Category Archives: Rent It Tonight

Summer Film Season Gets Middling Opener in “The Fall Guy”

The comedy/action remake of a classic TV series comes in roaring like a lion and devolves into a cat nap. Stunt coordinator-turned-director David Leitch’s The Fall Guy (B-) contains an abundance of awesome ingredients, including some outrageous pratfalls, fabulous soundtrack needle-drops and charismatic leads Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt as stuntman and director, respectively, with ample romantic chemistry simmering. The mysterious meta story set in the world of the production of a big-budget interplanetary blockbuster action movie involves a quest to recover a missing leading man (Aaron Taylor-Johnson as an irritating egomaniac) in time to save the production. The film’s best visual gags involve the vocabulary of cinema, as a heated conversation takes place in a “oner” filled with explosions or as the central pair contemplates the value of split-screen sequences while in one. Unfortunately the slight story rarely serves the massive talents of the leads; the production feels like it needed some reshoots made impossible by industry strikes. It’s often a fun lark; and as expected, the stunts are really good. It just doesn’t completely deliver on its promise or sustain its carefree spirit with quite the finesse it could have.

Steamy Streamer “The Idea of You” a Hit of Atlanta Film Festival, Now on Prime Video

It’s time to say bye, bye, bye to myths about age gap relationships as a 40-year-old divorcee single mom embarks on a love affair with the 24-year-old frontman of a fictional hit boy band. Built on the star-powered shoulders of Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine, Michael Showalter’s rom-dram The Idea of You (B) is an enjoyable if not terribly original romp. Despite the fun and fantasy of the film’s premise, the director grounds the story in its lead characters’ humanity and the real-life complications dusted up in their unexpected collision. Hathaway is plucky and authentic as an art gallery curator, and Galitzine is a natural charmer and singer in his role as a superstar. Together they make for a steamy duo. The protagonist’s impulse to keep the romance secret including from her teenage daughter presents some silly subplots, while the through-line of self-doubt and sabotage is very relatable. Many finely observed moments abound in this mostly mainstream fare, and the leads buoy its believability. This movie is pure paperback poolside reading in filmed form and promises to make a delightful date night viewing.

“Challengers” a Potent Mix of Acting Threesome with Sexy Sport and Score

It’s a love triangle with more than a touch of tennis envy as a palace intrigue story of sorts plays out court-side among the agile athletes of Luca Guadagnino’s smart, sassy guilty pleasure romantic drama Challengers (B+). Three characters are front and center in a plot that zig-zags and thirst-traps across nearly a decade and a half as two doubles tennis playing boarding school dudes find their fates as young adults en route to Grand Slam glory intertwined with a sporty force of nature played by Zendaya, who fully occupies her queen bee position in terms of fetching femininity, fitness and fashion. This is a great role for this iconic actress with much communicated in very few words. Josh O’Connor is perfection as the bad boy roustabout opposite Mike Faist’s more serene boon companion, and the chemistry on and off the court between the members of this trio is palpable. Guadagnino wisely casts his film with actors who can believably portray characters across high school, college and twentysomething years and augments the action with a fast-paced techno score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, pulling viewers deeply into a near-hypnotic trance. The twisty three-hander plot devices further reveal themselves with each escalating episode, and the film proves sexy in what it largely leaves to the imagination. This could very well become this generation’s Cruel Intentions or at the very least a double bill with Saltburn for adventurous moviegoers.

“Indigo Girls” Documentary a Rollicking, Revelatory Look at Signature Duo

Pop music stardom is an uneasy fit for the idiosyncratic women of one of the State of Georgia’s most popular exports, but this steely duo’s combination of vulnerability and authenticity expresses a profound harmony powerful enough to heal an aching world. Director Alexandria Bombach’s joy-balm of a career chronicle Indigo Girls: It’s Only Life After All (A) derives its title from a verse of the duo’s hit song, “Closer to Fine,” recently featured on the dream car radio airwaves of the Barbie movie as characters trek between fantasy and the real world. This documentary similarly exists in a realm of crafty contradictions and sly serendipity as amplified acoustic troubadours Amy Ray and Emily Saliers reveal their starkly divergent pathways to achieve both their iconic sound and inner peace against a backdrop of changing times and minds. These two couldn’t be more different! Amy constantly tames tempestuousness, all grit and ache simmering on the surface while unleashing her inner rocker, as Emily belts lovely ballads and a bright blend of poetic melancholy while privately battling her own doubts and demons. The sound they make together is singular and sublime, and the respect they have for one another is apparent in every revealing frame. Both women are raw in their confessions, wry in their self-effacing observations and clearly having a wonderful time curating a career unlike any before or after them. The film showcases two lifelong friends coming of age without a roadmap, united in music-making as a mutual coping mechanism and antidote to growing up gay in the south, to being unconventional women in the entertainment business and to not always being particularly prepared for the role model activists they’ve become. While showcasing the origins of their welcoming brand of lyrical and sonic composition forged in the otherworldly necessity of their friendship, the movie also traces the womens’ journey to an even more pronounced consciousness about environmental and justice issues they hold so dear, outside opinions be damned. Archival footage captured on every conceivable form of media, testimonials from true believers who would follow the band anywhere and a keen directorial eye on the lovely details which define a relationship for the ages are among the poignant ways the film showcases its subjects so lovingly. For both devoted fans and newbies discovering these pioneering women in action, bearing witness to their stories both in conversation and song will be nothing short of inspiring. The film is a highly recommended glimpse at two people who by their very existence, and their talent on top of that, are changing the world and saving lives. Go, go, go!

Note: the film runs at Atlanta’s Tara theatre before appearing elsewhere.

“Love Lies Bleeding” is a Trippy Romantic Thriller from 2024 Sundance

Get ready to experience pulp friction of the edgiest order as a mismatched love story collides with a badass crime drama and all-out revenge and cover-up saga in the consistently surprising Love Lies Bleeding (B), directed by Rose Glass. Set in the 1980s, this often unhinged movie chronicles the sexy relationship between a gym manager played by Kristen Stewart and a nomadic bodybuilder portrayed by Katy O’Brian, with a powderkeg or two threatening the serenity of their sapphic world order. Both women are incredible in the roles; their unbridled feral chemistry is a necessary foundation on which the most outlandish episodes can take place. Ed Harris and Dave Franco are also compelling as outrageous and dangerous men; and it’s clear we the audience are settling in for some supernatural splatter when steroids stoke the kindling of the bonfire. After opening sequences ground the story in a very specific world, some of the plot lines admittedly become completely ridiculous. But Glass keeps the story taut and entertaining with a clever eye for detail and noirish nuances. This is a very fun indie walk on the wild side.

“Problemista” is Droll, Deadpan and Delicious

New York City’s most unassuming guy and the world’s most over-assertive woman forge an unlikely relationship at the center of this refreshingly off-kilter satire. Julio Torres writes, directs and stars in the surrealist comedy Problemista (B+). He plays Alejandro, a South American immigrant and aspiring toy designer and who’s struggling to bring his unusual ideas to life in the bustle of the American metropolis. As time on his work visa runs out, a job assisting a brassy art world iconoclast (Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth) becomes his only hope to stay in the country and realize his dreams. Our humble hero’s macabre toy ideas are hilarious (even his snake in a can is humbly apologetic for its jump scare), and his Kafkaesque imagination runs wild as he ruminates through the Rube Goldberg machine of blockades en route to his goal of staying in the U.S. and landing a plum job at Hasbro. The film blends sly parody of the art world and a subplot about cryogenics as wry observational humor unfolds. Torres is quite funny inhabiting the role of meek protagonist, but it’s Swinton as his brazen new boss, rouged and festooned like a Fangoria centerfold, who provides an indelible character for the ages. Her holy terror of a takedown of her brunch waiter eclipses Jack Nicholson’s diner diatribe in Five Easy Pieces. This film is cleverly plotted and paced and offers surprises around many corners. Torres proves to be a comic talent to watch as he delivers commentary in a funny package.

Epic Sci-Fi Story Widens its Lens for “Dune: Part Two”

Denis Villeneuve brings IMAX-certified cameras to a knife fight and creates a picturesque panorama largely missing the joy of discovery so present in its predecessor as the director continues his interplanetary sci-fi saga in Dune: Part Two (B-). As the protagonist, Timothée Chalamet has grown into a more credible and physically impressive action hero this time around, and he’s paired nicely with Zandaya as he endeavors to be a man of the people on the desert planet known for its valuable spice and menacing sand worms. The first installment included lots of enjoyable palace intrigue and even some moments of sentiment and humor; part two is super-serious, even leaden at times, and it mainly meanders toward a showdown without introducing too many new locales, costumes or bags of tricks into the mix. Despite their pedigree, Christopher Walken and Florence Pugh don’t make much of an impression, but Austin Butler is definitely doing some sort of big swing as the big bad of this sequel; it seemed briefly promising he was going to breathe some new life into the ponderously paced second reel. The film is technically impressive though, with swirling vistas and majestic production design more than worthy of its somewhat underdeveloped themes about destiny and heroism. As a piece of cinema, it’s a wonder to behold with action sequences well blocked and the ante being upped a time or two, even if it just doesn’t land the ship like the first movie did. There were frankly some elements I preferred in the universally derided David Lynch adaptation. Villaneuve’s film is so gorgeously shot, it could have been a great silent movie, with two hours plus of splendid pageantry and Hans Zimmerman’s rousing music swelling before our eyes and ears. See it on the big screen, for sure, but I’m going to bring expectations down just a notch.

Food and Romance are on Display in “The Taste of Things”

The central couple of Trần Anh Hùng’s The Taste of Things (aka La Passion de Dodin Bouffant) (B-) finds their best way of communicating to one another is through gourmet cooking, and this French film is a series of gastronomic love letters between Benoît Magimel and Juliette Binoche. Call it Culinary Paradiso. The film is notable for its gorgeously lensed sequences of creation in the kitchen, as the lovers make sumptuous entrees, soups and desserts for one another. You may leave craving quail or Baked Alaska. The central characters are a bit elusive, but it’s nonetheless a joy to see them cooking. Ensemble characters seen at dinner parties or sampling dishes before they are served are undercooked in the screenplay, with much of the film a two-hander. Ironically the film doesn’t always set the table stakes for the payoff it purports to conjure up; it’s sometimes an empty soufflé. Go for the gorgeous stovetop stylings and stay for a few nice insights about feeding a relationship.

”Mean Girls” Musical Movie Inconsistently Fetching

The North Shore High School Mathletes would ace this calculation: one update of a two decade old film comedy plus one translation of its stage musical adaptation equals only a fraction of the property’s legacy entertainment value. The 2024 musical version of Mean Girls (C+), co-directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., succeeds in delivering dollops of nostalgia and a star-is-born villain performance by Reneé Rapp as the pink terror Regina George. As a musical, though, it’s inconsistent, with the filmmakers framing production numbers awkwardly before finding their groove. Songs happen in this high school musical because characters are filming themselves on their phone or because they’re adjacent to the marching band practice room or because they’re fantasizing or because they’re describing something absurd; there are few connective threads holding all this together as an actual movie musical. It doesn’t help that the new-to-school protagonist played lowkey by Angourie Rice doesn’t get an “I want” moment and little time to establish herself before smitten with the guy in calculus class (a natural Christopher Briney) or lured in by the clique called The Plastics. Auliʻi Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey are a hoot and in great voice as the heroine’s genuine friends; reprising roles from the 2004 film, Tina Fey and Tim Meadows make very little impression. There’s some awkward choreography of students behaving like African animals; like a breeze from Poomba, it swiftly clears the savanna of laughs or charm. Rapp’s vampy antihero has the most fun in her role, and there are some creative montages leveraging social media to amplify the antics. For those who loved the original film or want to revisit its sly psychology put to music, there’s some fun to be had here. But it’s largely a missed opportunity twenty years later to say something new or differently about its themes of girls trying to treat each other better to the next generation.

Michael Mann’s “Ferrari” Often Fascinating

Just as moviegoers are debating whether the recent film title Maestro refers to its male or female lead, I can reasonably proclaim Michael Mann’s Ferrari (B-) refers to Laura Ferrari played by Penélope Cruz who absolutely steals the show from the film’s intended subject, her character’s husband and the mastermind behind the iconic sports car company Enzo Ferrari played by Adam Driver. Cruz is absolutely magnetic as a business partner, grieving mother and jilted wife who dominates the film’s most powerful sequences. She shows up with a gun in a grand entrance and is number one with a bullet every time she’s on screen. Driver is good too and rather fantastic in some signature speeches, but Cruz gives a performance for the ages. It’s one thing to be eclipsed by Cruz’s tour de force; and it’s another thing altogether to be the miscast Shailene Woodley in a thankless and oddly accented role as Enzo’s mistress Lina Lardi. Surprisingly, racing sequences are few and far between as a Godfather style historic melodrama takes center stage, sometimes reaching intended operatic heights but other times meandering a bit. The film is best when a study of contrasts – between spouses, balancing relationships and love, navigating public and private life in Italy, and experiencing the thrill and terror of racing itself in the med-twentieth century. The story of a man’s two families, his battle against the tyranny of time itself, his tragic familial and wartime losses and his unswerving eye on impeccable design and victory is satisfying and often quite absorbing. The sequences on the race track are well done too and filmed from cinematic perspectives rarely captured, but everything that’s not Cruz in the film is simply second fiddle. Another familiar face in the cast is Patrick Dempsey as driver Piero Taruffi; it would have been nice to explore more about the men behind the wheel or even a fairly formative incident merely referenced in the post-script. Mann doesn’t fully summon or realize his thesis here, but the parts that work in the film hum with precision.

Spanish Oscar Candidate “Society of the Snow” is Thrilling Survival Story

Traditional disaster movies can veer toward the exploitive or sensational, but if anyone was up for the challenge of thoughtfully dramatizing the 1972 Andean mountain range plane crash in which only a third of those aboard survive (formerly told in 1993’s Alive), it’s the skilled director of the tsunami thriller The Impossible, J.A. Bayona. His Society of the Snow (aka La sociedad de la nieve) (B+) is grueling and rewarding, crafted with epic filmmaking skill and an ample running time and showcasing a stirring spiritual side to the story of resilience. Those stranded by the downed plane have various conflicting perspectives about how to handle their struggle, which escalates as they face hunger, avalanche and much more. Told with desaturated colors and realistic sound mixing against a formidable icy landscape, it’s a profound and immersive work. The film’s Uruguayan and Argentine cast members, most of whom are newcomers, include talented actors Agustín Pardella, Matías Recalt, Fernando Contigiani García and Enzo Vogrincic Roldán as rugby teammates who take on key roles to overcome their dire situation. Visual effects supervisor Laura Pedro and cinematographer Pedro Luque do wonderful work to depict muscular action and wilderness survival against a rugged, stark setting as we watch the characters waste away while keeping inventive options open. The film also honors those who were lost in the tragedy with poignant visual overlays to Michael Giacchino’s evocative music. As survivors become one another’s best hope and face moral questions and rare moments of levity, Bayona creates a gripping drama and demonstrates why the story is so worthy of telling.

“All of Us Strangers” a Poignant Heartbreaker 

The protagonist Adam superbly played by Andrew Scott has some unfinished emotional business to reckon with in Andrew Haigh’s intimate, immersive dramatic fantasy All of Us Strangers (B+). The hero’s journey involves a new romantic partner in the form of Paul Mescal and an interlocking plot in which Adam’s parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) come back into his life despite having perished in a car crash three decades earlier. Given the intricacy of the film’s structure and the cerebral presentation of an unlikely premise, Haigh guides his characters masterfully with a transfixing wisdom and wistfulness. The film’s bending of time and space works so effectively because Scott keeps viewers so grounded in his emotional arch; he delivers a quietly revelatory performance. Mescal continues his streak of interesting indie roles with a strong portrayal of a character just out of reach. And Foy and Bell are wonderful as the flawed but fabulous couple who get to tie up some loose ends with the adult son they never knew. The film is a talky tearjerker that ponders some big issues including loneliness and abandonment and is sure to provide tender recognition to those who have lost loved ones. Haigh continues to traverse unexplored territory about gay characters and doesn’t serve up easy answers; he blazes new emotional and filmmaking landscapes. From its effective use of evocative pop music to its stunning close-ups of interlocking characters thrust into unexpected disclosures, the film is a lovely discovery and a must-see for cinephiles.