Free Guy

Free Guy is built on a great concept: Guy, a non-player character (or NPC) doesn’t realize he’s an NPC, or that he essentially lives in a video game world.  Guy’s lack of awareness in his Grand Theft Auto existence would have been funny on its own.  Ryan Reynolds trades in his passive-aggressive sarcasm for playful innocence, spinning comedic gold from Guy’s naivete.  As if that weren’t enough, Free Guy asks an intriguing question: what if an NPC became self-aware and fell in love with a player?  Filled with winning performances and a playful sense for anarchy not seen since the Looney Tunes, Free Guy is fun writ large.  Highly recommended.

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Pig

Pig may be about a man’s search for his stolen pig, but its much more than that.  The emotions evoked by Nicolas Cage are universal, and anyone who has lost a beloved pet would immediately sympathize with his plight.  Under the surface, Pig is a deft examination of tragedy and grief.  Robin, as portrayed by Cage, leaves his former life behind for a (nearly) solitary existence in the woods.  Unfortunately, humans are defined by our connections to others, and those connections are unpredictable.  Cage’s acting is some of the best he’s done in years and should be in the conversation for Best Actor.  Highly recommended.

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The Tomorrow War

The Tomorrow War is a variation on the much better Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow. Pratt plays, Dan, a high school biology teacher sent to battle aliens in the future. Those aliens are mean and nasty, but they are no match against Dan and his plucky family. Even though this movie is completely redundant, the movie is entertaining enough to justify a viewing, particularly if you already have Amazon Prime. (You’re already paying for it, so why not?) Chris Pratt acts convincingly, no matter what the movie throws at him, and proves himself a worthy heir to Bruce Willis. Recommended.

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Old

Old has a great opening act: a group of vacationers are taken to an exclusive beach. Once there, they age rapidly and cannot find a way to leave. The movie is undone by talky dialog and weak acting by the leads. The middle act gets weighed down by sappy sentimentality when it should have ratcheted the tension and the horror of the situation. The mystery is revealed in the end, and while it is intriguing, is loose in its reasoning and cannot erase what came before. A disappointment after the one-two punch of Split and Glass. Not recommended.

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Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain epitomized the ethos of his rock-and-roll idols: live life as an adventure, and always tell it like it is.  An admitted former heroin addict in his teens, he was inspired to become a cook while working as a dishwasher.  Roadrunner chronicles Bourdain’s amazing life, which included several successful careers: cook, chef, best-selling author and Emmy-winning host of a popular television show.  Ultimately, Bourdain was a restless soul whose all-consuming quest for experience took him around the world, several times over.  Emotional commentary by family, friends and colleagues help us to understand who Bourdain was, beyond his television persona.  Roadrunner paints a stunning portrait of a larger-than-life person who was loved and appreciated by many, but for some reason never felt it or believed it.  Highly recommended.

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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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