Black Widow

Black Widow is an odd entry in the MCU: a solo outing for a female superhero that has already died (see Avengers: Endgame), and who’s actor (Scarlett Johansson) has gone on record saying that she will not return to the role after this outing.  In spite of those headwinds, anticipation for Black Widow was high.  Unfortunately, Black Widow is of two minds: quirky indie dramedy interspersed with a Marvel movie.  The comedic elements are fine, but don’t mix well with the going through the motions action sequences.  Johansson and Florence Pugh, as younger sister Yelena, are fine, and David Harbour is funny as an over-the-hill Red Guardian.  The movie’s two villains are dull as dry toast, however.  We know Natasha survives all of the proceedings, so the stakes are non-existent.  Worse still, Black Widow references two events that would be much more exciting to see than anything we end up seeing.  A disappointment.  Not recommended.

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Fear Street: Part One 1994

Fear Street:1994 opens promisingly with a skull-masked slasher taking out a young, pretty bookseller at the mall.  The movie then introduces five high schoolers who unwittingly unleash the malevolent spirit of the Fier witch when they disturb her bones lying in the forest.  The witch was killed back in 1666, but has been the influencer behind inexplicable homicides for decades.  The actors portraying the teenagers either bring too much or too little intensity to their roles, resulting in a “who cares” attitude when they are eventually stalked by resurrected killers from the past.  1994 Is competently directed, and I liked its day-glo aesthetic, but its reliance on  Nineties music becomes a distraction.  Not recommended.

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Zola

Zola is a neon-tinged adult nightmare, featuring pole dances, hard core rap, violent pimps and sex work that goes from pitiful to dangerous.  The movie is a darkly funny road trip, starting out innocently (!) enough as a way for Zola and her BFF Stefani to earn thousands of dollars  dancing in strip clubs in Florida.  Zola, the movie’s heroine quickly becomes ensnared by her Stefani and her pimp in prostitution.  Zola keeps her cool, hopeful that she’ll be unharmed and free to go at the end of the weekend.  The movie is an entertaining, if frustratingly superficial, ninety minute dance on the wild side.  Recommended.

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Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within is a throwback to the werewolf-comedy movies of the Eighties, where classics like The Howling and An American Werewolf in London unabashedly combined macabre humor and gruesome killings.  Based on a video game, Werewolves Within is actually a mashup of two genres: werewolf-movies and murder mysteries, with some romance thrown in for added seasoning.  I enjoyed the horror-comedy and the quirky romance between the leads, but found the mystery uninteresting and unnecessary.  Overall, the movie is a solid B-movie.  Recommend for the parts that work and gratuitous use of Ace of Bass.

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The Sparks Brothers

A heart-felt tribute to an enduring band that has a devoted cult following.  Directed by Edgar Wright, the movie briefly discusses the Mael brother’s formative years in California before diving headlong into their sixty-year career.  The Sparks Brothers serves as an introduction to the incredible volume of work Sparks has released, twenty-five albums and counting.  The stories detailing the band’s trials and tribulations take on a Spinal Tap quality, with fame and fortune always just out of the band’s grasp.  I walked into this movie knowing a few Sparks songs, and left with a sincere admiration for one of pop music’s genuine craftsmen.  Contrary to what Sparks says, they do not “dick around”.  Recommended.

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The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Released five Years after The Conjuring 2, The Conjuring:The Devil Made Me Do It (or C3) shows how horror movie sequels have diminishing returns.  I enjoyed The Conjuring 2, with its wacked-out funhouse sensibilities.  C3 has many of the same elements as C2, and this time around they felt too familiar.  C3 has several good scares, but nothing in it surprised me.  The performances were also underwhelming, with Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren and Patrick Wilson’s Ed delivering perfunctory turns as the self-styled demonologists.  Recommended for Conjuring completists only.

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A Quiet Place II

Like all great monster movies, A Quiet Place II is merciless and uncompromising. The movie avoids jump scares and builds genuine tension to an extraordinary degree. Whereas the first movie borrowed thematic elements from the Alien franchise, the sequel’s influence is the original Jurassic Park, minus the awestruck reactions, kid-friendly stuff and comic relief. QP2 is a monster movie that earns the right to takes itself seriously through taut direction and excellent acting. Highly recommended.

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The Woman in the Window

In The Woman in the Window, Amy Adams plays Anna, an agorophobic-asexual-alcoholic child psychologist who’s life turns into a weak copy of Rear Window.  The movie mainly exists as a device to persecute and torture Amy Adams’s character.  If you enjoyed seeing Adams essentially repeat her character from Sharp Objects, you may enjoy this movie.  As it stands, the movie doesn’t let her take any pleasure from her voyeurism, and instead repeatedly punishes Anna for her transgressions, past and present.  She’s Joan of Arc with a telephoto lens.  Not recommended.

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The Truffle Hunters

The Truffle Hunters ostensibly is a documentary about several (very) old men who look for the rare white truffle in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.  Every scene is framed and captured with the skill of Italian Master.  The movie is not your typical documentary, however.  It does not explain why truffles grow where they do, or how the truffle hunters find them.  Those are trade secrets that the hunters will take with them to the grave.  Instead, the movie is an affectionate  character study of the men whose profession remains untouched by time or technological progress.  And if you love dogs, this movie is a must-see.  Highly recommended.

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