Jerry & Marge Go Large
Director: David Frankel
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Annette Bening, Rainn Wilson, Larry Wilmore, Michael McKean, Ann Harada, Jake McDorman, Anna Camp
Jerry is a bored pensioner who is good with numbers but bad with people. When he discovers a loophole in the WinFall lottery, Jerry and his wife Marge hope to exploit it to revive their dying community. This is a funny, affable, and warmly acted comedy drama, but do not expect any surprising twists or high dramatic stakes in this feelgood affair. The fact-based script by Brad Copeland is based on a 2018 HuffPost article by Jason Fagone.
Død snø (Dead Snow)
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal, Evy Kasseth Røsten, Jeppe Laursen, Jenny Skavlan, Ane Dahl Torp, Bjørn Sundquist, Ørjan Gamst
A group of Norwegian medical students travel to a remote cabin, where they encounter a squad of zombie Nazis. Tommy Wirkola’s short and snappy horror comedy offers a totally bonkers premise and some familiar play with genre tropes. Unfortunately, all of this doesn’t translate to a particularly memorable movie. Apart from a few amusingly gory scenes, there is very little to laugh about.
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, Brendan Sexton III, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Željko Ivanek, Linda Bright Clay
Struggling screenwriter has a snappy title, Seven Psychopaths, but no story. However, he is about to get inspired by some real-life psychopaths. Martin McDonagh follows up In Bruges with another awful dark crime comedy. Like Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, this is a smug and self-referential story about the mechanics of storytelling, which attempts to excuse its clichéd plotting and weak female characters by pointing them out. McDonagh’s message is that everybody thinks they have a movie in them, but nobody seems to have an original story to tell, which perfectly sums up his own work. These are some of the dullest 110 minutes I can remember.
Director: Randall Wallace
Cast: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, James Cromwell, Kevin Connolly, Scott Glenn, Otto Thorwarth, Margo Martindale, Amanda Michalka, Drew Roy, Nestor Serrano
When her mother dies and her father succumbs to senility, housewife Penny Chenery takes charge of the family’s horse racing and breeding operations. She gambles everything on a promising foal who grows up to be Secretariat, one of the greatest racehorses of all time. This biographical drama is based on William Nack’s 1975 book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion. The screenplay by Mike Rich and Sheldon Turner takes some liberties with the true events to create a formulaic and manipulative but entertaining portrait of a strong-willed woman and a strong-legged stallion. There are some strong performances, but also a number of cardboard characters and cringy clichés.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, Gary Lydon, Pat Shortt, Sheila Flitton, Bríd Ní Neachtain, Jon Kenny
While the Irish Civil War rages on the mainland, up to now things have been calmer on the island of Inisherin. Colm and Pádraic have been best friends for years, but one day Colm faces an existential crisis and decides to cut all ties to Pádraic. Martin McDonagh reunites with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the stars of his overrated debut In Bruges. His fourth feature is a lovely character study, which is intermittently funny, tragic, and moving. McDonagh stretches the thin premise to the limit, but his film is beautifully shot and terrifically acted (Farrell and Keoghan are the standouts).
Director: Domee Shi
Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, James Hong
Mei is an A+ student and a good girl who hides her true interests from her tiger mother. Now that she is 13, she discovers that losing control of her emotions transforms her into a big red panda. This disappointing Pixar animation depicts a Chinese immigrant family who live in Toronto in 2002. If this sound like an oddly specific time and place, it’s because back then director Domee Shi was a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian growing up in Toronto. Everything Everywhere All at Once was a wonderfully original portrayal of a Chinese American mother and daughter, but I’m not sure Shi’s personal story has a wider appeal. The film kicks off with an annoyingly chirpy character introduction. It does eventually improve a bit, but this animation is not funny or moving like Pixar’s best. Is the red panda a metaphor for menstruation? At first it seems so, but then it just becomes a red panda. But what is the ultimate message of Mei’s story? When your child turns 13, let her make all her decisions.
Director: Felix van Groeningen
Cast: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Jack Dylan Grazer, Kaitlyn Dever, LisaGay Hamilton, Timothy Hutton, Andre Royo
This biographical drama depicts journalist David Sheff’s attempts to help his teenage son Nic overcome drug addiction. The screenplay is based on their respective books Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction and Tweak: Growing Up on Methaphetamines. Felix van Groeningen’s first film in English tells a moving but sanitised personal story about the effects of addiction. It’s mostly told from David’s perspective, which weakens the impact of the drama as we see Nic when he’s clean but rarely when he’s at his lowest ebb. Although Timothée Chalamet gives a strong performance, at no point does he look like he is a drug addict. At times, the soundtrack drowns out the dialogue in a distractingly loud volume.
Director: Mark Mylod
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Reed Birney, Judith Light, John Leguizamo
A group of people take a boat to Hawthorn Island to enjoy a highly exclusive six course meal meticulously planned by chef Julian Slowik. His menu includes some personal touches and shocking surprises. This deliciously nasty black comedy makes fun of arrogant chefs, pretentious foodies, self-important food critics, and ostentatious rich people. It also offers a critique of celebrity culture and social inequality. Whether you enjoy the entire menu on offer is up to your personal taste. Anya Taylor-Joy gives another compelling performance as a guest who was not meant to be there and Ralph Fiennes is wondefully smug as the celebrated chef who has lost the love for his craft.
Director: Jeff Tomsic
Cast: Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner,
Ever since they were kids, Hoagie, Chilli, Sable, Bob, and Jerry have played tag during the month of May. After years of failed attempts, four of the guys hope to tag Jerry, who might be distracted by his own wedding. This fact-based comedy is based on the Wall Street Journal article It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being ‘It’ by Russell Adams. The real friends appear over the end credits, and their shenanigans are actually more fun and heartwarming than anything in the preceding 90 minutes. The set-up is very promising, but the story quickly becomes dull and repetitive when Jerry turns out to be a cross between Hawkeye and Aaron Cross, two other action heroes Jeremy Renner has played on screen. The resulting movie should be a funny and moving depiction of lifelong friendships, but it’s neither.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer, Corey Stoll, Michael Douglas
During the Avengers hiatus, Scott Lang has become a complacent, semi-retired superhero, who has written a memoir. Things take a sudden turn when Scott, his daughter Cassie, his girlfriend Hope, and her parents Hank and Janet Van Dyne are sucked into the Quantum Realm. In Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Quantum Realm was a weird, psychedelic, and dangerous dimension. This time it feels like the Langs and Van Dynes jump into the Star Wars franchise, as they discover a civilisation where an evil ruler (Kang the Conqueror) and his army fight a group of brave freedom fighters. Ever since Thanos was defeated in Avengers: Endgame, the MCU has noticeably dipped in quality, and this is one of the more disappointing releases. I was not really engaged or entertained at any point. It doesn’t help that we spend almost the entire runtime in the CGI-created fantasy dimension. Why should I care about people and creatures I don’t know, when I can’t bring myself to care about Scott’s stupid teenage daughter or his annoying mother-in-law. The whole purpose of the movie is to introduce Kang, the main villain of Phase 5, and he doesn’t seem like much if Ant-Man without any superpowers can kick his ass.
Enola Holmes 2
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Louis Partridge, Susie Wokoma, Adeel Akhtar, Sharon Duncan-Brewster
The sequel to Enola Holmes continues in the same enjoyably light-hearted tone as the original. Enola has started her own detective agency, but the only case she is able to get is the mysterious disappearance of a young woman who worked at the match factory. Jack Thorne’s screenplay, this time not based on Nancy Springer’s novel, was inspired by the matchgirls’ strike of 1888, but that’s as close as this story gets to dealing with 19th century reality. Some films truthfully depict the racism and sexism that existed in the past, but this woke young adult series denies that such thing ever existed. The film is entertaining, but in all honesty feels like an extended episode of a detective show on TV. Nevertheless, Millie Bobby Brown gives another likeable performance in the title role.
A Quiet Place Part II
Director: John Krasinski
Cast: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski, Scoot McNairy
A Quiet Place was a short and powerful horror movie with an original premise. The sequel first takes us to the day it all started, and then continues the story right where it ended last time. The remaining members of the Abbott family venture out into the dangerous unknown and learn that there may be other survivors on an island off the coast. Although the sequel retains the original’s quality level in mood and thrills, it offers more of the same and doesn’t advance the story all that much. The final part of the trilogy is set to be released in 2025.
Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James
Amy is a 30-something journalist who likes to drink hard and sleep around. But what happens when she’s assigned to interview a sensitive and single sports doctor? This comedy marks the screenwriting debut of Amy Schumer, but it’s very much a Judd Apatow movie (that is, the jokes revolve around sex and substance abuse, and it’s too long). As a romantic comedy, it offers nothing new. No matter how original or subversive the set-up may seem, you know exactly how it’s going to end. The ending feels particularly unearned when Amy behaves like a selfish asshole throughout the story. There are at least some amusing cameos, such as Tilda Swinton as Amy’s obnoxious editor and LeBron James as a more stingy and romantic version of himself.
Punkkisota (The Red Ring)
Director: Joonas Berghäll
In this heavily autobiographical documentary, Joonas Berghäll documents his years-long fight against Lyme disease. He meets medical experts and fellow sufferers in Germany, Italy, France, and the US, and discovers that the disease is not always taken seriously. Berghäll’s film offers an informative but not terribly captivating collection of stories that revolve around the topic, all of it drably narrated by him. He lets his interviewees speak and doesn’t ask any follow-up questions, even if he disagrees with them.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Josie Walker, Jude Hill
Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical feelgood film takes us to Belfast in 1969. His alter ego Buddy is a 9-year-old boy whose Protestant family faces a difficult decision when the Ulster loyalists begin to attack the Catholics living in their neighbourhood. Branagh’s black and white nostalgia piece has relatively low dramatic stakes and it makes no attempt to explain the Troubles. Instead it offers a warm, funny, and sometimes clichéd (visits to the local cinema, Van Morrison soundtrack) trip down one man’s memory lane. Branagh won an Academy Award for writing, but his directing style is a bit choppy. He feels compelled to cut every scene short, when this slice of life would benefit from a more relaxed flow. The performances are great, though.
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth, Paul Higgins, Michael Sheen
At the start of the 20th century, a man travels to a remote island of Erisden to rescue his sister, who was kidnapped by a cult that rules the community with an iron hand. Thís period horror film has an intriguing and atmospheric set-up, which owes a debt to The Wicker Man (1973). Unfortunately the rest of the story is not what I wanted to see. The apostate protagonist has an extremely disappointing character arc, and the brutal cult and their medieval methods actually come out in positive light. In the second half, the whole thing nosedives into supernatural nonsense and Evans fills the screen with overexaggerated gore to the tune of loud grunting. The score by Fajar Yusekemal and Aria Prayogi is clichéd and almost laughably creepy. Dan Stevens’ performance, on the other hand, is 95 % brooding.
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Cast: Melissa Barrera, Mason Gooding, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Marley Shelton, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Neve Campbell
A new person puts on the Ghostface mask and embarks on a murder spree in Woodsboro. This time, the events revolve around two sisters, the older one of whom is the daughter of the original killer. The first Scream was an entertaining slasher movie, which was built around the idea how predictable and formulaic slasher movies are. So far, so clever. After three forgettable sequels, we get a trite and incredibly lazy requel (reboot + sequel), which scrapes the bottom of the barrel by being built around the idea how predictable and formulaic the Scream series is. It lost me in the opening scene, which offers a self-referential recreation of the iconic cold open of the 1996 original. Once again we are reminded how the killer operates, and after multiple mechanical and mind-numbing scenes we realise that everything played out just the way we were told in the beginning. Since this is a reboot, the remaining members of the original cast obviously return for cameos. The sixth episode is in production.
Director: Jalmari Helander
Cast: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Paul Anderson, Mimosa Willamo, Onni Tommila
Like Rare Exports and Big Game, Jalmari Helander’s third feature is set in the north of Finland. During the Lapland War in 1944, Finnish war hero turned gold prospector Aatami Korpi tries to mind his own business, but he is forced into a clash with a retreating Nazi squad. This is an entertaining and deliberately paced action drama, which doesn’t outstay its welcome. The movie’s brutal violence, Spaghetti Western esthetics, and cartoonish Nazis owe a thing or two to Quentin Tarantino, although he surely would have handed in a movie almost twice as long. Helander stretches credibility to the maximum, but provides an explanation in the dialogue: The hero is not immortal, he just refuses to die. However, the disappointing fact that the German characters speak English cannot be explained.
The King of Staten Island
Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow, Steve Buscemi, Ricky Velez, Pamela Adlon, Moisés Arias, Lou Wilson
Scott is a sarcastic 24-year-old idler who lives with his mom. When his mom starts dating a fireman, like Scott’s father who died on duty, things come to a head. Judd Apatow’s delightful slice of life doesn’t have much of a story, but it features a group of likeable characters in believable situations. The dialogue is funny and naturalistic and the performances are lively. This comedy provides a nice starring role for Pete Davidson, whose own father incidentally was a fireman who died in 9/11. Like most of Apatow’s output, however, it goes on a bit too long.
Druk (Another Round)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Susse Wold, Magnus Sjørup, Silas Cornelius Van, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt
Martin and his three teacher colleagues, who have lost their mojo, decide to test a theory that a slight level of intoxication will increase their social and professional performance. But what is the right level? Thomas Vinterberg’s dark comedy has a bold and unusual premise, but I struggle to believe most of the events portrayed on screen. What is the ultimate message of this story, I don’t really know. The film doesn’t moralise, but it gives mixed signals. While some of the men lose control of their drinking, one of them expands the test to a student with resounding success. The only think the men are able to prove is that watching drunk people is not funny when you’re sober. Academy Award winner for best international feature film.
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock
A number of gangsters and assassins come together on board a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Some of them are seeking revenge while others are looking for a briefcase, which belongs to a famously ruthless crime boss. This action comedy feels like one of Guy Ritchie’s cockney gangster flicks set onboard Snowpiercer. Zak Olkewicz adapted Kōtarō Isaka’s novel to the screen, but he has replaced almost all of the Japanese characters with American, English, Russian or Mexican ones. In fact, the locals don’t seem to feature even as passengers on the train, which runs empty through Japan. This is a light, brisk, and easily digestible movie, but I didn’t find it funny or really care about any of its lowlife characters. David Leitch relies heavily on CGI effects, which look surprisingly poor.
Director: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Annabelle Wallis, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Will Sasso, Selina Lo, Meadow Williams, Rio Grillo
A former soldier is forced to relive the same day over and over. Each day, he attempts to stay alive long enough to figure out what is going on and why a group of professional assassins are out to get him. The script by Chris Borey, Eddie Borey, and Joe Carnahan unconvincingly manages to answer why it’s all happening but not why the bad guy so badly wants to kill the hero. So we can have non-stop action is the answer, I suppose. This derivative time loop action movie is closer to the live-die-repeat scenario of Edge of Tomorrow than the smart comedy of Groundhog Day, which launched this entire subgenre. However, my problem is that the unpleasant protagonist is too cool and ironically detached to carry the weight of the story. He does eventually learn to become a better person, but there is little room for growth for a guy who is a seasoned killer already at the start of the story. Frank Grillo is charmless and Naomi Watts and Michelle Yeoh are completely wasted in their underwritten cameos.
See How They Run
Director: Tom George
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, David Oyelowo, Charlie Cooper, Shirley Henderson
While the 1953 London stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap plays to packed houses, an abrasive Hollywood director, who is planning an unfaithful film version, ends up murdered backstage. Tom George’s feature debut is a disposable but entertaining comedic murder mystery, which doesn’t overstay its welcome. Mark Chappell’s cleverly constructed screenplay mixes the events of the stage play, the hypothetical screenplay, and the onscreen murder case. Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan give very likeable performances as the Inspector and Constable on the case.
Die Blumen von gestern (The Bloom of Yesterday)
Director: Chris Kraus
Cast: Lars Eidinger, Adèle Haenel, Jan Josef Liefers, Hannah Herzsprung, Sigrid Marquardt, Bibiane Zeller, Rolf Hoppe, Eva Löbau
Toto is a tightly wound Holocaust historian, whose own grandfather was a famed Nazi. Just when Toto is about to reach his breaking point due to work and marriage stress, he must look after a new intern, an opinionated French Jewish woman named Zazie. This chaotic German comedy deals with the Holocaust and collective guilt, but it looks like director/writer Chris Kraus made it all up as he went along. The film is certainly unpredictable, but I have no idea what the genre or tone is going to be in the next scene or what the supposed narrative glue is that holds it all together. As if that’s not enough, the characters are absolutely infuriating. Toto is a volatile hothead whose guilt runs so deep that he can’t get it up and Zazie is a classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl who goes from a sweet girl to a suicidal wreck overnight. The serendipitous epilogue is the final straw.
Last Night in Soho
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Rita Tushingham, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Synnøve Karlsen, Pauline McLynn
Ellie, who is frequently visited by her mother’s ghost, moves to London to study fashion, but the big city is not a welcoming place. One night, she is mysteriously transported to the Swinging Sixties into the life of aspiring singer Sandy. Midnight in Paris meets The Sixth Sense in Edgar Wright’s ambitious psychological horror movie, which is a ghost story, a murder mystery, a coming-of-age tale, a wish fulfilment fantasy, a depiction of sexism in the 1960s, and a portrayal of potential mental breakdown. It goes without saying that the resulting movie is all over the place and, once Ellie begins to experience her visions, one of the most infuriating and tedious watches I can remember. Thomasin McKenzie is annoyingly timid and aloof as Ellie (does that make it a good or a bad performance?) and Anya Taylor-Joy has very little to do as Sandy. On the plus side, the interaction between the two leading ladies is beautifully visualised and the soundtrack is filled with some nice tunes.
The Lost City
Director: Adam Nee, Aaron Nee
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Brad Pitt, Héctor Aníbal, Thomas Forbes-Johnson, Oscar Nunez
When a smart but reclusive romance-adventure novelist is kidnapped by a nasty treasure-hunting millionaire, her book’s slow-witted cover model goes out to rescue her. This entertaining adventure comedy by the Nee brothers was heavily influenced by Romancing the Stone, the beloved 1984 classic about another lonely novelist who finds romance while trudging through the jungle with a man who couldn’t be more different than she is. The movie is funny, and it sometimes fulfils and other times subverts expectations, although there are certainly no surprises in the will-they-won’t-they stakes. Brad Pitt and Daniel Radcliffe appear in amusing supporting roles.
Avatar: The Way of Water
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell, Jemaine Clement, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss
The sky people return to colonise Pandora and capture Jake Sully, the leader of the rebellion. To protect his family and the Omaticaya clan, Jake, Neytiri, and their four children flee their home and seek refuge with the Metkayina reef people. After Avatar became the highest grossing film of all time in 2010, James Cameron announced plans for four sequels. It took 13 years to release the first one. The film’s visuals are once again immaculate. The motion capture technology is amazing and there isn’t one shot above or under water that looks fake. However, it is astounding that it took five people to outline and three people to script a story, which just retreads the original film and pretty much resets at the end, again. The bad guys who died in the original return as human/Na’vi hybrids, and somehow two of the dead characters have left offspring. Instead of the rain forest, this time we spend the second act exploring the beauty of the underwater world and hunting for amrita, a rare and expensive anti-aging agent, which has taken the role of unobtanium. The gripping final hour, with callbacks to Titanic, is a great reminder that Cameron is still one of the finest action directors in the business. An Academy AWard winner for best visual effects.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Director: Shaka King
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Martin Sheen, Algee Smith, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery
In the late 1960s, FBI coerces petty criminal Bill O’Neal to infiltrate the Black Panther Party chapter of Chicago and get close to its chairman Fred Hampton. Like the recent Selma and The Trial of the Chicago 7, this fact-based drama sheds light on another shameful and racist episode in American civil rights history. Shaka King’s film is interesting, if not exactly captivating, but it is let down by a muddled script and weak character work. The focus is on the two-faced O’Neil, who seems inadequately conflicted about his role. Hampton, on the other hand, talks about a revolution, but what exactly does he and the organisation he represents do apart from wearing berets and posing with guns? As for the other characters, I can barely remember their names. Although he is too old to play Hampton, Daniel Kaluuya is nevertheless a charismatic presence in his Oscar winning performance. Fight for You by H.E.R. also earned an Academy Award for best original song.
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Rami Malek, Robert De Niro
A doctor, a lawyer, and a nurse, who became good friends in World War 1, reunite 15 years later in New York City, where they attempt to figure out the conspiracy behind the murder of a retired general. David O. Russell’s films are sometimes difficult to slot into a pre-defined category. This sympathetic but long and uneven period piece is a mix of slapstick comedy, war drama, and political thriller. This haphazard approach means that the end result is fresh, unpredictable, and tonally all over the place. The screenplay is partly inspired by a real-life conspiracy in 1933. The cast is amazing, and Christian Bale gives an unusually goofy and relaxed performance as Dr. Burt Berendsen.
Director: Sergio Pablos
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, J. K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Will Sasso, Neda Margrethe Labba, Sergio Pablos, Norm Macdonald, Joan Cusack
Jesper is a spoilt rich kid who must set up a postal service on a remote island of Smeerensburg, or risk losing his inheritance. The west of the island is divided between two feuding clans, and a lonely woodsman resides in the eastern parts. After a bumpy and somewhat boring start (Jesper is exhausting but not funny), this 2D animation gets its act together and ends up telling a moving but surprisingly materialistic origin story of the American version of Santa Claus and Christmas. The film’s slogan is “A true act of goodwill always sparks another“, but maybe it should actually be “When kids get stuff, everyone is happy“.
Director: S.K. Dale
Cast: Megan Fox, Eoin Macken, Callan Mulvey, Jack Roth, Aml Ameen
On their wedding anniversary, Mark and Emma drive to a secluded lake house, where Mark handcuffs himself to his estranged wife, and shoot himself in the head. Gerald’s Game, which was based on a Stephen King novel, had a somewhat similar premise, but it cannot be mentioned in the same breath with this contrived thriller, which gets stupider by the minute. The overelaborate revenge plot is ridiculous, the characters are dumber than a bag of hammers, and the winter setting doesn’t look real for one second. Oh, and Megan Fox cannot act.
Director: Peter Landesman
Cast: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Morse, Albert Brooks
When a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu concludes that a number of former football players died as a result of repeated head trauma during their playing careers, the news does not go down well with the National Football League. Peter Landesman’s fact-based drama is based on Game Brain, a 2009 GQ article by Jeanne Marie Laskas. The topic is compelling and eye-opening, but the resulting film is long and laborious. The side plot tells us how Dr. Omalu met his wife, but the couple seem to spend all their time talking about the case.
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Jerrod Carmichael, Craig Roberts, Lisa Kudrow
Mac, Kelly, and their baby girl Stella live in a quiet neighbourhood, but one day Delta Psi Beta, a fraternity known for excessive partying, moves next door. This is a fruitful premise, but this painfully unfunny and predictable comedy doesn’t come up with anything inventive, just the usual drink, drug and sex-related gags. It’s superficially about growing up, but Mac and Kelly would rather just party along if it wasn’t for the kid. Zac Efron may be a man of many talents, but comedy is not one of them. Followed by Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016).
Straight Outta Compton
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Lakeith Stanfield, Alexandra Shipp, Corey Reynolds, Tate Ellington
In the late 1980s, a handful of young and angry black men in Compton California form N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), a controversial and influential rap group. This supremely entertaining biographical drama focuses on Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube and their respective relationships with the group’s manager Jerry Heller. The film offers a terrific mix of drama and comedy, and it paints a believable portrait of the lack of options a young black man has when he grows up in a tough neighbourhood, much like Boyz N’ the Hood, which incidentally starred Ice Cube. In addition, the story covers the highs and lows of show business: the excitement of creative work and live performances, the adoration by fans, and the inevitable aftermath of living a life of excess. The young cast is very imprressive.
Director: Thomas M. Wright
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Jada Alberts, Cormac Wright, Steve Mouzakis, Matthew Sunderland, Fletcher Humphrys, Alan Dukes, Ewen Leslie, Gary Waddell
Henry Teague meets a man on the bus who may have work for him in a shady criminal organisation. In reality, the man is an undercover police officer and Teague is the main suspect in a kidnapping and killing of a 13-year-old boy. Thomas M. Wright’s moody crime drama was inspired by The Sting: The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe’s Killer by Kate Kyriacou, which chronicles a 2003 murder case in Australia. The film is atmospheric but slow-paced, and the good but extremely understated performances by Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris do not help.