It’s a big week for new releases with an anticipated theater release, a high-profile horror re-make and a new Marvel Special. Those and more are covered in my review roundup below! If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Starring: Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robbie, Taylor Swift, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor Joy, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, and Robert de Niro
Synopsis: The latest from David O. Russell is loosely based on a true story. How much of it is true, well that’s a question that is somewhat answered in the closing moments. Mostly, this story is a tale of friendship and true love. It focuses on Burt (Bale), a doctor whose in-laws force him to serve in Europe in World War I. There, he’s given command of a new regiment of soldiers that aren’t widely accepted by the Army. He befriends Harold (Washington) and they pledge to keep each other alive. After managing to do just that, they end up in a hospital where a nurse, Valerie (Robbie), keeps them alive. Soon, the three travel to Amsterdam where their friendship grows and they recover. When Burt feels the pull to return to his wife (Andrea Risborough) in New York, it breaks up their trio. More than a decade later, Burt is working as a doctor and teaming with Harold, now a lawyer. When they’re pulled into a mystery, a young woman dies and the two find themselves the prime suspects. They turn to their old friend Valerie, and her brother Tom (Malek), to try and get them out of the jam. Their efforts to solve the mystery lead them on a wild adventure connecting back to nefarious forces at home and back in Europe. This is a wild journey. It’s meant to be something of a screwball comedy and while it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, it’s clever. I enjoyed the ride and I enjoyed the performances of Bale, Washington and Robbie in the lead role. The potential doesn’t always land. There are a lot of threads going on and not all of them are as fleshed out as they should or could be. It also wasn’t a big surprise who turned out to be the nefarious party. The twist was more predictable than the film intended. Still, I enjoyed the ride for what it was and I enjoyed the clever storytelling style.
Rating: Rated R for brief violence and bloody images.
Catherine Called Birdy (Amazon Prime)
Starring: Bella Ramsey, Andrew Scott, Billie Piper and Joe Alywn
Synopsis: This new film comes from writer/director Lena Dunham. It focuses on Catherine, called Birdy (Ramsey), who just turned 14. She’s a girl but on the cusp of becoming a woman. She’s also a bit of a handful for her parents, Lord Rollo (Scott) and Lady Aislinn (Piper), who are running out of money. Catherine, as it turns out, is one of their only assets, they just need to find her a good and wealthy match. Catherine has other plans and seeks to thwart her parents’ effort to marry her off to the highest bidder. Hilarity ensues. At least that’s part of the plan here. Ramsey is the narrator and brings a lot of her personality and spunk to the role, something she’s displayed in spades in previous projects, including Game of Thrones. I enjoyed some of the writing here and I like Ramsey. I think she’s got a bright future. Much of the story, however, felt a bit tedious. It also felt similar to other stories in this genre. There wasn’t enough effort to flesh out all the characters and add into the story. The cast is fine but that’s sort of the theme of the film itself—it’s fine but nothing special.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and thematic elements.
Starring: Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, and Goran Visnjic
Synopsis: The original Hellraiser was released in 1987. Based on the story from Clive Barker, it spawned 10 sequels and re-makes, including this new version released Friday on Hulu. I’ve never been a big fan, nor am I familiar with all the iterations, but I dove into this one, meant to serve as a modern update of the story. In it, a recovering addict, Riley (A’zion), comes across a puzzle box. It soon pulls her into the world of the Cenobites, a group that draws pleasure from pain and requires sacrifices before bringing a new acolyte a chance at one of six prizes. Riley’s brother (Starkey) is one of the first sacrifices to disappear, so she clings to the promise of the lead Cenobite, The Priest (Clayton), that she might be able to bring him back by completing the cycle. Instead, Riley and her friends are just pawns in the game of another (Visnjic), who has plans of his own. Who will win and who will survive? This is a dark and gothic film, full of plenty of violence and gore. Fans of the franchise will be happy to see it back and Clayton does a nice job in the main antagonist role, often referred to as pinhead. This feels like the kind of release you’d be expecting in October and should be a decent draw for Hulu. I thought it was OK. It was more violent than thrilling, which is OK but it’s my cup of tea in terms of horror films. A’zion is solid in the lead role and this delivers about what you’d expect.
Rating: Rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity.
Luckiest Girl Alive (Netflix)
Starring: Mila Kunis, Finn Wittrock, Connie Britton, Chiara Aurelia, and Jennifer Beals
Synopsis: Jennifer Knoll pens the script here based on her novel of the same name. Ani (Kunis) is an up-and-coming writer approaching her wedding day to Luke (Wittrock). But her life isn’t going quite as she’d hoped and when a painful incident from her past resurfaces, everything she’s worked hard to bury deep resurfaces. Soon, Ani discovers the only way to move forward is to go back and embrace the truth she’s long tried to keep a secret. There is a lot to unpack in this story but it takes its time getting to the truth of the inciting incident that gets referenced from early on in the film. The slow journey is made palatable by the work of Kunis as Ani and Aurelia as young Ani. Still, there are some tough things to see here, including rape and school violence. Despite the sometimes-meandering journey and the lack of depth in some of the characters, there is a surprising deal of emotion in the third act. The problem for me is the flashback sequences had much more power, at times, than what’s happening in the present, especially as the relationship between Ani and Luke never really clicks on screen. This is a fascinating film at times and ultimately the performance of Kunis helps save it.
Rating: Rated R for violent content, rape, sexual material, language throughout and teen substance use.
Werewolf by Night (Disney+)
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal and Laura Donnelly
Synopsis: Marvel is getting into the spirit of the spooky season with this special release. Running about 50 minutes, this is a short with a monster-movie feel. It takes place at night as a group of monster hunters gather to pass the torch, each seeking to gain possession of the bloodstone. It turns out one of those gathered isn’t what they appear to be. This is a well-produced and stylized story. It opens with credits that appear to be something right out of monster films from a bygone era. Much of the production is shot in black-and-white, which adds to the mood and feel of the production. I liked what director Michael Giacchino did to bring the story to life and the use of black-and-white with times of color. Bernal and Donnelly are solid in the lead roles and have good chemistry. The special moves at a good clip, draws you in and tells an interesting and self-contained story from the world. I’d be interested in seeing more in the future but for now this feels like a solid win for Disney+ and Marvel fans.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.