Movie Reviews: New Releases for Sept. 8-9 | Buzz Blog

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Movie Reviews: New Releases for Sept. 8-9

Pinocchio, Clerks III, Barbarian, Medieval and more

Posted By on September 8, 2022, 9:00 AM

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click to enlarge Tom Hanks in Pinocchio - DISNEY+
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  • Tom Hanks in Pinocchio
Barbarian ***
If narrative audacity alone were the measure of a film’s worthiness, writer/director Zach Cregger’s funky horror feature might be one of the movies of the year; as it stands, the excesses of ambition and some clunky execution can only knock things down a little. It opens on a rainy night in a Detroit neighborhood, where Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Airbnb rental to find that it’s been double-booked, forcing her to share the space for a night with fellow renter Keith (Bill Skarsgård). That set-up alone offers plenty of potential, with creaking doors in the middle of the night and just enough of Tess’s back-story—along with the simple realities of gender power dynamics—to make her suspicions about Keith perfectly reasonable. Then, just as things are getting truly batshit, Cregger pulls out the rug and sends us to a different place, then does it again to send us to a different time. It’s all remarkably effective at keeping a viewer completely uncertain where all this will ultimately go, even as it becomes clearer that Cregger wants to find different kinds of horror in sexual violence. He’s not quite deft enough at handling the “who is the real barbarian” subtext, nor at figuring out how to connect it to the reality of crumbling urban neighborhoods and “white flight.” But even when Barbarian stumbles, it does so while taking off at a dead sprint for unpredictability. Available Sept. 9 in theaters. (R)

Clerks III *1/2
“As long as you’re alive, you can always start another chapter,” says the ghost of Rebecca (Rosario Dawson) while visiting her husband Dante (Brian O’Halloran)—but that’s not the lesson one would reasonably take away from Kevin Smith’s latest visit to his View Askew-niverse. Dante and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are still working at the same New Jersey Quik Stop, albeit now as co-owners, but that normalcy is shaken by Randal’s “widowmaker” heart attack, which inspires him to make a movie based on his experiences. The story was clearly inspired by Smith’s own confrontation with mortality in 2018, which makes it truly frustrating that Randal’s story isn’t something original, but basically a rehash of Clerks and Clerks II, full of nudging references and just plain repetition. Smith wouldn’t be Smith without plenty of pop-culture-based jokes and cameo appearances, so there’s no way he’d pass on the chance to have Amy Sedaris as a doctor who drops a reference to The Mandalorian (in which she appears) just for the insider lulz. The movie itself just has no point, and gets extremely awkward when Smith tries to shoehorn the emotional weight of Dante’s grief into the other episodic foolishness. Other than acknowledging that post-legalization New Jersey is no longer a place where Jay (Jason Mewes) has to sell weed surreptitiously, nothing has changed. And it’s sad that someone would face death, get a chance to “start another chapter,” and instead just tell the same chapters he’s already told, with diminishing returns. Available Sept. 13-18 in theaters. (R)

Medieval ***
Co-writer/director Peter Jákl goes straight for the Braveheart formula in this period-piece story of a real-life rebel hero, but this is a formula of the “if it ain’t broke …” variety. Ben Foster stars as Jan Žižka, a Czech mercenary soldier circa 1402 who gets caught up in the battle between brothers Wenceslas (Karel Roden) and Sigismund (Matthew Goode) over the Bohemian throne, and possibly the title of Holy Roman Emperor. The political machinations—also involving the ransom of French princess Katherine (Sophie Lowe) to sway the involvement of her wealthy nobleman fiancé (Til Schweiger)—involves a lot of exposition at the outset, though Jákl has the good sense to hand most of it to Michael Caine. It’s not always easy to follow, especially given the various double-crosses and re-re-takings of Katherine, but Medieval balances it with plenty of solidly brutal action, and a terrific villainous henchman in Roland Møller’s Torak, who nails a moment sneaking an incredulous half-smile at Žižka’s exploits. And along the way, Jákl gets to offer a little salient commentary on the divine right of kings, and cruelties inflicted by those who claim they’re acting in God’s name. Foster gives Žižka a taciturn gravity that pairs well with Lowe’s earnestness, serving a swords-clanging, arrows-flying adventure that breaks little new ground, but reminds you why this ground is worth re-visiting. Available Sept. 9 in theaters. (R)

Pinocchio *
Not everyone would agree with me that the 1940 Disney Pinocchio marked the pinnacle of the studio’s golden age, and perhaps the greatest work of feature animation art of all time—but you don’t have to believe that to see how profoundly misguided Robert Zemeckis’ remake is. He casts his frequent collaborator Tom Hanks as woodcarver Geppetto, who crafts a puppet that comes to life (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) after a wish upon a star. The tension in these 21st-century Disney remakes is always between how faithful to remain to the beloved originals, vs. how/where to update them, and Zemeckis and co-credited screenwriter Chris Weitz seem confused on both counts. It’s an obvious but pointless tweak to make Geppetto a father grieving an actual dead son, but without a willingness to address the burden that places on Pinocchio; it’s similarly predictable that Pleasure Island gets sanitized in a way that makes Pinocchio hardly seem to have deserved his fate. Meanwhile, the classic songs sit alongside new tunes by Alan Silvestri and veteran lyricist Glen Ballard—doing the latter no favors—and the decision to cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiminy Cricket only draws attention to why he’s doing a pale imitation of Cliff Edwards. Throw in the manic CGI energy of Zemeckis’ late period, and a handful of anachronistic references that are infinitely more irritating than they are amusing, and you have a jumble that simply doesn’t know what the hell to do with this story, other than try to wring more money out of it. The original Pinocchio was a cautionary fable; so is this one,  except  about terrible creative decision-making. Available Sept. 8 via Disney+. (PG)

Waiting for Bojangles ***1/2
Plenty of narratives have focused on amour fou; this one, adapted from Olivier Bourdeaut’s 2016 novel, addresses what happens when it collides with amour fils. In 1958, Georges (Romain Duris) and Camille (Virginie Efira) meet-cute at a fancy French Riviera party, and impulsively begin a relationship that soon results in a child. But as their son Gary (Solan Machado Graner) grows older, it becomes evident that Camille’s flamboyant personality masks a condition that, in late 1960s Paris, would not yet have been called “bipolar.” Director/co-screenwriter Régis Roinsard cleverly emphasizes the appeal of whirlwind romance in his prologue, as Georges sees only a perfect fit for his own rebellious streak without recognizing Camille’s darker side. And even once we begin getting more of Gary’s point of view, the focus is on his love for his unconventional mother and their life of wild parties and an exotic pet bird. So it’s an effective twist once it becomes clearer that Georges’ devotion to Camille is blinding him to the effects on Gary; it’s a disconcerting moment when Georges visits Camille in an asylum and finds time for some quick sex, leaving the 8-year-old boy to wander among the other inmates. Both central performances are strong and multi-layered, anchoring a cautionary tale about believing that love can conquer all, especially when a child might be part of the collateral damage. Available Sept. 9 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

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