Tag Archives: 2024


The sci-fi nail-biter I.S.S. opens, fittingly, with text about how the International Space Station serves as a symbol of alliance between the United States and Russia post-Cold War. In the opening minutes, we see a depiction of what this unity and collaboration looks like, as two American astronauts are transported to the station and are greeted happily by three Russian cosmonauts. No matter what their cultural differences may be, everyone there has a job to perform and they all work together as one. “The important thing is that we stick together,” Weronika (Maria Mashkova) teaches Kira (Ariana DeBose) in Russian soon after the latter arrives at the station. Despite the sentiment, it doesn’t take long before a situation arises that will make that an especially challenging task.

While looking out of an observatory module, Kira sees massive explosions erupting on Earth and calls the rest of the crew’s attention to the bedlam below. U.S. lead Gordon (Chris Messina) and Russian counterpart Nicholai (Costa Ronin) reach out to their respective teams on the ground to get insight into what in the world is happening. We see classified messages from NASA to Gordon stating war has broken out between the two nations and the Americans onboard are to secure the I.S.S. by any means necessary. Paranoia soon sets in after Gordon passes the intel along to Kira and fellow astronaut Christian (John Gallagher Jr.), with the implication that Nicholai may have gotten similar instructions from Russian forces.

The rest of I.S.S. plays out like a personified chess game in outer space, like a re-do of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match if both competitors were wearing spacesuits. The perspective from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite tends to side with the three American characters, although we do spend more time with Kira’s scientist comrade Alexey (Pilou Asbæk) as their research becomes more plot-relevant. Cowperthwaite and her editor Colin Patton make a meal out of cutting together nervous looks and subtle gestures as both crews attempt to silently communicate with their respective teams. The film’s entire conflict could likely be avoided if the US and Russian crew members were honest about the messages they received from below but in that case, there wouldn’t be a movie.

Screenwriter Nick Shafir peppers I.S.S. with clichés that we’ve come to accept from films about people traveling through the cosmos. Kira has an ex-fiancé who broke her heart and Christian has two daughters back on Earth that he can’t stop mentioning every five minutes. It turns out Gordon and Weronika have a not-so-secret relationship that has cultivated during their time in close proximity on the station. Though it’s not the most original source of pathos around, the emotional groundwork pays off enough when the tensions inevitably rises between the two factions onboard. These are six people with divided allegiances who are trying to think their way through an unprecedented scenario and it’s easy to empathize with their plight.

The ensemble of performers all provide solid work, although some aren’t necessarily playing to their strengths. DeBose certainly doesn’t have to pigeonhole herself by appearing only in musicals after winning an Oscar for West Side Story a couple years ago but a role like this does feel more comparatively limited. Messina certainly works as the stoic captain here but his wheelhouse tends to be the more brash and cocksure supporting character as in last year’s Air. On the other hand, Mashkova, who also appeared in Apple TV+ space series For All Mankind, gives the film’s most dynamic and fully-realized performance. But a film like this mainly comes down to direction more than acting and Cowperthwaite finds the right rhythm of tension and release to make the story sizzle. I.S.S. could have used more touches of personality and uniqueness to make it stand out in a sky of similar intergalactic tales but it plays well enough as suspenseful small-scale science fiction.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming this week:
Coming to theaters is Miller’s Girl, a psychological thriller starring Jenna Ortega and Martin Freeman, where a creative writing assignment yields complex results between a teacher and his talented student.
Premiering on Netflix is Badland Hunters, a dystopian action film starring Ma Dong-seok and Lee Hee-joon, which finds Seoul, South Korea transformed into an apocalyptic wasteland after an earthquake, where everything from civilization to law and order has collapsed.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is The Underdoggs, a sports comedy starring Snoop Dogg and Tika Sumpter, in which a former NFL player agrees to coach a youth football team in order to avoid going to prison as he tries to relaunch his career.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Mean Girls

An adaptation of a Broadway musical which was based on a movie that was adapted from a book, the 2024 version of Mean Girls can’t help but feel intrinsically derivative. When Rosalind Wiseman penned the parent’s guide Queen Bees and Wannabes (the basis for the 2004 comedy classic) in the early 2000s, I doubt she suspected the cultural cache that her work would eventually generate. But several reworkings later, we now have what could’ve been a worthwhile Gen Z remake of the original film but is instead something more frustratingly myopic. It’s both a beat-for-beat redo of the story from 2004’s Mean Girls and a full-fledged musical, the former of which is bound to generate disappointed déjà vu and the latter of which has been side-stepped in the marketing as it was for Wonka last month.

Once again, our way into the cutthroat high school setting of Mean Girls is through Cady Heron (Angourie Rice), a bright teen who has been homeschooled her whole life until she moves to the States from Africa. She is befriended right away by social outcasts Janis (Auliʻi Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), who give her the skinny on the cliques and hierarchies that rule their school. Cady inadvertently catches the attention of fiercely popular Regina (Reneé Rapp) and is taken into her group of similarly materialistic girls known as The Plastics. But things get complicated when Cady falls for the handsome Aaron (Christopher Briney), who recently ended a relationship with Regina. When Cady decides to pursue Aaron, even though fellow Plastics Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika) advise against it, a rift occurs in the coveted clique.

Whether the movie likes it or not, Mean Girls will lead to inevitable comparisons to its predecessor, likely beginning with the fresh lineup of new actors. The 2004 comedy is impeccably cast, with a career-best performance by Lindsay Lohan and breakout roles for now-bonafide movie stars Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried. As Cady, Angourie Rice invokes a similar naiveté as Lohan and while she doesn’t quite nail the transformation into loathsome sociopath, she nonetheless renders an immensely likable protagonist at the outset. On the flip side, Reneé Rapp is mostly a bore as the villainous “queen bee”, which is ironic since she played the role in the stage musical for 2 years. When it comes to the singing and dancing, the talent is there but her performance lacks the alluring deviousness that McAdams used to make Regina George an iconic character.

While directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. do what they can to make the musical numbers pop visually, the songs in Mean Girls don’t add much depth to the plot and don’t musically stand out much from one another either. Penned by Tina Fey, the 2004 film is bolstered by an endless string of memorable quips but the lyrics in these musical interludes just aren’t up to the level of that original screenplay. Auliʻi Cravalho, still probably most famous for playing the title character in Moana, leads the movie’s best number “I’d Rather Be Me” and comes closest to justifying why this movie should have song breaks embedded in it. Her soaring vocals do call to mind an interesting paradox: how can a character like Regina, who obviously sees herself as superior to the theater kids, belt out Broadway-ready numbers?

If you try to ignore the show tune elements — which audience members who go into this movie not knowing it’s a musical will no doubt be doing — there are some lateral moves from the first film that are hit-and-miss. Fey returns not only as the screenwriter but as math teacher Ms. Norbury, who gets some additional zingers this time around; when she finds out Cady is homeschooled, she sarcastically remarks “that’s a fun way to take jobs from my union.” Bebe Wood is uncanny at capturing the timbre and cadence of Lacey Chabert’s work as Gretchen in the 2004 movie but at the end of the day, it’s merely imitation. Avantika brings more unique obliviousness to her Karen but it still feels like it’s leaning on the work Seyfried initially created. Mean Girls is a so-so update on an excellent comedy that never really needed a makeover in the first place.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this week:
Playing only in theaters is I.S.S., a sci-fi thriller starring Ariana DeBose and Chris Messina involving US and Russian crews of astronauts aboard the International Space Station who begin to turn on one another when conflict breaks out on Earth.
Also coming to theaters is Freud’s Last Session, a psychological drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode which depicts the fictional meeting of the minds between psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and literary scholar C. S. Lewis as they debate the existence of God.
Streaming on Netflix is The Kitchen, a science fiction drama starring Kane Robinson and Jedaiah Bannerman set in a dystopian future London in which all social housing has been eliminated but a community known as The Kitchen refuses to abandon their home.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Beekeeper

Jason Statham starred in 4 action projects just last year alone (most recently in last September’s bomb Expend4bles) and he doesn’t show any signs of stopping this year either. Everyone’s favorite gravelly-voiced Brit kicks off 2024 with The Beekeeper, another preposterous actioner that at least seems to have a decent sense of how ridiculous it is. Not only is it a one-man army movie, where one guy can take on a dozen, highly-trained individuals with nary a scratch on him, but it’s also a shameless rip-off of John Wick too. Where the inciting event in that film was a group of thugs killing the titular assassin’s puppy, the kick to the proverbial hornet’s nest this time around is the death of a kindly elderly woman. In either case, men with a “particular set of skills” (to borrow a phrase from Taken, another blueprint for these types of movies) are drawn out of retirement to settle the score.

After an opening credit sequence that promises it’s taking the bee theme very seriously, we’re introduced to tight-lipped apiarist Adam Clay (Statham) as he assists his neighbor Eloise (Phylicia Rashad) with a troubling nest in her barn. While he’s handling that, poor Eloise gets suckered into a phishing scam that costs her millions in just a matter of minutes and the ensuing guilt prompts her to take her own life. Her daughter, FBI agent Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman), is both devastated by the news and desperate to take down the scumbags responsible. Clay also seeks justice for Eloise but isn’t interested in doing things in the most strictly legal sense, his path of vengeance beginning with blowing up a scammer call center and eventually brings him to the head of the operation Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson).

Because, you see, Adam Clay isn’t just a beekeeper. He’s a Beekeeper, a member of a top-secret government program buzzing with deadly assassins who are to “protect the hive” at all costs. If you think The Beekeeper keeps its bee-related parallels there, then you may be shocked how many references to bee behavior the movie goofily strains to include in its narrative. Jeremy Irons pops up later on as a former CIA executive and even pulls up a PowerPoint presentation about bees to a group of ex-Navy SEALS while prepping them on how to take Clay down. Verona has to school a high-level FBI boss about the process of “queen slaying” that honeybees will carry out on defective hive leaders, as it should metaphorically track with Clay’s next target. Director David Ayer pours the apiary allusions on as thick as honey.

But it’s not like the world of The Beekeeper is much more grounded in anything resembling reality either. Scam call centers absolutely do exist in real life and, of course, they’re a scourge on society but as detestable as they are, I doubt they’re carried out with the Wolf Of Wall Street theatrics on display here. Here, the fraud victims are presented on huge display screens with Vegas style “cha-ching!” sound effects and monetary values presented like scores on a football jumbotron. When the Beekeeper program is peeled back, the John Wick borrowing becomes even more apparent, as that film’s High Table and Continental lore isn’t quite replicated but the Accountants are directly ripped off. The switchboard operators behind the Beekeeper operation are dressed exactly like the contract workers from the Administration in Wick and put out bounty information to their team in an extremely similar manner.

As much as the window-dressing and plot mechanics call back to the current top dog of the action scene, the action of The Beekeeper isn’t always up to the high standard set by the John Wick franchise. Ayer and his editor Geoffrey O’Brien too often favor quick cuts that likely sub out Statham in favor of stuntmen and don’t give us a sense of how the combat is actually playing out. A third act fight set in a hall of mirrors with a hard-to-kill South African brawler literally named Lazarus is easily the best fight scene in the whole movie because it actually shows struggle and holds on a shot for more than a few seconds. Compare this to a shoddily-shot scene earlier when Clay takes out a SWAT crew in broad daylight and the quality difference is night and day. The Beekeeper may not be state-of-the-art action cinema but it has enough over-the-top machismo and silly mythology to carve out its own nest in the swarm of post-Wick imitators.

Score – 3/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Mean Girls, a musical comedy starring Angourie Rice and Reneé Rapp adapted from the classic 2004 teen comedy about a new girl who inadvertently breaks into an exclusive clique and makes a play for an off-limits crush at her high school.
Also playing exclusively in theaters is The Book Of Clarence, a biblical satire starring LaKeith Stanfield and Omar Sy about a down-on-his-luck man living in Jerusalem A.D. 33 who looks to turn things around by claiming to be a new Messiah sent by God.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Role Play, an action comedy starring Kaley Cuoco and David Oyelowo about a couple who looks to spice up their wedding anniversary with a night of role-play that unintentionally reveals one of the pair’s secret life as an international assassin.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup