Film Reviews: New Releases for June 21 | Buzz Blog

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Film Reviews: New Releases for June 21

The Bikeriders, The Exorcism, Thelma, Ghostlight

Posted By on June 20, 2024, 7:46 AM

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click to enlarge Tom Hardy and Austin Butler in The Bikeriders - FOCUS FEATURES
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  • Tom Hardy and Austin Butler in The Bikeriders
The Bikeriders **1/2
Writer/director Jeff Nichols’ feature is based on journalist Danny Lyon’s photo-essay book, so perhaps it’s fitting that it feels more like snapshots than any kind of cohesive narrative. Nichols offers a framing narrative in which Lyon (Mike Faist) interviews Kathy (Jodie Comer) circa 1965, then again several years later, about her husband Benny (Austin Butler) and the other members of the Chicago-based Vandals motorcycle club, including its leader, Johnny (Tom Hardy). What follows is largely episodic, with Nichols evoking GoodFellas in a few of its visual choices and its story of the intoxicating appeal of being part of such a group. The problem is that the theoretical central characters—Kathy and Benny—never feel fully fleshed-out, as the reasons for Benny’s furious devotion to the Vandals remain enigmatic and Kathy’s audience-surrogate character fails to convey the appeal of the Vandals’ lifestyle beyond her initial attraction to Benny. Hardy is a bit more successful at capturing the sense of a blue-collar guy building something that starts to spin out of his control, and supporting players like Emory Cohen, Michael Shannon and Norman Reedus provide a colorful rogues’ gallery of Vandals members. The attempt to romanticize much of what we’re seeing as a kind of golden age simply falls a bit short without compelling enough characters to give it life. The closing idea of people missing what they’ve left behind would hit a lot harder if we knew more about who those people were. Available June 21 in theaters. (R)

The Exorcism **1/2
The levels of meta are almost too much to take: Co-writer/director Joshua John Miller has made a movie about a de facto remake of The Exorcist—in which his own father, Jason Miller, played Father Damien Karras—where an actor character also named Miller is playing the priest, while also dealing with a troubled relationship with his offspring. There’s still the germ of a fascinating premise as we watch Tony Miller (Russell Crowe), a once-prominent actor whose substance abuse has derailed his career, aim for a comeback with the high-profile role in “The Georgetown Project” while also trying to reconnect with his troubled daughter, Lee (Ryan Simpkins). It’s kind of about the nightmare side of Method acting, as Tony’s own metaphorical demons transform into literal ones, and a bullying director (Adam Goldberg) attempts to manipulate his knowledge of Tony’s troubled history to his creative advantage. That stuff, along with pondering the loss of faith born from clerical sexual abuse, promises rich thematic ground, but Tony’s disintegration progresses far too quickly to emphasize supernatural creepiness, leaving Crowe little to play in terms of character evolution. Meanwhile, Miller’s idea of scary direction leans far too heavily on “when will a light flicker off, then flicker back on again. Goldberg’s character pretentiously describes the movie he’s making as “a psychological drama wrapped in the skin of a horror movie”—and this movie might actually have worked if it had stuck to that template. Available June 21 in theaters. (R)

Ghostlight **1/2
It has long been one of my critical articles of faith that you need to grant a movie its premise—but in this case, I have to make an exception. We can figure out early on that there’s been some sort of tragedy in the lives of working stiff Dan (Keith Kupferer), his wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) and teenage daughter Daisy (Katherine Mallen Kupferer, yes, all a real-life family). The feelings about that tragedy are backing up on Dan, until he stumbles upon a rag-tag community theater group putting on a production of Romeo & Juliet, and almost accidentally joins the cast. Writer Kelly O’Sullivan (who co-directed with Alex Thompson) clearly wants to create a paean to the healing power of art, and there’s a great cast here (including the sublime Dolly De Leon as the show’s improbably mature Juliet) to give it both humanity and comedic energy. The problem is that once it becomes clear what the precise nature of the family tragedy was, the specific play with which Dan is involved feels like an absurd coincidence, deus ex machina’ed into his life to offer the specific catharsis he requires; men would rather join a community theater production than go to therapy, and so forth. As a result, the emotional payoffs ultimately feel almost grotesquely calculated. There’s “granting a movie its premise,” and then there’s “being willing to accept writerly contrivance for the sake of tear-jerking.” Available June 21 in theaters. (R)

Thelma ***
See feature review. Available June 21 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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