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Some Great Home Viewing this Week

George Wolf George Wolf Some Great Home Viewing this WeekImage via IMDb
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Leave it to Spike Lee to know exactly what to say and when to say it. His Da 5 Bloods leads a mostly solid pack of streaming movies this week. Although, if you are itching for the real theatrical experience, remember Studio 35 and Grandview Theater are open!

Da 5 Bloods

by Hope Madden

Leave it to Spike Lee to follow up the socially searing masterwork in direction BlackKklansman with something bigger, badder and even more immediately relevant.

Da 5 Bloods follows four Vietnam Vets (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis) back to the jungle where they left so much. They left a lot more than most, actually, including a beloved brother and a lot of gold.

Chadwick Boseman haunts the frames and the buddies as Stormin’ Norm, the young platoon leader and inspiration that didn’t make it home. If he represents past tragedies, Jonathan Majors represents the way those pains echo into today.

A heist movie on the surface, Da 5 Bloods is clearly about a great deal more than making it rich. Lee has a lot to say about how those in power tell us what we want to hear so we will do what they want us to do.

As is always the case with Lee’s films, even the most overtly political, deeply felt performances give the message meaning. The entire cast is excellent, but Delroy Lindo is transcendent.

Lindo’s never given a bad performance in his 45 years on screen. As commanding a presence as ever at 68 playing Paul, Lindo again blends vulnerability into every action, whether funny, menacing or melancholy. His MAGA hat-wearing, self-loathing, dangerously conflicted character gives Lee’s themes a pulse. This may finally be the performance to get Lindo the Oscar he’s deserved for ages.

Staggeringly equal to the effort is Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco) as Paul’s son David. His performance illustrates a resilience as well as a tenderness that is utterly heartbreaking.

Even so, here Lee avoids the sentimentality that undermined his 2008 war film Miracle at St. Anna. In its place is a clear-eyed look at the many, insidious effects of not just war but systemic oppression.

It should surprise no one that Lee’s latest happens to hit the exact nerve that throbs so loudly and painfully right now, given that he’s been telling this exact story in minor variations for 30+ years.

Grade: A

Sometimes Always Never

by Hope Madden

Veteran British writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (Welcome to Sarajevo, Millions) adapts his own short story of a grieving if dapper tailor, a not-so-prodigal son, making the best of a sad substitute, and Scrabble.

Thanks to the vision of first-time feature director Carl Hunter, Sometimes Always Never enjoys an eccentrically stylish, elegantly odd presentation. Hunter, in turns, finds those exact same characteristic in its sublime lead, Bill Nighy.

The film tags along as dapper Alan (Nighy) and his son Peter (Sam Riley) drive some distance together. They’ve been summoned to an out-of-town morgue to identify a body.

Between Hunter’s deliberate framing and set composition and Nighy’s droll but endearing presence, the film cannot help but charm. But the delightful and eye-catching style belies a grieving heart.

Nighy, of course, is brilliant—and how fun is it to watch him lead a film rather than take the screen as some minor if wonderful character? In his hands, Alan is unknowable but not intimidating. He’s spry and precisely drawn, never sentimental for a beat, and yet endlessly tender. Nighy owes Boyce a great debt for creating such a beautifully layered odd duck, and all of us owe Nighy even more for bringing Alan to life in his inimitable way.

Hunter surrounds his lead with a solid ensemble committed to understatement. Riley’s emotional turmoil has a resigned, lived-in quality that’s both sad and sweet. Jenny Agutter and Tim McInnerny (Severance), likewise, deliver the human contradiction of comedy and tragedy, while Alice Lowe (Prevenge) is just the sweetheart the film needs for balance.

Balance is an excellent word—though it may not net as many points as some more strategic choices, or is it as fun to say as “soap.” But in terms of the visuals versus the dialog, or the emotional versus the comedic, Hunter keeps a grip and never lets the film tip this way or that.

That doesn’t always feel true to the profound tragedy that has befallen this family and has caused, slowly but surely over the many years, the fractures Alan is attempting to mend. This pain too often feels overlooked, becoming a slight that keeps Sometimes Always Never from reaching its own cinematic potential.

Grade: B+

For They Know Not What They Do

Available to stream from Wexner Center for the Arts.

by Hope Madden

“If a lot of people have just a little bit of courage, then nobody has to be a hero.”

If we can’t see the truth in that statement right now, we are truly lost. It’s a call to action, and an argument that For They Know Not What They Do patiently articulates.

A sequel of sorts to director Daniel G. Karslake’s 2007 doc For the Bible Tells Me SoFor They Know Not What They Do revisits the Christian church after more than a decade to gauge its movement on LGBTQ rights.

The film drops you into the lives of four families navigating the complex world of faith and sexual identity.

Elliott is about to leave for his freshman year at Vassar, and he and his parents walk us through what it’s like to trust your adolescent enough to begin the irreversible. Ryan, with the help of his genuinely loving if deeply misdirected parents, commits to praying the gay away. Sarah is as committed to the political career she started as a middle school class president as she is in fully transitioning. Victor survived a tragedy thanks, in part, to the unflinching support of his Catholic parents.

In and around all of these stories, Karslake examines the political backlash to marriage equality, particularly the way the religious right has targeted the especially vulnerable transgender population and what that has meant in terms of violence.

All of the parents involved display their courageous human frailty, owning their immediate and long-term responses to knowledge of their children’s sexuality or gender identification.

Their continued reliance on faith to help them see where religious dogma had become poisonous is among the loveliest elements of the film. These parents lean on their scripture’s concept of forgiveness (mainly to forgive themselves for having harmed their children), love, and acceptance to help them see beyond their own fear.

It’s a path Karslake takes as well. This is a forgiving documentary. It never turns a blind eye toward the way the religious right uses organized religion as a tool to oppress. But FTKNWTD is more interested in how faith does not have to be tainted by this noxious hate. It’s a bold vision for a documentary on Christianity and LGBTQ suffering.

It is also perhaps the film’s strongest selling point. Karslake doesn’t preach at, condescend to or even vilify the audience most in need of the film’s message.

Grade: A-


by George Wolf

Arielle (Bella Thorne) is bumming. She’s got a crap waitressing job in a boring Florida town, and she’s way over living with her mom and her mom’s creepy boyfriend. And too many people pronounce her name like the Disney princess! But that’s not the nearly the worst of it.

Her Instagram numbers are pathetic.

Enter a hunky new bad boy in town named Dean (Jake Manley), a gun, and a string of brazen robberies along the route to a new life in Hollywood, and those followers start piling up.

The news reports begin branding the couple as a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, but it’s clear early on that what writer/director Joshua Caldwell has in mind is a Natural Born Killers for the social media set.

While the film’s timing – dropping right when we are seeing social media push overdue social change – isn’t great, its goal is an ambitious one. The internet age still seems ripe for the type of darkly comic and satirical fish eye that Oliver Stone used to frame mass media in 1994. And no matter how well you think that film has aged, you can’t deny the boldness of the vision.

There’s nothing remotely fresh about Infamous, let alone bold. The last straw catalyst for leaving town, the sex while driving, the media obsession and the misplaced adulation of the masses all line up and fall as easily as the next robbery.

About an hour in, Arielle and Dean take a hostage (Glee’s Amber Riley with a nice, understated turn) and it seems Caldwell is finally trying to make his own statement. But it stalls from exposition and generality, leading nowhere close to the intersection where Stone planted his flag, one where the film’s true commentary transcends the style and narrative.

And there is style here. Caldwell gives much of the action an urgent pace and a livestream feel, with texts and comments often darting the frame to remind you where Arielle’s heart is.

But she, and Dean, are more cliche than character, and what they tell us about social media isn’t much deeper. The interchangeable, angst-heavy soundtrack choices only confirm that Infamous isn’t reaching beyond these two outlaw lovers, and the youngest of adult audiences may actually identify with them for all the wrong reasons.

Grade: C-

Darkness Falls

by Brandon Thomas

Going into Darkness Falls, I felt upbeat and positive. Gary Cole is the heavy of the film? Sign me up! His track record as a villain (namely A Simple Plan and Pineapple Express) is pretty spotless in my book. 

Then I watched Darkness Falls

Cue sound of deflating balloon.

Detective Jeff Anderson (Shawn Ashmore) has become obsessed with his wife’s suicide, convinced that it was actually a murder. As Anderson delves deeper into other similar suicide cases, he finds that a father and son serial killer duo (Gary Cole and Richard Harmon) are stalking his city. 

From the opening scene, Darkness Falls leans heavily into cliche, and, if I’m being painfully honest, laziness. The filmmaking lacks any real type of energy or urgency. Director Julien Seri’s artistic choices come across as inept and amateurish, never really settling on a specific style. Seri tends to stage many shots to look cool instead of helping to tell an engaging story.

Giles Daoist’s script isn’t up to the challenge either. Rather than try something new with the genre, Darkness Falls relies on the same tired detective movie tropes. Anderson is the loose canon detective that the brass just can’t handle. And I’d be ashamed to forget mentioning just how often he slams his palms on counters and/or tables and shouts things like, “Tell me where he is?!” Truly riveting screenwriting.

The “twists” in the film are ones we’ve seen countless times before in much better films. The climax itself was probably done at least three dozen times before 1990. A few genuine “oohs” and “aahs” could’ve helped Darkness Falls be something more than a feature-length Criminal Minds episode.

Performance wise, things don’t improve. Ashmore, who’s notable for playing more squeaky-clean roles, awkwardly tries to embody the tough-as- nails detective. When he’s not chewing up scenes with over-acting, Ashmore’s performance barely registers above bored. Cole, who I usually adore, doesn’t fare much better. His papa bear serial killer lacks any kind of menace. The character is more of a homicidal used car salesman than threatening maniac. 

With its pedestrian writing, cruise control direction, and phoned-in performances, Darkness Falls spectacularly falls on its face. 

Grade: D-

Warning: Do Not Play

Streaming on Shudder.

by George Wolf

Basing a horror film around the “scariest movie ever made” premise is ambitious. Is it smart?

Well, it’s ambitious. Because at some point, you’re going to have to show at least a snippet of this deadly frightening flick your film is referencing, and your audience is already poised to dismiss the impact.

Remember the “killer” tape in the The Ring? We had to see it, and if it didn’t totally creep us out when we did, the entire movie would have crumbled. But that video WAS creepy as hell, giving The Ring the anchor it needed to stand as one of the best PG-13 horror flicks ever made.

Shudder’s Warning: Do Not Play remembers The Ring/Ringu quite well, building a familiar mystery around some urban legendary, long-lost film footage.

Mi-Jung (Ye-ji Seo) is a “film festival prodigy” on a two week deadline from a big South Korean studio to come up with a great horror script or she’s out.

She needs inspiration!

Film students at the local university hip Mi-Jung to the legend of a graduation film from years earlier. They can’t remember the title, but it supposedly screened once, with repercussions so dramatic the film was rumored to be directed…by a ghost.

Mi-Jung asks for help in an online forum and is instantly met with an ominous demand to cease the inquiries, which only draws her deeper into the mystery.

Writer/director Kim Jin-won provides some nifty atmospherics in the early going, but little else to demand your attention. While Kim doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares (thank you), he pushes the unreliable narrator trope via enough “waking from a dream” sequences to quickly become tiresome.

But the blood and the body count pick up in act two, as the film adopts some Blair Witch tactics – and openly cops to it, which is nice. Mi-Jung finds herself deep inside the cursed production, and we’re left to sort out the psychological strands of her experience.

The film-within-a-film may never grasp the elusive Ring ambitions, but hang in past the setup and Warning delivers a competent mystery and some fun terror in the aisles.

Grade: B

Read more from George and Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to their weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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