THE WEEKEND WARRIOR 3/17/23
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS, MOVING ON, INSIDE, FULL RIVER RED, THE INNOCENT
Well, let’s see how much of a column I can write in the little bit of spare time I have available this week. This week really got away from me due to Daylight Saving Time, Oscars, Cine Gear (still have to write about that for Below the Line!!), etc.
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS (Warner Bros.)
I wasn’t alone in being a fan of director David F. Sandberg’s last Shazam! movie, and I knew that I was going to go into its sequel with greater than usual expectations, even though I knew I also would be the perfect target audience this one, being a fan of the original comics and Sandberg’s other pre-Shazam! Horror movies.
This one involves the yet-to-be-named superhero entity of Billy Batson, as played by Zachary Levi, and his extended family of orphans-turned-superheroes taking on a group called the Daughters of Atlas, who claim that the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) originally stole their powers.
We meet two of the Daughters, Helen Mirren’s Hespera and Lucy Liu’s Kalypso, as they enter a museum in Greece for Shazam’s broken staff of the Gods that holds the power they crave; they’ll kill everyone. We’ll meet the third Daughter later, but much of the set-up for this sequel involves Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman continuing to be bullied at school, but when he meets the pretty new girl Anne, played by Rachel Zegler, he has a chance to make a new friend, though he feels that he should probably use his super alter ego (played by Adam Brody) to impress and win her over. The rest of the “Shazamaly” are kind of doing their own thing, in terms of superheroing, but a large bridge calamity brings them together, as does the danger to Philadelphia posed by the Daughters of Atlas.
I have to admit that the way the movie is set up, as well as how much so much focus is put on Freddy, was off-putting at first, although it’s certainly great to see other characters getting the spotlight, even if that takes away from Levi’s character. (And Asher Angel’s Billy Batson barely appears in the movie at all.)
The Daughters of Atlas are an interesting choice of villain, because they do raise the stakes significantly with quite a body count (as mentioned earlier), and all three actresses clearly relish the chance at playing such fantastic villains. I’ve always been a Lucy Liu fan, and she can do no wrong in my book, but more than that, I really enjoyed how Zegler’s character was introduced and the innocence she brought to playing essentially a villain. The real breakout star has to be Faithe Herman, though, who plays the adorable youngest orphan, Darla, who steals many a scene, and kudos to Meagan Good for doing an equally terrific job capturing her ebullient nature in the superhero version of Darla.
All-in-all, Sandberg does another great job with this sequel, finding a great balance of the humor and the peril, and also introducing some of the horror elements from his earlier movies, especially in the mythological creatures the Shazamily have to fight during the last act, which is quite spectacular. (I know I’m excited to see the movie in IMAX where some of these set pieces will pop, I’m sure.)
Surprisingly, bigger is indeed better in David F. Sandberg’s superhero sequel, which builds on what was created for the first movie and raises the stakes and the entertainment factor considerably.
I should have an interview with Sandberg over at Above the Line sometime soon.
MOVING ON (Roadside Attractions)
Paul Weitz’s new movie stars Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda as life-long friends who join together to try to kill the widower of another friend (played by Malcolm McLaren) in this dramedy that really didn’t connect me, as well as Weitz’s previous movie with Tomlin, Grandma, in 2015. This is getting a fairly wide release in over 800 theaters, but I won’t be reviewing it, mainly since I didn’t really like it and didn’t end up watching the whole thing. I’m sure some people might enjoy it, but I can’t recommend it.
This week’s top 10 should look something like this… (You can read my analysis on my box office columns for Above the Line and Gold Derby.)
1. Shazam! Fury of the Gods (New Line/WB) - $43.5 million N/A
2. Scream VI (Paramount) - $16.5 million -63%
3. Creed III (MGM) - $14.9 millio -45%
4. 65 (Sony) - $4.3 million -65%
5. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (Marvel/Disney) - $3.6 million -48%
6. Cocaine Bear (Universal) - $5.2 million -52%
7. Champions (Focus Features) - $3.1 million -40%
8. Jesus Revolution (Lionsgate) - $3 million -47%
9. Avatar: The Way of Water (20th Century) - $1.5 million -45%
10. Moving On (Roadside Attractions) - $1.3 million N/A
INSIDE (Focus Features)
Greek filmmaker Vasilis Katsoupis directs this thriller starring Willem Dafoe as Neno, a burglar and art thief, who gets trapped inside a luxury penthouse apartment when the alarm goes off.
I really enjoyed this movie, mainly because of the production design in creating the apartment, which is (as the cliché goes) literally is a character of its own. And then, over the course of the film’s run time, we watch Dafoe getting more and more crazy as he starts to destroy a lot of the furniture and some of the art that he had been hired to steal.
Make no mistake that this movie is all about Dafoe and what he puts into the character and his situation, because he really goes all out to show the desperation and loneliness faced by Nemo after being trapped inside this home with little food or water to survive on. It’s also intriguing to watch the ingenuity with which Nemo tries to get out of that place, literally building a sculpturous tower to try to reach a light fixture which may be one way out. Dafoe’s knack as an artist is on full display, mainly as he mars some of the existing art in the home.
I probably don’t have a ton more to say about this, although I do think that those who appreciate Dafoe as an actor, and are into similar one-person films (like Ryan Reynolds in Buried) should enjoy watching him in this sort of situation. Katsoupis does a fine job allowing Dafoe to really shine and show off what he can do when not supporting other actors.
I’ll have an interview with Katsoupis on Above the Line very soon.
BOSTON STRANGLER (Hulu)
Another thriller, this one hitting Hulu on Friday, comes from filmmaker Matt Ruskin, who wrote and directed the excellent Crown Heights from a few years back. This one, as the title implies quite explicitly, is about the serial killer or killers that plagued the Boston area in the early ‘60s. Keira Knightley plays journalist Loretta McLaughlin, who first hears about the murdered women and decides to start her own investigation, even though she’s been sidelined to the Lifestyles beat at Boston’s Record American. Her boss (Chris Cooper) insists she does the investigation on her own free time but then teams her with the far more experienced Jean Cole (Carie Coon).
There have been many great movies about serial killers (many of them by David Fincher, but I’d also put Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam up there), and Boston Strangler benefits from the general interest about true crime that’s blossomed in recent years. Ruskin does have the onus of trying to make a movie that’s on par with Zodiac, and he has a decent cast and crew to make this film as well-made as Crown Heights, though it plays a bit more like the recent She Said, with the two women going around interviewing people who might know something about the killer/killers and their victims.
I think Boston Strangler benefits greatly from having a solid dramatic actor like Knightley in the lead, and Coon holds her own as she has in most of her roles. (Also great seeing the amazing Bill Camp appear in a smaller role.) Knightley is particularly good at selling the dangers of being a woman alone in Boston while these murders are happening, you really feel the anxiety for Loretta’s safety throughout the film.
The important thing is that Ruskin is able to maintain a generally tense and creepy tone for the entire movie that does maintain the viewer’s interest, even though the general pacing of the film does make it more obvious why 20th Century decided to release this via Hulu rather than try to give it a theatrical release.
Boston Strangler is a solid real-life thriller that gets into the nitty-gritty about a 50-year-old case that still hasn’t been fully solved or resolved, and Knightley and Coon are a particularly solid dramatic team to give the film the necessary suspense and pathos.
THE INNOCENT (Janus Films)
Actor and filmmaker Louis Garrel’s latest film opens at the IFC Center this Friday, following its debut at “Rendezvous with French Cinema” earlier this month, with Louis playing Abel, a young man who learns that his mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) is marrying an ex-convict, Michel, played by Roschdy Zem (from the excellent Point Blank). Abel wants to break things up before they’re married by exposing that Michel is still up to no good, but instead, he and his best friend Clémence (Noémie Merlant) end up roped into committing an elaborate heist.
I haven’t seen many if any of Garrel’s films as a director, though I do love him as an actor, and The Innocent gives him a chance to really show off his ability to do both. I have a well-known trepidation towards French films, which often involve a lot of talking about non-sensical subjects that no one would have in real life, but every once in a while, a movie comes along like The Innocent that fully defies any negative expectations.
In other words, The Innocent is quite a decent crime-drama with the relationships between the four characters playing a fairly large part in why I enjoyed it. I especially loved Ms. Merlant from Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Tár, who just continues to amaze me whenever I see her in any role. Doing a contemporary film like The Innocent (and Tár) makes it obvious she can handle non-period films just as well, and she is not bad to look at either.
There are a lot of twists and turns to Garrel’s film, which I won’t spoil, but even when the movie goes a bit over-the-top and gets erratic at times, it’s counter-balanced by what Garrel does with his cast to keep the viewer on board. (I wasn’t remotely surprised that this film was nominated for 11 Cesar Awards, winning two — for the screenplay and for Merlant.)
FULL RIVER RED (Niu Vision Media)
Zhang Yimou has a new drama that has already grossed over $670 million in China alone before it gets released in roughly 150+ theaters this weekend here in North America. The plot summary (from IMDB) is: “A pawn tries to get rid of a traitorous minister, Qin Hui, when he leads an army to the border for talks with a Jurchen mission.”
Unfortunately, I did not get a screener in time to watch or review for this week’s column but hope to watch soon.
RODEO (Music Box Films)
Lola Quivoron’s French drama revolves around Julie Ledru’s Julia, who is obsessed with the world of motorbikes, fed by her discovery of “Rodeos,” illegal gatherings of riders to show off their ikes and stunts. She also regularly pulls cons on the men she meets, which puts her in danger in this male-dominated world, even when she connects with the wife of the jailed ring leader of one of the biker gangs.
This sounds intriguing and looks fun (see trailer below), maybe a bit like Titane (just less weird). It’s opening on Friday at the Angelika Cinema, but on Thursday night (tonight!), it’s playing at Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image as part of FIRST LOOK 2023, which started Wednesday and runs through Sunday with (also as the name implies) an early look at other movies that will be released soon. The line-up looks great, including three shorts program, and the closing night film, C.J. 'Fiery' Obasi’s Mami Wata, set in an African village. This is a pretty decent series, even though I rarely get to it because Astoria, Queens is kind of a schlep for me.
WILDFLOWER (Momentum Pictures)
Matt Smukler’s multi-generational (you’ll see that term again below) coming-of-age dramedy, based on a true story, stars Kiernan Shipka, Charlie Plummer, Alexandra Daddario, Brad Garrett, Reid Scott, Jacki Weaver and Jean Smart. It follows Bea Johnson (played by Shipka) whose life involves two parents with IDD and a family who can’t agree on how to help them. I haven’t watched this yet, but I’m intrigued by the cast, though a little bit worried about which two actors play Bea’s parents and how they handled going full… well, I won’t say the word. If you’ve seen Tropic Thunder you know what I’m talking about, but it’s kinda crazy this is coming out on the second weekend of Champions, Bobby Farrelly’s comedy that uses real people with IDD to play the Special Olympics basketball team coached by Woody Harrelson.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MRS. WU (Picturehouse/Freestyle Digital Media)
Opening at the Laemmle North Hollywood before its digital release next Tuesday is yet another multi-generational family story directed by Anna Ch and starring Lisa Lu, Michell Krusiec, Adrian Pasdar, Archie Kao and more. You can watch the trailer below:
Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to write up repertory stuff this week (Sorry, Metrograph!), but I will mention that opening at the Film Forum this week for a one-week run is Kenneth Loach’s 2013 documentary, THE SPIRIT OF ‘45, which takes a look at how the UK pivoted following WWII to start using the war veterans to help rebuild the country, both figuratively and literally. Much of it revolves around the Labour Party and its efforts to start a number of programs to help Britain’s future, and how that held up well until Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and then all those programs went to shit, as they became privatized.
Streaming stuff tomorrow includes Morgan Neville’s Bono and The Edge: A
Sort of Homecoming on Disney+ and the animated The Magician’s Elephant on Netflix.
Next week, the fourth franchise sequel in a row, JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4 (Lionsgate)! I already reviewed it, so no promise of a column next week. As always, I’ll do my best, and you’ll just have to be patient with me.