A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One (B+) is a glorious parallel tale about motherhood against all odds set against an unfolding story of gentrification in Harlem in the ‘90s and 2000s. Teyana Taylor is brilliant as the unapologetic and free-spirited Inez who kidnaps her 6-year-old son Terry from the foster care system. Together mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity and stability in a rapidly changing town while harboring secrets. A talented Josiah Cross shares several gripping sequences opposite Taylor as her character’s young adult son (played earlier in life by Aaron Kingsley at age 6 and Aven Courtney at age 13). Will Catlett also gives a winning performance as Lucky, her love interest. The film will have audiences questioning whether Inez is making good choices but never doubting the sincerity of her maternal love. Rockwell also plumbs issues of erasure as literal human lives and real plights seem to be wiped away in the name of NYC’s progress. The soundtrack music by Gary Gunn is brisk and propulsive, dotted with radio voices of mayors prattling about jaywalking and other inconsequential issues while the film’s central characters seek food or shelter for the night. It’s an effective movie with tear jerking moments but an indomitable spirit. And a star is born in Taylor.
Category Archives: 2023
Movie Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)
This year’s ultimate heist movie includes a bard, a barbarian, an amateur sorcerer and a shape-shifting druid, infiltrating a castle to topple a villain, steal riches and reunite a family. It’s also inspired by a tabletop role-playing game. Set in the fantasy milieu, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (B+) announces its intent to comically entertain with everything short of clanking coconuts as its merry revelers interrogate the dead, jailbreak with flying beasts, grapple with awkward teleportation techniques and generally make up the game as they are playing it. Chris Pine is droll perfection as the man with a plan – actually many of them – as he commandeers a team featuring Michelle Rodriguez (grand physical performance), Justice Smith (earnest in mustering his magic) and Sophia Lillis (good as the skeptic). Hugh Grant is a scene-stealer as an arrogant and acerbic baddie, and Regé-Jean Page has a funny bit as a stoic paladin. The CGI has a throwback quality to adventure yarns of the ‘80s but plays a supporting role to the abundant comic treasure trove provided by the central quartet. Although it drags a little in the final act, this is the triumphantly entertaining family film for which many will seek. It might as well be called Dangers & Dad Jokes with its slings and arrows of gags, but the undercurrent of strong characters devising impromptu strategy in a mythic land with high stakes will keep everyone engaged in the experience.
Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
You’re unlikely to find a more action-packed extravaganza than Chad Stahelski’s epic neo-noir thriller John Wick: Chapter 4 (A-). For fans of opulent martial arts, fetishized weaponry, graceful ultraviolence and grand canvas action storytelling told with fluidity and dexterity, it doesn’t get much better than this. The absurdity of Keanu Reeves’ central character’s indestructibility plays like a fever dream across multiple continents and unfolds amidst gloriously elaborate set pieces as the skilled assassin endeavors to exact revenge against those who have left him for dead. The film’s mythology of a criminal underworld with specific rituals and rules keeps the over-the-top antics strangely grounded, despite some unbelievable survivals from multi-story falls from buildings. The film provides a juicy new villain as part of the High Table, the council governing the criminal underworld, in the form of a diabolical Bill Skarsgård; he’s a complete delight, especially brooding over a city built in miniature where he has plotted out his fiendish finale. Donnie Yen is badass as blind henchman Caine, who utilizes inventive motion detectors to dispatch of his prey in an early sequence. Having shepherded this series throughout its run, Stahelski orchestrates the story and stunts with the cadence of a master; and across NYC, Morocco, Japan, Berlin and Paris, he devises and stages some of the most breathtaking set pieces assembled for detailed hand to hand combat. His signature highly-choreographed, long single action takes are all here in abundance, with extremely memorable stunt sequences in the traffic circle of the Arch De Triomphe, in a fictional nightclub surrounded by waterfall fixtures, in a Japanese art museum where you know none of that glass is going to survive either and most notoriously on the steps up to the Sacré-Cœur basilica, which prove to be their own impenetrable hazard. Hiroyuki Sanada, Ian McShane, Shamier Anderson and Clancy Brown provide strong support in the ensemble. Reeves’ words are mercifully limited, but he says so much with his body and actions; it’s such a wonderfully lived-in character. This is an impeccably made film of its genre and highly recommended for action fans. It takes its flame thrower to nearly all imitators. By all means, see this movie in a theatre.
Movie Review: Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)
Sometimes a comic book movie can simply be a fun adventure, and the latest DC Universe installment, David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods (B) is just that, a rollicking escape. The funny Zachary Levi leads a Philadelphia posse of scrappy superheroes harboring a collective secret: They are actually teenage foster children who can transform into caped crusaders in a snap. The story doesn’t really plumb the full depth of the family trauma and psychological implications inherent in the premise. but it plunges head-first into a mythological action barnburner with the teens fighting titans. The moviemakers disguise their earnestness with wry, throwaway humor especially via teen actor Jack Dylan Grazer, but they squander some chances to dial up the camp value of Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu as daughters of Atlas. There are long passages with pretty elaborate special effects, evocative of the original Ghostbusters with mixes of laughs and thrills packed into showdowns on expansive streets. Opportunities about to root for the underdogs. The film is largely family friendly and keeps enough plates spinning to nourish viewers for its duration.
Industry News: Atlanta’s Rialto Reboots its Cinema Roots
Marking a return to the venue’s roots as an urban movie palace, the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University announced the installation of a new digital film projector and cinema screen. The additions, the result of a successful multi-year fundraising effort that began six years ago, enable the downtown venue to continue presenting its popular year-round live events series and Georgia State’s student music and stage performances while also offering a new big-screen experience for Atlanta film screenings.
Originally opened as the Piedmont Theatre in April 1916, in December of that year the 916-seat venue’s name was changed to Rialto, meaning an exchange or marketplace, a year before the South’s premiere of the original Cleopatra in 1917. Among the first films of the theatre’s opening week were The Hunted Woman starring Virginia Pearson and The Havoc featuring Atlanta-born star Gladys Hanson Snook.
The Rialto thrived as a vaudeville and movie destination for several decades—eventually being demolished in 1962 and rebuilt to seat 1,200 in 1963—before declining during the 1970s and eventually closing in 1989. GSU’s purchase and refurbishment during the early 1990s led to its reopening as the Rialto Center for the Arts in 1996, with Bud Greenspan’s documentary film Atlanta’s Olympic Glory premiering at Rialto in summer 1997.
More recently, the Rialto also hosted dozens of premieres or festival and special screenings including Shaft starring Morehouse College alum Samuel L. Jackson in 2000, two Game of Thrones season premieres in 2012 and 2013, and Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated and Atlanta-centric Richard Jewell in 2019. The Rialto also hosted special events and screenings of the Atlanta Film Festival and the TBS Film Festival among its many film events.
The Rialto made today’s announcement with two initial film events already secured for spring. The venue will host a private film premiere event on April 3, and in late April the Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) will host one of its special screening events at Rialto. Specifics for the ATLFF event—which provides the public with the first opportunity to experience the new projector and screen—will soon be announced by ATLFF.
For industry professionals or cinephiles, the new projection and screen equipment specifics include:
- DCP Video provided by a Cinionic Barco 4K resolution, 25,000 lumen laser projector. The upgrade delivers an elevated movie presentation with laser-sharp images, exceptional brightness, deeper contrast, and vivid colors, as 4K is four times as many pixels as 1080 HD.
- The hoist-animated, motorized screen is a perforated, 35’ x 19’8” Stewart Lexus Grande S8 with any aspect ratios of 2.35:1 to 1:1 square possible with manually adjustable side masking.
Other video projection and 35mm available at the Rialto:
- HD video projector at 12,000 lumens which may also be used to project images on backdrops or moved on-stage for rear projection.
- Dual-35mm projection with two matching Century SA film projectors. Rialto can present rare, archival and museum prints with minimal wear and tear because each reel is projected independently.
- The Rialto is currently a Dolby 5.1 theater utilizing Dolby’s CP650 processor. The in-house Meyer PA system may also be integrated into presentations.
The newly installed projection equipment is compatible with the venue’s current Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound system. Additional funds will help the venue upgrade or replace the entire cinema audio system with eventual installation of new, state-of-the-art audio processors, amplifiers and cinema speakers.
The journey to update the Rialto’s film presentation capabilities was rooted in the venue’s long standing need, and nonprofit financial constraints, to respond to industry trends favoring digital over 35mm projection since the early 2000s. Over time, the cost to rent outsourced, industry-grade equipment, on top of standard venue rental rates, was a deterrent for studio premiere planners and cinema event planners.
The Rialto Center for the Arts at GSU is the cultural centerpiece of downtown, located in the heart of Atlanta’s historic Fairlie-Poplar district. Thanks to GSU acquiring and refurbishing the building in 1993, and revitalizing the district, the Rialto has stood at the corner of Forsyth and Luckie Streets for over 100 years. Today the intimate, 833-seat performing arts venue is home to the Rialto Series, featuring the best of indigenous and international jazz, world music and contemporary dance, as well as Georgia State’s School of Music performances.
Movie Review: Scream VI (2023)
All the joys of the Scream franchise – surprise slayings, fun rules, sly cinephile references, newbies and nostalgia, all in a wily whodunit package, come together effectively in Scream VI (B+) co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. Characters who seemed tentative in the last go-round come of age with self-assurance in this installment with an invigorating change of venue to New York City. Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega are dynamite as the central sisters smarting from the events of the 2022 film, and Jasmin Savoy Brown, Liana Liberato, Courteney Cox and Hayden Panettiere are among the standouts in the ensemble. The co-directors make great spectacle of Manhattan’s alleyways, brownstones, subways and even a movie palace as their topsy turvy series entry stylishly careens to effective showdowns. The whole movie is about subverting expectations with ample surprises up its sleeve. There’s a highly effective sequence to tickle the fancy of horror movie fans with a near-fancon of spooky cameos plus an array of genuinely suspenseful action scenes and a lot more gore. This energized entry brings some glory back to Ghostface.
Movie Review: Creed III (2023)
The third movie in the Rocky spin-off series follows a formula (imagine that!), but it’s a handsomely produced sports drama with dexterous dramatic momentum. Michael B. Jordan stars as the title character and directs Creed III (B+), and opposite Jonathan Majors as a childhood friend turned would-be adversary, he orchestrates some Shakespearean subtext between the bouts. The central conflict between two men eclipses and sidelines other supporting players, and Majors additionally overshadows Jordan in the acting department. But the boxing ring clashes are epic, including one with unexpected stylized flourishes, and the cinematic crafts in the dramatic build-up are on deft display. If Jordan’s directorial debut isn’t quite a full-throttle knockout, it’s certainly a crowd pleaser.
Movie Review: Jesus Revolution (2023)
In this modern-day season of spiritual outpouring and reawakening, Joe Erwin and Brent McCorkle’s late-1960s set Jesus Revolution (B) is a lovely nod to finding universal truth via an unlikely history lesson about the origins of some major contemporary Christian movements on the West Coast. In this faith-based film, Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), a Southern California pastor in a rut, opens his church to enlightened hippies including ring leader Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), and together they launch a successful movement to evangelize members of the counterculture including future pastor Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney). There are some unlikely Venn diagrams at play here between those who drop acid and those who drop The Gospel, but aside from one embarrassing sequence that feels like a Nancy Reagan curated Reefer Madness fever dream, most of the movie’s high points focus on an engrossing fish out of water and coming of age tale. The film’s second half is a longer slog about the machinations of congregation and commune life, mercifully punctuated with a sweet romance between Courtney’s Laurie and the talented Anna Grace Barlow as his committed girlfriend Cathe. The directors capture a supple California bathed in glorious magic hour camera shots, with sunsets and baptismal waters breaking through the chaos of the historical times and a buoyant mix of period songs with worship music. The themes about opening the doors of the church to those unlike the traditional congregants resonate strongly in a time churches are still struggling about who to accept. This film is an endearing story, well acted by its three principal actors, likely to stir the soul.
Movie Review: Cocaine Bear (2023)
Director Elizabeth Banks and her game ensemble let loose with a devil-may-care bear tale and keep their powder dry with a sustained sassy stoner tone in the 1985-set action comedy Cocaine Bear (B-). O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich are a hoot as talky henchmen in search of a duffel bag full of drugs fallen from the sky and partially ingested by an American black bear in a Georgia forest. Margo Martindale is splendidly on brand for this lark as a ranger who “blow”-viates and practices her uneasy aim with a gun. The late Ray Liotta is sinister as the baddie who wants his stash returned and isn’t afraid to fight a sky-high mammal to retrieve it. As far as concerned moms go, Keri Russell and her kids are generally upstaged by the CGI bear and her cubs. The film keeps upping the ante with fun and frivolous tongue in cheek antics and an assortment of severed limbs. Bonkers comedic misadventures abound. It’s a silly premise well executed. Certainly no one forgets their lines!
Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
Honey, they shrunk the expectations! In fact the stakes are subatomic in Peyton Reed’s water treading entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (C). The titular heroes, their daughter and the family grandparents journey to the center of the earth for a curious adventure and find themselves battling Kang, a man in exile who has the power to control time and space. Most of the Pym-witted plot points fall by the wayside as lumpy logic reveals this is basically a shoehorned origin story for baddie conqueror Kang. The movie is not without its pleasures, especially Paul Rudd flexing his eusocial instincts for comedy and sentimentality in frequent sequences with his character’s daughter, played with pluck by Kathryn Newton. The other high-profile cast members, Evangeline Lilly, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas, get very little activity (Douglas is even cuffed in an awkward position for piloting an inner space jet). The new villain played by Jonathan Majors gets precious little scenery to chew. In a film that flaunts additional comedy firepower in Bill Murray (he also has scant contribution), it’s character actor Corey Stoll who shines in a funny bit part as a hapless henchman. Mostly everyone’s dressed up with nothing to do in an underground pageant of kooky rejects from the sister division creature shop of Strange World. The film has mild adventure and occasional fun but is not a standout in terms of story or spectacle.
Review of 2nd film in the Ant-Man series
Movie Review: Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)
All this tease from a tepid trilogy has revealed Tampa’s titular hero has simply been a frustrated theatrical choreographer all along. Steven Soderbergh is back at the helm for the third and hopefully final outing, Magic Mike’s Last Dance (C-). The director smashes his endowed everyman Channing Tatum against a proposal from a wealthy businesswoman played by Salma Hayek Pinault to direct a West End London adult entertainment revue disguised as a comedy of manners. It’s a convoluted plot when one isn’t really needed, plus it’s punctuated with observational voice-over narration as if it’s an academic exercise tracking the taxonomies of exotic dancers for a medical journal. Since there really is a British live stage show based on the dancing characters from this series, it’s also one of cinema’s most naked commercial cash grabs since Mac and Me and Million Dollar Mystery, ‘80s films that hawked fast food and trash bags, respectively. There’s a nicely shot smooth dance sequence at the beginning and another at the end, and the central romance between the charming leads has a swirl of sweet moments, but most of the film is either dull or misbegotten. A full proscenium of pole dancers still can’t conjure a respectable spectacle. Unlike the first two films when the ensemble is a winning part of the formula, this time the talented dancers are hardly given any speaking parts at all. Of course Soderbergh is trading in fantasy wish fulfillment, but the plot strains credulity and logic in too many ways to be taken seriously or even to function as campy guilty pleasure. The tones are so wildly different in this trio of thong and dance films that they might as well be classified as an anthology loosely based on a similar notion with one common cast member. What started with a g-string and a prayer has packed on so many layers, the series has almost forgotten it’s supposed to be about strippers. This film strains for the graceful exit.
Review of previous film in the trilogy
Movie Review: Knock at the Cabin (2023)
An iconic film writer/director and his three on-screen protagonists each get points this time around for adapting. A high concept thriller based on a novel, M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin (B-) pits faith versus fear as a same-sex couple and their adopted daughter are visited by a quartet of strangers with a disturbing proposition. This unconventional home invasion story with plot holes aplenty is lifted by three performances including Dave Bautista as the peculiar leader of the trespassers, Ben Aldridge as the alpha dad lawyer and Kristen Cui as the wise pint-sized girl. Jonathan Groff is a weak link as the other dad; his character barely registers despite some pivotal final reel action. Shyamalan awkwardly handles some of the fight choreography and flashes to the world outside the wooded domicile, but the movie’s missteps are largely forgivable in the context of the fierce family tale. By borrowing from someone else’s story, the suspense auteur finds unexpected surprises.