Movie Reviews: New Releases for Sept. 30 | Buzz Blog

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Movie Reviews: New Releases for Sept. 30

Hocus Pocus 2, Blonde, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, Bros and more

Posted By on September 29, 2022, 7:58 AM

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click to enlarge Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus 2 - DISNEY+
  • Disney+
  • Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus 2
Blonde **1/2
See feature review. Available Sept. 28 via Netflix. (NC-17)

click to enlarge Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in Bros - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in Bros
Bros ***1/2
Available Sept. 30 in theaters. (R)

Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche ***
As has been true of many recent horror films (see Smile  below), it’s fair to say that this documentary from directors Jared Drake and Steven Siig is less about the ostensible subject matter than it is about trauma. They explore an epic storm in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains in March 1982 that led to a catastrophic avalanche at Alpine Meadows ski resort, and the multi day operation to determine if there were any survivors in the destroyed main lodge. In some ways, the pre-avalanche material is the most interesting, setting up the culture of the ski patrols in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and the development of the science of avalanche control. Understandably, the tale gets considerably bleaker once the actual avalanche takes place and fatalities are involved, with things getting bogged down in the uncertainty and shock of the moment. The real emotional hook comes primarily in the character of Jim Plehn, the resort’s head avalanche forecaster at the time and a man clearly haunted by the possibility that the decisions he made 40 years ago were the wrong ones. At times, a movie like this feels almost like an exercise in cruelty, between the off-camera questions being asked and the way the camera lingers on a face crumpling as terrible memories flood back. It’s still undeniably powerful as a reminder that while tragedies might have survivors, that doesn’t mean those people walk away unscathed. Available Sept. 30 in theaters. (NR)

The Good House **1/2
The marketing promises a reunion of Dave and The Ice Storm co-stars Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline in Wallace Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes’ adaptation of Ann Leary’s novel—and technically speaking it is, although that emphasis points to how challenging it would be to market this story in any other way. Weaver plays Hildy Good, real-estate agent in a coastal Massachusetts community where she’s lived her whole life. Financial pressures are coming to bear on Hildy, but that’s not the only factor behind the drinking problem Hildy wants us in the audience to know she absolutely does not have. The decision by Wolodarsky and Forbes to break the fourth wall sets up a whimsical tone, and a stoic New England patrician character that works perfectly as a showcase for Weaver. Far less well-cast is Kline as Hildy’s working-class old flame (and possible new one); Kline somehow always seems out of place in roles where he’s not enunciating the King’s English. A potentially bigger problem is that The Good House ultimately has to get quite a bit more serious about the impacts of Hildy’s alcoholism, and that shift proves to be an awkward one, even though it kind of makes sense in a character study of someone defined by an inappropriate casualness about how she deals with her demons. Despite Weaver’s strong performance, the film ends up feeling like someone has tried to trick you into a “hitting rock bottom” story when you were expecting a breezy, picturesque Nancy Meyers romantic comedy. Available Sept. 30 in theaters. (R)

click to enlarge Zac Efron in The Greatest Beer Run Ever - APPLETV+
  • AppleTV+
  • Zac Efron in The Greatest Beer Run Ever
The Greatest Beer Run Ever **
Is it possible for a movie to be almost hopelessly facile, and also not entirely terrible? That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for this fact-based story of Chickie Donohue (Zac Efron), a merchant seaman in 1967 New York who impulsively decides to take a few cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon to his neighborhood buddies serving in Vietnam as his own show of support. The inevitable character arc is clear from the outset, as director Peter Farrelly follows up his “American conservative white guy learns that racism was bad, actually” Green Book with an “American conservative white guy learns that the Vietnam War was bad, actually” story, and you can almost time to the minute when Chickie will see horrors of war first-hand, discover the U.S. government isn’t entirely trustworthy, learn why journalists like his new pal Coates (Russell Crowe) tell “bad news,” deliver a speech about how this war is different, etc. Like Green Book, it’s kind of offensive in its studied inoffensiveness, but there’s also some decent stuff here, from Efron’s earnestly dim-witted performance to the way the clear stupidity of his in-country “mission”—where, you know, American beer is available, actually—makes everyone believe Chickie must be a CIA operative. If a narrative is going to pat you on the back for being ahead of Chickie’s awakening, at least it can be sporadically entertaining along the way. Available Sept. 30 in theaters and via AppleTV+. (R)

Hocus Pocus 2 **1/2
Nostalgia defies reason, so I won’t pretend to understand why the dopey 1993 Disney fantasy Hocus Pocus might make people long for a sequel. It is weird, though, to see how awkwardly this follow-up attempts to ret-con its characters into misunderstood anti-heroes at the same time that it tries to make them exactly who they were nearly 30 years ago. In modern-day Salem, teenage pals Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) inadvertently summon the Sanderson sisters—Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy)—to cause more mayhem as the ancient witches try to invoke a powerful spell. A flashback to the Sandersons’ 17th-century childhood tries to set them up as all-for-one-and-one-for-all rebels against the patriarchy rather than child-eating villains, in theory to make them more sympathetic. Then, as soon as they’re in the 21st century, it’s really all about them being child-eating villains again, with a ridiculous token effort at the end to spin it back to being all about sisterly love. The script gives Midler, Parker and Najimy a little more to work with than the original in terms of reacting to the “magic” of the modern world—including a fun bit in the cosmetics aisle of a drug store—and Tony Hale and Sam Richardson provide some strong comedic support. But the formula is still a little slapstick, a little musical number and a little special-effects shenanigans tied up in a silly package, and one that feels a little more irritating for trying to pretend that it actually has, like, a message or whatever. Available Sept. 30 via Disney+. (PG)

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon **
Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s genre exercises (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch) are consistently stylish, but far less consistent in their ability to maintain a compelling story. This New Orleans-set supernatural drama finds a young woman named Mona Lisa (Jeon Jong-seo) escaping from a mental institution through the use of strange mind-control powers, then hooking up with single-mom pole dancer Bonnie (Kate Hudson), who seeks to put those powers to her own financial gain. A friendship eventually develops between Mona Lisa and Bonnie’s 11-year-old son Charlie (Evan Whitten), which offers glimpses of a connection based on their mutual loneliness. But Amirpour seems resolutely uninterested in anything beneath the surface—Mona Lisa’s naïveté about the world, or a metaphorical significance of her powers as seemingly helpless woman who can manipulate the men around her—in favor of a simplistic pursuit narrative involving a dogged police officer (Craig Robinson). It builds to a moment that should be potent, as Charlie needs to make a difficult choice, yet that moment just doesn’t work with a performance by Jeon that’s directed to remain affectless and alien. Individual scenes offer effective moments; there’s just too little material that makes you care about where those moments are taking you. Available Sept. 30 in theaters. (R)

Nothing Compares ***
Relatively recent events in the life of Sinéad O’Connor—the death of her son, and her public struggles with suicidal ideation—only add more poignancy to director Kathryn Ferguson’s profile of the singer. In some ways it’s a fairly conventional artist biopic, beginning with her upbringing in Ireland with an abusive mother, her troubled teen years that included a stay in a girls’ home, and the trajectory of her career in 1986-1993 from breakout star to arena headliner to controversy-plagued “has-been” all before she was 30 years old. Plenty of musical collaborators and personal friends provide voice-over context to supplement the archival footage, which does include great bits of pre-celebrity performances. Mostly, however, this plays as an attempt to reclaim O’Connor’s legacy from a life that became defined by events like the infamous Saturday Night Live appearance where she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II, digging into the pain that shaped her non-conformist nature in general, and her anger toward the Catholic Church hierarchy in particular. Plenty of musical collaborators and personal friends provide voiceover to supplement the archival footage, but there’s tremendous impact in the contemporary voiceover provided by O’Connor herself, her more gravelly and weary-sounding voice evoking the ability to look back on her life with some perspective. It might be a reach for the film to suggest O’Connor’s 1990s stances were a direct precursor to progressive societal changes in Ireland, but even if she’s not necessarily a hero, this is a way to shift the sense that she was a villain. Available Sept. 30 via Showtime. (NR)

Smile ***
Despite being just the latest in a long string of horror films that are Really About Trauma, writer/director Parker Finn’s debut feature comes shockingly close to being the next great horror film—until it kind of chickens out and offers the most conventional possible ending. Sosie Bacon plays Dr. Rose Cotter, a New Jersey psychotherapist who witnesses the death by suicide of a patient who claims she’s witnessing scary visions, then begins to realize that the event has passed on the same mysterious entity to plague her. As a director, Finn has a terrific handle on the genre, understanding how to use jump-scares without over-playing them, the effective use of silence and negative space, and an inventively eerie sound design. And while the narrative inevitably gets bogged down a bit in Google-search exposition, it’s kind of a brilliant notion to connect the trademark of Rose’s haunting visions—a dead-eyed smile—with the masks people put on to hide the effects of their trauma, and the serial nature of the violence with the way trauma’s effects can be passed along to children and others close to you. It’s all humming along, until a (no spoilers) resolution that just doesn’t feel well thought-out in terms of Rose’s character arc or what we know about other characters. Still, I’ll take a genre offering like this that’s 80 percent thoughtful and inventive, and only 20 percent off-the-shelf. Available Sept. 30 in theaters. (R)

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