Movie Review: 892 (2022)

“892” was the opening night film for the 2022 Atlanta Film Festival. Christopher Escobar greets Abi Damaris Corbin who co-wrote and directed the film based on actual events in Atlanta.

The tension remains high for at least half of Abi Damaris Corbin’s taut real-life drama 892 (B), but there’s literally not a lot of payoff in a story about a jilted veteran who holds up a bank as a last desperate attempt at getting noticed. John Boyega disappears into the central role of a very specifically well mannered vigilante opposite a stellar Nicole Beharie as the steely bank manager turned primary hostage. Connie Britton is engaging as always as a broadcast news reporter; and, in his final screen performance, the late Michael K. Williams is superb as a wily mastermind negotiator. It’s a competent procedural thriller with some illuminating moments about how America abandons promising people on the fringes, but its tenacity to the dogma of chronicling a true story deprives the film of the wrinkles and ridges most crackling narratives possess. Corbin is very skilled at the helm, and it will be interesting to see what she tackles next.

Industry News: Atlanta Film Festival Features 27 World Premieres, April 21 – May 1, 2022

The 46th annual Atlanta Film Festival + Creative Conference (ATLFF) revealed key programming highlights, including Opening and Closing Night presentations and the full lineup of selected works from a record-breaking nearly 10,000 submissions. Highlighted by the Opening Night presentation of 892 and Closing Night film Mija, 11 Marquee screenings will combine Hollywood star power with the best of independent film. The 155 total announced creative works from submissions will feature diverse filmmakers who continue to uplift voices and stories from around the world. The film festival and educational conference will take place Thursday, April 21 through Sunday, May 1, 2022, at multiple venues in Atlanta and virtually.

“We’re particularly excited about this year because we are not only back to in-person screenings, but our hybrid format will provide even more opportunities for audiences to participate around the globe,” said Christopher Escobar, Executive Director of the Atlanta Film Festival. “A huge part of our ethos is advocating for diverse voices, which is why it’s even more important that we continue to evolve and connect with communities everywhere in new and innovative ways.”

Kicking off a robust slate of Marquee programming that will be presented throughout the 11-day festival, the Opening Night presentation of Bleecker Street’s dramatic thriller 892 will take place at the Plaza Theatre on Friday, April 22. Starring John Boyega, the late Michael K. Williams, Nicole Beharie, and Connie Britton, the film follows a Marine war veteran who faces mental and emotional challenges when he tries to reintegrate back into civilian life. Director Abi Damaris Corbin will be on-hand for the red carpet screening.

The Closing Night presentation of the Disney+ documentary Mija will be held on Saturday, April 30, at the Plaza Theatre. Directed by Isabel Castro, the film follows Doris Muñoz, who began a career in music talent management and met Jacks Haupt, an auspicious young singer, and both share the ever-present guilt of being the first American-born members of their undocumented families.

Some highlights of the Marquee programming from celebrated filmmakers and Hollywood studios announced today include narrative features Cha Cha Real Smooth starring Dakota Johnson and written and directed by Cooper Raiff (the triple threat behind one of this site’s favorites, the comedyShithouse), Emily the Criminal starring Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi, and Summering, a coming of age story directed by Georgia-native and celebrated ATLFF alumni James Ponsoldt. Documentary feature highlights include Look At Me!, an inside look at a gifted young rapper’s tumultuous rise to fame before his death at the age of 20, with never-before-seen footage as XXXTentacion’s inner circle speaks out, and REFUGE, a story about fear and love in the American South from local Atlanta directors Erin Levin Bernhardt and Din Blankenship.

The 12th annual Creative Conference, ATLFF’s popular educational programming extension, returns with in-person panel discussions and one-on-one in-depth virtual conversations focusing on screenwriting, showrunning, pitching shows, podcasting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing with industry experts from Georgia to NY and LA. The entire Creative Conference lineup of over 25 events will be announced in the coming weeks. 

ATLFF 2022 will be more accessible than ever, offering a mix of in-person and virtual screenings, as well as virtual Q&A sessions with filmmakers. Screenings will be held at three venues, including Plaza Theatre (1049 Ponce De Leon Ave NE), Dad’s Garage (569 Ezzard St SE), and The Carter Center (453 Freedom Parkway), with more to come. All virtual screenings and events will be presented via Eventive.

The full schedule of films and events is available atwww.AtlantaFilmFestival.com and through the ATLFF 2022 app. Festival passes are on sale now on the site. Tickets for individual events will be available at the beginning of April. In-person screening tickets range from $12-50; virtual access is $9.99 per film/panel with an unlimited virtual all-access pass for $85 for both films and Creative Conference. Virtual all-access pass will increase to $100 after Friday, April 1.

Movie Review: Parallel Mothers (2021)

Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Primary colors, twisty storylines and strong female characters abound in the directorial DNA as two moms embark on two very different and connected experiences against a searing political backdrop. The love child of a telenovela type story and Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s distinct sensibilities at the helm of Parallel Mothers (B+) makes for an engrossing and complex tale about exhuming the past, living in the moment and facing the future. Penélope Cruz is resplendent as the complicated protagonist, with a strong supporting turn by Milena Smit. Exquisite production design, a melodramatic score and a meditative framing device make this one of the director’s most accessible films, some parts sensational and others solemn. His themes about the trauma women carry across generations is prescient, but the puzzle of relationships along the way make it an engrossing journey. 

Movie Review: The Lost City (2022)

Available on Paramount+ streaming service May 10, 2022.

Although largely a by-the-books action comedy, Aaron and Adam Nee’s The Lost City (B) is handsomely produced and features Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum each doing what they do best. It’s a lot like Romancing the Stone with a novelist who gets embroiled in one of the types of exotic anthropological excursions ripped from her own fiction. Bullock is appealing in both her physical humor pratfalls (she performs several sequences while tied to a chair and many in a glittery jumpsuit) and in her authorial interplay with Tatum’s dim witted character who is cover model of her elevated bodice rippers and unexpected co-adventurer. Daniel Radcliffe feels like he’s cameoing in a different movie as a caricatured villain whose best sequence involves a whirlwind of charcuterie; meanwhile Brad Pitt is a delight in his brief sequences as a charming mercenary, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph also hilariously steals her scenes as a publicist at wit’s end. This movie handily delivers on its populist fun and sometimes transcends its formula, even as its pacing sometimes misses the mark. Both the leads utter some pretty funny lines under their breath that hopefully won’t be missed in all the activity. Bullock’s character finally gets out of the house, which is an apt metaphor for movie audiences seeking escapism amidst the almost post-pandemic zeitgeist. 

Movie Review: Deep Water (2022)

Now playing on Hulu streaming service.

A bad pulled-quote for a modern erotic thriller is “impenetrable,” but it’s an apt description of the film and the marriage at the center of Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water (C-). This tepid slow-burn examines the loveless union of a hangdog husband Ben Affleck seemingly nonplussed by the multiple affairs being enjoyed by his sexy but mostly sloshed wife played by Ana de Armas. The oddly non-specific Louisiana atmosphere, an adrift supporting cast including a perplexed looking Tracy Letts and a few hook-ups depicted mostly off-screen do very little to amp up the sultriness or suspense.  Close-ups of snails don’t help either. The mystery is sometimes alluring except it doesn’t go anywhere. The two leads have very little to do except stare at each other in disbelief. A series of crimes don’t make sense. The closing credits don’t make sense. Ultimately it’s a tease but not the guilty pleasure it could have been.

Movie Review: Fresh (2022)

Streaming in Hulu.

After an intriguing appetizer of a first act including a charming Meet Cute in a grocery store, Mimi Cave’s dark comedy Fresh (C) outstays its welcome through course after course in a twisty tale about the dog eat dog world of modern-day dating. The horror of contemporary courtship depicted here is a bit more audacious than even the vastly superior Promising Young Woman, and it’s not just toxic and terrifying because of the male love interest’s penchant for the musical catalogue of Peter Cetera. Daisy Edgar-Jones is game enough and committed to character, even though the direction and script render her lead performance a bit unremarkable. Sebastian Stan as the love interest is also a bit one-note in the tonally inconsistent film. It’s ultimately an allegory in search of a story and not funny or dark enough to traverse much new territory. Devour or delight in it at your own risk.

Movie Review: The Adam Project (2022)

Now on Netflix.

Shawn Levy’s The Adam Project (C+) starts with a pretty lively premise – suppose you time traveled for an adventure with your younger self – and spends most of its duration squandering its novel notion. Ryan Reynolds delivers his typical brashness with grumpy quips, with pint-sized Walker Scobell as his tween self a little too intermittently sarcastic and wide-eyed to collect much goodwill. Zoe Saldaña is sufficiently emotive as a love interest and gets a few moments to strut her action chops. Catherine Keener is woefully miscast as an arbitrary villain. Mark Ruffalo doesn’t get much to do as the protagonist’s dad, and Jennifer Garner barely registers as the mom. The special effects are subpar and most of the action sequences shoehorned and cribbed from better properties. A couple of emotional sequences almost redeem the rote reels, but this movie is little more than a perfectly average and uninspiring way to spend two hours.

Movie Review: After Yang (2022)

Available in limited theatres and Showtime on Demand. An A-24 film.

A tone poem of gorgeous atmosphere and production design, Kogonada’s futuristic After Yang (B) probes questions such as, “What would you do if an android who is a major part of your family becomes terminally ill?” It’s a quite lovely and contemplative film and a showcase for an understated Colin Farrell as the soft-spoken patriarch. Jodie Turner-Smith as the mother Justin H. Min as Yang the “techno sapien,” Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja as his sister and Haley Lu Richardson as a mysterious friend of the cyborg are all delights in quiet roles. The talented Sarita Choudhury stands out as a museum curator interested in immortalizing the memory banks of the unresponsive robot. There are some wonderful grace note sequences such a flashback of Farrell and Min discussing the indescribable bliss of a good tea, and there are pensive drives through modern cityscapes to bring dimension to the talky proceedings. For many it will be a quietly moving meditation on the mysteries of life while it may be a little too dramatically inert for others. 

Movie Review: Turning Red (2022)

Disney/Pixar. Available on DVD and Disney+ streaming service.

Maneuvering the manic minefield of the female Chinese-Canadian tween growing up in early aughts Toronto can be a lot to handle: from flip phones to flipping out, juggling pimpled cuties and temple duties, hoarding both Tamogotchis and tampons and in general trying to find one’s way while on the brink of something new. Domee Shi’s Turning Red (B) leverages a fusion of anime stylings and daydreams with dollops of photo-realistic Pixar aesthetics to craft an animated adventure. But why simply chronicle the protagonist’s amusing and illuminating semi-autobiographical coming of age story when you can also foist an extra forced metaphor of turning into a giant red panda when emotions get heavy? It’s a balancing act for the filmmaking team ultimately working out the story kinks. Glimpses into the bonds of female friendship and some fascinating Cantonese cultural cues enliven the sillier moments, and the film works best when pursuing the genuine embarrassments of adolescence as opposed to plumbing the land grabs for plush merchandise sales. Rosalie Chiang gives a spry central voice performance, and Sandra Oh is effective as her demanding mom who thankfully can relate to her daughter’s strife with more haste that a recently frustrating animated Colombian abuela. Although this film is not a musical, the score and songs by Ludwig Göransson plus Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, respectively, keep proceedings lively, especially in some amusing boy band parody sequences. No doubt this will be the latest Disney endeavor to play on repeat for a good part of the upcoming season, so thankfully it’s a ritual with rewards.

Movie Review: Tyler Perry’s A Madea Homecoming (2022)

From Tyler Perry Studios – available on Netflix.

We’re all in on the joke, right, that he’s not making these movies for critics? The prolific writer, director and actor at the heart of Tyler Perry’s A Madea Homecoming (C-) brings the streaming Netflix service a madcap dose of his patented brand of crass humor mixed with dollops of melodrama. The irreverent “Madea” character is back for her twelfth feature film appearance, and this time the sassy matriarch is holding sway over a family gathering as her great-grandson who is harboring a secret (Brandon Black) prepares to graduate from college. Director Perry doesn’t seem to mind saying “that’s a wrap” to his very first take of a scene, regardless of his own line readings as actor, nor does he give a good “hallelujer!” if the screenplay’s tone veers wildly from soapy sentiment to cartoonish caricature to full-throttle Red Lobster commercial midway into the narrative. A crossover with another drag comedian, Brendan O’Carroll as “Agnes Brown” doesn’t quite give the parallel mothers story any additional gravitas. Gabrielle Dennis and Isha Blaaker are standouts of the serious parts of the story, and Perry upstages himself with the uproarious antics of his wildly inappropriate “Uncle Joe” character as well as flashbacks of “Young Madea” in an inexplicable feud with Rosa Parks (yes, that Rosa Parks!). Still, this is comfort food for the soul with some wild-eyed characters skimming the surface of social commentary amidst some pratfalls and pathos.

Movie Review: Cyrano (2021)

Now in theatres.

Welcome to the game of poems as Peter Dinklage spryly assumes the titular character of Joe Wright’s unusual romantic comedy musical adaptation of Cyrano (B-). To assess this Sicily-set film’s patchwork charms, one has to separate the generally high quality of the story and production values from the confounding and often distracting music and dance choices. Dinklage is quite charismatic and empathetic as the misfit linguist and warrior, and Haley Bennett is a luminous and appealing Roxane in a classic tale of seemingly unrequited love. Surprisingly for a film so steeped in words, the lyrics of the songs by members of the band the National are pretty consistently banal. Dinklage and co-stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. as dashing Christian and Ben Mendelsohn as diabolical De Guiche display a bit of a “gargling with razor blades” vocal quality. Thankfully Bennett is in lovely voice as the lone member of the ensemble who doesn’t sound like she’s singing in the shower. Like its lead character, the film has a sly and scrappy approach, and there are mercifully a total of three music sequences that work at least on some levels. Expect to be slackjawed at times and bowled over at others as the film struggles mightily with its sense of time and place and its curious sonic structure. It’s a scruffy, uneven mess with occasional madcap moments of blissful romance. The movie is recommended for viewers who would naturally find this kind of lavish, cerebral content alluring and not so much for others.

Movie Review: Dog (2022)

Now in theatres. An MGM release.

The W.C. Fields admonition to never work with children or animals gets a hard pass when those stars are one of the screen’s charming rejuveniles and a canine companion trained for war but imbued with empathetic instincts. Dog (B+), the feature film co-directing debut of Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin, is a rare breed of heady human/animal bond pictures with a dramatic undercurrent about the aftermath of war and just needing someone to talk to about it. The film stars Tatum as an Army Ranger who must escort the Belgian Malinois military working dog of his fallen commander down the Pacific coast to her handler’s funeral. It’s packed with funny and dramatic road trip elements, some slapstick sequences and some moments of profundity along the journey as both man and dog overcome emotions for which they were never trained. This is an ideal vehicle for Tatum’s wry, affable Everyman demeanor, plus the animal is ever a winning screen partner. There’s definitely some content in the film not appropriate for younger kids, but the portrayal of a duo facing PTSD as they attempt to move on in civilian life makes this an unexpectedly moving story.