Movie Reviews: New Releases for June 25 | Buzz Blog

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Movie Reviews: New Releases for June 25

F9, Werewolves Within, Asia, Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide

Posted By on June 24, 2021, 9:00 AM

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click to enlarge Vin Diesel and John Cena in F9 - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • Vin Diesel and John Cena in F9
Asia ***
A premise that might have played as fundamentally melodramatic instead gives its emotion some jagged edges in writer/director Ruthy Pribar’s Israeli drama. Asia (Alena Yiv), a 35-year-old single-mother working as a nurse in Jerusalem, has a somewhat typical head-butting relationship with her teenage daughter, Vika (Shira Haas)—until Vika’s ALS-like degenerative neuromuscular condition begins to progress rapidly, changing the dynamic of their interactions. The early scenes of Asia’s hookups with guys in bars and an on-again/off-again affair with a co-worker suggest that this might be all about an irresponsible mom forced to do some real parenting, but Pribar doesn’t build her story around Asia needing to change. The relationship is both simpler and more complicated than that, addressing things that start to seem petty in familial conflict when real crisis emerges. And Pribar directs with confidence, as when she takes a scene of Vika in respiratory distress and cuts to images that refuse to wallow in the most tear-jerking composition. It’s a bit frustrating that Vika’s character isn’t as fully fleshed-out in the 85-minute running time; the fact that the title isn’t Asia & Vika should be a clue, but there’s still untapped potential there. The satisfaction comes in a tender reminder of all that comes with being a care-giver. Available June 25 via (NR)

F9: The Fast Saga **1/2
In 2017, I wrote that the Fast & Furious series, having transitioned from something about street racing to a multi-ethnic James Bond franchise, had “reached its late-period Roger Moore moment.” Apparently I was four years early, because here is its Moonraker. Dom (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and company are enlisted to prevent the activation of a device that can control all world computer systems—and pits them against Dom’s estranged brother Jakob (John Cena). After two decades, the series has grown thick with characters and sub-plots, resulting in an over-stuffed narrative that has to find room for all of these people plus flashbacks to Dom and Jakob’s formative youth. Fortunately, director Justin Lin has returned to the series with a flare for action direction that wasn’t always on display in his earlier installments, resulting in some wonderfully over-the-top set pieces, including a chase through the streets of Edinburgh and the creative employment of some high-powered magnets. Lin and his screenwriting team decide to be almost comically self-aware of both the preposterousness of the things these people survive, and the way viewers can turn repetitions of the word “family” into a dangerous drinking game. But when you’ve reached the point where you’re literally launching cars into space, it’s a fine line between enjoying that preposterousness, and wondering why one of the world’s craziest action franchises builds its sentimental story beats around the emoting skills of Vin Diesel. Available June 25 in theaters. (PG-13)

Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide ***
“I thought you were dead,” artist Kenny Scharf recalls someone saying to him, adding that he interpreted the meaning as, “You should be dead.” The curious case of an artist who seems to have outlived his time—working in an idiom that makes it even harder to be treated like a “serious artist”—permeates this documentary about Kenny Scharf, a contemporary and frequent collaborator of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring in the early-’80s East Village art scene, still alive and working in a Southern California studio. Scharf’s daughter Malia co-directs (with Max Basch), so there’s an access and affection that goes beyond “objectivity.” It’s nevertheless interesting to revisit that early-’80s era and its playful experimentation with the goal of democratizing accessibility to art, while noting that Scharf’s embrace of cartoons and other pop -imagery made his work more accessible even as it got less respect. And there’s a bit of tragedy to Scharf’s struggles to continue making a living as an artist just because he was part of a moment, and (as one interview subject notes), “when the moment was over, it was passé.” Like many docs of this kind, we get a few too many talking heads offering the same laudatory words, but also a reminder that living artists can still be great artists. Available June 25 via (NR)

Sweet Thing ***
Writer/director Alexandre Rockwell brings the whole family to his lo-fi coming-of-age tale, and only really stumbles when he feels obliged to give the tale some “incident.” Teenager Billie and her younger brother Nico (Rockwell’s children, Lana Rockwell and Nico Rockwell) don’t have terrific options where their parents are concerned—first living with their alcoholic father (Will Patton), then, after he’s sentenced to a recovery program, with their mom (Rockwell’s wife Karyn Parsons) and her abusive boyfriend (M.L. Josepher). But when they meet a similarly adrift teen named Malik (Jabari Watkins), they wonder if they might be better off on their own. Rockwell shoots mostly on black-and-white film, employing iris transitions and some vintage music in a way that gives the movie a throwback vibe. And when the story is most casually observational, the young actors are terrific at conveying the disturbing realities of their situation, particularly Lana Rockwell as Billie is forced to take responsibility not just for Nico but for her father, while Patton delivers amazing drunken meltdowns. The violent plot points that push the protagonists into odd directions play a bit more over-the-top than this narrative seems to need, losing track of the potent snapshots of kids forced to grow up far too quickly. Available June 25 via (NR)

Werewolves Within ***

It doesn’t take more than a few seconds for director Josh Ruben to clue you in on the goofy-creepy direction he has in mind when the ominous music hits its shock-slam finale on a quote by Mister Rogers. That also proves to be a solid thematic clue as to where screenwriter Mishna Wolff takes this video-game adaptation set in an isolated Vermont town, where newly-arrived National Forest Service ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) stumbles upon the possibility of a lycanthrope terrorizing the area. Structurally, this is basically a “locked room mystery” built around the question of who (if anyone) is the supernatural predator, with a terrific cast of “I know that face” supporting players like Wayne Duvall, Michaela Watkins and AT&T commercial “star” Milana Vayntrub. While the horror stuff feels like it all comes in a rush, the comedy is consistently solid as the jokes are anchored in the character behavior, rather than arch self-awareness. And it somehow all works as an allegory for divided communities, and how easy it is for a monster to tear us apart when we’ve already got a head start on tearing each other apart. Available June 25 in theaters and via VOD. (R)

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