Category Archives: Rent It Tonight

Movie Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

The stop-motion animated musical fantasy Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (B+) co-directed by the titular moviemaking wunderkind and Mark Gustafson is not only a gorgeous creation to behold but deepens a timeless tale’s themes about the father-son bond. Set in 1930s Fascist Italy, the film’s every frame reflects meticulous craft and intrigue; and the sentimental story comes to life in unexpected and lyrical ways. The directors start pulling the heartstrings immediately in the prologue by depicting time spent between lonely woodcarver Gepetto and the son he lost before willing a merry marionette to life. David Bradley and Gregory Mann are solid in the father-son voiceover roles, and Ewan McGregor as a charming cricket is a spry standout in an ensemble including Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett and Christoph Waltz. The movie takes viewers to some familiar and exotic locations, with just enough change of venue to keep an oft-told story fresh. Alexander Desplat’s score is quite lovely too except his full-out songs which are more wooden than the protagonist puppet. The fable outstays its welcome a bit, and the title character could have used a central nervous system stimulant; but it’s largely a technical marvel with solid heart.

Movie Review: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

This peppy whodunnit starts off so strong, viewers will scarcely believe the momentum will last, but it mostly does. Writer/director Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (B+) brings back Daniel Craig as the series’ peculiar detective protagonist and a new ensemble, all with cryptic connections to Ed Norton’s business giant character. These suspects including Kate Hudson, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Dave Bautista and Kathryn Hahn congregate in a semitransparent mansion on a private island for a dangerous game. So soon after the similarly themed The Menu, this film loses a little bit of its punch, but it’s largely a frothy winner with droll humor and an impressive script. There’s also a moment when the plot wraps back over itself, and it slows down the pace just slightly. Thankfully Johnson peppers the proceedings with some potent subtext about untoward allegiances people make to maintain power, and it makes the cinematic meal more of a banquet. Monáe and Hudson get some of the juiciest roles and make quite an impact, plus there are some other mysterious cameos. There’s a running joke about the detective not liking the board game Clue; but for audiences, it’s fun to second-guess every person, prop and room on display. Peel back the layers and enjoy this holiday hit.

Movie Review: The Fabelmans (2022)

Welcome to the Young Steven Spielberg Chronicles, where the proverbial alien is a spouse in a loveless marriage, the cliffhanger action revolves around how quickly one can thwart high school bullies and where home movies captured for the screen can reflect destiny profoundly. Spielberg directs and co-writes his own autobiography as a coming of age drama, changing his family name to The Fabelmans (A-) as one mildly manipulative way to keep tiny flickers of details privately veiled. The film is a rich origin story of an auteur-in-training shaped in unequal measures by his drive to make movies and his reckoning with his formerly fantasy world parents becoming increasingly estranged. Gabriel LaBelle is fully convincing in the central role, often opposite Michelle Williams as his dreamer mom, in an effectively showy and emotional performance. All actors are wonderful including Paul Dano as the pragmatic dad who can fix everything but his family and Judd Hirsch as a scene-stealing uncle who’s a former silent film actor and circus showman and a certain real-life director with some sage advice. Spielberg’s greatest filmmaking gifts are all on display here: depicting wide-eyed wonder, pivoting from triumph to dread within the same sequence and contemplating Big Issues while consistently conjuring entertaining imagery. Strangely, the only underwhelming elements are John Williams’s pretty but subtle score and the mostly perfunctory films-within-the-film. Overall this work is a glorious making of a man with unexpected intrigue. With a lofty screenplay, Spielberg’s co-writer Tony Kushner elevates the tale to the stuff of legend, and in the process the director himself has made a really great Steven Spielberg movie.

Movie Review: The Menu (2022)

There’s nothing more delectable than watching bad people get their comeuppance, and many may have guessed that just such social commentary is on The Menu (B) directed by Mark Mylod. Ralph Fiennes plays a despotic chef at the helm of an exclusive restaurant that’s the sole tenant of an island, and its ensemble of guests ranging from Janet McTeer to John Leguizamo have no idea what kind of meal is coming their way. Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult are a treat as the central odd couple, she with no interest in high-minded cuisine and he obsessed with every morsel. The story’s chapters are also food courses with life lessons attached, with only one that looks as delicious as described. There are a bunch of flawed characters with too many greedy, grubby hands in the veritable gobstopper jar. The allegory loses steam as the story progresses and doesn’t fully quench the appetite it hypes. The film is entertaining but may not stick to the ribs as much as intended.

Movie Review: The Good Nurse (2022)

Now playing on Netflix.

There’s a film history of deadly horrors in hospitals, where scalpels to the neck and syringes to the temple are among the go-to medical murder weapons, but a real-life sick bay slayer committed crimes with a much more understated approach. An engrossing drama with hints of a suspense thriller, Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse (B) is wonderfully acted by Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne as two professional caregivers embroiled in a crime scene. Chastain plays an overworked single mom who is working the ward round the clock and counting down to her one-year mark of employment to qualify for health insurance to beat a secret pesky heart palpitation issue, a convenient plot point for a character primed for stressful sequences. She’s marvelous and relatable in the protagonist role. Redmayne is wonderful too as an often endearing character who clearly harbors issues under the surface. His simmering cauldron of an acting approach is a deft balance and consistently absorbing to watch. Nnamdi Asomugha and Kim Dickens are additional standouts in the ensemble as a police investigator and risk manager, respectively, demonstrating the frustrating boxes of the corporate medicine machine when patient care goes wrong. The film’s formula feels familiar, but Lindholm elevates the proceedings with creepy true-life conventions and by orchestrating high pedigree acting. His film is highly watchable as his primary characters get in your bloodstream.

Movie Review: Causeway (2022)

Premiered at Toronto International Film Festival, Streams and plays in limited theatres November 4 on Apple TV+.

Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry are the marvelous acting partners you didn’t know you needed headlining Lila Neugebauer’s debut film, the psychological drama Causeway (B). Lawrence is raw, effective and enchanting as a wounded veteran who reluctantly returns to her hometown of New Orleans where she befriends a similarly broken mechanic played with compelling and sometimes comic, nervy charm by Henry. As the soldier rehabilitates from her trauma and learns to feel again, her new bond of friendship helps reshape her worldview. Like other character study duets – Once and Leaving Las Vegas come to mind – there’s poignancy in the quiet observational moments and superb connection between actors giving their all to lived-in performances. The director creates renewal below sea level in her frequent water allusions, and viewers will feel like they are swimming in talent. The narrative could have used a bit more momentum at times, but fans of intimate stories and indelible characters will find this one quite rewarding.

Movie Review: Till (2022)

Now in select theatres.

A tribute to the all-encompassing possibilities of a mother’s love, Chinonye Chukwu’s true story Till (B) is as much the journey of Mamie Till Mobley, splendidly played by Danielle Deadwyler, as that of her son Emmett Till, endearingly portrayed by Jalyn Hall. The film transcends many historical nonfiction conventions on the strength of Deadwyler’s brilliant embodiment of a woman experiencing hopelessness and empowerment in the wake of overpowering tragedy. Chukwu creates a handsome mid-1950s production design and a contemplative and convincing story with strong ensemble work across the board. Several narrative threads and characters could have used some fine tuning, but the overall effect is moving and motivational. Deadwyler is an undeniable discovery for those who may not know her as a household name in the movies, and she has contributed mightily to this gripping and emotional tale.

Movie Review: TÁR (2022)

Lydia Tár, exquisitely portrayed by Cate Blanchett, is a fictional female maestro of a major German orchestra, but a series of challenges threaten to derail the composer/conductor’s unfettered authority over both her craft and reputation in Todd Field’s fascinating psychological drama TÁR (B+). Field paints on an intimate and exacting canvas with occasional shades of bitter dark comedy, tackling contemporary topics about gender roles, cancel culture and the curation of one’s personal narrative. Blanchett builds a complex character, and it’s clear the music pulsing through her soul is as second nature for her as the English, German and conductor’s wand she wields, sometimes in the same breath or continuous shot. Opposite exquisite co-stars such as Noémie Merlant and Nina Hoss, she creates an icy and indelible character, fascinating on or off the podium. The unconventional soundscape by Hildur Guðnadóttir adds to the film’s off-kilter grandeur, buoying an absorbing character study and morality tale and marked by handsome production design. Once viewers get past a tinge of pretension, it’s all rather more delicious than expected. Field’s patient, singular vision including his keen writing and crisp direction is vital to creating the epic and essential space for Blanchett’s command performance. 

Movie Review: Do Revenge (2022)

Now on Netflix.

It’s dish served deliciously. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s Do Revenge (B+) is a smart teen comedy loosely inspired by Strangers on a Train, set in a prestigious Miami high school with candy-coated colors and ‘90s music delights. Talented TV stars Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke get top billing in this fever dream of diabolical double crosses and hilarious one-liners. The film examines the truth and consequences of spreading secrets and starting rumors and demonstrates toxicity isn’t the domain of a single gender. Mendes and Hawke are a wonderful duo and play two ends of a spectrum with verve and vivacity. Austin Abrams is also a hoot as a hedonistic bad boy. This is a recommended comedy in the terrific tradition of Heathers, Clueless and Mean Girls with tinges of suspense and acerbic wit. 

Movie Review: Bros (2022)

Now on demand.

This movie is about confidence and not letting anyone tell you you’re not worthy of achieving a particular goal; and that theme, more than the raunchy and sometimes routine comedy, makes its story a standout. Billy Eichner, known for his hilarious man on the street sketch highjinks, stars in and co-wrote Bros (B) with director Nicholas Stoller, and there’s a sense of gravitas and urgency to the proceedings as it’s one of the first gay rom-coms from a legacy Hollywood studio. Eichner’s acerbic personality often makes for an awkward force fit as the protagonist who has given up on finding a relationship, but luckily he acts opposite a very sturdy and funny co-lead in Luke Macfarlane, his polar opposite. Eichner inhabits a character who hosts podcasts and curates a museum but doesn’t really seem a natural especially on the latter, but his occupations are catalysts for him to encounter a diverse batch of characters and set into motion tropes of the genre including meeting cute at a party and hoping to get a call to hang out again. All the rom-com conventions are here through a gay lens both funny and poignant as the characters reckon with the history undergirding their fairly privileged NYC lives, and Stoller mines goldmines of incidental comedy out of the ensemble. There are snarky throwaway comic lines and occasionally some broadly funny physical comedy, but the main through-line was having something to prove much more than getting into a funny groove. Tips of the hat go to Bowen Yang and Debra Messing for very funny bits. The movie gets high marks for being high minded but could have used a little more lowbrow. The best parts are the more conventional “falling in love” sequences, and some of the other trappings feel like they are trying too hard to have Something to Say.

Movie Review: Smile (2022)

New from Paramount.

Put on your brave face because Parker Finn’s supernatural movie Smile (B) is one of the year’s most terrifying horror films. The plot follows a therapist, gracefully played by Sosie Bacon, who appears to be losing her mind after witnessing a bizarre tragedy involving a troubled patient, portrayed so well by Caitlin Stasey that the audience is spoiled by amazing acting early in the story. The film effectively unpacks the effects of trauma while supplying a steady stream of creepy visuals, jump scares and menacing mysteries. Bacon’s lead performance is consistently engaging, as is Robin Weigert as a tightly wound psychiatrist. Finn keeps the tension high and the emotions raw but relies a bit too often on unnecessarily fancy camera angles and cellphone calls as deus ex machina. The director keeps his grip and grimace so taut for so long that the narrative hardly has any pearly white fight left in it for the final showdowns. This movie is undoubtedly a good time for horror lovers and a solid entry into the genre.

Movie Review: The Woman King (2022)

Now playing in theatres.

The high-flying Navy heroes of a certain blockbuster sequel have competition in this year’s crowd-pleasing movie department in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s handsomely produced epic The Woman King (A). Against the backdrop of the bygone besieged West African nation of Dahomey (modern-day Benin) in the 1820s, Viola Davis plays a fictional general from a real group of all-female warriors called the Agojie and must train the next generation of women to fight an enemy who wants to destroy their way of life. Davis is an absolute force of nature in the role, alternately executing elaborate fight choreography and exposing the emotion behind her stoic soldier stance. Thusu Mbedu is magnificent as a maverick up-and-comer in the brilliant brigade, and Lashana Lynch and Sheila Latim are superb standouts in the squad. John Boyega is wonderful as well playing the reigning monarch with a rousing final act battle speech. Prince-Bythewood depicts the crucibles and counteroffenses of the film’s women with stunning agility; this is clearly the work of women on a mission and offers strong storytelling and spectacle. Without missing a beat of the action, the story also confronts the immorality of the kingdom’s leaders selling Dahomey slaves to the Portuguese; it’s fascinating in the way it fills in some blanks from the history books. Also distinguished by Terence Blanchard’s score and frankly every element of Hollywood crafts, this film promises to be a word of mouth sensation and will please those who enjoyed adventures such as Last of the Mohicans or Gladiator. All hail the arrival of this fine film!