Film Reviews: New Releases for Feb. 9 | Buzz Blog

Friday, February 9, 2024

Film Reviews: New Releases for Feb. 9

Lisa Frankenstein, Out of Darkness, The Teachers' Lounge, Suncoast, Driving Madeleine

Posted By on February 9, 2024, 7:53 AM

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click to enlarge Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse in Lisa Frankenstein - FOCUS FEATURES
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  • Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse in Lisa Frankenstein
Driving Madeleine **1/2
At the outset, co-writer/director Christian Carion’s drama feels like one of those low-key character studies—and it’s definitely a bit of a surprise when it takes a different turn. In the present day, Parisian taxi driver Charles (Danny Boon) is a tightly-wound guy dealing with financial troubles, who picks up 92-year-old Madeleine Keller (Line Renaud) as she leaves her home to move, reluctantly, into an assisted-living facility. The journey takes some digressions as Madeleine asks for a chance to take likely-final visits to key places from earlier in her life, and as we see in several flashbacks ranging from the late 1940s to late 1960s—with Alice Isaaz playing the younger Madeleine—our heroine had herself a fairly eventful life. Without ranging into spoiler territory, those events take a rather melodramatic turn, with an underscore that emphasizes the high drama of Madeleine’s early life relative to the fairly sedate contemporary tale that unfolds between those scenes. Boon and Renaud have a nice rapport as Charles’ all-business demeanor thaws throughout the revelations of Madeleine’s past, but it feels like his character arc amounts to learning “so you think you’ve got problems?” Plus, if you can’t see where the story is heading in its final minutes, you’ve probably never watched a movie before. Driving Madeleine certainly manages to hold one’s interest, if only to inspire the response, “wait, what just happened with her?” Available Feb. 9 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Lisa Frankenstein **
Around about the time that screenwriter Diablo Cody and first-time feature director Zelda Williams drop a reference to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it has become clear that this is a deliberate attempt to make a “cult movie”—which is virtually impossible, because that’s a status only an audience can grant. The horror-comedy casts Kathryn Newton as Lisa Swallows, a high-school senior recently relocated to a new school after the murder of her mother and the remarriage of her father. She becomes obsessed with the nearby “bachelor cemetery,” to the extent that when lightning strikes a specific grave one night, its occupant (Cole Sprouse) returns from the dead to visit Lisa. The filmmakers set the events in 1989, which allows for a soundtrack of vintage sad-kid bands (Echo and the Bunnymen, The Jesus & Mary Chain, etc.) and an attempt to make its mash-up of movies from that era including Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Heathers feel like homage rather than rip-off. The problem is that it doesn’t really work either as horror or as comedy, with clunky editing that steps on the jokes and performances that generally feel like imitations of other performances, notably Sprouse’s version of Vincent D’Onofrio in Men in Black; at least Carla Gugino, as Lisa's wicked stepmother, commits to something distinctive. It’s almost too obvious an analogy, but stitching together a bunch of pieces from other things doesn’t generally result in a positive outcome. Available Feb. 9 in theaters. (PG-13)

Out of Darkness **1/2
Comparing movies of a similar type sometimes feels unfair, but it can often prove instructive regarding what might be lacking in one vs. the other. Set 45,000 years ago, it finds a small band of early humans leaving their old hunting grounds to find a better source of food. Instead, they find a place where some strange presence—maybe an animal, maybe a supernatural force—starts hunting them. Like Dan Trachtenberg’s 2022 Predator prequel Prey, this is a tale of hunter-gatherers facing a dangerous enemy, with more than a hint of a challenge to traditional gender roles, embodied by a young woman called Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green) who has been taken in by this family. Other socio-political allegories for modern life also appear in Ruth Greenberg’s script, but they prove clunky at best, and almost insultingly simplistic at worst. And while director Andrew Cumming finds some creative ways to build tension—particularly the way light and its absence are crucial in this time and place—the action just isn’t strong enough to sustain the movie as a genre exercise beyond whatever messages it’s trying to deliver. The complexity that Amber Midthunder brought to her physical performance as Prey’s protagonist never quite manifests in Oakley-Green, leaving a story where the admonition not to underestimate women is underlined a few extra times to diminishing effect. Available Feb. 9 in theaters. (R)

Suncoast ***
The semi-autobiographical specificity connecting writer/director Laura Chinn’s story to real-world, highly-publicized events certainly gives writer/director a unique perspective, but it’s also the one thing that makes this otherwise lovely film feel a bit overstuffed. Set in early 2005 Clearwater, Florida, it deals with 17-year-old Doris (Nico Parker) and her mother (Laura Linney) as they move Doris’s terminally-ill, unresponsive older brother into hospice care—the same hospice, it turns out, that is housing Terri Schiavo, whose case involving end-of-life choices became a national lightning-rod for right-to-life protesters. That component is a relatively small part of the narrative, except for providing the opportunity for Doris to meet and befriend one of the protesters (Wood Harrelson), and it certainly underlines the way Chinn wants to explore the difference between ethics and grieving as abstract concepts, vs. the way we actually experience events in the moment. It’s much stronger, though, as a simple character drama, exploring Doris’s tense relationship with a mother who’s so much more focused on her dying son than her confused, lonely daughter, as well as Doris dipping her toes into having real friendships after years focused on being a co-caretaker for her brother. Parker, Linney and Harrelson are all wonderful at capturing differing manifestations of pain over loss, with Parker particularly deft at showing how easy it is for living one’s own life can inspire guilt when someone you love can’t live that life. Available Feb. 9 via Hulu. (R)

The Teachers’ Lounge ***
At times, co-writer/director Ilker Çatak’s drama—and Best International Feature Oscar nominee—feels like a thoughtful character study, and at times it feels like a piece of social criticism; it’s good enough at the former to make one wish there was less of the latter. Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) is a new mathematics and gym teacher at a German secondary school, but not surprisingly, she’s immediately forced to deal with things besides teaching, including the investigation into a series of thefts at the school. Then Carla takes it upon herself to do collect some evidence, which inadvertently sets off conflicts between her and an office administrator (Eva Löbau), her teaching colleagues and her students. Initially, it looks like Çatak wants to make Carla a bit of a cautionary tale about setting oneself up as an arbiter of moral behavior, as her unwavering conviction in her own sense of right and wrong begins to look like it might be her undoing. Yet there’s also plenty of material percolating here about the school as an institution with all of the usual problems of an institution: falling victim to societal prejudices; appearing more interested in protecting its own structures than protecting others; a progressive wing a bit too smug about its own righteousness. Benesch’s delivers a great performance as Carla realizes how deeply she’s gotten in over her head, and The Teachers’ Lounge only gets frustrating when the story keeps finding other things to be about. Available Feb. 9 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (PG-13)

About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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