Movie Reviews: New Releases for Feb. 18 | Buzz Blog

Friday, February 18, 2022

Movie Reviews: New Releases for Feb. 18

Uncharted, Dog, The Worst Person in the World, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and more

Posted By on February 18, 2022, 12:01 AM

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click to enlarge Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland in Uncharted - SONY PICTURES
  • Sony Pictures
  • Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland in Uncharted
A Banquet ***
How do you deal with a horror film where every part of the build-up seems to be working, but you can’t fully make sense of the payoff? That’s the complicated question arising from this tale of a woman named Holly (Sienna Guillory) trying to maintain normalcy for her two teen daughters, Betsey (Jessica Alexander) and Isabelle (Ruby Stokes), after the death of her husband. But the family faces even more turmoil when Betsey has an experience that leaves her unwilling—or unable—to eat anything, and convinced she’s a harbinger of the apocalypse. Director Ruth Paxton provides some terrific unsettling atmosphere, particularly a sound design that turns the simplest preparations of food into ominous portents. The tricky part comes in Justin Bull’s script, which seems to be wrestling with quite a few different things at once: the pressures on a generation that’s expected to act like “the future” has the same meaning it did for its parents; the appeal of a religious awakening for those whose lives have been in chaos; the challenges of a mother dealing with a child’s mental illness, especially when she believes she’s the one who passed it on. It’s not as though a movie like this needs a clean and obvious resolution, but there are times when the allegorical gets literal, or vice-versa, in a way that blunts the impact. Best to just appreciate the creepy ride along the way, even if you might be scratching your head a bit when the credits roll. Available Feb. 18 in theaters and via VOD. (NR)

Catch the Fair One ***
Lean and stripped down to sinew and bone, writer/director Josef Kubota Wladyka’s film—developed from a story by lead actor Kali Reis—takes on a grim social issue without soapboxing, and with a simple narrative momentum. Reis plays Kaylee Uppeshau, a Native American professional boxer haunted by the disappearance two years earlier of her younger sister, Weeta (Mainaku Borrero). When she learns that Weeta may have been taken by sex traffickers, Kaylee goes undercover in an attempt to find her. The ensuing story is built entirely on Kaylee’s relentlessness in her quest, and what Reis (an actual-boxer-turned-actor) lacks in acting range, she makes up for in sheer physical presence and a delicate balance between Kaylee’s obvious physical prowess and her unfamiliarity with the grim world in which she’s immersing herself. That world gets pretty messy (and bloody) as Kaylee follows the leads, including the effective touch at showing these predators in lives where they live comfortably with their loved ones. If anything, Catch the Fair One is too free from fat, to the point where Kaylee could have used a bit more character depth conveying how she fell to her low point, and what inspired her to pull out of it, as well as context for the villains' blithely utilitarian treatment of women. But it builds to an effectively bleak denouement, one that isn’t conventionally satisfying except in the sense that we see the personal change that comes from fighting back. Available Feb. 18 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

The Cursed ***
Horror fare doesn’t have to be “about” something, so it’s mostly not a problem that writer/director Sean Ellis only skirts around the edges of giving his period genre piece—which showed in the Sundance 2021 Midnight section as Eight for Silver—thematic teeth to match its blood-drenched fangs. After a prologue set during World War I’s Battle of the Somme, Ellis flashes back to 1880s England, where landowner Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) oversees the execution of a band of Romani threatening his land rights. When mysterious happenings ensue—including the disappearance of Laurent’s young son and some grisly murders—pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) appears to assist with a case similar to one he experienced before. Ellis employs some fantastic directing choices, beginning with the way he shoots the slaughter at the Romani camp from a distance emphasizing Laurent thinking he can keep his hands clean. The monster stuff is also effectively gruesome, folding some terrifically unique body horror into his werewolf mythology. That’s only part of the folding-in Ellis is engaged with, and it might feel overstuffed to mix lycanthropy with this particular brand of gypsy curse crossed with Biblical roots and finger-wagging at rapacious capitalists. The rushed finale might not pay off its other notions, but there’s quite enough gory fun along the way for a satisfying, simple creature feature. Available Feb. 18 in theaters. (R)

click to enlarge Channing Tatum in Dog - MGM STUDIOS
  • MGM Studios
  • Channing Tatum in Dog
Dog **1/2
I feel bad for people who bring the whole family to see this movie based on TV ads selling it as a light-hearted puppy romp, and instead get a dark, uneven but at least interesting drama. Channing Tatum (who also co-directed with Magic Mike screenwriter Reid Carolin) stars as Briggs, an ex-Army Ranger Iraq veteran trying to scrape his life back together after a traumatic brain injury forced him out of the service. In return for a favor from his ex-captain, Briggs agrees to drive Lulu, a PTSD-afflicted military dog, from Oregon to Arizona for the funeral of Lulu’s handler/Briggs’ Army buddy. While this would usually be the place for a snarky “hijinks ensue” comment, there’s actually relatively little in the hijinks department, which even then feels less hijinks-y because Lulu isn’t simply a rambunctious doggo, but traumatized by violence. Briggs, of course, has his own trauma, and it takes about a second-and-a-half to understand the parallel of two war veterans whose “thank you for your service” is followed by a tacit “now you’re on your own.” But Tatum’s natural charisma takes on a bit of an edge here, which helps carry through an episodic adventure with some weird tonal shifts and obvious post-production chopping (Q’orianka Kilcher, as Briggs’ ex, gets about 20 seconds of face time). It’s odd, more than slightly angry, and definitely not for kids—unless you feel like explaining that a freaked-out Lulu is cock-blocking Briggs’ attempt at a threesome. Available Feb. 18 in theaters. (PG-13)

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing ***1/2
On a fundamental level, you have to judge a creative work based on what it’s trying to do—and as a piece of cinematic investigative journalism, meant to give a broad audience an understanding of a complex subject, Rory Kennedy’s movie is very nearly flawless. Her subject covers two fatal crashes, in October 2018 and March 2019, both of which involved the relatively new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Kennedy digs into the new technology behind the catastrophic errors—an automated system intended to correct for high angles of ascent—and the utterly unsurprising attempts by Boeing to blame the crashes on pilot error rather than their failure to inform the pilots that this new system even existed. From there, she moves on to a history of the Boeing company culture, and the impact of the 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas on processes that once prioritized safety, but rapidly started prioritizing maximizing stock price. What’s remarkable about her approach is that it feels built on anticipating every question a viewer might have, and answering it in the clearest language possible, with a kind of relentlessness that emphasizes the sheer weight of evidence rather than appeals to emotionalism. Yes, family members of those who died in these crashes appear on camera, and their stories are not inconsequential. But there’s almost surgical efficiency to Kennedy’s narrative choices that makes it devastating simply by understanding how to present the facts. Available Feb. 18 via Netflix. (SR)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre *1/2
For nearly 50 years, people have been trying to cash in on the brand-name of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 creation, adding glossier production and/or more subtext without ever managing to capture the primal terror and DIY aesthetic of the original. This latest franchise cash-in attempts goes the “legacy-quel” route, with a quartet of young people—aspiring restaurant entrepreneurs Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore), Dante’s girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson) and Melody’s younger sister Lila (Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher)—arriving to revitalize the small Texas town where the O.G. Leatherface (Mark Burnham) still resides, and remains remarkably spry and murder-y at 70-ish. The original Texas Chainsaw’s “final girl” Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, replacing Marilyn Burns) is also around with a score to settle, and in case that’s not enough to check the “trauma” box, Chris Thomas Devlin’s script also makes Lila a survivor of a school shooting. But the real bullshit here comes from how profoundly reactionary nearly everything is: the idea that the real problem in small-town Texas is carpetbagging gentrifiers; making a gag out of Leatherface dispatching a youth who says he’s “cancelled;” a strong suggestion that the only way for a victim of gun violence to recover emotionally is to fire off a few rounds at a bad guy. Director David Blue Garcia finds some menace in his moments of silence, but nothing here recognizes the power of pure chaotic evil, not when it seems cooler to kill someone by stabbing him in the neck with his own compound-fractured ulna. Available Feb. 18 via Netflix. (R)

Uncharted **
As a video-game mostly-agnostic, I can’t speak to whether the casting of Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg captures the essence of Uncharted’s PlayStation game roots; I can suggest that they don’t capture the essence of a freewheeling cinematic adventure. Holland plays Nate Drake, a petty thief recruited by soldier-of-fortune Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg) into a long-gestating plan to find a fortune in gold hidden 500 years earlier by Ferdinand Magellan. That plan once involved Nate’s long-missing older brother, and Holland certainly captures the wounded puppy quality required for that sympathetic back-story. But as likeable a screen presence as Holland is, he lacks anything resembling the rascally rough edges of a rogue who might need to get his hands dirty, or seem like a sexual being rather than an annoying kid brother to Sully’s other partner, Chloe (Sophia Ali). And while Wahlberg does have that edge, his bland whine of an acting style sabotages any potential for charm in Sully’s growth as a character. Director Ruben Fleischer’s fun stuff at least kicks into high gear during the third act, capitalizing on the outrageousness of free-falls from planes, and fistfights on the decks of Spanish galleons being carried through the air by helicopter. A whole lot of this thing, however, involves a twisty treasure hunt that requires chemistry between its leads, and they end up mixing like water and … a different brand of water. Available Feb. 18 in theaters. (PG-13)

The Worst Person in the World ****
See feature review. Available Feb. 18 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)

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