Film Reviews: New Releases for April 19 | Buzz Blog

Friday, April 19, 2024

Film Reviews: New Releases for April 19

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Abigail, The Beast, Hard Miles, Sasquatch Sunset and more

Posted By on April 19, 2024, 6:00 AM

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click to enlarge Alex Pettyfer and Henry Cavill in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare - LIONSGATE FILMS
  • Lionsgate Films
  • Alex Pettyfer and Henry Cavill in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Abigail **
You can’t entirely blame filmmakers for the choices made by a studio marketing department, but at a certain point you have to ask, “Well, how else would they market it?” The Radio Silence team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (the recent Scream reboots) bring us the story of a group of kidnappers—including medic Joey (Melissa Barrera) and leader Frank (Dan Stevens)—whose target is 12-year-old Abigail (Alisha Weir). But the team soon realizes that Alisha’s father is a dangerous crime boss, and that they might be in far greater danger than Abigail. What follows is probably pretty clear to anyone who has seen a single trailer or commercial for the movie, and the carnage in the final hour is generally wild and satisfying enough for any horror enthusiast. The problem is that half the film is spent behaving as though we don’t know what’s coming, or from whom, as the filmmakers try to build tensions and conflicts between the kidnappers. And it simply never works at all as the screenplay tries to build a melancholy connection between Joey and Abigail over the former’s troubled relationship with her own child. I have no magic solution for how you handle a movie that takes half its running time before revealing the kind of movie it is; I only know that the answer is “not like this.” Available April 19 in theaters. (R)

The Beast ***
See feature review. Available April 19 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Hard Miles ***
One of the great enemies of the “inspirational true story” movie is an earnestness bordering on insufferability, so it’s particularly satisfying when such a narrative is willing to include a bit of an edge in its voice. This one follows the story of Greg Townshend (Matthew Modine), a social worker at a Colorado youth correctional school who decides to put his bicycling hobby to unique use when he brings four student inmates (Jahking Guillory, Jackson Kelly, Damien Diaz and Zachary T. Robbins) on a 762-mile ride to the Grand Canyon. The goal, of course, is some tough-love rehabilitation of Townshend’s teenage charges, with the practical fringe benefit of good publicity for the school as it faces review of its charter, and there’s a similar mix of common sense and good intentions delivered by director R.J. Daniel Hanna and his co-screenwriter Christian Sander. Modine effectively conveys someone who’s both haunted by his abusive father and threatening to make some of the same mistakes, while Modine’s four young co-stars are all extremely effective at playing people with real problems that won’t be easily fixed by a scenic (albeit grueling) ride. The pacing drags a bit at times, and may not do the best job of folding Townshend’s quest for familial reconciliation into the main plot. Still, it’s smart and entertaining, showing how important it is for a good message to be part of a good movie. Available April 19 in theaters. (PG-13)

Housekeeping for Beginners **1/2
There’s a weird mix of ideas percolating through writer/director Goran Stolevski’s feature that makes it feel like a mid-’90s Miramax art-house comedy that also wants to be a serious issue drama. It’s set in the Macedonian capital of Skopje, where gay social worker Dita (Anamaria Marinca) agrees to raise the two children—volatile teenager Vanesa (Mia Mustafa) and young Mia (Dzada Salim)—of her terminally-ill partner Suada (Alina Serban). That agreement necessitates creating a faux family for legal purposes, as Dita marries her gay friend Toni (Vladimir Tintor), who pretends to be the girls’ biological father. There’s plenty of satisfying material about creating unconventional makeshift families, as Dita’s household also includes Toni’s lover Ali (Samson Salim)—who forms a particular bond with Mia—and several gay youth kicked out by their parents. But Stolevski wants to address not just the homophobia of his setting, but bigotry against Roma like Suada and her daughters, to the extent that Suada wants them legally not to be Roma. That makes it awfully hard to apply a lighter touch to material that might otherwise be played farcically, like the salty vocabulary Mia acquires from those around her. Marinca’s performance, meanwhile, feels too internalized to deal with how she feels about being both closeted and a reluctant surrogate mother. The result is well-meaning but unnecessarily heavy, something that doesn’t understand that a few more jokes could have served the story better than a subplot involving human trafficking. Available April 19 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare **1/2
Fact-based war dramas like this are generally somber and respectful affairs, so it’s kind of jarring to find one that’s been turned into an ultra-violent, laddish, almost instantly disposable action romp. Director and co-screenwriter Guy Ritchie reveals the long-classified story of Operation Postmaster, a covert operation authorized by Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear)—and led by Maj. Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill)—to disrupt the supply chain to the feared German U-boat fleet by sinking boats in an African port controlled by the neutral Spanish. The focus switches back and forth between March-Phillips and his crew (including Alan Ritchson and Henry Golding) and the activities of spies (Eiza González and Babs Olusanmokun) laying the groundwork, with occasionally detours to remind us that future James Bond creator Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox) is part of the British military team overseeing the operation. Indeed, this feels deliberately closer to a Bond movie—albeit an R-rated version—than a historical military escapade, with a kinda dumbed-down script that keeps pausing to remind us of the stakes every 20 minutes or so, and each member of the large cast given approximately .75 character traits on average. Ritchie orchestrates everything competently enough right up to the over-stuffed and over-long climax, ending up with something designed for dads who chain-read Tom Clancy novels to stumble upon while surfing cable channels. Available April 19 in theaters. (R)

Rebel Moon - Part Two: The Scargiver **1/2
I’m not sure if there was an obviously different way Zack Snyder’s sci-fi epic could have been structured, but the attempts to build character and relationships in this conclusion show what was missing from the awful first part, even if it’s not enough to entirely salvage the enterprise. We pick up pretty much exactly where Part One left off, with fugitive soldier Kora (Sofia Boutella) back among her adopted agrarian community, and Admiral Noble (Ed Skein) basically back from the dead to get the rebel moon back into line. Part One's  bald-faced thievery from Kurosawa and Star Wars was made even worse by the relentless plot machinations, but here Snyder takes time to capture some actual back-story, and a few effective bonding moments to capture how this group of outcasts comes to find purpose defending one another. Ultimately, though, it’s all about the big climactic battle, replete with the exhausting Snyder-isms that certainly give his movies an auteurist fingerprint, plus goofy choices like having one key scene scored by a diegetic string quartet, inspiring one to wonder about the parallel development of violas in a distant galaxy. We do at least get Skein’s sneering take on the big villain which shows a real understanding of the assignment, although it’s befuddling that Rebel Moon builds up the idea of Kora’s warrior mentor only to completely forget about him except for a tease for a possible Part Three. I guess that’s part of what happens when you wind up too concerned about building a franchise, at the expense of telling a story. Available April 19 via Netflix. (PG-13)

Sasquatch Sunset ***
David and Nathan Zellner have played around in plenty of genres over the years, often swinging between sneaky emotion, sly social messaging and deadpan humor, and this high-concept dramedy allows them to play around with all of the above and then some. It follows a year in the life of a troop of four sasquatches (Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Christophe Zajac-Denek and Nathan Zellner) as they make their way through their Pacific Northwest habitat, foraging for food and dealing with various existential threats, both natural and man-made. It would be easy to get hung up on the bodily-function humor in the dialogue-free script, as our protagonists pee, poop, vomit, sniff themselves and wave their sasquatch penises about. And while it’s true that a little of that can go a long way, Sasquatch Sunset also gives the performers the opportunity for evocative pantomimed performances. Most significantly, it’s a surprisingly effective story of loneliness, as we watch the sasquatches attempt to make contact with any others of their kind who might still be around, and the young sasquatch resorts to playing with an imaginary friend consisting of his talking hand, Señor Wences-style. The Zellners do solid work at making it clear that these creatures have a culture and an intelligence, facing the intrusion of human culture with a mix of awe at things like music (specifically Erasure’s “Love to Hate You”) and terror where the only answer they can think of is peeing on it to try to re-claim the territory. Available April 19 in theaters. (R)

Villains, Inc. **
It’s possible that a satirical/meta take on the world responding to super-powered individuals might have felt slightly fresher when this movie was initially developed pre-pandemic, but even then, we’d already had The Incredibles, The Boys, Watchmen, Suicide Squad, etc.—and all that leaves is the batting average for the jokes. Alums of Utah-based sketch-comedy series Studio C form the bulk of the creative team here, in a story about a trio of super-villain henchpeople—Beatrix (Mallory Everton), Cain (Jason Gray) and Harold (Colin Mochrie)—who strike out on their own for world domination after the death of their boss. Plenty of episodic silliness ensues as co-written by Gray, Matt Moen and director Jeremy Warner, some of it focused around the idea of a bureaucratic structure overseeing super-villainy, as well as the ambition-to-aptitude ratio of our bungling anti-hero protagonists. It’s a fairly good-natured and even occasionally sentimental enterprise with some funny material in the margins (like a sign on the wall of an office for villain assistants noting “Job safety is NOT required”), and an unexpectedly spiky notion of who the real super-villains of the world are. There just aren’t enough big laughs to balance the ultra-low-budget production, and the sense that we’ve seen a lot of these ideas somewhere else before. Available April 19 in theaters. (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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