Movie reviews: new for March 18

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  • Hulu
  • Ben Affleck in deep waters

Cheaper by the dozen *1/2

I’m sure the creative team behind this latest adaptation of the 1948 book – director Gail Lerner and screenwriters Kenya Barris & Jennifer Rice-Genzuk, all former Blackish– had the best intentions of making the core family not just united, but multiracial. It’s just such awkward to watch them stir up complex sociological issues in the mellow, family atmosphere of this film. Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union play Paul and Zoey, whose family numbers a dozen people, including biological siblings, half-siblings, adoptees, and Paul’s troubled nephew. Complications arise when the family’s restaurant business takes off and the fresh cash that comes with it changes their entire lives. The narrative is densely packed with subplots, not just for the individual kids, but for Paul and Zoey’s respective exes (Erika Christensen and Timon Kyle Durrett), to the extent that it feels more like a series pilot at times. But the real mess comes from the juxtaposition of the slapstick chaos of the mornings when everyone leaves for school with the microaggressions faced by Zoey and the BIPOC kids in the family’s upscale new neighborhood. There’s just no practical way to go from “will Paul realize he’s losing focus on his family” to “how does Zoey explain to her black kids that he’s dangerous for them to have toy guns outside the house” in a way that doesn’t. turning the latter into a weird punch line. Yeah, combining a white family and a black family in America is going to involve some tough stuff; a whimsical Disney comedy just isn’t the place to go. Available March 18 via Disney+. (PG)

Deep waters ***1/2
When it comes to trash cinema, there’s “trash” and then there’s “Adrian Lyne trash” – the kind of brilliant provocateur the director mastered in the late 80s and early 90s with Fatal attraction, 9-1/2 weeks and Indecent Proposal. Twenty years after her last feature, Lyne delivers something that would have been right at home in her heyday: an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel about jealousy and murder. Wealthy, independent ex-engineer Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck) keeps a precarious grip on his marriage to his unstable wife, Melinda (Ana de Armas), by ‘allowing’ her to have lovers so she won’t leave not, except that he may not be “allowing” some of these lovers to live. Although the story is set in New Orleans, Deep Water doesn’t lean into sweaty Southern Gothic, instead focusing on character dynamics. And both tracks are terrific: Affleck beaming with simmering hostility, and de Armas capturing the kind of understated madness that some guys all too easily equate with sexy. The script even does a great job of showing what parents like these would do to a child, as Vic and Melinda’s (Grace Jenkins) 6-year-old daughter appears to be a budding sociopath herself. The pacing drags more than a little as the narrative weaves through the “who did what to whom” questions, but Lyne still manages to keep things sleek, enjoying a little stalgia of trash. of three decades in a way that does not. just feel like a greatest hits mash-up. Available March 18 via Hulu. (R)

Master **
Each piece of allegorical horror doesn’t need to be neat and tidy in its thematic touchpoints, but it feels like writer/director Mariama Diallo is casting a net so wide that she catches everything without really s cling to anything. At a liberal arts college in the East, two black women — incoming freshman Jasmine (Zoe Renee) and dormitory faculty representative/headmistress Gail (Regina Hall) — try to settle into their new roles, in a place where a history of racism and violence haunts him like a ghost, perhaps literally. Much of what follows becomes a case study of persistent microaggressions, from a library worker having to search Jasmine’s bag, to conversations about who “earned” tenure involving Gail’s black colleague ( Amber Gray). But Diallo ultimately tries to connect this material with supernatural stories of witch hangings – which definitely blurs the specifically racist subtext – and student suicides, and neither the director’s uneven visual approach to this material nor the type of high-profile phenomena we see helps shine a light on the real-world experience of being a black woman in a space controlled by white men, especially when a belated reveal pivots in a whole new direction. All performances are fully committed to the intensity of the experience; the experience itself keeps changing from moment to moment. Available March 18 in theaters and via Amazon Prime. (NR)

The outfit ***1/2
See feature review. Available March 18 in theaters. (R)

The torch ***
It would have been easy enough to make a conventional biopic about blues guitar legend Buddy Guy, but director Jim Farrell is aiming for something a little richer by exploring the sense of responsibility blues keepers feel to pass it on. as sent to them. We get Guy – just after his 80th birthday when much of this was shot – sharing memories of his childhood on a sharecropping farm in Louisiana, through his early career after moving to Chicago in 1957. But there Also spending time on Guy’s work with teenage guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan, whom Guy discovered when Sullivan was just 7, began mentoring and touring with him. Combined with Guy’s memories of following in the footsteps of his own musical idols like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, we get a beautiful portrait of artists choosing to pay it forward and carry on a legacy. Farrell may be spending a little too much time allowing other rather sheltered Guys fans, notably Carlos Santana, to share loads of anecdotes that don’t necessarily have much to do with the film’s central theme. . When Farrell Is staying focused on this theme and allowing its main subject to be both entertaining storyteller and lovable teacher, the result is something more than a great musician’s hagiography. Available March 18 on VOD. (NR)

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Bargain ***

There’s something about the title of a movie appearing on screen in quotes that promises a bit of throwback sensibility, and at its best, this tight little suspense thriller gets that sensibility. It opens with a man (Jason Segel) enjoying (sometimes literally) the fruits of breaking into the desert vacation home of a tech billionaire (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins). But when the couple arrives unexpectedly while the intruder is still on the scene, what should have been a harmless getaway turns into a hostage situation. The conceit of keeping the three main characters unnamed stacks the deck for the possibility that the interactions are somewhat archetypal: the capitalist asshole, the prominent common man, the unfortunate trophy wife. But while there are components of that dynamic in the script credited to Andrew Kevin Walker and Justin Lader (the latter a regular collaborator with director Charlie McDowell), the performances are all deft enough to find slightly different layers, particularly for the quietly intelligent reluctant Segel. kidnapper. McDowell’s management creates tension whenever needed – from toe tapping to a Collins’ slow walk to the edge of their property – with tremendous help from songwriters Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. The climax proves a little underwhelming, not entirely paying for the economic cynicism of everything that came before it, but Bargain still feels like a cinematic story that could have worked 60 years ago, in all the right ways. Available March 18 via Netflix. (R)

There’s more going on here than can be captured in one line of the operating log; it might take a while for me to decide how much more. But here’s that go-to for writer/director Ti West’s horror thread anyway: In 1979 Texas, a group of six young people rent a house on a rural farm to shoot a porn movie, unbeknownst to the couple. potentially dangerous old people who own the place. The flash-forward prologue doesn’t exactly make a secret that bloody mayhem will eventually ensue, though West takes a surprisingly long time to kick off the carnage. Along the way, it offers at least a few creative cinematic accomplishments, including a bird’s-eye view of one of the protagonists (Mia Goth) in the path of a dangerous pursuer. This is also where West sets up the thematic ideas – a mix of moral puritanism on the verge of the Reagan era and contemplation of the inevitable decay of flesh – which are individually compelling though they sometimes have the impression of colliding with each other without necessarily being complementary. The escalation of violence in the final half hour pretty much takes over the show, with a mixture of simple laugh-inducing shock and elaborate gore, but I can’t quite help but think about how which this bundle of blood, guts, and T&A also made me consider how some sexual negativity could be a form of grief for missed opportunities in your younger self. Available March 18 in theaters. (R)

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