Mini Reviews (June 2018)
Hotel Artemis, The Child Remains, On Chesil Beach, Pyewacket, Black Cop, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Rage, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, Dead Awake, Tag, Jetsons: The Movie
Hotel Artemis (June 2/18)
Set within a dystopian future, Hotel Artemis details the comings and goings within a secret, members-only emergency room (and hotel, obviously) exclusively for criminals - with the narrative following the establishment's sole medical professional (Jodie Foster's Jean Thomas) as she attempts to care for a wide variety of disparate lawbreakers (including Sterling K. Brown's Waikiki, Sofia Boutella's Nice, and Charlie Day's Acapulco). It's a fairly intriguing premise that is, at the outset, employed to promising effect by writer/director Drew Pearce, as the filmmaker does an effective job of establishing the movie's admittedly inventive landscape and myriad of oddball characters - although, as one might've surmised based on the one-locale setup, it doesn't take too long before the film segues into a somewhat stagnant midsection. Pearce's decision to employ a decidedly episodic structure certainly plays a key role in perpetuating Hotel Artemis' uneven atmosphere, as the movie's midsection, which primarily revolves around the individual problems of the many protagonists, suffers from a palpable lack of momentum that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. And although the filmed-play vibe is alleviated by a smattering of strong scenes and a final act boasting some decent action, Pearce's inability to transform any of Hotel Artemis' characters into wholeheartedly interesting or sympathetic figures ultimately proves rather disastrous - with the end result a sporadically watchable yet mostly underwhelming sci-fi effort.
The Child Remains (June 4/18)
An astonishing misfire from the word go, The Child Remains follows expectant couple Rae (Suzanne Clement) and Liam (Allan Hawco) as they arrive at a secluded country inn for a weekend of rest and relaxation - with the meandering narrative detailing the chaos and horror that ensues after it becomes apparent that the aforementioned country inn isn't quite as sedate as it seems. Filmmaker Michael Melski kicks off The Child Remains with a jaw-droppingly amateurish prologue that doesn't exactly hold a lot of promise, as scripter Melski delivers an almost eye-rollingly familiar scenario that's compounded by shoddy performances and a less-than-compelling visual sensibility (ie the movie looks like it was shot on the cheap). The picture, from there, segues into a slow-moving and terminally uninvolving storyline riddled with decidedly tiresome elements, with things, around the midsection, going from bad to worse as Melski increasingly emphasizes Rae's aggressively tedious investigation into the inn's tortured past (ie this is just about the most hackneyed and overused trope within all of horror, and Melski stresses it to a downright unreasonable degree). By the time the endless climax rolls around, The Child Remains has undoubtedly confirmed its place as one of the most underwhelming and downright interminable genre flicks to come around in quite some time (and it's shocking, certainly, that the film has managed to secure a theatrical release).
no stars out of
On Chesil Beach (June 5/18)
Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach follows newly married couple Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) as they arrive at a beachside hotel on their wedding night - with the storyline weaving in a series of flashbacks designed to flesh out their respective pasts. It's in those flashbacks that On Chesil Beach ultimately flounders, as filmmaker Dominic Cooke, working from McEwan's screenplay, delivers a non-linear first half that's essentially dominated by erratic and somewhat tedious peeks into the protagonists' lives away from one another - with the narrative placing a specific emphasis on Florence and Edward's encounters with their individual families (including Edward's fractured relationship with his brain-damaged mother, played by Anne-Marie Duff). The problem is, though, that most of this stuff, in addition to hardly being as interesting as Cooke has intended, wreaks havoc on the movie's progressively tenuous momentum, and it's clear, subsequently, that one's efforts at working up any real sympathy for Florence and Edward's awkward situation fall hopelessly flat. There's little doubt, then, that On Chesil Beach improves substantially once Cooke embraces a more palpably linear feel, with the inclusion of a fairly electrifying confrontation between the central couple triggering an emotional and heartbreaking final half hour - which, though not quite enough to compensate for the distressingly week first half, at least ensures that the picture ends on a decidedly positive note.
Pyewacket (June 6/18)
Written and directed by Adam MacDonald, Pyewacket follows morose teenager Leah Reyes (Nicole Muñoz) as she inadvertently unleashes an evil force after performing an occult ritual designed to harm her mother (Laurie Holden). It's a decidedly horrific premise that is, for the most part, employed as a springboard for a deliberately-paced domestic drama, as filmmaker MacDonald devotes much of Pyewacket's running time to the fractured mother/daughter relationship between the disparate central characters - with the strong performances by both Muñoz and Holden certainly proving effective at holding one's attention throughout. The movie's undercurrent of overtly creepy elements (eg Leah's growing fascination with the occult) enhances the somewhat ominous atmosphere, although it remains clear that MacDonald is more interested in emphasizing mood over actual, legitimate scares - which subsequently paves the way for a second half that fares, by comparison, rather poorly. This is especially true of a climactic stretch that simply isn't able to deliver the thrills and shocks one might've anticipated, which does ensure that the picture concludes on a fairly underwhelming note - thus confirming Pyewacket's place as a decent (yet flawed) genre exercise.
Black Cop (June 7/18)
Written and directed by Cory Bowles, Black Cop follows the nameless title character (Ronnie Rowe) as he snaps in the wake of a charged encounter with a racist fellow police officer. It's clear almost immediately that Bowles isn't looking to deliver a conventional narrative here, as Black Cop boasts a whole host of elements designed to further the filmmaker's decidedly less-than-subtle agenda - with the movie's continuing emphasis, for example, on the protagonist's angry narration (and straight-to-the-camera monologues) certainly perpetuating Bowles' angry modus operandi. The film's predictably episodic structure only perpetuates the somewhat hands-off atmosphere, although it's equally clear that Black Cop benefits substantially from an assortment of overtly positive attributes - with, especially, Rowe's commanding performance heightening the impact of several key sequences (eg his character's aforementioned encounter with a racist police officer). There's little doubt, however, that the picture simply doesn't possess enough momentum to consistently sustain one's interest, with Bowles' decision to increasingly stress instances of speechifying paving the way for a somewhat lackluster final stretch (ie the picture is more and more akin to sitting through an admittedly impassioned lecture) - which finally does confirm Black Cop's place as a seriously striking yet ultimately unsuccessful debut effort from a promising new filmmaker.
Won't You Be My Neighbor? (June 7/18)
An entertaining documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor? explores the life and times of Fred Rogers and the impact his iconic television show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, has (and has continued to have) over the years. There's little doubt that Won't You Be My Neighbor? suffers from a somewhat underwhelming opening stretch, as director Morgan Neville delivers a fairly repetitive first half that's compounded by an oral-history structure - with far too much emphasis placed on various figures essentially describing the show and its oddball attributes (eg Rogers' many puppets). The movie benefits, then, especially in its early stages, from an ongoing inclusion of fascinating tidbits and stories (eg Rogers addresses RFK's assassination, etc), and it's worth noting, too, that Neville doesn't shy away from the more controversial aspects of Rogers' story (eg his initial reluctance to allow a gay performer to come out). It's only as Won't You Be My Neighbor? progresses into its increasingly engrossing second half that the movie becomes more than just a filmed Wikipedia entry, as Neville infuses the proceedings with a surprisingly melancholic feel that's perpetuated and heightened by a series of emotionally-charged moments (eg Rogers' encounter with a disabled boy) - with Neville ultimately confirming the film's success by ending it on an unexpectedly moving grace note. It's a powerful ending that's not terribly indicative of the erratic nature of what preceded it, and yet it's difficult not to walk away from Won't You Be My Neighbor? without holding a whole new respect for its affable central figure.
Rage (June 7/18)
Generally awful and without redeeming qualities, Rage follows Nicolas Cage's Paul Maguire as he embarks on a campaign of violence after his daughter (Aubrey Peeples' Caitlin) is kidnapped - with the movie detailing Paul's increasingly vicious quest and ongoing efforts at eluding a grizzled detective (Danny Glover's Peter St. John). It's clear immediately that there's little within Rage designed to capture and sustain one's interest, as filmmaker Paco Cabezas, working from James Agnew and Sean Keller's screenplay, delivers a deliberately-paced narrative that's compounded by an almost total lack of compelling elements - with, especially, Cage's apathetic performance perpetuating the movie's terminally tedious vibe. It doesn't help, either, that Cabezas has infused the proceedings with an aggressively low-rent sensibility, with the movie's bland visuals transforming far too many sequences into sub-soap-opera-level disasters. (The story's action-oriented moments fare even worse, as such interludes are weighed down by poorly-executed and wholly needless bursts of style.) The inclusion of a decent third-act twist and a surprisingly strong closing stretch is ultimately not enough to compensate for what precedes it, and it is, in the end, impossible to label Rage as anything more than just another blatant cash-grab from Cage (which is sad, certainly, given how dynamic and electrifying he once was as a performer).
Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (June 11/18)
An agreeable riff on Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong details the easy friendship that ensues between a pair of Americans in Hong Kong - with the narrative following Bryan Greenberg's Josh and Jamie Chung's Ruby as they spend several fateful hours walking, talking, and getting to know one another. There's little doubt that Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong fares best in its breezy, compulsively watchable opening half hour, as filmmaker Emily Ting, having superbly established the two central characters, does an effective job of capturing the spontaneity and electricity of Josh and Ruby's initial encounter and ensuing conversation - with the compelling vibe heightened by the palpable chemistry between Greenberg and Chung. It's just as clear, however, that the picture begins to sag somewhat demonstrably as it enters its rather underwhelming midsection, as the story jumps ahead a year and catches up with the affable protagonists at a time where they're both seeing other people - which certainly mutes the impact and effectiveness of the pair's mid-movie exploits (ie the first act's irresistible sexual tension is almost entirely absent during this stretch). And although the film recovers for an agreeably romantic finale, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong has, by that point, cemented its fate as a woefully uneven endeavor that's topped off with a frustratingly ambiguous conclusion - with the movie's success due almost entirely to the completely winning work from stars Greenberg and Chung.
Dead Awake (June 12/18)
Hopelessly dull and astonishingly amateurish, Dead Awake follows Jocelin Donahue's Kate Bowman as she begins investigating the mysterious death of her identical twin, Beth (also Donahue) - with Kate eventually discovering that Beth suffered from sleep paralysis and was, during an episode of such, murdered by a sinister demonic entity. It's clear immediately that Dead Awake boasts few attributes designed to capture and sustain one's interest, as director Phillip Guzman, working from Jeffrey Reddick's padded-out screenplay, delivers a slow-moving narrative that's rife with underwhelming, incompetent elements - including barely-passable performances, a complete and total lack of scares, and a decidedly low-rent sense of style. (The latter is especially pronounced and egregious, as the movie, shot by cinematographer Dominique Martinez, remains saddled with an often aggressively bland visual sensibility from start to finish.) There's never a point at which the mystery behind Beth's passing becomes even remotely as compelling as Guzman has obviously intended, which, given that the entirety of the movie's midsection is devoted to it, certainly ensures that large swaths of the picture come off as entirely irrelevant and utterly tedious. By the time the predictably ineffective climax rolls around, Dead Awake has undoubtedly confirmed its place as an especially abhorrent direct-to-streaming horror debacle.
Tag (June 16/18)
A forgettable yet entertaining comedy, Tag follows a group of friends (Ed Helms' Hoagie, Jon Hamm's Bob, Jake Johnson's Chilli, Hannibal Buress' Kevin, and Jeremy Renner's Jerry) as their annual game of tag takes a more intense turn after Jerry announces he's retiring from the event. First-time filmmaker Jeff Tomsic admittedly does an effective job of initially capturing the viewer's interest, as Tag opens with a thoroughly entertaining sequence in which Hoagie successfully lands a job at Bob's successful company for the sole purpose of "tagging" him - with the palpably irreverent vibe heightened by the affable, agreeable performances by Helms and Hamm (and this is to say nothing of the rest of the cast's continually ingratiating work here). It's only as the picture segues into its somewhat repetitive midsection that one's attention begins to flag, with the decidedly thin premise paving the way for a stitched-together narrative held together mostly by the charisma of the cast. (There is, as such, little doubt that the movie is at its best when focused on quieter, character-based moments.) The amusing but disposable atmosphere ensures that the climactic stretch doesn't fare quite as well as intended (nor does it pack the emotional punch Tomsic is obviously striving for), which certainly confirms Tag's place as a sitcom-level cinematic endeavor that passes the time without achieving much else.
Jetsons: The Movie (June 19/18)
Based on the '60s television show, Jetsons: The Movie follows affable protagonist George Jetson (George O'Hanlon) as he's forced to uproot his family (Penny Singleton's Jane, Tiffany's Judy, Patric Zimmerman's Elroy, Don Messick's Astro, and Jean Vander Pyl's Rosie the Robot) after he's promoted to vice president of a new factory on a distant planet - with complications ensuing as it becomes clear that someone is sabotaging efforts to get said new factory off the ground. It's perhaps not surprising to note that Jetsons: The Movie generally plays like a padded-out episode of the show, as directors Joseph Barbera and William Hanna deliver a fairly tame narrative that's lacking in elements designed to expand the previously-established world into a big-screen endeavor (ie the whole thing just feels so small and by the numbers). There's little doubt, as well, that Barbera and Hanna's efforts at cultivating new viewers ensures that the picture feels oddly dated at key moments, with the most obvious example of this the ongoing emphasis on '90s music and, particularly, the songs of cast member Tiffany. And yet, despite such deficiencies, Jetsons: The Movie remains perfectly watchable throughout its briskly-paced running time and it's clear, ultimately, that the picture will appeal predominantly to fans of the original series (ie it seems extremely unlikely that neophytes to the Jetsons universe will be won over by this palpably erratic cinematic adaptation).