THE WEEKEND WARRIOR 3/24/23
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4, A GOOD PERSON, NAM JUNE PAIK, THE LOST KING, TORI AND LOKITA, THE FIVE DEVILS, and More
Another week with more movies… when will it ever end?!? Okay, maybe that’s a bit too cynical, but I’m back in rush mode, trying to get some semblance of a column done today with a number of movies to review, and next week, I’m back in the studio, so not sure how much time or focus I can put into this. I hope you don’t mind if this column has been a bit sporadic, but hey, what can I do? I never get any feedback either way, so I’ll just keep kvetching until someone tells me to stop.
(By the way, if you’re a publicist and you’re wondering, “Why didn’t Ed review *MY* movie?” Well, all of the reviews below are for movies I saw at screenings I was invited to. They get precedence over screeners. Always.)
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 (Lionsgate)
You probably already know about the existence of this movie, the fourth installment of Keanu Reeves’ action franchise, which continues to do better at the box office with each successive chapter. I’ve already reviewed the latest one, so you can read that review here, and my interview with Chad Stahelski should run on Above the Line soon, too. Hopefully you’ve already read my thoughts on its box office at the places where I mostly write about that, so I don’t have a ton more to say about it. This movie is gonna be huge this weekend, although I’m not sure if audiences will love it as much as critics seemed to. I’m kind of shocked this is at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is better than the previous three movies fared with critics.
With that in mind, let’s jump to the other wide-ish release, which is currently my favorite movie of the year.
A GOOD PERSON (MGM)
I’ve found that some of the best movies I’ve truly loved are ones where I didn’t know a lot about them going in. As far as Zach Braff’s new movie, which he wrote and directed, I only knew that bit of info and the fact it starred Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman.
Even as the film started and we get some of Freeman’s trademark narration talking about … toy trains? I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and the fun party scene of Pugh’s Allison singing and playing piano as her fiancé Nathan (Chinaza Uche) looks on admiringly did not prepare me for what was to come, which was quite a jarring change in tone.
Shortly after, Allison ends up in a car crash with her fiancé’s sister and the latter’s husband. After the film cuts forward a year, we learn that the latter both died, putting Allison in such a bad place that she becomes addicted to the opioids she’s been taking for her own pain. It also destroys her relationship with Nate, whose niece Ryan (Celeste O’Connor from Ghostbusters: Afterlife) is left an orphan and put under the care of her ex-cop grandfather Daniel (Freeman). Allison’s problem with drug addiction continues to escalate until she finally goes to an AA meeting and runs into Daniel, who has been dealing with so many problems raising a teen girl that he’s worried about falling back on his own alcoholism.
Movies like A Good Person rarely get made by the bigger studios, and maybe some will scoff at the moderate release this one gets by MGM or how much money it makes or the fact that it deals with tough subjects that doesn’t exactly scream “Run out to the theater to see this movie!” to cynically retort, “This is why bigger studios don’t make these movies.” And you know what? To those people, I give a big middle finger and a fuck you, because I don’t just go to the movies to be entertained. I want to see real stories about real people and their problems, ones that truly move me the way A Good Person did. (I’ve already seen the movie twice.)
I haven’t loved everything Braff has done since 2004’s Garden State — one of my favorite movies that year — but this one really brings him back into a form with a screenplay I was actually surprised he wrote, because it’s so different from Garden State. There are just so many layers to these characters and their interactions, and he not only got two great actors in top form (Pugh and Freeman) but also surrounded them with some fine new talent that really help to bring out said layers.
Honestly, I think this may be Pugh’s best performance, and Freeman proves why he has received so much awards acclaim in the past. The performances are so good across the board that you literally can just watch one amazing scene after another with two of the cast interacting, all of which adds up to some terrific dramatic fireworks. One of the more pivotal scenes shows Allison at the bottom of her downwards spiral, interacting with Alex Wolff (in a small but terrific cameo) in hoping of getting some drugs from him.
As much as I loved A Good Person, it has a few minor problems. I wasn’t so crazy about the scenes with Molly Shannon as Allison’s mother, because she tends to veer more into bringing some much-needed levity to what’s clearly a very tough subject. There’s also a scene later involving a drunken Daniel barging into a party in Williamsburg where his daughter and Allison have wound up after a tough interaction, which also didn’t work as well as prior scenes.
Even so, give A Good Person a try, especially if you love strong emotional adult dramas and want to get away from all the franchise hoopla currently in theaters. Sure, this will probably end up on Prime Video or MGM+ eventually, but watching it with others just helps to elevate the experience, since this is a film that really requires discussions to be had afterwards. Congrats to Braff for his return with such an undeniably special and daring film.
A Good Person is only opening in roughly 500 theaters, which may be enough for it to sneak into the very low end of the top 10, but I’m not sure it will open with more than $1.5 million with so few theaters. Hopefully people find it and maybe it’ll find an audience as counter-programming.
Oh, and guess what? I interviewed Braff over at Above the Line, and it’s right here!
THE LOST KING (IFC Films)
A movie I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival last September is the latest collaboration between Stephen Frears and Steve Coogan, who previously made the excellent Philomena together. Sadly, I dont think this got very much attention at TIFF and mostly got ignored in favor of bigger Oscar fare and studio movies like Glass Onion and The Fabelmans. A lot of that might be due to the subject matter, which definitely seems very specific and somewhat niche. Based on a true story, the movie stars Sally Hawkins as Phillipa Langley, a Scottish (?) woman who becomes obsessed with King Richard III after seeing the Shakespeare play with Harry Lloyd playing the lead, and she starts to think that maybe she could use her amateur sleuthing to find his remains to prove that he isn’t the malcontent as depicted in said play.
It’s been way too long since I’ve seen this movie to write a coherent review, but I remember generally enjoying the movie, while also being unsure what sort of audience this movie could possibly find in America. Sure, there are probably many fans of Shakespeare’s play and royals in general – ala Frears’ earlier film, The Queen – but maybe not so much to warrant the wide release into 800 theaters that IFC Films is giving this. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think this will open outside the top 10 with less than $500,000.
As usual, here’s my ballpark projections for the weekend… (I expect a lot of the returning movies to lose many theaters this weekend to make room for Wick.)
1. John Wick: Chapter 4 (Lionsgate) - $66.2 million N/A
2. Shazam! Fury of the Gods (New Line/WB) - $13.5 million -55%
3. Scream VI (Paramount) - $8.5 million -50%
4. Creed III (MGM) - $8.2 million -47%
5. 65 (Sony) - $2.6 million -55%
6. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (Marvel/Disney) - $2.3 million -48%
7. Cocaine Bear (Universal) - $2.2 million -45%
8. Jesus Revolution (Lionsgate) - $1.8 million -49%
9. Champions (Focus Features) - $1.6 million -49%
10. Avatar: The Way of Water (20th Century) - $1.6 million -24%
– A Good Person (MGM) - $1.3 million N/A
Although A Good Person could very well have been this week’s “Chosen One,” I do like focusing on some of the more limited releases. That being the case, this week’s actual “Chosen One” is…
NAM JUNE PAIK: MOON IS THE OLDEST TV (Greenwich Entertainment)
One of the reasons why I enjoy writing about movies so much is that I do try to vary what I watch, and because of that, I might end up going to see a documentary like this fantastic debut by director Amanda Kim that takes a look at the television art pioneer, who emigrated from Korea to Germany in the ‘50s, became friends and contemporaries with John Cage, Stockhausen, and other composers before becoming more involved in performance art once he moved to New York City in the ‘70s.
Now I’m pretty shocked to say that, despite being a New Yorker for over 35 years, I had never heard of this guy despite the fact that he had some high-profile exhibits at the Guggenheim, but I also feel that he really was quite groundbreaking, doing things with video images that would become mainstays in the MTV music videos in the ‘80s, and he even did what was possibly the very first live satellite broadcast, long before those became a regular thing.
I was just so amazed and impressed by all of Paik’s accomplishments and more than a little bit saddened that he spent many years living in obscurity and poverty while also dealing with health issues. Kim even has Steven Yeun reading Paik’s writings to make it feel far more contemporary, as if Paik was still alive. (He actually died 17 years ago.)
It’s always quite amazing when a profile doc like Moon is the Oldest TV is able to pull me in and get me more interested in a personality who somehow has slipped under my radar for most of my life. Nam June Paik is a fascinating character, an artist who was clearly way too far ahead of his time for his own good.
This is opening at the Film Forum on Friday, and if you’re a fan of art, abstract or otherwise, you might want to learn more about Paik through this film. (Kim will be doing nightly QnAs after the film over the course of the next week, too, so it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the film.)
Let’s get into some foreign language, mostly French, films…
TORI AND LOKITA (Sideshow/Janus Films)
The Belgian Dardenne Brothers return with their latest movie, which looks at the immigration situation through the eyes of the two title characters, a young African woman named Lokita (Joely Mbundu) and her “younger brother” Tori (Pablo Schils). They’ve both been in Belgium for an unknown amount of time and Lokita desperately needs to get her papers in order to get a job that will allow her to send money home to her mother. The relationship between her and Tori is always under question even though she does refer to him as her “younger brother.” The two of them have been working for a chef who sidelines in drug dealing, and as Lokita ends up failing to get her papers, her desperation leads to her accepting a job as a “gardener” at the place where the chef grows his product. It’s a terrible situation that threatens to separate her from Tori for three months with no communication, but that’s unbearable, to say the least.
I’ll fully admit that I’ve never really been a fan of the Dardennes – I don’t even know what they look like! – although 2014’s Two Days, One Night was one of my favorite movies of theirs, mainly due to Marion Cotillard, who surprisingly got an Oscar nomination for it despite the relatively low-key release (but maybe more than their previous movies). I liked Tori and Lokita almost as much, and I was astounded how well they work with two first-time actors in the main roles, because they’re both quite compelling. As much as much of the tension relies on Lokita’s situation, Tori is quite a clever scamp in terms of how he figures out how to reconnect with Lokita.
To call Tori and Lokita a thriller might be a bit misleading, but you do get pulled into the lives of the two main characters, as we see what they have to endure as black immigrants who are mostly overlooked but often abused by society around them.
Sure, there have been plenty of movies about the immigrant experience, but there’s something about the way the Dardennes tell stories that makes their latest film far more compelling than some of their earlier work, much of which has been lauded by awards out of Cannes. My only real criticism of the flim is that the ending is a bit of a downer, but that’s all I’ll say.
Tori and Lokita may not only be one of the Dardennes’ best films (in my opinion), but it seems to involve a narrative that’s far more timely and politically-relevant than some of their previous films.
THE FIVE DEVILS (Mubi)
Hitting theaters this weekend before it streams on Mubi starting May 12 is Léa Mysius’ dramatic thriller which played at Fantastic Fest last year. Maybe if I knew that last bit, I’d be ready for the genre elements of a movie which I expected to be an odd character family drama, though the overall premise does get into some weirder territory like that of Titane or the films by Quentin Dupieux, but not quite all the way out there.
The basic premise involves a young girl named Vicky (Sally Dramé), who seemingly has a knack for identifying different odors, almost to the point of obsession. Her mother, Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) worries about her, but is also having marital issues with her fireman husband (Moustapha Mbengue), which only get exacerbated when his sister Julia (Swala Emati) shows up and moves in with them.
That plot synopsis might seem fairly straight-forward, but the movie is a lot more complex, partially due to the non-linear way Ms. Mysius tells the story. Vicky isn’t just obsessed with smells, but when she mixes various objects with some unknown substance in her collection of glass jars, she blacks out and ends up being able to view the past as it happens. In this case, she sees her mother and father’s past, which is mixed up in a complicated relationship that also involves Julia. (The film begins with a scene of a blazing fire, something that will take some time to even be referred back to.)
I think I want to hold back some of what I might normally say about the movie, because part of the joy of watching this film was seeing how the seemingly disparate pieces of this film’s puzzle course together over the course of the film’s short 90 minutes run time. Some might find the movie strange or confusing, but to me, that just means that it’s truly original and unlike anything else you might see in theaters.
With The Five Devils, Léa Mysius shows herself to be a filmmaker able to delve into genre without losing sight of the character-based story she’s trying to tell.
THE WORST ONES (Kino Lorber)
Opening at the Quad Cinema this Friday and the Laemmle Santa Monica on April 7 and other cities to follow is this Cannes Award winner (Un Certain Regard Grand Prix) from directors Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret. I haven’t had time to watch it, but the French comedy is set in the suburbs in Northern France where a director is looking to cast a production from the local housing project in order to get some degree of authenticity.
THE TUTOR (Vertical)
Garrett Hedlund stars in Jordan Ross’ thriller as in-demand East Coast tutor Ethan, who gets the assignment to teach Jackson, a billionaire’s son (Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things) at a remote estate in New York. Ethan soon realizes that his student has an obsession, threatening to expose Ethan’s secrets to his girlfriend (Victoria Justice), putting him in a spot to prove his innocence. I’ll be moderating a QnA with Hedlund at the Village East in New York City on Friday after the 7:15pm screening.
I vaguely remember seeing this doc about Julian Assange at a film festival sometime during the pandemic, but I honestly cannot remember where I may have seen it, though I generally thought it was decent and quite informative about what Assange’s father and fiancé were doing to try to prevent him from being extradited to the U.S. to face a (get this) 175-year sentence for the government docs released by WikiLeaks. This is a decent political doc, and I’m glad it’s finally being released, but since I can’t even remember where I saw it, I probably can’t review it either. (As I wrote this, I remembered that I saw it at last year’s Doc-NYC – still, that was ages ago.)
It’s opening at the Alamo in Lower Manhattan on Friday as well as the Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto, and more. You can find out where it’s screening here.
Since I have a little more time this week with my deadline stuff behind me, here is some of the repertory stuff to see in New York City this weekend.
I love Metrograph’s “Filmcraft” series, and on Saturday, ACE is presenting a screening of Laura Poitras’ Oscar-nominated doc, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed — one of my favorite docs of 2022 — with editor Amy Foote on hand for a QnA afterwards.
There’s a weird series starting this week called “Botanical Imprints,” this week showing Miyazaki’s anime Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), the experimental doc Herbaria (2022), and something called “Samples from: Encounters over Several Plants.” If you want to try to figure out the connection between these three, click on that link.
“Also Starring… Karen Black” continues this weekend with screenings of Bill Norton’s Cisco Pike (1971) and Ivan Passer’s Born to Win (1971).
This weekend, you can see more movies in the “China’s Sixth Generation” series, which includes Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu (Pickpocket) (1997), Ye Lou’s Suzhou River (2000), Beijing Bicycle (2001), and Yuan ZHang’s East Palace, West Palace (1996).
“Metrograph Presents A to Z” will screen Maren Ade’s 2016 film, Toni Erdmann, on Friday and Sunday.
Film Forum will begin a run of a 4k restoration of Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity (1969), starring Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera, and Sammy Davis Jr. starting on Friday, which I hope to get to.
Ken Loach’s doc The Spirit of ‘45 will also continue this week. This Sunday’s “Film Forum Jr” is Jafar Panahi’s The White Balloon (1995).
“Jeanne Moreau: Actrice” and “Jeanne Moreau: Cinéaste” will both come to their conclusions on Thursday.
With the release of Tori and Lokita this Friday, the IFC Center have been doing a fairly comprehensive Dardenne retrospective called “Brotherhood: The Films of Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne” but that ends on Thursday, so you may want to see what you can catch. IFC Center will also be showing Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) one showing a day starting Friday. “Trasterpieces of the ‘90s” will screen Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire, a 1996 action movie that predated most of Marvel’s movies.
“Unspeakable: The Films of Tod Browning” will continue through Sunday with some great silent movies with musical accompaniment. The Unholy Three screens on Saturday, as does a double feature of 1920’s Outside the Law with The Exquisite Thief, and of course, the original Dracula on Sunday. I wish I had more time to get up there to see more of this fantastic series.
On Saturday, Josh Safdie will introduce a screening of John Cassevtes‘s Gloria (1980), while on Sunday, the wonderful Isabel Sandoval will introduce Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000).
Out in Astoria, Queens, you can see some films in the “MOMI Loves” series, which will include screenings of Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 film, Tokyo Story, on Friday and Sunday. The First Look 2023 series also continues, but those are all recent movies and not necessarily repertory. MOMI’s “Always on Sunday: Greek Film Series” continues with a screening of Petros Charalambous’s Patchwork on Sunday afternoon.
I didn’t even realize that Guillermo del Toro had programmed a “Carte Blanche” series (to go along with his exhibit showing the sets and puppets from his Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio), and the last few movies will include a screening of Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962), and the animated The Red Turtle from 2016. Again, if I only had more time to get up there…
The Roxy continues to show some of the most esoteric and experimental films (mostly in 35mm!) with this weekend’s series including its “Paul Williams Retrospective” – a director I’m really not that familiar with – screening Out of It (1969) tonight i.e. Wednesday and The Revolutionary (1970) on Thursday and Saturday. They’re also screening Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (2008) again on Saturday, plus they’re sharing Mary Bronstein’s Yeast from 2008 (which I’ve never seen), so yeah, even though this is situated in a high-end hotel, they’re not going for mainstream fare. (Oh, also screening Tarkovsky’s Stalker on Sunday, but not in 35mm?)
Other stuff out this week…
BHEED (Reliance Entertainment)
KUBRICK ON KUBRICK (Level 33 Entertainment)
THE NIGHT AGENT (Netflix series)
Also starting on Thursday in Seattle is the Make Believe Seattle Film Festival, which I don’t know a ton about, but my pal Ted Geoghegan is repping it, and they’re showing The Five Devils, the excellent doc Little Richard: I Am Everything, Quentin Dupieux’s latest, Smoking Causes Coughing, AND they’re giving the much-deserved Imagination Award to Guy Maddin. I’ve never actually been to Seattle but this sounds like a fun addition to the annual genre festivals out there. If you live in or near Seattle, give it a look!
Next week, we get Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens, but I’m also back in the studio, so we’ll see how things go as far as a new column, though I hope to have my review of Dungeons & Dragons very soon.