FILM NEWS: JULY 18-24 | Cinema Clips | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

FILM NEWS: JULY 18-24 

New This Week, Special Screenings, and Current Releases

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NEW THIS WEEK
Film release schedules are subject to change. Reviews online at cityweekly.net

The Art of Self-Defense 3 Stars
If you're making a takedown of toxic masculinity, and you need someone to play the milkiest milquetoast imaginable on a quest to jack up the testosterone, it's hard to imagine you'd cast anyone besides Jesse Eisenberg. He plays Casey Davis, a timid accountant who is assaulted and beaten by a group of bikers. Desperate to get rid of his sense of powerlessness, he walks into the karate dojo led by a sensei (Alessandro Nivola) who promises to make a man out of him. Eisenberg does great work both with Casey's coiled anxiety and with his subsequent attempts to prove his newfound toughness, ably matched by Nivola's perfect alpha-dude swagger. Some of the narrative turns are almost too obvious—let's just say Chekhov wouldn't be disappointed—and there's a weird strain of deadpan humor that doesn't always land opposite a vibe that's more about psychological gamesmanship. But it's still an effectively constructed way to wrestle with the appeal of bullying misogynists to those who feel powerless, and how to deal with an ethic that reduces every human interaction to a question of who can win. Opens July 19 at Megaplex Jordan Commons and Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—Scott Renshaw

The Lion King 2 Stars
Opens July 19 at theaters valleywide. (PG)

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Akira
At Tower Theater, July 19-20, 11 p.m. & July 21, noon. (R)

Bohemian Rhapsody
At Gateway Legacy Plaza, July 23, dusk. (PG-13)

Stuffed
At Main Library, July 23, 7 p.m. (NR)

CURRENT RELEASES

Crawl 2 Stars
A solid "survive the monster" thriller only has a few basic requirements in order to be satisfying, and this one nails too few of them. Florida college swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her injured father (Barry Pepper) are trapped in the family home's crawl space during a hurricane, threatened both by rising waters and deadly alligators. The character angle, involving tensions between Haley and her dad, gets in the way as often as it raises the stakes, but greater frustrations come from director Alexandre Aja's failure to provide clear definition of the threat—how many gators, where are they relative to our protagonists—or enough creative thinking by the humans. You'll get some crunching gore whenever the alligators find a human to nosh on, and occasional effective moments of amped-up tension. But it shouldn't be so hard to make a lively creature-feature out of a Category 5 gator-cane. (R)—SR

The Fall of the American Empire 2.5 Stars
Denys Arcand pokes at societal ills in a weird mix of genres overflowing with finger-wagging, as over-educated and under-employed courier Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry) winds up in possession of millions in cash after a botched robbery at an organized crime safehouse. A police investigation and a ruthless effort by the crime boss to find his money land this in heist-thriller territory, but there's also an almost farcical component as Pierre-Paul turns to a recently-paroled gangster to help manage his money, plus a romance between Pierre-Paul and a heart-of-gold escort. Arcand finds solid material in Pierre-Paul's conflicting desires to help himself and help others, while Girard makes for an appealing tough-guy foil. It just keeps feeling like Arcand is pausing to lecture us about the wealthy getting away with anything. It's a morality tale that's pretty darned pleased with its own morality. (R)—SR

Midsommar 3 stars
In the wake of a family tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) accompanies her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his friends on a research trip to a Swedish pagan commune, which is preparing to conduct midsummer rituals. Some of those rituals turn deeply disturbing, though writer-director Ari Aster leavens some of them with mordant humor. But while the burn is a bit too slow over nearly 150 minutes, Aster delivers more than a re-hash of The Wicker Man. In part it's a way-too-obvious story of a disintegrating romantic relationship, though Pugh captures something awkwardly honest in Dani's apologetic emotional fragility. It's much better at juxtaposing a belief system based on natural life cycles with anxieties of modernity and the attraction of finding real connection. These characters find themselves in a scary world, but maybe not as scary as the one they call home. (R)—SR

Stuber 3 Stars
Is buddy action comedy Hollywood's most consistently satisfying, consistently underappreciated genre? Stuber lives in the comfort zone of matching a cop (Dave Baustista as L.A.P.D. detective Vic) with a mild-mannered guy (Kumail Nanjiani as Uber driver Stu) in a dangerous but amusing scenario. This one sews two high-profile ideas together—"What if a brutish cop had to solve a crime while recovering from lasic surgery" and "what if a simple guy had to serve as that cop's chauffeur," and both stories maximize the stars' strengths. Most of the best bits swing heavily toward Nanjiani, who delivers deadpan lines masterfully. Much of the action is merely perfunctory, and earnest character beats often fall flat. But the test of this genre is, "Would I be happy to see these two guys get into another crazy situation?" I would. (R)—SR

Spider-man: Far From Home 3 Stars
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is just a 16-year-old kid, so how do you balance Spider-Man's fate-of-the-world duties with having fun? Director Jon Watts wrestles with that question, as Peter's school trip to Europe turns into a meeting with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and other-dimensional warrior Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to stop powerful elementals. Holland remains a winningly awkward presence as a nice guy trying to figure out if his moral code allows him to put getting the girl (Zendaya's MJ) ahead of saving the world. The action sequences ultimately lean into generic spectacle, and it gets even clunkier with topical notions about how to respond to demagoguery. This is, however, pretty satisfying when it leans into human comedy. Peter Parker understands his great power and great responsibility, but we just want to see him have fun. (PG-13)—SR

Toy Story 4 3.5 Stars
This is my truth: The first three Toy Story features are one story told in more-or-less real time. Here, despite nine real-world years since Toy Story 3, the toys' new owner Bonnie is still only beginning kindergarten, with Woody (Tom Hanks) leading an attempt to recover her new favorite, googly-eyed spork Forky (Tony Hale). Centering the story on a rescue places this film squarely in the series' comfort zone, and the action is both exciting and silly while effectively integrating new characters. Yet there's also something that's just a touch off as Woody—previously a stand-in for Andy's emotional life—here takes on more of a parental role. While there's nothing inherently wrong with that shift, TS4 is simultaneously delightful, and feels like it's not part of the earlier installments' cohesive perspective. (G)—SR

Wild Rose 3 Stars
When a narrative's broad strokes are familiar, it's all about the way it executes finer details—and often about the performance at the center. Director Tom Harper and screenwriter Nicole Taylor offer the story of Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley), a 24-year-old Glasgow woman trying to re-start her attempt at a country music career after a 12-month prison stint, while leaving the care of her two children mostly to her mother (Julie Walters). There's more of a meander than a straight line to the plot, though Harper captures it all with a Ken Loach-ian authenticity. The real power comes from Buckley's performance, evoking Rose-Lynn's volatility that only seems to find peace when she's singing. With Walters offering great supporting work as a mother wrestling with how much support becomes enabling, Wild Rose gives a pursuit-of-fame story a distinctive voice. (R)—SR

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