Category Archives: Rent It Tonight

Movie Review: Air (2023)

Available on Prime Video 5/12/23.

It’s the ultimate “inside baseball” about the world’s most iconic basketball shoe. Director Ben Affleck’s ‘80s-set chronicle about Nike’s courtship of rookie hoops star Michael Jordan, Air (B+) is a crowd-pleasing triumph. Matt Damon is effective as the wonkish mid-level exec fixated on attaching his swoosh to a champion of the court, with Affleck offering comic relief as the new-age company head. Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker also get plum roles as their business associates in a film that’s essentially a talky bake-off between Nike and adversaries at Adidas and Converse, not to mention a battle to outwit a sleazy sports agent middle man, played masterfully and mercilessly by Chris Messina. Delivering grace and gravitas to her role, Viola Davis makes her mark as MJ’s mom and unofficial sponsorship gatekeeper. The film succeeds with the rat-tat-tat of hilarious bro banter and the sparks of being scrappy. Setting his movie to a banger of a vintage MTV greatest hits soundtrack, filmmaker Affleck tells an unlikely true story with humor and pathos, giving Damon space to set just the right tone at the center of the quest.  These real-life underdogs fight red tape with metaphorical mixed tapes in glorious fashion. For a movie about famous sports shoes, it keeps things loose and limber and pivots in an instant.

Guest Movie Review: Hunger (2023)

Now on Netflix.
By Christian Waltermire
Guest Critic

Sitisiri Mongkolsiri’s Bangkok-set Hunger (B-) is a visually appealing film meant to provide commentary on the upper echelon of society as far as it applies to perceived (and perhaps well substantiated) pretentiousness when it comes to the finer things in life. Aoy, played by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, is a chef working at the family restaurant she is intended to inherit, but when a customer working for a fine dining chef tells her she’s too good for the establishment, she decides to make a switch. This is where Chef Paul (Nopachai Jayanama) comes into play, the owner of a private catering service serving high paying clients. The film makes a point to present the food in a manner that isn’t entirely appetizing, showcasing scenes of surrealism as the clients devour dishes such as animals. The film, while well executed, slips into some derivative territory with its “eat the rich” mentality. It puts forth the message that decadence and money aren’t everything and when compared with the simple things life can provide, the alternative is soulless. We’ve heard this message before so don’t go into the film thinking you’ll be met with any deep philosophical questions. It’s still a fun watch, while not particularly challenging, and will certainly be palatable for a Friday Netflix night.

Movie Review: A Thousand and One (2023)

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.

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: 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.

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)

Now in theatres.

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: Knock at the Cabin (2023)

Now in select theatres and on demand.

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. 

Movie Review: Missing (2023)

In theatres January 20.

There ought to be awards for best supporting apps as Siri, Taskrabbit, Google, Instagram, YouTube and many of their cyber companions become utility players in Nick Johnson and Will Merrick’s computer screen mystery thriller Missing (B). This standalone sequel to Searching follows a teenager (Storm Reid) who wields various technologies to find her missing mother (Nia Long) after she disappears on vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend (Ken Leung). Reid is effective in the central role and lots of fun opposite Joaquim de Almeida as a deputized detective of the gig economy. The format popularized during the pandemic shows some signs of strain at first, but the co-directors weave an impressive and nail-biting narrative as the intrepid teen endeavors further down the linked looking glass. Film flourishes including webcams and cracking codes keep the action less desk-bound. Ultimately the successful story transcends the form and trumps initial trepidation about the story-told-on-a-synced-desktop trope.

Movie Review: Women Talking (2022)

Sarah Polley’s Women Talking (B) starts like a really long homeowner association meeting with a lingering SWOT analysis and transcends into a bit of a moviemaking miracle about resiliency, triumph and restored faith. Set a decade and a half ago, the story focuses on eight women from an isolated Mennonite colony who grapple with reconciling their reality with their religion after it is revealed that men from their community drugged and raped the community’s women at night for years. It’s solemn material for sure, and Polley makes the stagey cinematic with lush cinematography and a desaturated color palette plus a soaring score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. Rooney Mara and Judith Ivey are luminous standouts in a multigenerational ensemble also getting lots of attention for two women shouting, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy. Like a war movie, though, the strength is in the composite set of performances and central conflict rather than in the work of any one or two individuals. The final reel is missing some requisite suspense but compensates with bursts of emotion. Overall Polley as screenwriter and director delivers a moving work, grounded in old-fashioned sentiment with a brazen modern touch, that undoubtedly will gain more appreciation over time.