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The Rock, Boots Riley, The Devil, Triplets and More in Theaters

Hope Madden Hope Madden The Rock, Boots Riley, The Devil, Triplets and More in TheatersPhoto via IMDb.
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What happens when a socialist movie hits cinemas? Do you know what comes with that? Buildings collapse, monsters take to the water, people go off the grid, Satan returns to earth and triplets have a lovely reunion. Yeah, that last one doesn’t fit the theme so well, but the point is that there is a wild variety of movies opening this week. Here’s a quick trip through them.

Sorry to Bother You

by Hope Madden

Sorry to Bother You uses splashes of absurdity and surrealism to enliven the first act “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” tale of a weary young man’s ascension through the ranks of telemarketing. It is a funny and pointed send-up of cubical hell that—unlike most office comedies—focuses quickly on a system that benefits very few while it exploits very many.

There is so much untidiness and depth to relationships, characterizations, comedy, horror, style, message and execution of this film that you could overlook writer/director Boots Riley’s directorial approach. He expertly uses the havoc and excess, first lulling you into familiar territory before upending all expectations and taking you on one head-trip of an indictment of capitalism.

Riley’s film could not be more timely. Though he wrote it nearly a dozen years ago, and it certainly reflects a trajectory our nation has been on for eons, it feels so of-the-moment you expect to see a baby Trump balloon floating above the labor union picket line.

Bursting with thoughts, images and ideas, the film never feels like it wanders into tangents. Instead, Riley’s alarmingly relevant directorial debut creates a new cinematic form to accommodate its abundance of insight and number of comments.

Does it careen off the rails by Act 3? Oh, yes, and gloriously so. A tidy or in any way predictable conclusion would have been a far greater disaster, though. Riley set us on a course that dismantles the structure we’ve grown used to as moviegoers and we may not be ready for what that kind of change means for us. Isn’t it about goddamn time?

Grade: A-

Skyscraper

by George Wolf

My wife says if I can’t get through this without mentioning Die Hard, I owe her ten bucks.

So how much will The Towering Inferno cost me?

Get over it, right? Those are decades old.

Fair enough. Ideas are born to be borrowed, and the real question is how well Skyscraper assembles its inspirations. The answers come without apology, cranked up to full tilt boogie until the rubble-strewn, crowd-pleasing finale.

Of course, Dwayne Johnson stars as Will Seymour, a former Marine and FBI hostage negotiator now working as a security expert. Will’s hired to assess the security measures at The Pearl in Hong Kong, the world’s new tallest building that is ready to open its luxurious residential upper half. There’s something in The Pearl’s vault that is very valuable to international terrorist Kores Botha (Roland Moller), and Will is part of the plan to take it from the skyscraper’s visionary designer (Chin Han).

Who’s the fly in that high-rise ointment? The monkey in the wrench? It’s The F. Rock

Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence) trades comedy for disaster thrills.

The heroics are grand in scale, engulfed in flames and often unveiled with gasp-inducing effects that consistently poke at our fear of heights. And it all could only be more ridiculous if Will and Botha got in the Face/Off machine and switched identities.

The film’s plot turns and callbacks get so shameless it nearly pauses for applause, but the commitment is so unabashed and the spectacle so summer-ready, Skyscraper wins you over with pure “are you not entertained?” tenacity.

Yippee Ki….psych!

Grade: B-

Leave No Trace

by George Wolf

In her first feature since 2010’s gripping Winter’s Bone, writer/director Debra Granik is again focused on souls living on the rural fringes and scraping out a hardscrabble, under-the-radar existence.

But with Leave No Trace, any sinister, menacing layers have been replaced by a tender, sympathetic grace that feels achingly authentic, and often heartbreaking.

The film is driven by two haunting lead performances.

Ben Foster, surely one of the most underrated actors around, plays Will, a committed single father living deep within a massive state park in Portland. Will and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) get all they need from their illegal homemade camp in the forest, taking constant measures to avoid being spotted.

One mistake later, Will is desperate to break free from the bureaucratic pressure to adapt, while Tom begins to feel the pull of a “normal” she has never known.

Though Foster’s tremendous turn is not exactly surprising, the little-known McKenzie delivers a statement performance full of wonder and quiet power.

Less is so often more, and Leave No Trace emits a profoundly minimalistic beauty.

Grade: A-

 

Three Identical Strangers

by Hope Madden

Back in 1980, as Robert Shafran moved into college, he was greeted warmly by many as “Eddy.” The 19-year-old would soon meet his doppleganger.

Eddy Gallan—also adopted, also born July 12, 1961—and Bobby became inseparable friends. Brothers, actually, and their story attracted the attention of several newspapers as well as another young man born July 12, 1961.

When David Kellman joined the crew, three brothers separated at birth held the world’s attention. This story itself, told warmly and with great compassion by documentarian Tim Wardle, is endlessly charming based on the contagious joy the brothers felt to be reunited.

And you coast along on that charm for a while until this nagging idea creeps into the party atmosphere: why were they separated in the first place?

Even those who remember the brothers’ tale will find this recounting fresh and fun. Footage and photos of their time together as young men paired with their own lively recounting of the story creates an energy that entertains. Wardle expertly moves the story forward, offering new, often funny and sometimes touching reminiscences of certain events from those closest to the action.

The filmmaker’s strictly sequential chronology relies on your assumptions about documentary and ensures consistent surprises. What begins as a zanier-than-life story slowly turns into a dark tale of conspiracy colored by larger themes of nature versus nurture.

As Wardle pieces together a frustrating puzzle, he’s left with more questions than answers. Constantly revealing a new piece of information, a new source and more complications, the investigation itself becomes as much a character in the film as the triplets.

If nothing else, it is quite a story.

Grade: B+

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

by Rachel Willis

These days, whenever an animated movie is released, it’s a near guarantee it will become a franchise. A few of these sequels are as good or better than the originals that spawned them, but most of them aren’t.

There’s nothing inherently problematic with milking successful movies for more material, provided the new stories are able to stand alone. Hotel Transylvania 3 manages to do so, but there are areas of the film that suffer from the same problems as other sequels.

Deciding her dad, Dracula, needs his own, Mavis books a family trip on a monster cruise. Along for the ride are a number of characters from the previous films, but the new film would have been better served if they’d been left behind in favor of fleshing out the new faces.

As Dracula, Adam Sandler brings a new aspect to a centuries-old character. While trying to woo the captain of the monster cruise, Ericka, he’s a nervous wreck. It’s an interpretation that serves the franchise well as it provides moments of humor for both children and adults.

Kathryn Hahn as Ericka is a good addition to the series. She plays well against Sandler, and together, they’re the glue that binds the film.

Director Genndy Tartakovsky has helmed all three films in the Hotel Transylvania series, and he’s done well with the material. The latest film will likely appeal to children of all ages, though their parents may surreptitiously check their phones once or twice.

Grade: C-

The Devil’s Doorway

by Hope Madden

Two priests—one young, one a veteran—head into dangerous spiritual territory in a film that fully understands that you will compare it to The Exorcist. How can you not?

Aislinn Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway follows Fr. Thomas Riley (Lalor Roddy) and Fr. John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn) to a Magdalene Laundry, one of Ireland’s infamous workhouses populated by women the country wanted to hide and exploit.

The setting itself is a way of inverting the gravitas of The Exorcist, which saw two priests—one firm in his belief, the other confronting a crisis of faith—come to the aid of an innocent girl facing the corruption of her purity from something demonic.

Here, Fr. Riley, the elder priest, has to face his own crisis of faith. But his belief has been stretched to breaking by the corruption of the church itself, as manifest by this place.

There is an earnestness in the battle between faith and cynicism in this film. The Exorcist and films like it, those that saw the wayward horror of man as only correctable with help from above, have long given way to something else. A demonic possession now feels like it happens within holy walls because that’s where the devil lives in the first place.

While most films of this ilk simply take potshots, The Devil’s Doorway mourns the corrosion of something worthwhile and holy.

The film gets a bit caught in genre trappings, and what starts as an indictment of the church becomes so punchdrunk on jump scares it loses its focus entirely.

The Devil’s Doorway started out with promise, but like so many lapsed Catholics, it lost its way.

Grade: B-

Also opening in Columbus:
Angels Wear White (NR)
Game Changers (NR)
Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist (NR)
Woman Walks Ahead (R)

Read more from Hope and team at MADDWOLF. Don’t feel like reading? Listen to Hope’s podcast rundown of all that’s new in theater and home entertainment, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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