Tag Archives: Drama

Movie Review: Armageddon Time (2022)

Now playing in select theatres from Focus Features.

Foisting an often unflattering, unremarkable personal memoir on the masses is a sure fire way to open oneself up to bruising judgment, especially when the memories intended to move or inspire simply feel dramatically inert. Writer/director James Gray’s Armageddon Time (C-) leverages his wistful recollections about being 12 years old in Queens, New York in the 1980s to moralize about the enduring state of affairs in the world. The retro atmosphere is all there, from toting metal lunchboxes, riding on the subway, touring the Guggenheim and playing in Flushing Meadows, but the film rarely gathers steam in any of its locales. Banks Repeta is the central boy learning retconned lessons about white privilege as he watches his Black friend played by Jaylin Webb get in trouble for mutual troublemaking. It feels like the protagonist isn’t really there; he’s just watching himself be an unsure tween, longing for better choices he could have made. Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway are believable but oddly written as the parents; the viewer will be unsure what to make of them exactly, and they have very little to do or say. Even a nice portrayal of the sage family grandfather by Anthony Hopkins feels perfunctory. There are indeed some life lessons lurking beneath the heavy handed plotting, but there are few revelations to draw viewers into this feature as essential viewing.

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: The Inspection (2022)

Coming soon to select cities.

The leviathan feats of surviving Marine boot camp or trying to change the mind of a stubbornly homophobic mother both get an “inspired by true events” treatment in Elegance Bratton’s 2005-set The Inspection (B-). Jeremy Pope plays a gay man who has been battling life on the urban streets since teenage estrangement from his mom (a memorable Gabrielle Union against type), so signing up for a punishing 13 weeks in Parris Island basic training is a desperate attempt to finally be a hero. Pope is the revelation here, bringing tremendous empathy to the central performance, who is a misfit times three in his strange new environment. Bratton’s film, while gorgeously shot and often deeply felt since it was based on some of his own story, tends to feel a bit like Full Metal Jacket meets Moonlight, with many story elements done much better before. Raúl Castillo is intriguing as one of the good guys; there are others who feel a bit like stock characters. Ultimately it’s absorbing in some unexpected ways even though much of the terrain has been trod before.

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: Blonde (2022)

Now on Netflix.

Some like it heavy handed. Blonde (D-), Andrew Dominick’s rough and tumble fictionalized fantasia about movie actress Marilyn Monroe played by Ana de Armas, is so consistent in its depiction of dehumanization that it simply devolves into a tedious task. The film traces the icon through a traumatic childhood, touching on her pinup years and following her through two troubled marriages before that candle burns out long before the legend ever did. Dominick gets some credit for experimenting with traditional biopic tropes as he endlessly circles, underscores, outlines and dog ears his facile thesis. It’s altogether more sad than sexy and definitely more irritating than enlightening. The talented Ana de Armas is fully committed to the role but is forced into story beats equal parts dumb and degrading. The notion that the Marilyn we know was simply an illusion and that we the viewers are shallow voyeurs doesn’t make for much of a movie experience. No amount of fun house film stock, morphing aspect ratio, or swerving and unnerving shifts from black and white to color can mask the jaundiced jackhammer behind this bleak, pulverizing and ultimately pointless exercise.

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!

Movie Review: Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

Now playing in theatres.

A picturesque peculiarity worthy of finding a cultish niche audience, George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing (B+) is the Turkey-set tale of a bespectacled, pragmatic academic (Tilda Swinton) who awakens a kindhearted Djinn, or genie (Idris Elba) eager to grant his solitary liberator her obligatory trio of wishes, but only those she desires deeply. He arrives, Istanbul in a China shop, via a curious bottle as a giant misty creature in her hotel room and seeps into her soul as he shares storytelling flashbacks tracing his personal ancient history up to this moment in time. Miller’s asymmetrical structure interpolating fantastical past loves and battles in the Ottoman Empire and beyond with talky terrycloth musings about the cautionary qualities of their large-scale proposal is both confounding and rewarding. The callbacks serve to enrich the push-pull and burgeoning relationship between the unlikely protagonists. Miller maestros a master class of ornate visual effects, visceral cinematography and bright costumes as his two-hander unfolds and opens up to the syncopation of a lush score. Swinton and Elba are perfectly cast and prove quite believable embedded in the opus of the director’s glorious and sometimes goofy grandeur. Several plot elements could have benefited from a few more foreshadowing breadcrumbs, but a film with this many ideas about patience, mysticism and science is a bit of a delicate soufflé. You’ll likely know if you’re the adventurous audience for this creative think piece; and if you are, it’s a sumptuous big screen experience.

Movie Review: Breaking (2022)

Coming to theatres Aug. 26, 2022.

The tension remains high for at least half of Abi Damaris Corbin’s taut real-life drama Breaking (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.

Movie Review: Thirteen Lives (2022)

Now streaming on Prime Video.

Spelunk-tacular! Ron Howard’s real-life survival film Thirteen Lives (B) chronicles the daring 2018 rescue of a dozen young soccer players and their assistant coach trapped for 18 days in Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang Non cave after heavy rainfall flooded the structure and blocked their way out. It’s sometimes an uneven match of the endlessly optimistic director and the sometimes mundane mechanics of the procedural plot, but once the expert divers played by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell discover the trapped entourage and enlist Joel Edgerton who also dives and offers additional medical skills, it’s a battle of brains and brawn to get everyone out safe and sound. The narrow passageways and the deluge of water compound the scope and scale of the disaster film, with some rather remarkable underwater cinematography. The familiar actors bring notable realism to the screen, and Teeradon Supapunpinyo is an underused gem as the empowering coach who keeps his players’ hope alive during the grueling ordeal. The first hour is sluggish but the second and third acts pick up the pace. Howard ultimately wrings a heartfelt message from the global story of cooperation between 17 countries to complete the miraculous mission. It’s a noble and inspiring work with takeaways for nearly every family viewer.

Movie Review: Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)

Sony Pictures Releasing – now in theatres.

Lead actress Daisy Edgar-Jones (DEJ) almost unilaterally redeems director Olivia Newman’s melodrama Where the Crawdads Sing (B-), rescuing the period piece film from one of the most poorly paced and acted first twenty minutes of a major Hollywood feature (a kind of reverse Saving Private Ryan) and helping draw viewers into what at times magically becomes rather riveting. The movie’s literary roots are showing, from the cloying first-person voice-over narration to the “life under a microscope” earthly allusions. DEJ’s protagonist “Kya” is an outsider loner and novice naturalist of the North Carolina marshes who becomes embroiled in two significant romances and one murder trial. She digs mussels and muscles and may or may not harbor secrets. The soapy plot would be the death Nell to the proceedings were it not for the impeccable work by DEJ as the magnetic central character. She’s surrounded by one of David Strathairn’s few humdrum performances (he’s the kindly lawyer) and even more confounding acting turns by Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson as tall glass of water “good” and “bad” suitors, respectively (Did original song writer Taylor Swift also cast the disappointing dudes from her jilted jukebox burn book?). Somewhere in the middle of it all, though, there’s DEJ’s fierce female performance: a smart, observant and evolving heroine with emotive eyes, piercing pathos and utterly believable physicality. She makes viewers hope and wince and cheer. The story is occasionally rich with bursts of Southern gothic atmosphere, and Newman ultimately gets a grip on the multiple plot threads to lend a sizable chunk of the overlong story a more cohesive vibe. This is all a bit of a guilty pleasure, quite watchable, but hardly revelatory. Except the lead actress: she’s a cinematic savior here and raises the stakes beyond the brays of the crayfish.