I'll start with the headline: I have COVID-19. I tested positive along with my wife and three-year-old son, and life has been brutal, scary and exhausting ever since.
Even still, watching movies from bed has been a saving grace...a much-needed therapeutic that has granted me some level of sanity and feelings of normalcy. My wife and son - thanks be to God or whatever other guiding forces willing to listen - have reacted much more mildly than me thus far...I have definitely gotten the worst of it. And whether this is a momentary plateau, or a sign that I am turning the corner, I wanted to catch up on some of the films that I've been able to view over the past few weeks but haven't quite had the chance to review.
Instead of "full reviews" of each of these films, all with separate articles, I've instead consolidated more shallow dives than usual into each recent film and have lumped them all together into this one piece. I wish I could do more, and give each movie the same thoughtful consideration that I try to bring to all of my written reviews. But I needed to write, for my own sake. And this is hopefully better than nothing.
I hope to be back on track soon, fully invested into this dream job of mine. But in the meantime, please bear with me as I give you a few "drive-by" reactions to some of the latest movies that are seeing release this weekend, or may have been released on past weekends. Here goes it. And thanks for your continued support.
It's the very first film from newly-formed Solstice Studios, a road-rage stalker-thriller starring Russell Crowe as you've never seen him before, and may very well never want to see him again. The movie has come with lots of build-up, not necessarily because of the movie itself, but because it is really the first theatrical-ONLY release from any movie studio since the beginning of the pandemic back in March. No, there is no way you'll be able to see "Unhinged" on any sort of On-Demand or streaming platform, but you'll have to brave it out in the theater, or if you live in Michigan, the Drive-In (The Ford-Wyoming Drive-In is the only place you can find it here locally).
The message of the film seems to be...makes sure to give courtesy-honks while in traffic? It's a drastic scenario of a lunatic who is out to ruin the life of a young mother who chances upon him at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a bit too sadistic and mean-spirited to work, but it also seems to know what it is, and there are some tense, effective sequences peppered throughout the often-times implausible script. If it were just "mindless fun," "Unhinged" may receive a pass, but ultimately it is just mindless. This movie isn't quite the movie to risk your life for by going into a theater, but then again, what movie is?
Genre: Action, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Jimmi Simpson, Gabriel Bateman.
Directed by Derek Borte ("American Dreamer," "London Town," "The Joneses.")
"Unhinged" is available ONLY in theaters or Drive-Ins, as of Friday, August 21st, 2020.
Jacki Weaver is a great actress. But even she can't bring "Stage Mother" to life. In this light dram-edy, she plays Maybeline, a conservative church-going mother who inherits her son's drag club.
While featuring some authentic icons in the industry (like the unwavering Jackie Beat), this movie is mostly propped up by clichés and stereotypes. It has some good messages of inclusion, open-mindedness and hopefulness, but there is too much flare and too little substance for it to be effective.
I did interview Jacki Weaver about the film, which you can find here.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music.
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Starring: Jacki Weaver, Adrian Grenier, Lucy Liu, Calem MacDonald, Mya Taylor, Allister MacDonald.
Directed by Thom Fitzgerald ("Splinters," "Cloudburst," "The Wild Dogs," "The Hanging Garden").
"Stage Mother" is available on streaming as of Friday, August 14th, 2020.
It's a genre-defying take on the alien body-snatching movie, where audience expectations are sure to be challenged. "Sputnik" is a stylish, slow-burn horror film about a Russian cosmonaut who returns to Earth with an alien being living in his body. A young, fringe scientist is brought in to observe and things don't go exactly the way you think they might.
This film was a massive hit in Russia where it was forced to premiere On Demand back in April after the pandemic forced it from its planned theatrical release...it broke several download records at the time. It might be a bit too cerebral for casual movie-goers, but "Sputnik" delivers with an interesting plot, characters to care for, and a director worth keeping an eye on.
I also interviewed director Egor Abramenko, which you can find here.
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 1 hour 53 minutes.
Starring: Oksana Akinshina, Fedor Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fyodorov.
Directed by Egor Abramenko (feature-film debut).
"Sputnik" is available on streaming as of Friday, August 14th, 2020.
"Project Power" comes off as an action movie that isn't quite as cool as it thinks it is. A new drug is on the streets that gives people various super-powers for just five-minutes after taking it...you don't quite know what it will do or what affects it will have until you take it.
The movie itself is a bit hard to swallow...so implausible and so frantic that it might have benefited from a sedative or two. While the movie is flashy enough to keep your interest, about half-way through, you'll be wishing you had the anecdote to it's mind-numbing pace, and you'll also realize that the movie has no grounding in reality...no real people to root for or against. "Project Power" loses its effectiveness at about the same rate as the pill that it so heavily leans upon to tell its superficial story.
Genre: Action, Crime, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 1 hour 53 minutes.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Courtney B. Vance, Rodrigo Santoro, Machine Gun Kelly.
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman ("Viral," "Paranormal Activity 4").
"Project Power" is available on Netflix now.
Ethan Hawke is a natural treasure. Here he portrays the legendary and often-overlooked inventor, Nikola Tesla, in a biography that is so confidently weird and stylish, that you'd imagine its eccentric subject would approve.
Tesla worked briefly for Thomas Edison (another award-worthy supporting turn from Kyle MacLachlan), but is painted as just as important...had he any of the polish or drive as his energetic rival. It's a timid, introspective performance from Hawke, one that shows new facets of range from one of our best working actors today.
But what makes "Tesla" compelling is the imaginative and bold way that his story is told by writer/director Michael Almereyda. Time is bent, scenes play out as they might have happened, with no real basis that they did happen. This man - responsible for the invention of AC power among several other important innovations at the turn of the century - even performs the Tears for Fears song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" at one point. It somehow works (although not every bold stroke does, you learn to appreciate the efforts being made).
"Tesla" is bonkers, daring, all-over-the-place, and totally out-of-left-field. It may be weighed down a bit too much from time-to-time with some techno-babble-heavy-dialogue about currents and voltage, but this one sparks with energy that definitely feels unrestrained and full of potential...with Hawke as the conduit, who harnesses the film's energy into something that glows bright.
Genre: Biography, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 42 minutes.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Josh Hamilton, Kyle MacLachlan, Jim Gaffigan.
Written and Directed by Michael Almereyda ("Marjorie Prime," "Cymbeline," "The Eternal").
"Tesla" is available on streaming as of Friday, August 21st, 2020.
Lili Reinhart is one of the best up-and-coming young actresses in Hollywood (most know her as Betty on "Riverdale.") Austin Abrams is also a young talent to keep an eye on. Together, they are just two collections of atoms that run into one another in the young-teen romance, "Chemical Hearts," based on the best-selling YA novel, "Our Chemical Hearts" by Krystal Sutherland.
There is a lot of clichés and nothing on the surface seems special about "Chemical Hearts." But if you stick with it, you'll learn that it is not so much about two young lovers coming together - as most of this genre is - but more about the the complexities of how hard it is to RECEIVE love, especially when you are overcoming tragedies of the past.
Without giving away key plot points, the relationship between Reinhart's Grace and Abrams' Henry is a bit more nuanced than you might first give it credit for. Much of the world around these two characters feels too flat and one-dimensional. At times, the movie feels forced and manipulative. But something about Grace's story resonated...as did how Henry's pursuit of her forced him to rethink some of his own priorities in life.
Love isn't perfect, "Chemical Hearts" is far from perfect, and it may be the most pessimistic love story you'll see aimed at this age group. But the right...chemistry...between the two leads made this one a mild surprise, and covered some ground not often tackled in the YA romance genre.
Genre: Drama, Romance.
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Starring: Lili Reinhart, Austin Abrams, Sarah Jones..
Written and Directed by Richard Tanne ("Southside With You").
"Chemical Hearts" is available on Amazon Prime Video as of Friday, August 21st, 2020.
'The One and Only Ivan'
It's the one film that I had on my pile of films to watch that I didn't get around to. "The One and Only Ivan" had originally been slated for a Summer theatrical release, but the film - about a gorilla named Ivan who attempts to escape from captivity - is now available exclusively on Disney+, and stars Bryan Cranston, "Hamilton" star Phillipa Soo, and the voices of Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren and Danny DeVito.
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