Super-Relatable for Runners of All Racing Stripes: ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ Review

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

Starring: Jillian Bell, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Michaela Watkins, Micah Stock, Lil Rel Howery, Alice Lee

Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Fun and Sexy Times in Between the Marathon Training

Release Date: August 23, 2019 (Limited)

Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell) has never been much of a fan of exercise, but somehow she finds herself training for the New York City Marathon mere months after she first takes up running. I’ve been running since I was in sixth grade, and my current goal is to complete the 2020 New York City Marathon. Our origins are very different, and yet we are one and the same.

Brittany Runs a Marathon understands certain core tenets about running, particularly that no matter how in shape or out of shape of you, the next challenge is always daunting. And no matter how much running becomes a part of your routine, the next run still feel sublime. That’s important, as it makes up for the fact that much of the non-running moments of this movie are kind of soul-crushing. As we watch Brittany make her way through the gig economy and deal with roommate issues and learn how to be an adult who regularly visits the doctor, we mostly get a cinematic effort that’s about at the level of a dimly sitcom, or a dramedy of malaise, or what have you. But when Brittany conquers the huffing and the puffing and the indiscriminate sweat as she makes her way through the five boroughs, a bit of transcendence manages to sneak up on us.

Brittany Runs a Marathon is Recommended If You Like: Cheering on runners of all skill levels

Grade: 3 out of 5 Sweat Patches

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Foreign Language Film Review Corner: ‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’

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CREDIT: Shudder/YouTube Screenshot

Starring: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Hanssel Casillas

Director: Issa López

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (I’d Peg it at a PG-13 for Violence That’s Not Too Graphic)

Release Date: August 21, 2019 (New York)/August 23, 2019 (Los Angeles and Toronto)

After her mother is murdered, little Estrella (Paola Lara) joins up with a group of boys as they run through the streets of Mexico to avoid the clutches of the local drug cartel. Also hot on Estrella’s tail is a streak of blood that runs along the floor and up the wall whenever she is stuck in a corner. It turns out that the ever-present threat of drug violence is paired with a mysterious supernatural presence that is more existentially unnerving than it is especially deadly. From my vantage point, that otherworldliness weirdly seemed like a small bit of comfort for Estrella. A dark fantasy world is suitably spooky when a child’s base reality is safe and secure, but when normal is filled with angry, gun-toting adults, the fantasy is the realm of security.

Tigers Are Not Afraid is Recommended If You Like: Gritty fantastical realism

Grade: 3 out of 5 Wishes

No Need to Make a Deal with the Devil: Go See ‘Ready or Not’!

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Ridiculous and Bloody Violence, Over-the-Top Profanity, and a Few Bumps of Cocaine

Release Date: August 21, 2019

Rich people are so different from the rest of us (HOW DIFFERENT ARE THEY?!) that some of them think it’s perfectly justifiable to hunt other people for fun. Or at least that’s what the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” and its many descendants would have us believe. The latest example is Ready or Not, which features the highest-stakes version of hide-and-seek I have ever witnessed. It takes place at the mansion of the Le Domas family, whose black sheep son Alex (Mark O’Brien) has returned home with his new bride Grace (Samara Weaving). The Le Domases made their fortune in the gaming industry, and it is no coincidence that tradition dictates that whenever someone marries into the family, she must play a little game with her in-laws on her wedding night.

As the newbie to all this eccentricity, Grace is of course the hider, which she discovers is quite a frightening position to be in when she learns that everyone is trying to kill her before the sun comes up. This may sound like some sort of twisted sport hunting, but while the Le Domases can be gleeful in their attempted murder, they would rather not have to go through it. And yet they have decided they must, for they believe that something very bad will happen to them if they do not complete the ritual. You see, a few generations ago, when the first Le Domas arrived in America, he made a deal with a strange benefactor who promised – and delivered – great fortune, but with the caveat that his family must perform this wedding night gameplay in perpetuity under penalty of execution. The underlying message is clear: the ultra-rich are prone to some rather offbeat logic to justify their lot in life.

The familial indoctrination on display here is strikingly similar to that of a cult, which has me wondering: is devotion to the principles of the ultra-rich a religious sect unto itself? The religious overtones are certainly there, as the mandatoriness of the lethal hide-and-seek is fashioned as a sort of deal with the devil. But while the Le Domases appear to be allegiant to some sort of dark lord, their loyalty is not all that different than the sort demanded by the God of the Old Testament. While watching Ready or Not, I couldn’t stop thinking of Abraham attempting to sacrifice his son Isaac after God commanded him to do so, with God then rewarding Abraham for his loyalty. Is Alex’s responsibility to kill his new wife just a similar test of faith?

The great satisfaction of Ready or Not is how these weighty issues of generational inheritance fit so seamlessly within the thrills of a relentless and-then-there-were-none-style slasher pic. The performances follow suit. Samara Weaving is like a threatened animal screaming full-bodied howls animated by profound incredulousness, with the survivor’s strength she summons recalling Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Sharni Vinson in You’re Next. As the parents and aunt of the groom, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, and Nicky Guadagni are all disturbingly committed to the game, while Adam Brody, as Alex’s brother Daniel, is in eternal negotiations with the legacy he’s inherited. The blood in Ready or Not is disturbing, hilarious, and thought-provoking – what else can you ask for?!

Ready or Not is Recommended If You Like: You’re Next, Clue, The Purge

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Bloody Wedding Dresses

Scary Movie Reviews to Write in the Dark: ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ Review

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CREDIT: CBS Films

In Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Stella Nichols (Zoe Colletti) just needs to increase her speed and stamina a bit to make herself the perfect adversary to defeat a haunted book. She’s already a talented enough writer who knows how to get the truth out there. Anyway, on Halloween 1968, she and her friends stumble upon a tome in a creepy abandoned house that features macabre musings written in blood that come to life with deadly consequences. They’re penned from beyond by the deceased Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard), who it turns out was abused by her own family after she attempted to reveal their dark secrets.

The underlying thematic schematic here is something to do with the unseemly secrets at the heart of America and how powerful folks often do their worst to keep inconvenient people quiet. That’s given resonant oomph by the Bellows’ black servant being the only thing close to a reliable witness and a time period that constantly places Tricky Dick Nixon’s presidential campaign on TVs in the background. The message is meaningful, but it perhaps could be synthesized more clearly. As for the monstrousness, the imagery is effective enough, what with a big white meatball creature that absorbs people and a massive swelling of the cheek that houses a swarm of spiders. I’m a little scared, and I’m motivated enough to say let’s get our skeletons out of the darkness.

I give Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark 3 Bloody Letters out of 5 Jangly Men.

The Wettest Documentary Review Ever: ‘Aquarela’

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CREDIT: Stine Heilmann/Sony Pictures Classics

Starring: H2O

Director: Victor Kossakovsky

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG for General Aquatic Danger

Release Date: August 16, 2019 (Limited)

Water. Water water water water water water water.

That’s what’s promised and it’s certainly what’s on display in Russian director Victor Kossakovsky’s wet, unique, and uniquely wet documentary Aquarela. Water sustains all life on this planet, so in a way, it also sustains all cinema. But when it stands on its own at number one on the call sheet, does it hit the spot? To be fair, I will have to personally assess a score of “incomplete” on that question, as will most people who end up seeing Aquarela. It was shot at a practically unheard rate of 96 frames per second, four times the standard 24, and there aren’t many theaters with the capacity to project at that rate. So it will be screened at 48 frames per second, which is itself quite rare.

The idea here is to show a montage of H2O in its most overpowering forms (huge waves, flood waters, glaciers cracking apart) and remind humans that we’re at the mercy of the all-consuming forces of nature. On a technical level, Kossakovsky’s accomplishment is unimpeachable. But in terms of the content he’s chosen to include, it all feels so haphazard: here’s a car crashing below ice here, here are some animals stuck in floodwater there, here we go to a close-up of a waterfall.

The king of documentaries that offer a survey of the non-living world in images is the 1982 time-lapse classic Koyaanisqatsi, and Aquarela does not come close to being the hypnotic achievement that Godfrey Reggio gave us. Instead, we start off with a sort of rake joke-style comedy of errors on ice and then somehow make our way to a nameless series of crashing waves. In other words, Kossakovsky hasn’t discovered anything new about water by making it the star of the show, but surrender to the experience, and maybe it can lull you in the right way.

Aquarela is Recommended If You Like: Staring at the ocean all day

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Floods

 

Movie Review: Cate Blanchett Brings Us All Along to Antarctica in the Low-Key Unique ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’

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CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Annapurna Pictures

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, James Urbaniak, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Richard Linklater

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Arguments Between Neighbors and Family Members

Release Date: August 16, 2019

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the sort of movie that I don’t want to say whether it’s good or bad. I’d rather just talk about what makes it unique. Because when you see more than a hundred movies per year like I do, uniqueness can seem like an endangered species, so when I come across it, I feel compelled to deconstruct it. First off, this movie doesn’t fully realize its premise until about two-thirds of the way through its running time – and that’s not a criticism! The title would seem to suggest that architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) runs right off from her family as fast as she can, but it actually takes quite a while until she is on her own in Antarctica. And get this – that destination was originally meant to be a family trip with her husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), so it’s not exactly like it’s supposed to be the most unpredictable hiding place.

You may have noticed that I mentioned that Bernadette is an architect, and that’s significant because this is a movie that cares A LOT about architecture. Director Richard Linklater apparently has a hidden passion for construction. Either that or he did his homework, because significant chunks of Where’d You Go, Bernadette could pass for an architecture mockumentary. The other major upending of expectations comes in the examination of Bernadette’s mental breakdown, or lack thereof. Everyone in her life is a little worried about her, but it turns out that the best solution is much less drastic – and much more fulfilling – than this genre has us conditioned to anticipate.

Pretty much everything about Where’d You Go, Bernadette is both slightly off-key and generally pleasant. A marriage that looks like it’s on the brink of disaster is actually quite healthy! Kristen Wiig plays a queen bee suburban mom who it turns out is actually a genuine human being! There’s a dog named Ice Cream! Anyone who is mildly adventurous will find something to enjoy.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Recommended If You Like: Crucial James Urbaniak Supporting Performances

Grade: Not Applicable out of 5 Russian Identity Thieves

Movie Review: ‘Good Boys’ Presents a Panic-Riddled, But Also Fundamentally Romantic View of Life for Today’s Youth

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CREDIT: Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams, Will Forte, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Josh Caras, Lil Rel Howery, Retta, Millie Davis

Director: Gene Stupnitsky

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for All the Typical R-Rated “We’ve Got to Get the Party!” Shenanigans, But This Time Involving 6th Graders

Release Date: August 16, 2019

Are kids growing up faster than they used to? It’s a question that every generation ass once they become adults, and I am usually inclined to believe that that worry (or at least the generalized version of it) is a bunch of hooey. It all depends on everyone’s unique circumstances, which vary around the planet and within the same neighborhood. Some kids are forced to grow up fast while others have eternal childhoods. But if the example of Good Boys is a representative sample of where we are in 2019, then the youth do indeed have a lot more than ever to contend with. Drugs and raging hormones are as much a factor as they’ve ever been – throw drones into the mix, and look out!

I can confidently say that when I was in sixth grade, I never had a day that got as absurdly out of hand as the one that “Beanbag Boys” Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) endure. (Heck, I never had a day like that in my teens or twenties either.) They’ve been invited to a co-ed party that promises to include kissing, and in a desperate effort to do it right, they end up spying on their supposedly nymphomaniac (“someone who has sex on land AND sea,” according to Max’s understanding) neighbor and then lose the drone that belongs to Max’s dad (Will Forte, the sort of achingly sweet father who should really adopt everyone). This then leads to broken bones in a bicycle chase, selling a sex doll to Stephen Merchant, running across six lanes of highway traffic, trapping a cop played by Sam Richardson in a convenience store with a dildo stuck on the door, and shooting their way out of a fraternity with paint guns. These are the sorts of shenanigans we’ve seen young cinematic partygoers get up to for decades, but those troublemakers are usually at least a few years older. In this case, the situations are as uproarious as any, but it’s tempered by how out of control everything feels. These are sweet kids who let panic get the best of them, and I can’t help but feel vicarious parental pangs for them.

It’s thus hard to fully embrace Good Boys, as it is quite stressful to watch twelve-year-olds contend with crises they’re nowhere near fully equipped to handle. But there is one element I greatly appreciate, and that is the matter of consent. It is underlined over and over in this movie that if you want to lock lips with your crush, you must ask first if they’re also into it. And when those moments happen, far from killing the mood, they instead increase the romance to an almost unbearably cute degree. Kids today might be dealing with a lot of pressure, but if they’re also being taught the importance of consent from a young age, then I’m not completely worried about the future.

Good Boys is Recommended If You Like: Superbad, Blockers, and weirdly enough Rock of Ages

Grade: 3 out of 5 Beanbag Boys

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