Locating ‘Parallel Mothers’ on My Review Axis

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Parallel Mothers (CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics/Screenshot)

Starring: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Rossy de Palma, Julieta Serrano

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: December 24, 2021 (Theaters)

Those mothers aren’t parallel! On the contrary, they intersect quite a bit!

But I’m okay with that! It probably would have been a worse movie if they had remained fully parallel. And I’m also okay with the title not being 100% mathematically correct. Pedro Almodóvar is more of a poet than a professor, after all. But now I’d kinda like to see him make a movie about a calculus professor…

Grade: Top-Notch Soap Operatics

 Is This the Sixty-First Review of ‘The Scary of Sixty-First’?

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CREDIT: Utopia/Screenshot

Starring: Madeline Quinn, Betsey Brown, Dasha Nekrasova, Mark Rapaport

Director: Dasha Nekrasova

Running Time: 81 Minutes

Rating: Unrated

Release Date: December 2, 2021 (Select Theaters)/December 24, 2021 (Digital)

I think Dasha Nekrasova is one of those people who’s living on another planet. Like metaphorically. Or maybe even also literally, if the multiverse theory is to be believed…

Anyway, you might know Nekrasova as Comfrey on Succession, or as co-host of the dirtbag left podcast Red Scare, or for her breakthrough performance as “Sailor Socialism.” Now she’s co-written, directed, and starred in a movie about a couple of girls who move into an apartment that supposedly formerly played host to the pedophiliac exploits of Jeffrey Epstein. There are some solid low-budget creeper scares and a few demented laughs, but mostly it’ll have you going “What chu talkin’ ’bout?” and “Why did you say it that way?” It’s worth it for a trip to the cinematic underground.

Grade: 3 out of 5 Pentagrams

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 1/14/22

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Single Drunk Female (CREDIT: Elizabeth Sisson/Freeform)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Scream (Theaters) – The FIFTH Scream, for those keeping count. (But the first without Wes Craven.)

How I Met Your Father Series Premiere (January 18 on Hulu) – Kim Cattrall narrates Hilary Duff’s life.
The World According to Jeff Goldblum Season 2 Part 2 (January 19 on Disney+)
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Season Premiere (January 20 on TBS)
Single Drunk Female Series Premiere (January 20 on Freeform) – Sofia Black-D’Elia gets a starring vehicle.

-Elvis Costello & the Imposters, The Boy Named If
-FKA Twigs, Caprisongs

-NFL Wild Card Playoff Game on Nickelodeon – The Cowboys and 49ers are getting slimed.
-2022 Australian Open – Will Novak Djokovic be allowed to stay in the country for the entire tournament?

Fly on the Wall with Dana Carvey and David SpadeSNL alums chatting about folks connected to SNL.

‘Scream’ is Still Nailing the Horror Zeitgeist

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Scream 2022 (CREDIT: Paramount Pictures)

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Mikey Madison, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Marley Shelton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Kyle Gallner, Sonia Ben Ammar, Roger L. Jackson

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for A Lot of Blood, and a Few Chats About Getting It On

Release Date: January 14, 2022 (Theaters)

The latest Scream movie is the fifth in the slasher series, but it’s not called “Scream 5.” Instead, it’s just called “Scream,” exactly like the very first entry. This is the latest example of an annoying trend in which sequels that also work as reboots to long-running franchises have the exact same title as the original, with 2018’s Halloween perhaps the most notorious example. I had convinced myself not to talk about the title in my review, figuring that it would be more interesting to focus on the content of the actual movie. But then I watched the movie, and it turned out that there’s a very good reason for that recycled title. Because this time around, the Woodsboro stabbing crew is aiming its knife at those franchise “requels” and all the other cinema that inspires a certain breed of toxic fandom.

More than 25 years after the first killing spree, you could be forgiven for wondering how there still could possibly be anyone connected to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) with enough bloodlust to justify another sequel. The answer is that this time around, the motivation is less logical, and therefore more brutal and disturbing. You know the sorts of people who complain about how the likes of latter-day Star Wars and female-led Ghostbusters have destroyed their childhoods? What if they were so upset that they resorted to murder to set things right? That’s a premise that could conceivably stand on its own as an original horror flick, but it feels all too appropriate that instead it has commandeered one of the most beloved scary movie franchises of all time.

In some ways, this latest Scream is like an original effort, insofar as it focuses on the new faces ahead of the legacy characters much more so than any of the other adventures of Woodsboro. But of course, it’s still very much a part of the franchise insomuch as it follows the formula of a killer (or killers) lurking within a friend group of horny young people while terrorizing them with creepy phone calls. (Roger L. Jackson returns once again as the voice of Ghostface, and his deep cadence sounds a lot like the deep, steady tones of original Scream director Wes Craven, to the point that I wondered if Craven had before his 2015 passing recorded some dialogue to be used later.) Don’t worry too much about staleness, though, as there are some zigs when you expect zags, as characters either don’t know – or don’t care – about the rules that supposedly determine who dies and how in a horror movie. Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have a knack for keeping audiences on their toes like this, which they demonstrated amply in their 2019 bloodbath Ready or Not.

At times, the acting may skew a little more melodramatic than is advisable, but overall, Scream remains as remarkably fun and fresh as it’s ever been. Where originally there were conversations about how blade-wielders patiently stalk their victims, now we have discussions about how the newest generation of horror tastemakers are enthralled by “elevated horror” like The Babadook and Hereditary, and how long-in-the-tooth franchises need to find that sweet spot of “not too different, not too repetitive” to succeed. Scream 2022 finds that sweet spot, and goes in for the kill.

Scream (2022) is Recommended If You Like: Defending all the Scream sequels, Ready or Not, You’re Next, Talking with your fellow movie -obsessed friends, Film Twitter, Listening to and/or hosting movie podcasts

Grade: 4 out of 5 Requels

‘The Power of the Dog’ is Not for the Dogs

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The Power of the Dog (CREDIT: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jesse Plemons, Thomasin McKenzie

Director: Jane Campion

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: November 17, 2021 (Theaters)/December 1, 2021 (Netflix)

I’m pretty sure there weren’t any dogs in The Power of the Dog. Actually, now that I think about it, there may have been a few mutts running around the ranch. But none of them had any speaking parts! (Or barking parts, for that matter.) Yes, I know the title is a metaphor from the Bible, so I wasn’t genuinely expecting any unforgettable canine thespian turns. But still! At least Kirsten Dunst is also around, though she spends most of her time drunk and in bed. What up with that?! Anyway, I didn’t think Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was too bad. Certainly not the friendliest, but I could deal with him.

Grade: I Do Not Want to Live in 1925 Montana

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 1/7/22

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Pivoting (CREDIT: FOX/Screenshot)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

A Hero (January 7 in Theaters, January 21 on Amazon)

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 14 Premiere (January 7 on VH1)
Search Party Season 5 (January 7 on HBO Max) – Final Season Alert!
A Discovery of Witches Season 3 Premiere (January 8 on Sundance Now, Shudder, and AMC+) – I’ll probably wait until it airs on AMC proper, though.
Pivoting Series Premiere (January 9 on FOX) – Eliza Coupe in a sitcom that looks like it has some bite to it.
The Righteous Gemstones Season 2 Premiere (January 9 on HBO)
Superman & Lois Season 2 Premiere (January 11 on The CW)

-The Weeknd, Dawn FM

‘The 355’ Features Lady Spies Fighting Off a Cyber-MacGuffin

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The 355 (CREDIT: Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramirez

Director: Simon Kinberg

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Very Loud Guns and Some Torture

Release Date: January 7, 2022 (Theaters)

Like pretty much every other spycraft movie ever, The 355 left me reeling with bewilderment over my lack of understanding about what exactly was going on. About 20 minutes in, I wondered, “Did I miss something while looking down at my phone or taking a swig of water?” That’s pretty par for the course. What’s less par is the fact that this particular spy movie stars a quintet of ladies who have all garnered plenty of awards recognition over the course of their careers. The title, after all, is a reference to a code name used by a female agent during the American Revolution. But ultimately that feminine energy makes hardly any difference whatsoever.

The 355 (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Basically there’s some to-do about some MacGuffin that could apparently destroy the world if it winds up in the wrong hands. So a team of allies and former rivals from all around the world forms on the fly to ensure that this doesn’t happen. There’s also some business about Jessica Chastain’s CIA agent character being betrayed by her partner (Sebastian Stan). I couldn’t figure out what his motivation was. Ultimately I began to entertain the idea that perhaps these actors were just as oblivious as I was about the details of their characters’ mission. They never betrayed any doubt in their performances, but it’s kind of interesting to consider the amount of blindness that could potentially go into pulling off a plot this knotty. Also, Penélope Cruz’s character is a therapist, and it’s clear that she is not used to field work that’s this high-stakes. So I kind of wish the focus had been more on her.

There might be some readers of this review who are shouting at me, “What are you talking about?! This made perfect sense! I know exactly what happened!” But a comprehensible plot is only half the battle here. There also needs to be style and momentum. Alas, though, The 355 for the most part alternates between deafening gun shootouts and frequently whispered conversations. Oh well, that’s January cinema for ya. The nonsense has to go somewhere.

The 355 is Recommended If You Like: The promise of a “Dewey Decimal System for Cyberattacks”

Grade: 2 out of 5 Common Enemies

I Saw ‘West Side Story’ (2021) a Few Days After New Year’s and Now I’m Going to Write About It

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West Side Story (CREDIT: Ramona Rosales/© 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Brian d’Arcy James, Corey Stoll

Director: Steven Spielberg

Running Time: 156 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: December 10, 2021 (Theaters)

Did West Side Story (2021) make me want to have my own West Side Story? It wouldn’t be too hard! Considering my personal history, it would probably take place at the AMC Lincoln Square, even though that’s not the theater where I saw this particular movie. (I opted for the Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse instead.)

I could certainly see myself suddenly falling for some fellow moviegoer as I walk to my seat, and then we dance through the lobby. But I don’t think I would kill her brother. I just don’t have it in me! Maybe we could find some replacement for that part.

Anyhow, I liked the part when Tony and Maria were talking on the subway the most. I may be skeptical of love at first sight, but I very much believe in the power of an initial spark leading to conversations about the practical steps needed to advance a relationship. If there had been more of that in this story, maybe there would have been less death!

Grade: I Felt Pretty, Insofar as I Feel Pretty While Being Fully Attentive During a Movie That I’m Enjoying

‘A Hero’ is Asghar Farhadi’s Latest Masterwork of Moral Knottiness

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A Hero (CREDIT: Amir Hossein Shojaei)

Starring: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadrorafaii, Sahar Goldoust, Maryam Shahdaie, Sarina Farhadi, Saleh Karimai

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Minor Fisticuffs

Release Date: January 7, 2022 (Theaters)/January 21, 2022 (Amazon Prime Video)

I’ve lately been realizing that I really enjoy movies and TV shows that work as little morality tales, and I especially have to thank Asghar Farhadi for that. The Iranian filmmaker behind the Oscar-winning A Separation and The Salesman is cinema’s current go-to guy for stories about emotionally wrenching dilemmas. A Hero is just the latest example of his probing pieces in which you’ll likely find your allegiances suddenly shifting, as it is abundantly clear that every character is worthy of our sympathy. Existence leaves so many of us in cruel situations, but they’re made easier if we offer a helping hand, though that can be tricky when that helping hand gets in the way of aiding somebody else.

The titular hero is divorced dad Rahim, played by Amir Jadidi with the right mix of diffidence and determination that makes you wonder, how much of a hero is he really? Should we ever hero worship anyone no matter how much we appreciate what they’ve done? He’s currently in prison because of a debt he’s unable to pay off thanks to an unscrupulous business partner. He’s allowed out for a few days, around the time that his secret fiance discovers a bag filled with money. They want to keep it, as it’s potentially enough cash to pay off his debt, but they ultimately decide to instead find the owner. And when they do, Rahim takes the credit, partly to keep the relationship under wraps. This attracts the attention of journalists and a local charity organization, which just might be able to raise enough for Rahim to pay back the loan and get out of prison.

But not so fast! His creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), who also happens to be his ex-brother-in-law, insists that he’s not willing to forgive the debt if Rahim can’t raise the full amount. And he’s not sure Rahim even deserves any of the money that’s been donated anyway, as he has some doubts about the money bag story. To be fair, it is a little fishy, as Rahim is indeed keeping some details under wraps. And it doesn’t help that the woman with the bag disappears off the face of the Earth after it’s returned to her. (It seems like she’s trying to escape an abusive marriage.)

So Rahim’s path back to freedom won’t be so simple after all. He’s been given a raw deal, although he could certainly help himself out a bit by being less prideful. But you can definitely understand Bahram’s perspective, as well as those of Rahim’s sister and her family, and those of the prison workers, the charity board members, and the woman with the bag.

During Rahim’s stonewalled interactions with Bahram, I couldn’t help but think of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. Like the older brother in that story, Bahram is insistent that one’s responsibilities should be taken care of in the proper manner. Bahram’s a sympathetic figure, as it’s clear that Rahim’s past transgressions have seriously hurt his family. But it’s equally clear that he would be better off – and so would everybody – if he instead chose to be more kind. A Hero posits that people are most likely to display kindness when they hear a good story, but that’s not exactly the most encouraging fact of life.

A Hero is Recommended If You Like: Parables, Aesop’s fables, Social dilemmas

Grade: 4 out of 5 Debts

I Love Watching All Those Matrixes Get Resurrected!

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CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jones, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Ricci, Chad Stahelski

Director: Lana Wachowski

Running Time: 148 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: December 22, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

The Matrix Resurrections is perhaps the most self-referential movie ever made. That’s usually a major turnoff for audiences (give or take a Scream), but we’ve all been living in the Matrix ever since the first came out. I love that fact about our lives! So of course the scenes in Resurrections that I loved the most are the ones that most clearly echo the rest of the franchise and reckon with the creation of the movie that we’re watching right now. (Spaceballs, anyone?) I’m obviously talking about the scene where the video game team is pitching (and re-pitching) their sequel ideas. And I’m also talking about Neo and Trinity’s final encounter with The Analyst, what with it being firmly underscored by a theme of second chances. You might have to squint to see the connections in other scenes, but not that hard. Long live the Catrix!

Grade: A Million Miles in One Matrix

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