Tag Archives: 2023

Boston Strangler

1968 saw the release of The Boston Strangler, a crime film loosely based on the real-life serial killer at the center of 13 still-unresolved slayings earlier that same decade. The notion of producing a movie so close to real events that were still under investigation divided audiences and critics alike; Roger Ebert opined, “This film, which was made so well, should not have been made at all.” Decades after the events, we now have Boston Strangler, a much more level-headed procedural about the pair of intrepid reporters who initially connected the murders. But just because this is more responsible in how it depicts the case doesn’t mean it’s not engrossing on its own terms. Like Zodiac, another quietly terrifying film about an unsolved murder spree in the 1960s, this movie gets us thoroughly involved with the characters first before the mystery takes hold.

Keira Knightley stars as Loretta McLaughlin, a columnist for the Boston Record American who is limited to covering “lifestyle topics” that her snippy editor Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper) thinks would interest bored housewives. Eager to move beyond reviewing the latest toaster from Sunbeam, she bends the ear of fellow reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) to figure out how she is able to tackle more meaningful subjects. Spotting a similarity between two murders within the same month, McLaughlin senses a pattern emerging and uses her newspaper credentials to lean on the police for information. After more elderly women in the area are strangled, McLaughlin recruits Cole to develop coverage around the elusive figure they dub the “Boston Phantom”, even while doing so puts their lives at risk.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin has a few projects under his belt, most recently before this with 2017 crime drama Crown Heights, but Boston Strangler seems to be the biggest productions he’s led so far. His latest effort has the sort of formal rigor that you’d want from a film about people working hard to put an end to a killing spree. It’s handsomely shot, it’s tightly edited and it packs plenty of subtext into the serial killer tale we’ve seen quite often in the past. The sexism of the era factors heavily into how McLaughlin and Cole were able to pursue the assignment in the first place and also informs the dismissive treatment they often received from law enforcement. Last year’s She Said, which also featured two reporters investigating a major story, deals with modern-day sexual politics much more bluntly but serves as a fitting companion piece about rising above implicit and explicit gender discrimination.

Through voiceover narration, Boston Strangler wisely includes excerpts from articles that McLaughlin actually wrote to convey the progression of the breaking news. Not only was she a groundbreaking journalist but she was also a compelling storyteller, crafting prose that was true to the facts while also being effortlessly absorbing at the same time. Ruskin goes for a similar approach, responsibly relaying an impressive amount of detail around the murders while including flavor about the toll that chasing this killer had on those doing the chasing. A pair of nicely juxtaposed scenes set outside of different residences suggest that as McLaughlin gazes into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into her.

Though Knightley is a fine lead, it’s a bit curious that she goes with a more “standard” American dialect as opposed to the Boston accent that Woburn native McLaughlin likely had. While I wasn’t expecting a full-on The Departed level of “r-dropping”, other ensemble players like Alessandro Nivola and Bill Camp at least try to evoke the region’s dialect in their performances. Regardless, Ruskin gets fine work out of his cast overall and does everything he can to make this true story register with his audience. As Boston-set journalism movies go, Boston Strangler isn’t quite on the level of Spotlight but it gets much closer than you may expect from a direct-to-streaming thriller.

Score – 3.5/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Shazam! Fury of the Gods, a superhero sequel starring Zachary Levi and Helen Mirren which continues the story of a teenager and his foster siblings who must transform into their superpowered adult alter egos to fight the Daughters of Atlas.
Streaming on Netflix is The Magician’s Elephant, an animated family film starring Noah Jupe and Mandy Patinkin following a boy on the search for his long-lost sister with the help of a mysterious elephant and the magician who will conjure it.
Streaming on MGM+ is There’s Something Wrong With The Children, a horror movie starring Alisha Wainwright and Zach Gilford about a couple who takes a weekend trip with longtime friends and their two young kids, the latter of whom begin to behave strangely after disappearing into the woods overnight.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Creed III

When Ryan Coogler rebooted the Rocky series in 2015 with Creed, it brought a much-needed level of excitement to the stalled franchise and introduced a formidable new pugilist protagonist to allow future films to flourish. After a serviceable sequel in 2018, Creed returns 5 years later with Creed III, a moderate step up from the second chapter that still can’t quite recapture the magic of the first movie in the trilogy. Nevertheless, this boxing series has had all sorts of highs and lows over time and these three Creed films have an admirable amount of consistency when it comes to the fundamentals of what makes these kinds of movies work. With stronger dialogue and more detailed characterization, this entry could have hit even harder than it does but as is, it’s still plenty rousing and a properly engrossing addition to the boxing genre.

Our story begins in Los Angeles 2002, where teenaged Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) works as a corner man for his amateur boxer friend Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors). After we see glimpses of an incident in which Donnie and Dame become entangled, we jump forward to 2020, where Creed caps off his professional boxing career at 27-1. Stepping out of the ring will give him time to focus on training the next up-and-coming brawlers in his gym and, more importantly, give him more time to spend with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their hearing-impaired daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). But the reemergence of Dame following an 18-year stint in prison brings back former feelings and old scores to settle that can only be remedied by an inevitable bout in the ring.

Incorporating numerous reliable tropes from the Rocky franchise, Creed III follows the formula dutifully and even lifts specific plot points from some of the 1980s films in the series. Plot contrivances are hardly anything new in these movies and the events and motivations that get Creed and Anderson to the final showdown are fittingly questionable. For the storyline to work, Creed has to spend most of it painfully naïve of both Dame’s intentions as an old friend and his abilities as a boxer. It also requires us to believe that along the way, a bonafide heavyweight like Dame would actually duke it out with a dude who looks like he’s 150 soaking wet for a shot at the title. Florian Munteanu also returns from Creed II and even though he’s only sparring with Creed this time instead of going into full-on battle once again, his hulking figure is a reminder that these movies do not care about weight classes.

Stepping into the role of director for the first time, Michael B. Jordan makes occasional missteps with overly obvious visual cues but on the whole, he adds an impressive visual flair to scenes in and out of the ring. Jordan has talked about the immense influence that anime had on his approach to telling this story and in one specific instance during the climactic feud, the inspiration is apparent and the results are jaw-dropping. Elsewhere, he finds a clever way to showcase the way that Amara deals with a bully at school with an unexpected POV perspective. A masterful shot towards the middle of the film shows Donnie and Dame parting after a pre-fight pep talk, in which a wall separates the two and finds the former shorthanded in a more confined space compared to the eminent domain of the latter.

Having been in three of these films now, Jordan knows what makes them work best and summarily plays the hits. That means we’ll get family tragedy played up with full-force pathos, supposedly shocking upsets and, of course, training montages that show off the incredible physicality of the principal performers. I’m not sure how many more Creed movies Jordan will sign on for but given how long Stallone — who, somewhat curiously, doesn’t appear in this movie — held onto his role, I have to imagine he has one or two more in him. During one of the aforementioned montages, Creed’s trainer remarks that the titular heavyweight is “old and broken”, which would count as the funniest punchline I’ve heard in a movie so far this year if it had been intended as a joke. Jordan is obviously still in phenomenal shape and if Creed III is any indication, he’ll have plenty more opportunities in front of and behind the camera for many years to come.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming to theaters this weekend:
Scream VI, starring Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, is a slasher sequel which finds the survivors of the latest Ghostface killings now residing in New York City but still being plagued by a series of murders from a new Ghostface killer.
65, starring Adam Driver and Ariana Greenblatt, is a sci-fi action thriller which follows an astronaut as he crash lands on Earth 65 million years in the past and has to defend himself against dangerous prehistoric creatures.
Champions, starring Woody Harrelson and Kaitlin Olson, is a sports comedy about a temperamental minor-league basketball coach who finds himself in legal trouble and, in order to satisfy a community service requirement, must coach a team of players with intellectual disabilities.

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

Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania

Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets off to a fun start with Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, the third and likely final standalone movie for the other Avenger named after an insect who’s not Spider-Man. The first two entries seemed to be self-aware of the fact that Ant-Man is not the most impactful Marvel hero out there and as such, the stakes were appropriately low compared to the galaxy-level consequences of the Avengers movies. These days, I tend to tire from the humongous scale of the larger superhero epics and prefer the “smaller” stories but the first two Ant-Man films always felt too insignificant to leave an impression. Quantumania is unquestionably on a much bigger stage, tasked with building a world we’ve only seen glimpses of in previous MCU fare while also setting up the new big bad for the next batch of Marvel projects. It turns out that the little guy is up to the task.

We’re reintroduced to Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) as he adjusts to life as a celebrity after his substantial contribution to reversing the Blip in Avengers: Endgame. His now-teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is also trying to find her way, dabbling with activism and quantum physics on top of her regular school life. The latter hobby leads her to create a sort of GPS for the Quantum Realm, allowing her to explore the area without actually going there. When Scott’s girlfriend Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her parents Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) observe Cassie’s new invention, all five members of the family are sucked into a portal from the satellite and are transported to the Quantum Realm. Separated during their trip, Scott and Cassie must reunite with Hope and her parents to get back home while avoiding an all-powerful adversary in the process.

One area where Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the most recent MCU movie before Quantumania, struggled was in building a compelling new setting by way of the murky underwater city of Talokan. The Quantum Realm has been seen briefly in the first Ant-Man as something of a cosmic purgatory where Scott lingered for a moment of peril but in this sequel, we get to see much more of the universe. That gives way for some vivid new locations to be unveiled and plenty of neat creature design to fill the always-busy frame. We meet all sorts of strange characters, like a telepath whose head glows when he gets inbound thought messages from others and a Kirby-like slime being whose ooze can be ingested to allow outsiders to understand Quantum Realm languages. There’s even a talking broccoli, though he’s sadly not voiced by Dana Carvey.

The antagonist of Quantumania was first introduced in the finale of Loki, a TV series that I would consider a prerequisite going into this latest MCU movie, as the variant He Who Remains. For the first hour of Quantumania, he could be called He Who Remains Nameless, as the movie always seems to cut away from any character right before they say his name. Eventually we find out: it’s Kang The Conqueror, a Multiverse-hopping tyrant played with prestige and menace by Jonathan Majors. Unlike Thanos, whose appearances leading up to Avengers: Infinity War were relegated to brief scenes and post-credit teasers, Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios are showing us more of this supervillain up front before his inevitable clash with the Avengers. This is an auspicious start for Majors in these MCU films and I’m looking forward to seeing how his character develops over time, so to speak.

My Quantumania quibbles aren’t much different than the ones I tend to have with the rest of these movies. The lighting, especially in close-up, is inconsistent, the editing is incoherent at times and unlike the MCU output from last year, the third act is back to generally being a blur of clunky CGI action. But fans of the series likely won’t mind much of this because it’s potentially irrelevant to their experience and they aren’t new issues anyway. For me, this is the best of the three Ant-Man standalones because it finds new ways to flesh out this character — there’s a visual motif during a “probability storm” sequence that brought this home for me — in unpredictable ways. As a trilogy capper, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania sends the underdog hero out on a high note and sets up as many future adventures as the box office can justify.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Cocaine Bear, an action comedy starring Keri Russell and O’Shea Jackson Jr. based on the true story of a bear who goes on a killing rampage in a small Georgia town after ingesting a duffel bag full of cocaine.
Also coming only to theaters is Jesus Revolution, a faith-based drama starring Joel Courtney and Jonathan Roumie covering the true story of a national spiritual awakening in the early 1970s and its origins within a community of teenage hippies in Southern California.
Streaming on Netflix is We Have A Ghost, a family horror comedy starring David Harbour and Anthony Mackie about a family who finds a ghost named Ernest haunting their new home and turns him into an overnight social media sensation.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Streaming on Apple TV+ starting this Friday, the new psychological thriller Sharper is a movie about con artists that cons itself into thinking it’s sharper than it really is. Inspired by genre greats like The Grifters and House Of Games, the film has a titillating structure with character-focused chapters that reveal narrative context slowly but it falls apart when all the cards are on the table. These kinds of movies are often only as good as their final twist and the third act here, which tries to tie all these characters together for one last bit of backstabbing, simply doesn’t hold up against scrutiny. Even if the characters they play aren’t likable, the qualified cast is certainly engaging enough on-screen and does what they can to keep us invested through the myriad plot developments.

We first meet Tom (Justice Smith), a young man running a rare and used bookstore in Manhattan who helps Sandra (Briana Middleton) find a hardback copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God one day and a romance develops soon-after. Then we learn more about Sandra’s past as it relates to Max (Sebastian Stan), a seedy con artist — “I don’t watch movies, they’re a waste of time,” he snarls at Sandra — looking to settle a score with his family. That includes his overbearing mother Madeline (Julianne Moore) and her billionaire boyfriend Richard (John Lithgow), who let Max crash with them during an especially fraught time in his life. As more is revealed about Madeline and Sandra in the ensuing chapters of the narrative, allegiances shift and the lives of the five principal characters converge in unpredictable ways.

During a literary pop quiz of sorts, Max quotes the “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” line from Anna Karenina and while the way in which the family at the center of Sharper is unhappy isn’t exactly unique, the circumstances behind their unhappiness are intentionally labyrinthine. That’s due to the thorny screenplay from writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, which piles on layers of complicating factors to the ever-revolving story but doesn’t add much nuance or empathy to their characters in the process. The inhabitants of this tale are mostly miserable, money-flush Manhattanites, blithely resentful of how much wealth they’ve acquired while still bitterly dependent on it to destroy others when they so choose. There are times when it’s possible to care about these people but they certainly don’t make it easy.

While the players in con movies can’t all be as effortlessly charming as the swindling stars of Ocean’s 11, it’s not too much to ask that the structure of the duplicitous storyline adds up to something in the end. Sharper certainly sports surprises and twists along the way that keep the audience on their toes like this sort of film should but once you’ve lived inside a movie like this for an hour and a half, it’s not difficult to be able to guess how the final rug-pull will play out. Director Benjamin Caron does his best to distract us with a timeline that moves back and forth but can’t stick the landing when it counts. Fortunately, no matter where we are in the story, the film is always visually tantalizing, thanks to Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. One thing it’s difficult to say about most Apple Original Films is that they look bad; like the products they design, Apple clearly understands that a glossy appearance is imperative.

Apple TV+ releases are typically bolstered by casts of instantly recognizable stars and Sharper is no exception. While Moore and Stan are the actors whose stock is likely the highest right now, both of their characters are incredibly difficult to root for at any point in this story. The prickly performances are in line with the steely vibe that Caron is going for but it doesn’t give them a chance to show off their star power much either. Smith and Middleton fare much better in roles that give them the opportunities to show warmth and passion in a film that typically seems too cool for that sort of thing. Sharper is slick and smart in spurts but watching it, one can’t help but be reminded of the puzzlebox mysteries that pulled it off better.

Score – 2.5/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the latest Marvel installment starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly which finds Scott Lang and his family going on a new adventure within the Quantum Realm and pits them against a mysterious new foe.
Also playing in theaters is Marlowe, a neo-noir crime thriller starring Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger about a private detective who is hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress in 1930s Los Angeles.
Screening at Cinema Center is Paris Is Burning, a 1990 documentary which chronicles the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in the drag scene of New York during the 1980s.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Knock At The Cabin

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

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

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

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

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

Score – 2/5

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

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Infinity Pool

Infinity Pool, the new nightmare vision from Possessor writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, finds itself at the intersection of two thematic landscapes that have captured the zeitgeist as of late. Hit shows like The White Lotus and Nine Perfect Strangers involve mystery and intrigue among vacationers on opulent resorts, while movies like The Menu and newly-minted Best Picture nominee Triangle Of Sadness satirize the entitlement of the ultra-wealthy. Even with these touch points intact, viewers should know that Cronenberg’s latest incorporates elements of body horror and hard sci-fi that push his film into territory that will likely make casual audiences uncomfortable. But those who go along for the ride will have their eyes widened and buttons pushed in a mostly productive fashion.

Though it was shot in Croatia, Infinity Pool takes place on the fictional island of Li Tolqa, where author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife of 10 years Em (Cleopatra Coleman) find themselves visiting an all-inclusive resort. While on the beach one day, James is approached by Gabi (Mia Goth), a fellow guest at the resort who professes to James her fandom of his first novel and invites the couple to dinner with her and hubby Alban (Jalil Lespert). The quartet are brought close together after an off-resort jaunt takes them to the crime-addled countryside but the drunken drive back to their hotel yields an unexpected tragedy. After facing charges for their crimes by the local police, an alternative solution of twisted metaphysical justice is proposed to atone for their sins.

The trailers put out by Infinity Pool‘s distributor NEON have given far too many plot details away but it’s enough to say that the fallout from James’ punishment binds him to a group of hedonistic tourists who have their run of the resort and the surrounding area. Cronenberg’s commentary on the super rich and their propensity to operate outside society’s rules isn’t overwhelmingly nuanced but the class critique is only part of what he has on his mind. As with Possessor, this is a film that is meant to provoke our sense of what it means to be human and to live our lives as prisoners inside our own bodies. We see James tempted with desires of the flesh and forced with the decision to either break the cycle of depravity or succumb to its machinations.

Skarsgård is a fine audience surrogate, being slowly drawn into this band of miscreants even after his wife hightails it back to the States and he conveniently can’t find his passport to join her. It’s a 180-degree shift from his testosterone-fueled titular role in The Northman last year, channeling his inner schlub as an emasculated and insecure writer desperate for another hit. Goth was outstanding in companion horror films X and Pearl last year and she continues her winning streak here with a role that starts simple and seductive but morphs into something more sadistic and, at times, hilariously over-the-top. A scene late in the film, in which Gabi is drinking wine on the hood of a very slow-moving car, is scathing and darkly funny but also menacing and deranged at the same time. As with the cinematography in the rest of the movie, DP Karim Hussain nails the claustrophobic close-ups in this sequence.

Though the look of Infinity Pool is far grimier and asymmetrical than the aesthetic Stanley Kubrick favored throughout his filmography, Cronenberg seems to either intentionally or unintentionally channel narrative threads from several of his projects. The criminal atrocities carried out by the privileged ne’er-do-wells ironically mirror the acts of ultraviolence committed by the impoverished droogs in A Clockwork Orange. There are psychedelic sequences — photosensitivity warnings at the beginning of movies and TV shows are becoming more common these days and Infinity Pool certainly earns its disclaimer — that carry overtones from both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut. Naturally, horror masterpiece The Shining is also referenced in shared themes including unraveling of identity and patterns of reincarnation. Infinity Pool may be too unpleasant for general audiences but its shock value is often matched by the heady ambition right below the surface.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Knock At The Cabin, a psychological horror movie starring Dave Bautista and Jonathan Groff about a family of three on vacation that is suddenly held hostage by four strangers who demand they sacrifice one of their own to avert the apocalypse
Also playing only in theaters is 80 For Brady, a sports comedy starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda depicting four elderly female friends as they travel to Houston to watch their hero Tom Brady and the New England Patriots play in Super Bowl LI.
Streaming on Netflix is True Spirit, a based-on-a-true-story adventure starring Teagan Croft and Anna Paquin about a tenacious Australian teen who chases her dreams and faces her fears as she sets out to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


A spiritual sequel, of sorts, to 2018’s Searching, the new thriller Missing stars Storm Reid as June Allen, a bright but troubled teen who has butted heads with her mom Grace (Nia Long) since her dad passed years prior. Naturally, she doesn’t take to Grace’s new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung) either, although the pair of them going on a trip to Columbia frees her up to throw parties all week before picking them up from LAX upon their return. But when June goes to the airport, her mom and boyfriend are nowhere to be found after their returning flight arrives. After several unsuccessful phone and Facetime calls, she heads home and begins an investigation of her own after filing a missing persons report gets stalled by international red tape.

Like Searching, Missing is a part of the burgeoning screenlife genre, a category of films in which all the events take place on some sort of screen, including those belonging to a computer, smartphone or tablet. June has her MacBook’s camera on during the majority of her digital sleuthing, so we’re able to see her reactions in real time as new clues and bits of information are revealed. Where its predecessor’s protagonist was a somewhat tech-literate dad looking for his daughter, Missing‘s main character is a Gen-Z whiz kid who has just barely been around longer than the invention of the iPhone. That means the pace of her virtual snooping is much more brisk, with apps and windows opening and closing fast enough to make one’s head spin. But like any good mystery, the thrill is in trying to keep up with the hero’s thought process as they piece everything together.

Though Missing‘s story comes from Searching‘s writer-director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian, it’s that film’s editors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick who are the credited co-writers and co-directors this time out. That would help explain the swiftness of the narrative but also the dynamic progressions that the duo use when tying certain effects elements together. A montage of June’s week home alone incorporates some clever visual transitions, like the transport bar on a Spotify stream morphing into a guidance arrow on a set of Google Maps directions, that help bring home how ubiquitous these apps are to our daily functioning. Those of us who aren’t as reliant on screens may get lost in the shuffle here but to their credit, Johnson and Merrick do their best to try to keep the technophobes in the audience apprised of the story’s developments.

While Missing has all the fun twists and turns that one would expect from a Searching successor, the actual mystery isn’t quite as tight and the family drama isn’t quite as compelling this time around. Since this is an international affair, the scope of search is much bigger from the outset and means that certain contrivances have to be conceived to whittle down the possibilities for our main character. For instance, there’s a loophole involving the security footage at the Colombian hotel where June’s mom was staying that makes absolutely no sense and only exists so that June has to find another way around. When the (sometimes far-fetched) answers begin to fall into place during the third act, it’s probably best not to scrutinize plot points from the previous two acts.

But putting aside the detective elements of the plot, the familial aspects of Missing just aren’t as potent as they were in Searching. While it’s easy to be engaged in a daughter looking for her lost mother, this movie doesn’t pack the same punch of pathos that you get with a story of a father looking for his missing daughter. Reid is a talented young actress but John Cho as the first film’s beleaguered protagonist was extraordinary in what was pretty much a one person show. Reid has more scene partners by comparison, like a trusty friend played by Megan Suri and a Columbian freelancer played by Joaquim de Almeida, but even with their help, there just isn’t as potent an emotional throughline this time. Missing is missing some of the novelty and innovation that made Searching such a resounding success but it’s still a worthwhile entry in a film genre that will likely only get more popular as technology continues to weave its way into our lives.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Fear, a horror film starring Joseph Sikora and Andrew Bachelor about a weekend vacation that turns sinister when a contagious airborne threat forces a group of friends to each confront their worst fears.
Also playing only in theaters is Infinity Pool, a sci-fi horror movie starring Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth following a couple who are enjoying an all-inclusive beach vacation until a fatal accident exposes a perverse subculture lurking within the resort.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Shotgun Wedding, a romantic action comedy starring Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel depicting a couple’s extravagant destination wedding as it unexpectedly becomes hijacked by criminals.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

When You Finish Saving The World

Playing at Cinema Center starting this weekend, the indie dramedy When You Finish Saving The World stars Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard as Ziggy Katz, a high school student desperately trying to discover himself. Using a live streaming platform called Hi-Hat, he routinely performs original music for his 20,000 Followers all over the world, which doesn’t quite register with his parents Evelyn (Julianne Moore) and Roger (Jay O. Sanders). Also underwhelmed by his online success is Lila (Alisha Boe), a fellow student that Ziggy has developed a crush on due to her impassioned lunchtime political exchanges. The film also follows Evelyn and her work at a domestic abuse shelter, where she attempts to make a connection with Kyle (Billy Bryk), the teenage son of a woman seeking refuge at the Spruce Haven shelter.

Though the film’s title is never actually uttered by any of the characters, the phrase that gives When You Finish Saving The World its name is fitting for a movie whose two primary protagonists are both unknowingly narcissistic and self-righteous. The central irony of the story is that despite this common ground, Ziggy and Evelyn have a stilted relationship where they just can’t seem to see themselves in one another. It’s obvious that the pair will reach some kind of reconciliation by the end of the brisk 87-minute runtime but thanks to a pithy script by writer-director Jesse Eisenberg, the journey getting there is piquant and piercing. Adapting from his Audible audio drama of the same name, Eisenberg restructures his story around the mother-son dysfunction that has the most narrative potency.

Along the way, When You Finish Saving The World pokes fun at the wince-inducing paths that young people often take in trying to figure out who they want to be. Ziggy and Lila meet up multiple times at a “Revolutionary Arts” gathering, a sort of open mic where over-earnest teens trade spoken-word and song-based offerings in an effort to one-up each other. “This is about the patriarchy, of which I’m a reluctant member,” a young boy dramatically laments before sharing a poem. When it’s Ziggy’s turn to perform an original tune, his lyrics about graduating and loneliness fall flat for an audience preening for something more sociopolitically enlightened. Still, he remains undeterred and his braggadocious passes at Lila contribute to the film’s finest moments of cringe comedy.

In juxtaposing his day-to-day with Evelyn’s, Eisenberg suggests that she isn’t any less guilty than her son of trying too hard when it comes to social interactions. She often comes off so severe to most that when she attempts to make small talk with a Spruce Haven secretary while waiting for an elevator, the receptionist feels the need to clarify that she’s not about to be terminated. Moore adds all sorts of touches to her performance that help us understand how someone so stern in their usual disposition could still come across as empathetic in specific contexts. She exudes the expected patience and understanding during intake with abuse survivors but when Ziggy says he needs “five seconds” to get ready, Evelyn looks down at her watch and counts to five in her head before walking out the door.

Though the film takes place in Indiana (Bloomington, specifically) and there are allusions to IU and the Pacers, When You Finish Saving The World was shot in both New Mexico and Canada, likely due to their respective tax incentives for the film industry. Eisenberg reportedly moved to Bloomington with his wife Anna during the pandemic lockdown of 2020 and his newfound affection for the area and its people comes through in his directorial debut. It’s unfortunate that Indiana is 1 of 16 States that doesn’t currently extend tax incentive programs for film productions, even for smaller-budget projects like this one. Until that changes, Hoosiers will likely have to settle for the occasional movie like When You Finish Saving The World that is set here, even if it’s not actually shot in-state.

Score – 3.5/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Missing, a screenlife thriller starring Storm Reid and Ken Leung about a teenager who begins using various technologies to find her missing mother after she disappears on vacation in Colombia with her then-new boyfriend.
Also playing in theaters is That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime: Scarlet Bond, an anime film starring Ricco Fajardo and Kristen McGuire which adapts the TV series about a super-powered being and his companions who get involved in a long-running conspiracy that swirls around a woman with a mysterious power.
Streaming on Netflix is JUNG_E, a science fiction movie starring Kang Soo-yeon and Kim Hyun-joo where the outcome of a civil war hinges on cloning the brain of an elite soldier to create a robot mercenary.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Dolls are creepy. Between the lifeless porcelain-eyed gaze and the unnatural permanent smile, it’s no surprise that filmmakers have gotten plenty of mileage from including them in horror movies for decades. The new campy chiller M3GAN combines humankind’s understandable fear of these human-resembling creations with a staple of the sci-fi genre: the distrust of rapidly evolving artificial intelligence. There are family drama elements that don’t pay off quite as well but do underline the cautionary theme of parents allowing technology to raise their kids in their absence. Throw in some satirical jabs at the corporate tech landscape and the ravenous toy market and you have a better-than-average start to the new movie year.

M3GAN follows a recently-orphaned young girl named Cady (Violet McGraw) as she is sent up to Seattle to live with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), who develops toys for fictitious tech brand Funki. Gemma values her independence and devotes all of her time to her job, so it’s enough to say that her opening stretch as Cady’s legal guardian doesn’t get off to the finest start. Desperate to bridge the gap, Gemma builds AI-based doll Model 3 Generative Android (or M3GAN, for short) for Cady as the perfect robotic friend and confidant. M3GAN becomes such an effective caretaker that Gemma pitches it to her boss as the next generation of smart toys but in the process, her cyborg creation develops defense mechanisms that turn from troubling to deadly.

The marketing behind M3GAN has hinged on the uncanny feeling that the titular robot, who is played with CG enhancements by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis, is intended to provoke. She doesn’t look like a real girl but her motion is so eerily close to a real person that her mere presence is immediately unsettling. As M3GAN grows smarter and her intentions grow more sinister, she blurs the line further as something that’s able to so thoroughly communicate as if it were human but is able to fight well above its size. As M3GAN reminds us during a lullaby to Cady, she’s a metal-based being and her physical strength is thanks to the alloy frame that Gemma gave her during development. While the physical powers make sense, M3GAN eventually develops technological capabilities — turning off all the alarms in a building instantaneously, for instance — that don’t seem credible within her programmed limitations.

The script from Akela Cooper, who penned the even more over-the-top horror movie Malignant a couple years ago, too often takes shortcuts like this to make the plot run more smoothly. From the outset, it doesn’t really make sense that Gemma’s sister would grant Gemma temporary custody over Cady in the event of her death and it makes less sense that Gemma would follow through with it. It’s credible that Gemma would develop M3GAN to help with Cady, since it’s part of a design she had already been working on, but it’s unrealistic that her co-workers would have time to help her with it when they’re all under a deadline for a completely different project. There’s a boss character played by Ronny Chieng who is woefully underserved by cliché writing that should have been much sharper, given the film’s cheeky touches in other areas.

Director Gerard Johnstone delights in the moments where he can push some of the ridiculous features of these “cutting edge” toys even further into the absurd. M3GAN opens with a cheery ad for PurrPetual Petz, a Funki-branded toy seemingly inspired by Tamagotchi and Furby that actually produces its own waste pellets, for some reason. During a tech demo, M3GAN consoles Cady with a song so saccharine that the musical score actually joins in with her. This is the kind of humor that should have been applied to the corporate subplots but instead, we get a boss grousing about kombucha due to pre-launch nerves and a tangent about his assistant stealing M3GAN prototype files that goes nowhere. M3GAN could benefit from some sharper writing to make it a more satisfying package but as is, it’s a solid addition to the killer doll horror subgenre with some striking social commentary as well.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming to theaters this weekend:
A Man Called Otto, starring Tom Hanks and Mariana Treviño, is a dramedy remake of a 2015 Swedish film about a depressed widow who finds meaning in life anew when a young family moves in across the street from him.
House Party, starring Tosin Cole and Jacob Latimore, is a comedy reboot of the 1990 hit about a high school student who decides to host a house party with his best friend while his parents are away.
Plane, starring Gerard Butler and Mike Colter, is an action thriller about a pilot who finds himself caught in a war zone after he’s forced to land his commercial aircraft during a terrible storm.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup