Category Archives: Rent It Tonight

Movie Review: Elvis (2022)

Now in theatres, on HBO and on demand from Warner Bros.

Step right up as one of the world’s most creative cinematic carnival barkers presents his greatest showmance ever, with the calliope and clamor of the ultimate merry-go-round trapping the gallop of an icon in a rotating pageant, careening toward early immortality. The collision of intertwined workhorses whirling to that inevitable exit stage deft is magic in the making at a mechanical distance and fascinating to watch. One of the most beloved and earnest entertainers in music history and one of the most curious huckster/promoters in that same shimmery sham of showbusiness are twin muses in Baz Luhrmann’s busy but effective Elvis (B+). The eccentric Australian writer/director casts his clever and often keenly observational lens on the Faustian bargain between Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) and his handler Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) to maneuver a career equally marked by chart toppers and electric performances as well as a myriad of missed opportunities. The maximalist, impressionistic and sometimes chronological presentation traces the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon of a young man inspired by the sounds of Memphis’ Beale Street being coronated as the King of Rock and Roll and the best-selling solo artist of all-time, all the while hemmed in to the myopic menagerie of a glorified side show act. Butler is truly a star being born, with bona fide revival tent wiggles and shakes plus aw-shucks charm worthy of being one of the most magnetic musicians to grace the stage, screen, airwaves and pop consciousness. This charismatic actor is undoubtedly the surprise main attraction here, conveying genuine connection with his audience and meeting the moment in a time and place of American and world history demanding his singular voice and outlook. The decision to juxtapose the crooner’s life opposite that of his opportunist manager intent on keeping his jack in the box is met with varying degrees of effectiveness. Summoning a strange accent and demeanor, Hanks can never quite bottle the intrigue expected of his uncanny antagonist role. Overall the milieu and music are consistently invigorating; Luhrmann hits emotional arcs strictly out of the ballpark. Viewers will leave the film with additional appreciation for what the pop performer brought to his platform. Building on more conventional biopics Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, Luhrmann’s bombastic bonbon ups the ante and the mythology around the man to conceive his epic take on a behind-the-music trope from an unexpected vantage point.

Movie Review: The Black Phone (2022)

Now in theatres from Universal Pictures.

Ethan Hawke has made some of the seminal movies about growing up and coming of age, and his casting against type as a terrifying child abductor and serial murderer in Scott Derrickson’s ‘70s-set scary movie The Black Phone (B+) is one of the project’s genius original flourishes. But the child actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw playing the lead siblings in this extremely entertaining film are the revelations that hold the puzzle pieces together. These charming teens are a delight, and their characters make way fewer novice mistakes in facing down their adversaries than those in typical slasher flicks. The grounded direction is taut and the story satisfying as the voices of past kidnapping victims lend the protagonist the courage to face his captor via the titular device. Some of the supernatural elements could have used a bit more explaining, but superb character work and period detail help propel the movie into the top-tier of recent elevated horror films. For its genuine performances and highly competent story beats alone, this film is a thrilling callback.

Movie Review: Lightyear (2022)

Now on Disney+ from Disney Pixar.

The outer space curse plaguing Disney from infinity to The Black Hole, Treasure Planet, John Carter, Mars Needs Moms and beyond has not yet been lifted. Director /co-writer Angus MacLane’s Toy Story prequel/ spinoff Lightyear (C+) stays largely grounded on an uninspiring planet and surrounds its bland titular space ranger protagonist with dubious sidekicks. It’s a missed opportunity given the daffy high jinks and emotional arcs present among Buzz’s creative fellow playthings, and the ingenuity just doesn’t carry through in this cosmos-set adventure. The story surrounds the famed space hero making amends for an unforced error, and alas the series of action set pieces and encounters with vapid villains following his fall from grace simply don’t rise to the occasion. There are several clever bursts, a cute cat from outer space and a few requisite Pixar moments of melodrama. But the film largely feels like a moribund money grab and missed opportunity never approaching the operatic canvas or ambition possible with the great wide yonder at its fingertips. Nobody’s getting a Woody over this one.

Movie Review: Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)

In limited theatres and streaming on Apple+.

The central character is a whirling dervish of a “party starter” who, behind the scenes of his admittedly small-time New Jersey public persona, is experiencing his own struggles to launch his personal life at the beginning of his twenties in a sweet, thoughtful and unpredictable movie. The second feature film written by, starring and directed by Cooper Raiff, Cha Cha Real Smooth (B+) is a cerebral and celebratory triumph of emotion and characters; and even when some of the plot strands coalesce as awkwardly as the protagonist’s philosophical search for career, romance and meaning, the journey is a winning and watchable high-wire act. Raiff is captivating and charismatic as the extremely talky lead whose so-called motivational dancing is the least of his charms, but it’s two women who steal the show: Dakota Johnson as a mysterious mother who attends a series of bar and bat mitzvahs where Raiff is holding court and Vanessa Burghardt as her autistic daughter whose droll deadpans are a welcome yin to Raiff’s yangs. Johnson in particular has rarely been better as she plays shy vulnerability and gets to open up in some very engaging scenes including one signature discussion over vintage blue raspberry and lemon-lime popsicles. Among the many pleasures of the film is the intermingling of generations: Raiff riffs with the likes of his curious teen younger brother (Evan Assante), his supportive mom (an excellent Leslie Mann) and a variety of characters his junior and senior with plain spoken and plaintive exchanges about the nature of happiness and romance. The music is also a propulsive, delight ranging from the title party tune and familiar works by the likes of Lupe Fiasco to gems by bands such as Homeschool and Harmony House. This isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy nor is it a conventional romcom, but it will reward those who enjoy a tug at the heartstrings and a good “I’m still coming of age” film. Sometimes no matter the station or season in life, a little bit of party pep can put a spring in one’s step.

Movie Review: The Automat (2022)

Now available on demand, via select streaming services and in limited theatrical release.

Phone booths, penny arcades and locomotive cabooses may all be things of the past, but the safe space to rhapsodize about bygone icons is the stuff of immortality. Director Lisa Hurwitz deftly turns her attention to the most democratic of U.S. food chains in her sweet and sentimental documentary The Automat (A), and in creating this nostalgic work, she traces nearly a century of imagination, immigration, wartime, fluctuating finances plus transformations in American tastes and temperaments. Horn & Hardart was the venerable “lemon meringue” phenomenon with the novel approach to quality fast food, home to the slot-machine lunch served in Art Deco cathedrals. In its heyday these restaurants were as universally accessible as the NYC subways and nourished nearly ten percent of Philadelphia’s population; everyone from bums to billionaires shared the same elegant communal tables, with newcomers marveling at the marble, crooning over the chrome, wistfully wondering at the windows how this magic gets made. Hurwitz rounds up an auspicious cast of eyewitnesses to the eatery, lunching with the stars including consummate entertainer Mel Brooks and Starbucks’ enterprising Howard Schultz as well as late greats Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell and Carl Reiner. It’s a treat to crack open the multimedia archives and learn from people involved in the heart of house at the business; it would have been additionally insightful to hear from nickel throwers and commissary craftspeople, but presumably many of these company men and women are also lost to history. The director’s bento box of treasures includes a look at the origins of the European technology, the silver dolphin-head coffee spouts, the prescient retail shops and even the TV and movie tie-ins associated with the chain. Her requiem for the brass, the pillars, the cuisine and the chatter earns its place among the Edward Hopper paintings and Audrey Hepburn movies immortalizing the institution. In lionizing the American automat, Hurwitz helps viewers re-live a simpler epoch when meatloaf, cream spinach, strawberry rhubarb or coconut custard pies were just a token away and when a melting pot of consumers could intersect and simply savor timeless moments together.

Movie Review: Fire Island (2022)

Now streaming on Hulu.

Andrew Ahn’s Fire Island (B) is a new take on Pride and Prejudice centered on a group of D-list friends and their encounters with an elite household in the titular famed gay vacation destination. Joel Kim Booster, who also wrote the screenplay, and SNL comedian Bowen Yang are authentic and witty in the lead roles (based on Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Jane Bennet characters, respectively) supported by a warm, winning and understated Margaret Cho in the Mrs. Bennet role. Conrad Ricamora and James Scully are the Darcy and Charles updates of the literary reimagining and are also committed to their performances. It’s actually uncanny how well the Austen archetypes translate to the LGBTQIA+ milieu, and the update is also a coup for Asian representation. The film has fun with remixing both literary and romcom conventions while sending up the devil-may-care attitudes of the inlet getaway, including some cautionary subplots in the statuesque form of Zane Phillips as a charming rogue in the ensemble. The melodrama is a bit uneven at times but the repartee between the co-leads is consistently strong and appropriately sentimental. There are also some pop confections on the soundtrack including covers of Wonka tune “Pure Imagination” and “Sometimes” by Britney Spears. It’s an elevated escape.

Movie Review: RRR: Rise Roar Revolt (2022)

Now available on Netflix.

Suspend your disbelief and strap yourself in for an unexpected stunt spectacular with equally epic heart. S.S. Rajamouli’s go-for-broke bromantic adventure RRR: Rise Roar Revolt (A-) is the breakneck tale of two intertwined freedom fighters on a mission to save a little girl and discover the bounds of brotherhood and loyalty before ultimately liberating the nation of India from British Raj rule in the 1920s. Viewers must excuse some goofy special effects and cartoonish performances from some of the imperial villains and perhaps learn to relish a touch of tonal shifting and delirious dance breaks while exploring this wonderland of spicy cinematic bonbons. It’s an imaginary account of two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, played with absolute relish by Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. respectively, and a deliriously inventive gonzo action showcase with parkour and pull-ups, a truckful of wild animals attacking a crowd, a defiant mid-flogging song that incites a riot and so much spectacular more. The fictional friendship between two superheroes has hints of Hindu mythology and fervent nationalism, underscored with rousing M.M. Keeravani music. The kinetic emotional arch as the protagonists emerge from strangers to brothers-in-arms ushers in an elaborate series of escapades with shades of Braveheart, Ben-Hur, Face/Off and Indiana Jones (there’s even a role for that series’ Allison Doody as a bloodthirsty baddie). Chances are you won’t see a more joyful set of performances, more delirious derring-do and a more exciting parade of panache on the screen anytime soon. 

Movie Review: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

Now streaming on Hulu.

This is a movie in which a very small cast rises to the occasion. Sophie Hyde’s dramedy Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (B) tells the story of a retired school teacher and widow (Emma Thompson) who hires a twentysomething sex worker (Daryl McCormack) to help her catch up on what she’s been missing during years of the marriage and motherhood routine. Most of the story take place in one single hotel room, which sometimes feels like a two-hander stage play, but the themes and acting elevate the material considerably. Thompson is superb, all nerves while striving to be proper amidst a situation she didn’t imagine herself engaging. In the thankless role opposite such an acting titan, McCormack holds his own and gets a chance to open up as well. There are some dubious choices adding tension to the final act, but ultimately this talky film is a delight. The movie does a good job exploring what it’s like to achieve intimacy, even when everything one has learned up to this point builds up walls around close relationships. It’s a poignant and often funny tale and tackles issues which aren’t often addressed onscreen.

Movie Review: Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers (2022)

Now on Disney+ streaming service.

It’s “who framed ribald rodents” as a slew of Hollywood’s top comics provide an often uproarious tribute to the cartoons of their youth in a new Disney+ live-action/animated action comedy film. Akiva Schaffer’s Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (B) is a throwback thrill with funny friends John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the odd couple Disney duo most prominently featured in a ‘90s TV adventure. The movie is chock-full of unexpected cameos as the estranged pint-sized pair reunites three decades after their heyday to solve a co-star’s disappearance in a human and toon filled modern L.A. From the central conceit that one of the hand-drawn chipmunks has received a CGI glow-up to a hilarious sin city of animated bootleggers, the film throws inspired madcap mayhem at every corner. It’s a dad joke paradise with animated Will Arnett getting in the action as a child actor turned villainous adult and Keegan-Michael Key as part of a Muppet-inspired crime syndicate. Alas the film short shrifts both KiKi Layne as the perfunctory human character, a fangirl policewoman, and the west coast metropolis itself, which could have provided some cleverer sites for high-profile gags. The film’s novelty runs out a bit in the final act, but it’s hard to fault a film so crammed with such singular hilarity and homage. This film is fun for all ages with nuttiness and cheekiness galore.

Movie Review: The Northman (2022)

Now in theatres.

For its singularly violent vision and attention to authentic detail, this historical epic gets a mighty round of polar ice claps. A revenge tale told with impeccable craft, The Northman (B), directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, has dreamy scope and scale but a plot that’s a touch basic. Alexander Skarsgård is in beast mode with an intense physical performance as a man of few words, a descendent of royalty hiding out in a Viking gang ready to pounce into a binge of avenging against his wronged parents (a superb Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman). Between grisly saxon smackdowns, there’s a rather prolonged period of waiting in which Eggers must tread some murky maelstrom water. It takes a pillage of pulpy possibilities as the auteur throws in signature supernatural elements and supporting bits from some of his quirky past cast members such as Willem Dafoe and Anya Taylor-Joy. Claes Bang is also a menacing antagonist. Essentially every primary character gets a really good scream into the camera, and it appears the director just told them to give it their most primal. The divergent panoply of accents, however, owe more to the House of Gucci than the Norse code. Ultimately, fans of ribald historical action will dig this adventure through lands of fjords and volcanoes. The cinematography and art direction, especially in nighttime attacks and a few climactic fights, is stunning to behold. Eggers and acclaimed writer Sjón plum some intriguing legend and lore, as there’s a lot to unpack on this journey.

Movie Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

Now in theatres.

After his stunning work in last year’s dramatic Pig, a wonderful new comedy is another reminder Nicolas Cage is truly a national treasure. The notoriously always working actor plays an amped up version of himself opposite Pedro Pascal as a wealthy fan who pays him a million dollars to attend his birthday in Spain in Tom Dormican’s smart buddy comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (B+). Through a series of unexpected events, “Nick” finds himself channeling his most iconic and beloved characters as part of a metaphorical and literal redemption story. The funny bits are top notch, and Dormican has a deft touch in hopping genres to serve the needs of the story, sometimes talky but with its share of car stunts and pratfalls as well. Cage is an utter delight and a wonderful sport fully committed to the circuitous ride, and Pascal is sensational as the funny foil fanboy. Lily Mo Sheen and Sharon Horgan also hit the right notes as Cage’s daughter and estranged wife, respectively, managing the well meaning diva dad in their family. While funny, Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz don’t get much to do as additional plot catalysts but are always appreciated. This is essential viewing for Cage fans but also great fun for anyone. It’s a well made comic romp with a hilarious double bromance at the center, between actor and fan and the actor and himself. More than an ego trip though, everyone’s in on the joke, and moviegoers are again the beneficiary of Cage’s underrated if not sometimes ubiquitous talent.

Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

Now playing in select theatres and on demand from A-24.

This is the ultimate film fantasia for channel surfers, with something pretty, punchy or profound to discover with each push of a button. The writing and directing duo known as Daniels have crafted their choose your own adventure inspired epic Everything Everywhere All At Once (B+) as one of the most complex and absurdist mind-trips set to screen. A blissful Michelle Yeoh plays a woman being audited by the IRS who realizes she has the power to exist in multiple universes and must thwart a familiar antagonist hell-bent on destroying them all. Aside from the creators’ meticulously crafted vision, which at times is too much of a good thing, Yeoh is a revelation, alternately summoning physical comedy, familial empathy and martial arts skills like they are hard wired in the game console of her acting brain. Helping her process all the new data is former Goonie Ke Huy Quan, who showcases fancy footwork in one of the film’s big choreographed action sequences and is great fun in a spry ensemble featuring Stephanie Hsu, Harry Shum Jr. and James Hong. Jamie Lee Curtis is also on hand as a quirky clerk with some outrageous pratfalls and unusual talents of her own. Center-punched for stylized fight sequences, ornate set pieces and everyday domestic drama, Yeoh is masterful maneuvering the demands of the black comedy and sci-fi elements alike. The Daniels are gleeful in throwing in every madcap notion, and Yeoh catches each of their creative impulses like juggling balls to keep aloft. The audacity of it all and the pacing ultimately weigh the film down a bit, but it’s hard to argue viewers have seen anything like this before.