and in a markedly different aspect ratio than the Panavision widescreen used for the play itself, it can be tricky keeping track of what world we’re in when. Cranston’s character even pops up briefly in one of the full-color scenes by accident, only to slyly slink away back to his own universe. Despite these veneers of unreality, Anderson is careful never to lose the thread of why each of these characters matter and why we should care about them. That’s a breakthrough worth celebrating for a filmmaker who has, from time to time in his stellar career, favored cerebral flourish over genuine sentiment.

Score – 4/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, an action-adventure sequel starring Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge which concludes the 5-film arc of the titular archaeologist as he teams up with his goddaughter to retrieve a legendary artifact that can change the course of history.
Also coming to the multiplex is Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, an animated fantasy comedy starring Lana Condor and Toni Collette about a shy teenager who learns that she comes from a fabled royal family of legendary sea krakens and that her destiny lies in the depths of the waters.
Streaming on Netflix is Run Rabbit Run, a psychological horror film starring Sarah Snook and Lily LaTorre following a fertility doctor who must challenge her own values and confront a ghost from her past after noticing the strange behavior of her young daughter.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

No Hard Feelings

The predictable but reliably funny sex comedy No Hard Feelings stars Jennifer Lawrence as Maddie, a thirtysomething Uber driver who’s in a bit of a pickle after her car is repossessed. While working her second job, Maddie’s co-worker friend Sarah (Natalie Morales) finds an ad offering a used Buick to anyone who will date their 19-year-old son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). Desperate to dig her way out of bankruptcy, Maddie meets with Percy’s parents to accept the job and attempt to drag the awkward Percy out of his cocoon of video games and online interactions. Maddie’s early seductive passes at Percy evolve into dates that grow more meaningful and suggest that the two may have a genuine connection beyond the covert agreement between Maddie and Percy’s parents.

If the premise of No Hard Feelings feels refreshing, it speaks not to its inherent originality and more to how out of fashion raunchy romantic comedies have become in recent years. What makes this film slightly more progressive than past compeers like The Girl Next Door or She’s Out Of My League is that here, the female lead is the one calling the shots and it’s the male co-star who plays the ingenue. It’s also a tricky needle to thread to be crude but not offensive, shocking but not problematic. While the movie tends to be more on the safe side, save a few scenes that intended to provoke a reaction, director and co-writer Gene Stupnitsky finds a nice rhythm and balance between laughs and pathos. Like his similarly foul-mouthed Good Boys, the runtime here is also under 100 minutes, a brisk respite from the scourge of overstuffed outings.

After moving on from the Hunger Games and X-Men franchises, Lawrence took a short hiatus from the limelight but her return in last year’s Causeway and now No Hard Feelings remind us why she became so popular in the first place. Maddie is certainly rough around the edges and could be seen as objectionable for taking up the unsavory offer to “educate” a young man before he heads off to Princeton. But Lawrence hits the right notes with her licentious heroine, obviously able to pull off sexpot allure with aplomb but also unafraid to lean into the physical comedy, even when it gets ugly. The trailers have highlighted a moment where Maddie crawls on all fours crying after getting maced by a terrified Percy but a beach-set scene shortly after takes the cake in terms of no holds barred slapstick performance. You’ll know it when you see it.

Similar to his character, Feldman is more reserved earlier on in his performance and comes out of his shell as No Hard Feelings progresses. He pushes things a bit too far in the third act, in terms of how much his character changes, but the film’s mid-section allows for a burgeoning vulnerability to bring Percy to a sweet spot in terms of characterization. Feldman is also able to lend his musical theater bonafides to the role — he also played the title role in the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway — during a restaurant scene that adds some nice dimension to his loner character. Feldman also has some well-handled scenes with his parents, played by Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick, with the presence of the latter inspiring an inevitable Ferris Bueller’s Day Off riff towards the film’s conclusion.

As is often the case for rom-coms, the weak spot for No Hard Feelings comes with its plotting and the necessary contrivances that keep the narrative moving but simply don’t reflect real life. If you’ve ever seen a movie like this before, where characters make a secret plan that keeps one of the central protagonists in the dark, then nearly nothing about the second half of this film will be surprising to you. For as many hard-earned laughs as Stupnitsky and co-writer John Phillips work into the screenplay, I wish they could have come up with something in terms of story that wasn’t so well-worn. This is a comedy that relies mainly on the timing and chemistry of its two stars and that’s where the majority of its successes lie. No Hard Feelings is hardly a revelatory raunch-com but in its attempt to revive a stagnant genre, it rises to the occasion.

Score – 3/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Asteroid City, a sci-fi dramedy starring Tom Hanks and Scarlett Johansson following a writer as he stages his world famous fictional play about a grieving father, while traveling with his tech-obsessed family to small rural city to compete in a stargazing event.
Also playing in theaters is God Is A Bullet, an action thriller starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Maika Monroe about a detective who takes matters into his own hands when he finds his ex-wife murdered and his daughter kidnapped by an insidious cult.
Streaming on Netflix is The Perfect Find, a romantic comedy starring Gabrielle Union and Keith Powers involving a career woman who transitions from the fashion industry to beauty journalism and subsequently falls for her boss’s son.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Flash

Arriving with not-so-lightning speed towards the end of the DC Extended Universe’s cinematic run, The Flash is a project that’s technically been in the works since the 1980s and is finally bolting into theaters. Based around the lauded Flashpoint comic book storyline, the movie’s narrative integrates time travel and multiverses in ways that should be inspired but ultimately end up just creating a confusing mess. Even if one goes into the film with knowledge of the myriad storylines from this Universe, along with general knowledge from other superhero lore, there’s a good chance audience members will have issues keeping up with the leaps in continuity and logic that this film makes. Despite some winning performances and some of the most consistent humor in a DCEU entry so far, The Flash is too little too late.

The Flash opens with Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), now a full-time member of the Justice League as The Flash, in the midst of handling a speedy clean-up for Batman (Ben Affleck) during a particularly messy car chase. After that bout of crime fighting, Barry works to clean up grocery store footage that will exonerate his father Henry (Ron Livingston) after the wrongful conviction of his wife’s murder. In frustration one night, The Flash discovers that he is able to run so fast that he can travel faster than the speed of light and, in doing so, effectively travel through time. Hurt over his mother’s murder years prior, he jets back in time with the intent of preventing her death but his actions create an alternate reality where Barry runs into his former self. Along with an altered version of Batman (Michael Keaton), the two Barrys work to set the timeline right.

Yes, The Flash sees the return of Keaton donning the cape and cowl for the first time in over 30 years and despite the time that’s passed, he settles back into the role very nicely. His Bruce Wayne was always the most eccentric and cerebral of the bunch, traits that Keaton has refined even further in his career since Batman Returns. While director Andy Muschietti can’t help but bolster the performance with CG-enhanced virility that has Keaton moving like an impossibly spry sexagenarian, the best Keaton moments in this film call back to the ingenuity of those earlier Burton Batmans. Staging an escape in an elevator shaft, he quickly calculates the collective weight of the escapees, along with a handy tape measure, and sets an explosive charge with proportional propulsion to shoot them up to the roof.

Though Muschietti and his screenwriter Christina Hodson do their best to hold our hand through the time travel paradoxes and multiverse snafus, it’s enough to say that the concept of the “butterfly effect” is used very liberally throughout The Flash. After Barry makes his first interjection within the past, the ramifications are predictably severe and the storyline gets messier than an Ashton Kutcher nose bleed. But if going back in time and zipping back to the future is enough to completely alter the appearance of someone (Bruce Wayne, for instance, since he’s played by two actors), shouldn’t nearly everything else be drastically changed too? The way that these universes unravel relies heavily either on plot contrivance or comedic effect, as with the running joke that Eric Stoltz starred in an alternate version of Back To The Future instead of Michael J. Fox.

I’m not someone who tends to pick on CGI in these superhero epics; there’s often so much money on the screen that the majority of these blockbusters are arranged at least competently enough for me to ignore some choppy rendering or unconvincing shading here and there. Having said that, this movie has scenes containing some of the most jaw-droppingly outdated effects I’ve seen in the modern superhero era. When The Flash is speeding through time, he generates a large orb of energy around him that projects flashes of events as they were and could have been. It’s not clear to me if these images are meant to look as if real actors were present in creating these vignettes but as presented, they would barely pass muster as cutscenes from a Playstation 2 game. The Flash has flashes of brilliance when it tackles themes of regret and acceptance but stumbles in delivering a coherent standalone feature.

Score – 2.5/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Elemental, a Pixar animated movie starring Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie set in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic elements of nature where a fire creature and water creature strike up a romantic relationship.
Also playing only in theaters is The Blackening, a horror comedy starring Grace Byers and Jermaine Fowler about a group of Black friends who go away for the weekend, only to find themselves trapped in a cabin with a killer who has a vendetta.
Streaming on Netflix is Extraction 2, an action thriller starring Chris Hemsworth and Idris Elba continuing the story of a black-ops mercenary whose new mission involves the rescue of a ruthless Georgian gangster’s family from the prison where they are being held.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse

Four and a half years after the landmark Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a follow-up has finally arrived but it was worth the wait and then some. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse does all of the things that great sequels need to do: it follows the continuity and ethos of its predecessor, boldly expands on the world that it set up and leaves us wanting even more. At 140 minutes, it’s the longest animated film ever produced by an American studio but it never feels bloated or dragged down by its densely layered storytelling. Assembled by a trio of directors entirely different from the three that worked on Into the Spider-Verse, this follow-up is another testament to the power of collaboration among storytellers with divergent creative backgrounds.

The previous film ended with Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) communing with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) through a portal in his bedroom ceiling, her final line of “got a minute?” setting up further adventures across dimensions. The beginning of Across the Spider-Verse catches us up on her backstory and what she’s been up to since the events of the first movie, most notably her admission into the Spider-Society. This is a team of other Spider-Man variants, led by Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), who aim to keep peace in the multiverse by disposing of dimensional anomalies and preserving “canon events”, crucial moments of growth similar amongst the Spider-People. Rejoined by mentor Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) along with new Spider faces Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni) and Hobie Brown (Daniel Kaluuya), Miles and Gwen must stop a new villain wreaking havoc across the multiverse.

Across the Spider-Verse joins recent films like Best Picture winner Everything Everywhere All at Once and MCU entry Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness whose storylines go deep into parallel universes. There are essays and thinkpieces to be written about why audiences are seeming to respond so strongly to movies with this theme but it’s enough to say that the “what if?” aspect of the plot device remains effortlessly effective here. Where Into the Spider-Verse introduced us to a few twists on the Spider-Man character we typically know from movies and TV shows, this latest film gives us glimpses of dozens of new Spider people, creatures, and machines that exist in other dimensions. There are tangents and cameos of the LEGO and live-action variety that constantly remind us of the boundless creative energy that goes into making these movies.

Into the Spider-Verse introduced a bold new animation style that visualized the comic book experience like never before and Across the Spider-Verse goes even further with its artistic ambitions. While Miles’ timeline on Earth-1610 retains the Ben Day dots and chromatic distortion of the first movie, we spend more time in other dimensions like Gwen’s home on Earth-65. Her world is rendered with draw-dropping impressionist vigor, where every frame is a painting that emotes with the scene it’s canvassing. The film’s most moving moments are between Gwen and her police captain father, reeling with the news that his daughter is a vigilante crime fighter. The frame is awash with watercolor paint whose hues bleed into one another; watching paint dry has never been this exhilarating. This is a new cinematic language of animation being created before our eyes and it’s simply a wonder to behold.

Reuniting frequent screenwriting partners Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Across the Spider-Verse adds veteran scribe David Callaham for a script that is somehow just as clever as the screenplay for its predecessor. It keeps up with all of the manic mythology surrounding the Spider-Man character but packs in gobs of pathos and wit too. There’s a clever bit about redundant initialisms that is set up in a New York bodega and then called back during Pavitr’s introduction in Mumbattan, which I take to be a portmanteau of Mumbai and Manhattan. It’s no secret that the superhero genre is a packed clubhouse when it comes to modern movies but if you’re sleeping on these Spider-Verse chapters, you’re missing out on the finest films this pocket of cinema has ever produced.

Score – 4.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters is Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, an action sequel starring Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback which takes the franchise back to 1994, where the machine creatures Maximals, Predacons and Terrorcons aid Optimus Prime against the Unicrons.
Streaming on both Disney+ and Hulu is Flamin’ Hot, a biopic starring Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez about a Frito Lay janitor who disrupted the food industry by channeling his Mexican heritage to turn Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from a snack into an iconic global pop culture phenomenon.
Premiering on Netflix is The Wonder Weeks, a comedy starring Sallie Harmsen and Soy Kroon which follows three modern couples as they juggle relationships and demanding careers while navigating the unpredictable terrain of new parenthood.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Little Mermaid

After a pair of mild artistic successes in Mulan and Cruella, Disney retreats to the tried-and-true live-action remake formula that’s made them billions in worldwide box office previously with The Little Mermaid. The latest entry from the Disney Renaissance period that now belongs in the current Disney Retread-issance era, this latest offering, like Aladdin or The Lion King before it, only exists to remind us of the original. There are bare minimum efforts to distinguish it from its source material or, heaven forbid, improve on it; there are a few new songs, some new subplots and a new character or two. But unlike the Dumbo or Cinderella remakes, the latter of which remains a shining example of what these “updates” should do, not enough time has passed for the 1989 original Mermaid to need refreshing.

We’re reintroduced to the young mermaid Ariel (Halle Bailey) as she spends her days in the underwater kingdom of Atlantica while quietly longing for life above the ocean’s surface. Thanks to her friends Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), she’s developed quite a collection of human trinkets that she must hide from her human-hating father King Triton (Javier Bardem). After a shipwreck allows Ariel the opportunity to rescue seafaring prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), she becomes infatuated and even more determined to make her above-land dreams come true. In crawls Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), a devious sea witch who offers to transform Ariel’s tail into human legs to chase after Eric but demands her voice as payment.

Bailey obviously has big fins to fill in the title role and she certainly does all she can with the opportunity. She’s a fantastic singer and unlike, say, Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast, she doesn’t have to rely on vocal processing to enhance her timbre. But there’s something about the underwater scenes that limit the expressiveness of her face, which Bardem falls victim to in almost all of his scenes as well. I would assume it’s whatever computer-generated effects they render atop the faces of the actors to make it look like they’re underwater but they really hinder the emotive facial qualities that make dramatic scenes work. Once Ariel makes it above water, Bailey’s performance finally feels more alive, even though her songs are performed in voiceover since the character isn’t able to actually sing along at that point.

Most of the fan favorite songs return, including the most-cherished of the Disney “I Want” ballads “Part of Your World” and the dastardly show-stopper “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. The respective performers do a commendable job replicating the magic of the original tunes, even though there isn’t really much that can be added to them. “Under The Sea” gets the live-action “Be Our Guest” treatment of whipping a bunch of blurry CG effects across the screen and calling it fun. Lin-Manuel Miranda contributes new numbers “Wild Uncharted Waters” and “For The First Time”, which fit in lyrically and thematically with the existing songs but don’t best any of the classic original tunes. Hamilton fans will delight at the rap-sung Awkwafina-Daveed Diggs collaboration “The Scuttlebutt”, while Hamilton detractors will likely groan and roll their eyes.

The Little Mermaid suffers from the same problem as the rest of these Disney remakes when it comes to how the animals are designed. Even though we’re dealing with talking crabs and seabirds that can somehow hang out for minutes underwater to converse, director Rob Marshall and his team still attempt to make these creatures look realistic as opposed to the cartoonish liberties that the animated original took. The fish Flounder suffers the most from this treatment; his bulging eyes and agape mouth make him more fit for a Mediterranean plate than as an active participant in this story. Of course, none of this looks better with 3D presentation and for a movie that already has a lack of defined color and visual sharpness, I can’t understand why this is even playing in 3D anywhere. Please stay out of the water and watch the far superior animated The Little Mermaid, in hopes that it will inspire Disney to get out of the shallow end and get back to producing new stories instead of rehashing existing IP.

Score – 1.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters is Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, an animated superhero sequel starring Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld continuing the story of Miles Morales as he joins Gwen Stacy to complete a mission to save every universe of Spider-People
Also coming to theaters is The Boogeyman, a supernatural horror movie starring Sophie Thatcher and Chris Messina about a pair of sisters who are still reeling from the recent death of their mother when their therapist father takes in desperate patient who unexpectedly shows up at their house seeking help.
Streaming on Peacock is Shooting Stars, a sports biopic starring Marquis Cook and Wood Harris depicting a young Lebron James and his three best friends as they become the number one high school basketball team in the country.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup