Film reviews: new for September 16

  • Sony Tri Star
  • Viola Davis in The female king

Confess, Fletch ***1/2

See feature review. Available September 16 in theaters and on VOD. (R)

Revenge ***
Looking back, the cutthroat world of teenage social circles, exemplified by genre hits like Heathers and mean girls– seems such an obvious choice for a Patricia Highsmith adaptation Strangers on a train it’s amazing that no one has thought of it before now. Technically, Celeste Ballard and director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s screenplay isn’t a straight-up adaptation, though it does follow a plot hatched at a prep school in Yummy by the humiliated queen bee Drea (Camila Mendes) and the new eccentric classmate Eleanor (Maya Hawke) to eliminate the individuals who, respectively, made the other’s life miserable. To the filmmakers’ credit, they’re not here to make one of those teen films that’s overly enamored with its own hip jargon and aware of contemporary high school anthropology, although they do get excellent material from the need to appear progressive. They mostly want to do a somewhat sour teen comedy, built on performances that portray familiar types while becoming characters in their own right, and they do it with some pretty solid jokes. It’s less effective when Do Revenge almost seems compelled to introduce romantic interests for Drea and Eleanor, almost exclusively for the purpose of disappointing someone when their plot (inevitably) goes awry. Fortunately, it finds a satisfying dark comedy formula in the heady effect of teenage popularity and the psychedelic wounds inflicted at this age for the smallest of reasons. Available September 16 via Netflix. (TV-MA)

God’s Country ***
Like another Sundance 2022 attendee Master, is the story of a black woman in academia and how that role relates to larger societal racism; this one better covers some of the same ground, while also finding a few new frustrations. Thandiwe Newton plays Cassandra Guidry, a professor in a small college town in Mountain West who finds herself locked in an escalating battle of wills with two local hunters (Joris Jarsky and Jefferson White) who insist on using her remote property as hunting access. Co-writer/director Julian Higgins gives Cassandra some dense backstory – including her complicated relationship with her recently deceased mother and her pre-academic life in her native New Orleans – which certainly helps illuminate how she reacts perceived disrespect and injustice. Newton infuses his performance with a seething anger that tiptoes just to the edge of where we recognize his outrage as right, and wonder if it tips over to that edge, while Higgins creates tension with the way he stands. sometimes holds back from letting us see what Cassandra is up to. . It’s also a narrative that ultimately tries to dig in from several different angles on how those in authority fail in their responsibilities, which makes it a bit overloaded, and the one climactic blow doesn’t entirely work to complete the character of Cassandra. bow. It’s a good thing the rest of this arc provides so much meaty stuff. Available September 16 in theaters. (R)

It’s understandable that the emotional part of this story is where director Isabel Castro’s heart is, but the structural mess makes it a little harder to connect with those emotions. The main subject is Doris Muñoz, the first-generation American citizen daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, whose career as a talent manager for Latinx musical artists hits a snag when she loses her first and most successful client, pop star Cuco; afterward, Doris contacts Dallas-based Jacks Haupt, also a first-generation U.S. citizen, who might be the next big thing Doris is looking for. Castro has a terrific eye for creating images that are more than purely functional, adding to the luster of an American Dream story. She also finds individual moments great, like Doris collapsing under the pressure of supporting so many people financially, and Jacks dealing with an uncomfortable phone call with her parents. Unfortunately, Castro leaves important questions unanswered: After three years, was Cuco still his only client? What is the professional relationship between Doris and the agency to which she refers Jacks? Why doesn’t Jacks have the information about the financial compensation his mother is asking for? It’s also not easy to catch up on Jacks’ story after the first half focused on Doris, and Jacks also disappears from the back half as Castro focuses on Doris’ parents’ efforts to get green cards, allowing them to visit Doris’ deported older brother. . The characters’ bumpy journey makes it easier to ground them, while the bumpy storytelling makes it harder to know exactly what we’re looking for. Available September 16 via Disney+. (NR)

See how they work ** 1/2
There are times when a movie’s meta-narrative attempts to make sure it’s plugged into the tropes of its genre make you even more irritated that it can’t truly transcend those tropes – and here’s an example. In 1953 in London, Agatha Christie’s The Mouse Trap is in the early months of its historic run, with a Hollywood film version already in the works – until the murder of the planned film’s director (Adrien Brody) creates a real-life mystery for Scotland Yard’s deadpan inspector to solve. Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and his serious young partner, Agent Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). The interaction between the two investigators provides the strongest moments, with Ronan’s gung-ho manner landing particularly well. But at the end of the day, it’s essentially a conventional thriller, mixing real-life figures like Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) and producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) into its cast of suspects. At some point, such a movie has to either be smarter about its actual mystery or smarter about deconstructing the expectations built into a mystery – and See how they work mostly just kind of snooping on both counts, with a few hearty laughs and too little investment in the killer’s motives. Self-aware voiceover and reminders of previous references cannot simply be an end in itself. Available September 16 in theaters. (PG-13)

The silent twins ***
Anyone who’s seen director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s crazy 2015 mermaid thriller the lure knows she has a gift for surreal imagery; here, she manages to anchor it in a tragic lived story. Working from an adaptation by Andrea Siegel of Marjorie Wallace’s non-fiction book, Smoczynska explores the lives of June and Jennifer Gibbons, twin sisters of immigrants from Barbados living in Wales in the 1970s as young girls (Leah Mondesir-Simmonds and Eva-Arianna Baxter) and early 1980s teens (Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance), choosing to communicate verbally almost exclusively with each other. The narrative traces the inability of the British school system to cope with their unique psychology, which Siegel and Smoczynska explain very little as being related to their status as an outsider as the only black children in their town. However, they dig deep into the fantasy worlds they create, often represented by stop-motion animation of the girls’ own stories. And The Silent Twins is at its best when it juxtaposes the worlds in their heads with the real world, especially in a scene where Jennifer’s romantic perception of her first sexual experience clashes with what’s really going on. The performances of the two pairs of actors capture an intimate relationship, sometimes volatile, and intertwined with versions of themselves as much imagined as real. Available September 16 in theaters. (R)

The woman king ***
Crowd-goers come in all shapes and sizes, and despite the historical and sociological roots of director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s period piece, it’s 100% designed for enthusiastic audiences. In 1823 West Africa, tribal rivalries contribute to the European slave trade, with the Kingdom of Dahomey battling against an opposing alliance. But they and their new king Ghezo (John Boyega) have a secret weapon: an army of female warriors called Agojie, led by General Nanisca (Viola Davis). The main story arc belongs to Agojie’s new recruit, Nawi (a formidable Thuso Mbedu), whose initiation into the warrior brotherhood is unnecessarily complicated by a possible connection with a half-Dahomey Brazilian (Jordan Bolger), while Nanisca faces a half-hearted palace. intrigue fomented by one of Ghezo’s women. Fortunately, these less compelling subplots don’t detract from the much more interesting relationships Nawi builds, both with Nawi and with her more direct mentor, Izogie (Lashana Lynch), which generate wonderful character relationships. Prince-Bythewood does a solid job of staging its action, but the battles aren’t exactly there to be spectacular. They’re there to underscore how absolutely badass Nanisca Davis is, and to fight against the sheer movie gratification of watching African warriors dismantle their opposition. Is it a perfect story in the details? Hell if I know, and I don’t care when the entertainment value is this high. Available September 16 in theaters. (PG-13)

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