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The Weekend Warrior April 15, 2022
FATHER STU, FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE, PARIS 13TH DISTRICT, DUAL, CHOOSE OR DIE, and More
It’s Easter weekend, and there are a few movies I’ve seen by now, but at least one major one I haven’t. (More on that below.) But I did already see Mark Wahlbeg’s Father Stu, which opened earlier on Wednesday – which may be yesterday since it took me a bit longer to get to this column with a bunch of other extracurricular stuff. But I’m trying, and that’s all I can do right now.
This week’s column is brought to you by the new record from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ve always been kind of hot and cold on the group but their new record, “Unlimited Love,” is a great mix of old and new, ballads and barnstormers… it’s really getting me back into the group, which is coincidental since John Frusciante, who was with the group when I saw them back in the ‘90s, has returned to the band for a third time. Also listening to the eponymous debut albums of the groups Envy of None and Wet Leg.
FATHER STU (Sony Pictures) - Rated R
Opening on Wednesday (with Tuesday night previews) is a new true-life dramedy starring Mark Wahlberg, which is definitely a bit off the beaten path for the month, other than the fact that he plays a boxer who becomes a Catholic priest, and…. It’s Easter weekend! (See how that works?) It’s based on the true story of Stuart Long, which has been adapted and directed by Rosalind Ross, a first-time filmmaker, who just so happens to be the partner of one Mel Gibson, who reunites with Wahlberg from Daddy’s Home 2, once again playing Wahlberg’s father. In this case, Gibson’s Bill Long is an alcoholic who has exacerbated Stu’s own problems, but at least he has a loving mother played by Oscar-nominee Jacqji Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook, Animal Kingdom).
I’ll get more into the nitty-gritty in my review below – spoiler: It’s not good – but this is Wahlberg’s sixth film during the pandemic with a number of his movies going straight-to-streaming or VOD, including Spenser Confidential, his fifth movie with director Peter Berg. Of course, Wahlberg’s erratic career and box office history is on the upswing due to his appearance in Sony’s hit video game adaptation, Uncharted, which has grossed about $383 million worldwide. Before that, Wahlberg played another real person in Joe Bell – directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who also directed Will Smith to his recent Oscar in King Richard – but after getting raves at the Toronto Film Festival in 2020, it was released last summer to nothing business. But Father Stu is being sold as a comedy in the vein of Wahlberg’s biggest hits, Daddy’s Home and its sequel, but actually, this is a rather R-rated (for language use) bio-drama that honestly, I’m not sure who it’s for… maybe it’s meant to appeal to the faith crowd that has created quite a few big box office hits, but really none during the pandemic.
That puts Father Stu in a strange place, because it is being promoted as one thing but it won’t take long for those going to see it to realize that they were misled. Of course, that probably is their own fault for not reading the reviews that hit on Tuesday, since as I mentioned, the movie is not good.
I don’t think this is the kind of movie anyone will be rushing out to see on Tuesday or Wednesday – I’ll include the numbers if they hit before this column goes live – but I also am not sure that the film’s connections to Catholicism will mean it’s a movie that Catholics might see on the weekend vs. going to church. Because of that, I’ll be shocked if the movie makes more than $5 million over the Easter weekend, but it should be able to just crack the top 5, at least.
Mini-Review: If you’re going into Mark Wahlberg’s new movie expecting it to be a madcap comedy about a drunken boxer who decides he wants to be a priest with hilarity ensuing, you either may want to temper those expectations or just find a different movie to see. Father Stu is not a comedy, and even when it tries to be a comedy, it’s not very funny.
Sure, it starts out that way as we watch Wahlberg’s Stu Long trying to make it as a boxer, then moving to L.A. to become an actor, instead working at the meat counter in a supermarket. There he sees the beautiful Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) and decides to pursue her, even though she’s a devout Catholic. Stu decides to pretend he’s Catholic and get baptized, and surely NOW hilarity will ensue, right? Well, no, because he gets arrested on a DUI and then gets into a horrible accident that puts him in a coma. Just when things couldn’t get worse for Stu (especially after finally scoring with the virginal Carmen), he decides, “Oh, you know what? I think I’ll become a priest myself.”
I mean, the whole thing would sound ludicrous if it was pitched as a comedy, but even more so because it’s based on a real person. I certainly don’t want to throw filmmaker Rosalind Ross under the bus, not just because she’s Mel Gibson’s partner and probably has to deal with a lot, but the screenplay she wrote from Long’s story just isn’t very good. In fact, it’s all over the fucking place, if you couldn’t tell from the above synopsis, and when all else fails, it throws in tons of “f-words” – completely unnecessary but par for the course.
The thing is that Wahlberg is obviously trying to be funny many times, but Stu comes from such a dark past, and eventually, you just won’t find anything funny about everything he’s going through, which includes a degenerative muscle disease that eventually kills him at 50. Oh, sorry… SPOILER!!! (I honestly had no idea this was a real person or that he was already dead, but I’m not sure that would have changed my opinion.)
There are just so many other problems, though, from the accents used by Wahlberg and Weaver that come and go and traverse across three different continents, but also the fact that having Gibson as Stu’s father serves very little purpose for most of the movie. I mean, I’m sure he had a father, and they had a relationship, but in this case, it just allows Ross to give them some redemption in the last act, which is so weepy and down that you might get even more annoyed about all the film’s false starts.
Wahlberg isn’t great in the movie, though he’s certainly trying, even gaining weight or covering himself in lots of makeup and wearing a fat suit to show Stu’s transformation to the point where he’s unrecognizable from the part of the movie when he goes into the seminary.
Still, you have a movie that tries to be a comedy but isn’t funny, tries to get you invested in this guy who just seems like a dull loser, and then throws in a twist so grim and dour that it makes you feel bad for thinking bad of Stu during some of his earlier schemes. But also, it’s just a drastic departure when Stu decides to become a priest that it doesn’t seem like the same person, and that just makes his true story less believable.
In many ways, it feels like someone involved with Father Stu – maybe even Wahlberg – thought, “We’re going to win so many Oscars with this movie!” but in fact, the end result comes off more like one of those joke movies in Tropic Thunder.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE (Warner Bros) - Rated PG-13
Continuing the April franchises with the third movie in the “Wizarding World” prequels that J.K. Rowling wrote specifically for the screen with director David Yates continuing onto his seventh movie in the franchise after taking over the “Harry Potter” movies with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in 2007. (Don’t worry, he did get a break between the two franchises by directing The Legend of Tarzan, which we’ll be talking more about next week.)
Having not seen the movie at this writing, I basically know what anyone else does in terms of the plot, the big additions being Jude Law returning as Albus Dumbledore and Mads Mikkelsen taking over for Gellert Grindelwald, the main antagonist and title character from the previous movie, as played by Johnny Depp. I’m not going into the whole megillah on why Depp was replaced – you probably know as much or more than I do – but that decision was made and Mikkelsen took over the role. Law and Mikkelsen bring an interesting starpower to a franchise that was relying so much on Eddie Redmayne being more popular after winning the Oscar playing Dr. Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Sure, Redmayne’s Newt Scamander may be relatively popular, as are some of the other characters, including Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski, who is being featured heavily in the ads and trailers for the movie. There’s also the situation with Ezra Miller, who continues to get into trouble with the law to the point where Warners has pulled him from all promotions for the third movie… and that certainly could be trouble for when he needs to promote the long-awaited-and-delayed The Flash movie, which won’t come out until next year. I guess it’s just par for the course for a franchise written by an author who has acted so hateful towards the trans community (including many who were fans of her books).
If you’re wondering why Warner Bros. would keep this franchise going, you just have to look at how much the first movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them made in 2016 ($811 million worldwide), followed by a sequel that made $651 million worldwide. Both movies cost north of $180 million to make but the sequel The Crimes of Grindelwald took a massive plunge domestically in 2018, that you have to wonder whether four years after that, the fans might give the threequel a chance.
Certainly, the reviews for The Secrets of Dumbledore have greatly improved from the 36% on Rotten Tomatoes for Crimes to 58% for Secrets. Unfortunately, I wasn’t permitted to see Fantastic Beasts before Tuesday night when I already had other plans. Kind of bullshit, since there were at least four previous screenings in New York which many others were allowed to attend so they could already review the movie. (This is EXACTLY the kind of bullshit I referred to back in March before shifting this column to Substack. Studios like Warner Bros. continue to treat me like a fourth-class citizen, despite all the coverage I’ve given their movies over the past twenty years.)
Anyway, getting back to the matter at hand, I’m just not sure Secrets can really do much to save a franchise that hopes to produce two more movies. Crimes has to make more than $62.1 million to surpass the opening of the last movie four years ago and even with the box office mostly having recovered from the pandemic (and Warners’ awful decision to release their movies day-and-date with HBO Max), I’m just not sure if The Secrets of Dumbledore can open over $50 million, even though it certainly will come close, boosted by the Easter weekend with schools being out on Friday. While I probably would have a better idea whether to recommend this or not if I had a chance to see it, but I’ll be seeing it on Thursday, because I certainly want to know if this franchise is worth continuing or should just be given a quick death i.e. just throwing the characters into an HBO Max series, maybe directed by Steven Soderbergh, since he’s such a fan of the streamer.
Fantastic Beasts shouldn’t have a problem besting Sonic 2 in its second weekend, but don’t expect the latter to falter too much, and Father Stu is gonna be facing a challenge with all the stronger returning movies, including Everything Everywhere All At Once, which I expect to add more theaters this weekend. The Lost City might be able to keep Father Stu out of the top 4, as those two will be close. Remember that Friday being Good Friday and Sunday being Easter will have an effect on how much these movies make on Friday vs. the rest of the weekend, exacerbated by the fact that Fantastic Beasts has screenings as early as 2pm on Thursday with no school the next day.
1. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (Warner Bros) - $47.8 million N/A
2. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Paramount) - $34 million -53%
3. Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24) - $5.7 million -7%
4. Father Stu (Sony) - $5.2 million N/A
5. The Lost City (Paramount) - $5 million -45%
6. Ambulance (Universal) - $4.6 million -47%
7. Morbius (Sony) - $4 million -61%
8. The Batman (Warner Bros.) - $3.9 million -45%
9. Uncharted (Sony) - $1.4 million -47%
(10th place will probably be Spider-Man: No Way Home again.)
PARIS, 13th DISTRICT (IFC Films)
Jacques Audiard’s latest film inspired by the comics of Adrian Tomine is something I already reviewed a few weeks ago when it premiered as part of “Rendezvous with French Cinema” up at Lincoln Center, but now it’s finally being released both in theaters and on demand. It involves a group of fairly young people in modern-day France as they connect through their romantic interactions and relationships. It’s another great example of Audiard, who you may know for anything from Une Prophete to Rust and Bone to The Sisters Brothers, being able to discover and work with bright new talent, as this film is a great showcase for his four main actors – Lucie Zhang, Noémie Merlant, Makita Samba, and Jehnny Beth. While I won’t recommend this to everyone – and be warned that there’s a lot of sex in the movie – I do think it’s another great film from Audiard, though also very different from other things he’s done.
Just a few months after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival – where I also reviewed it – Riley (The Art of Self-Defense, Faults) Stearns’ sci-fi thriller Dual will open in theaters this Friday, but it will be on demand, digital and streaming on AMC+ starting May 20. Produced by XYZ Films (who are also getting into the distribution world with the next movie below), the film stars Karen Gillan from Guardians of the Galaxy and the Jumanji movies as Sarah, a woman who finds out she’s terminally ill, so she goes through a process where she’s cloned to make her death easier on friends and family. When she ends up not denying, Sarah finds out that she can’t just “turn off” her clone (who has ably taken Sarah’s place with her husband) but actually has to fight her to death in a deal. The movie also stars Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, and Theo James, and RLJE is giving it a theatrical release into roughly 130 theaters, rather than the day-and-date it usually does with its movies.
WYRMWOOD APOCALYPSE (XYZ Films)
The Australian brothers filmmaking duo of Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner have returned with a follow-up to their debut, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, which premiered at the 2014 Fantastic Fest, and to their 2018 TIFF movie, Nektronic. Oddly, I don’t think I’ve seen either of these, which puts me in an odd place, because I feel like I should see Road of the Dead before watching this one, which stars Luke McKenzie as Rhys, who lives in the zombie wasteland and finds civilians to deliver to the military. Once such captive is a half-zombie-half-human named Grace (Tasia Zalar) who may be the answer to end the apocalypse. Returning from the previous movie are Jay Gallagher and Bianca Bradey.
WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR (Utopia)
Jane Schoenbrun’s absurdist coming-of-age tale, starring Anna Cobb in her first feature, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and played a few other fests, but it wasn’t really my bag. It’s a thriller of sorts that plays on the idea of things like Slenderman and Candyman and even The Ring where Cobb’s character Sarah becomes immersed in this online role-playing horror game where watching a video begins to transform the viewer to experience the world in a different way. This will open at BAM in Brooklyn and Quad Cinema in Manhattan, as well as other theaters in the country, presumably. I would may have watched the movie again to give it another chance with a fresh viewing, but I honestly haven’t heard much about the movie opening this Friday.
Also, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s triptych anthology Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy will be playing starting Friday at Film Forum in New York, and in my opinion, it’s a better movie than the Oscar-winning Drive My Car.
CHOOSE OR DIE (Netflix)
Toby Meakins’ sci-fi thriller stars Iola Evans in her first movie performance as a young coder who finds a lost ‘80s survival horror game and unleashes a hidden curse that tears reality apart. Also starring Asa Butterfield, Eddie Marsan, and the great Robert Englund, this sounds like a great double feature with We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, but reviews of this movie are embargoed until Friday so that’s all I’ll say, for now.
ROAR (Apple TV+)
Debuting on the streamer this Friday, this 8-episode dark comedy anthology series is based on the short stories of Cecelia Ahern, who co-showruns with Liz Flahive (GLOW). The cast includes Nicole Kidman, Cynthia Erivo, Issa Rae, Betty Gilpin, and more.
I’m pretty excited for this weekend’s “Metrograph Selects” program which will be showing the Toho “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of Michio Yamomoto’s Lake of Dracula (1971), Evil of Dracula (1974), and The Vampire Doll (1970). “Late Night” will have two more screenings of the animated Late Blue while “Playtime” will show Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, but only on Saturday afternoon. “Pop Will Play Itself” ends on Thursday with one last screening of A Hard Day’s Night and Ned Lander’s The Wrong Side of the Road. Some great stuff in the “Metrograph Presents A to Z” including Chantal Akerman’s From the East (1993) screening all weekend, as well as Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983) starring Robert De Niro. “Left Bank Cinema” also continues through the weekend with a few movies from Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras, neither of whom I’m that familiar with. “Robert Siodmak X3” also continues through the weekend
“Sidney Poitier and His Trailblazing Contemporaries” continues this weekend with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Paris Blues (1961), A Patch of Blue (1965), and more. Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) will have two screenings on Sunday, the first one as part of “Film Forum Jr.” with live piano accompaniment at both.
A remastered version of David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006) will continue through the week, joined by Mira Nair’s Misssippi Masala (1991), starring Denzel Washington. His co-star Sarita Choudry will be there on Friday night at 7pm for a QnA, too!
The “Hong Sangsoo Multiverse: A Retrespective of Double Features” continues through the weekend with screenings of Oki’s Movie, Woman on the Beach, and many more.
The retrospective of Larry Fessenden and Glass Eye Pix concludes this weekend with screenings of Joe Maggio’s Bitter Feast (2010), Jack Fessenden’s most recent film Foxhole (2021), Rick Alverson’s The Comedy, and repeat screenings of Kelly Reichardt’s River of Grass (1994) and Ti West’s House of the Devil (2009).
THE TALE OF KING CRAB (Oscilloscope)
THE CELLAR (Shudder)
WOMEN OF THE WHITE BUFFALO
Next week, DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys, Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and Robert Eggers’ The Northman.
Box office data from The-Numbers.com.