The ‘Knock at the Cabin’ Comes for All of Us

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Knock Knock (CREDIT: Universal Pictures/PhoByMo)

Starring: Dave Bautista, Ben Aldridge, Jonathan Groff, Kristen Cui, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Fights with Medieval-Looking Weaponry and Tense Profanity

Release Date: February 3, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff) thought they were going to have a nice vacation in their cozy remote spot in the woods with their young daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). But then a group of unexpected visitors arrive, and they … well, it’s right there in the title. Second-grade teacher Leonard (Dave Bautista), nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), short-order cook Adriane (Abby Quinn), and gas company employee Redmond (Rupert Grint) claim that they’re on a mission to prevent the looming apocalypse. The four of them have been haunted by the same visions that have led to an inescapable conclusion: Andrew, Eric, and Wen must choose to kill one member of their family, or else everyone else in the world will die. Whoever is sacrificed cannot die at his or her own hands, nor can Andrew and his associates carry out the act. Andrew and Eric are naturally incredulous, believing it’s much likely that this is an elaborately staged homophobic attack. But a series of catastrophic coincidences – not to mention the trauma of being trapped in a confined space – leads them to at least consider the possibility that something profoundly cosmic could be happening.

What Made an Impression?: Every movie that M. Night Shyamalan has made since The Sixth Sense has been burdened by the expectation of “Can he pull off another twist like THAT again?” And he’s pretty much embraced that reputation, with a seemingly endless series of attempts to gobsmack us at the end. It’s never been as phenomenally successful as the ghost tale that made his name, and in fact a few times it’s gotten more than a bit silly. But ever since getting back to basics with 2015’s The Visit, he’s displayed a much more consistently deft touch with his conclusions.

Knock at the Cabin‘s premise certainly invites speculation about a potential twist ending. Is the apocalypse realer than we could have possibly imagined? Or will it be revealed as something else entirely once our perspective is adjusted? Without spoiling anything, I’ll note that this is Shyamalan at his most challenging (rewardingly so, if you can get on the film’s wavelength).

What struck me the most about Knock at the Cabin is its plausibility. Leonard’s evidence of the apocalypse are events that you can find on real world newscasts just about every single day: earthquakes and tsunamis, a new deadly disease, planes malfunctioning in mid-air. And Bautista, who’s always been a reliable screen presence, is an absolute revelation here, delivering a series of monologues with quietly passionate, tenderly direct conviction.

Knock at the Cabin left me with a truth that I already fully bought into, but that I’m seeing now more clearly than ever: The world is a scary place, and the family unit often bears the brunt of that cruelty. And sometimes we have to make impossible decisions for the love that binds us to carry on.

Knock at the Cabin is Recommended If You Like: The Box, Shyamalan-ian close-ups and flashbacks, Daddies

Grade: 4 out of 5 Sacrifices

’80 for Brady’ Could… Go… All… The… Way!

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Go for 2. (CREDIT: Paramount Pictures)

Starring: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Sally Field, Tom Brady, Billy Porter, Rob Corddry, Alex Moffat, Guy Fieri, Harry Hamlin, Bob Balaban, Glynn Turman, Sara Gilbert, Jimmy O. Yang, Ron Funches, Matt Lauria

Director: Kyle Marvin

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Saucy Seniors and One Signature F-Bomb

Release Date: February 3, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: There’s a reason why the Super Bowl MVP says “I’m going to Disney World!” and not the other way around. The NFL championship game and Mickey Mouse’s theme park complex are both eternally popular, but the former tends to be a far more expensive proposition for most potential attendees. But some people refuse to back down from steep odds, even if society insists they’re better off just staying home. In the based-on-a-true-story 80 for Brady, four longtime friends and New England Patriots superfans decide that the 2017 big game is their last best chance to see their hero quarterback in person, so they get up and make their way down to Houston. Here’s the tale of the tape for the starting lineup: ringleader Lou (Lily Tomlin), a cancer survivor who knows a thing or two about beating the odds; recently divorced Trish (Jane Fonda), who’s made a name for herself with her Rob Gronkowski-based fan fiction; recently widowed Maura (Rita Moreno), who’s basically the star of the local retirement home; and statistics-obsessed Betty (Sally Field), who could really use a break from her adorable but needy husband (Bob Balaban).

What Made an Impression?: Circa 2017, I believed that Tom Brady was, if not quite a cheater, still all too willing to bend the rules as far as they could go in his favor. Now in 2023, I think he should retire for the sake of his family. So while it can be thrilling to witness record-setting athletic excellence, I’m not exactly rooting for him to keep adding to his long list of accomplishments. In other words, I’m not exactly the ideal viewer for a movie in which Tom Brady plays himself and all the main characters treat him as the most lovable quarterback ever.

But when the movie in question stars these four ladies, the formula is a little different. If the promise of a Tomlin-Fonda-Moreno-Field roster has your heart aflutter, then you’ll be glad to know that 80 for Brady delivers a touchdown or four. And you don’t need to be a fan of football or the Patriots in particular to appreciate it. In fact, it’s probably better if you aren’t, so that you don’t have to fight through any preconceived biases.

This is the sort of movie that is filled with scene after scene that’ll make you object, “There’s no way it could possibly work that way,” while also forcing you to concede, “But I don’t care! Everyone’s having too much fun!” This is a silly adventure where everything works out a little too perfectly, but because of the camaraderie on display, you’re all too happy to allow it.

80 for Brady is Recommended If You Like: Septuagenarian, Octogenarian, and Nonagenarian Queens

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Super Bowls

‘Infinity Pool’ Doubles Down on Every Single One of Its Indulgences

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I Love You Times Infinity (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Thomas Kretschmann, Amanda Brugel

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Nearly X-Rated Levels of Nudity, Sadistic Violence, and Hard Drug Use Amidst a Series of Potentially Seizure-Inducing Flashing Lights

Release Date: January 27, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Writer James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his rich wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are on vacation at some resort, where everything seems just a little bit … off. ATVs zip around with impunity, capturing a slight hint of lawlessness. But strap in tight, because soon enough, everything will feel completely off and there will be an all-encompassing specter of lawlessness. James and En are guided down this path by fellow vacationers Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), who promise them fun, but instead lead them right into the crosshairs of the law. A horrible accident has James facing the death penalty, but he’s offered an out. You see, on this resort, cloning technology exists, so instead, James can witness (and revel in) the execution of his double. It’s an easy choice, but soon enough, he finds himself caught within a labyrinth of doubles that it might be impossible to escape from.

What Made an Impression?: “Infinity Pool” sounds like a brand of hot tub, doesn’t it? And that’s appropriate, because Infinity Pool the movie feels like something that was cooked up by someone who fell asleep in a hot tub for a whole night (or maybe a whole year). But knowing writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, this mindfuck energy is just a fundamental part of his DNA. (It runs in the family.) The whole affair is an orgy of blood flashing lights (as well as a literal orgy) that may very well also be a dream. A deep, nightmarish, wonderfully satisfying dream. Every twist and turn regarding James and his doubles paradoxically feels like both a relief and a further descent into madness.

Serving as the ringleader of this twisted paradise, Cronenberg has opted for the perfect muse in the form of Mia Goth. Fresh off the one-two 2022 punch of X and Pearl, she’s been set loose once again on an unsuspecting public. Her wails of “Jaaaaaaaaaaaaames!” as she leans out the side of a convertible is the freshest earworm of the moment.

There were times during my journey through Infinity Pool that I was hoping for a logical explanation of what exactly was going on. Had James secretly planned this all from the beginning? Was it some sort of simulation? It’s a tricky task to nail that sort of reveal, but when done right, it’s immensely satisfying. But Cronenberg is much more interested in nailing the vibes of it all, and understandably so, because the vibes that he conjures are unforgettable. Infinity Pool is not for the faint of heart, or the faint of libido, or the faint of anything really, but when it all comes together, it’s also oddly serene. I emerged from a new cocoon disturbed, but also comforted.

Infinity Pool is Recommended If You Like: Resident Evil (The clone parts), The Game, Masks, Blinding colors

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Doubles

‘Aftersun’ After Thoughts

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HEY, Macarena! (CREDIT: A24)

Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio

Director: Charlotte Wells

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: October 21, 2022 (Theaters)

My favorite part of Aftersun is the “Macarena” performance, and I wish the entirety of the movie had just been a series of folks singing that and other danceable hits of the 90s. Of course, Charlotte Wells had something very different in mind, so I don’t fault HER for not making the entirety Macarena-centric. I just wanted to make sure I let everyone know where my head was at. Anyway, should I now sing “Macarena” at karaoke? Should Sophie have sung “Macarena” at karaoke? YOU make the call.

Grade: I Didn’t Lose My Religion, But I’m Not Sure Where I Left It

‘Living’ Review: Is It a…?

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Bill Nighy the Living Guy (CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics/Screenshot)

Starring: Bill Nighy, Aime Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Tom Burke

Director: Oliver Hermanus

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: December 23, 2022 (Limited)

Before I saw Living, I’d never before ordered anything from the cafe at the Angelika Film Center in SoHo, NYC. But since you can take the cafe food into the theaters and I’m not a huge fan of traditional concession stand options, it was a no-brainer to finally change that! As for what I actually ordered – a piece of peanut butter cake – it sat a little heavy in my stomach. And that didn’t really pair well with the movie on screen. In general, that’s the case with an overly quenched appetite, but especially so this time, as Living is meant to be light on its feet as Bill Nighy tries to go off and have a laugh at life. Of course, in contrast the cancer diagnosis hangs heavy. So does this movie make me go “It’s a living!”? No, but in retrospect, maybe it should have.

Grade: 3 Shocked Reactions at a New Hat

‘Missing’ Delivers Yet Another Screenlife Winner

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Not Pictured: The People Who Are Missing (CREDIT: Screen Gems)

Starring: Storm Reid, Nia Long, Ken Leung, Joaquim de Almeida, Amy Landecker, Daniel Henney, Tim Griffin, Megan Suri

Directors: Nick Johnson and Will Merrick

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Over-the-Top Ragers and Implied Disturbing Violence

Release Date: January 20, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: 18-year-old June Allen (Storm Reid) sure is ready to make her way to college so that she doesn’t have to keep constantly rolling her eyes at her mom Grace (Nia Long). She’ll get to preview that independence for about a week as Mom goes on vacation to Colombia with her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung, aka Miles from Lost). She proceeds to throw a nonstop, knockout rager but ultimately manages to schlep it over to LAX just in time to pick up Grace and Kevin upon their return back to the States. But then they’re nowhere to be found!

So to track them down, June enlists the help of an FBI agent (Daniel Henney), her mom’s lawyer (Amy Landecker), and a random guy on the ground in Colombia (Joaquim de Almeida). Over the course of the investigation, some rather surprising tidbits about Grace and Kevin’s pasts begin to emerge, and we see this all unfold on laptops, cell phones, and other modern Internet-connected screen devices.

What Made an Impression?: Is screenlife the best genre ever?!!! It’s a fairly young cinematic style, but it’s been producing hit after hit after hit. Unfriended was excellent! Unfriended: Dark Web took the scares to another level! Searching delivered the thrills in spades! And now we’ve got Missing serving as a standalone sequel to Searching, with a fresh story that maintains the same investigative approach and also the same gerund titling strategy. Neither Missing nor Searching has a plot that absolutely demands confining its action to screens, but that approach nevertheless keeps everything focused. And I think that’s a huge reason (perhaps even the hugest reason) why this subgenre has delivered so consistently. There are some cheats here and there in which the action spreads beyond the computer, but for the most part, the creative restraints fuel creative triumphs.

The undeniable fun of Missing is derived from its series of status quo-altering revelations, each one more gobsmacking than the rest. Pretty much everyone connected to the disappearance has their devastating secrets, and each one is calibrated for maximum audience satisfaction. I wonder if everything would still hang together on a repeat viewing, but even if the strings do start to show, that doesn’t change how effective the initial delivery is. This is a fine-tuned, well-oiled puzzle. You might be able to see greasy residue on some of the pieces, but that’s only evidence of all the essential attention to detail.

Missing is Recommended If You Like: Searching, Cable true crime docs, Online how-to guides

Grade: 4 out of 5 Windows

 

‘Corsage’ Had Me Feeling Tied Up

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Corsage is as Corsage does (CREDIT: Felix Vratny/IFC Films)

Starring: Vicky Krieps, Florian Teichtmeister, Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner

Director: Marie Kreutzer

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: Unrated

Release Date: December 23, 2022 (Theaters)

Vicky gives me the Krieps! I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist, as it’s always the truth. But in this case, The Krieps aren’t quite synonymous with The Creeps; instead, they’re more of an engine to generate empathy. Empress Elisabeth of Austria sure didn’t seem to fit in with anything that was expected of her. She tries to have her fun and to spread her joy to her kids, but then by the end of Corsage, she’s shooting up heroin more often than anything else. Weird movie to be eating chicken tenders and French fries during.

Grade: More Heroin Than I Was Prepared For

‘Skinamarink’ Makes You Think

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(CREDIT: IFC Midnight)

Starring: Lucas Paul, Dalie Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul, Jaime Hill

Director: Kyle Edward Ball

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: Unrated

Release Date: January 13, 2022 (Theaters)

You know those thoughts you have on the edge of dreams and reality when you’re nodding off? That’s what the entirety of Skinamarink feels like. An experimental grainy montage that captures the experience of being a 4-year-old in a dark house with weird noises, this flick lulled me into a very off-kilter state of consciousness. Usually when I nod off in a movie theater, it’s abundantly clear that those liminal thoughts are not part of the film. But in the case of Skinamarink, I’m genuinely not sure what was just in my brain and what was on the screen!

Grade: Skinamarinky-Yes!

Should You Press (Kid ‘N) Play on This Year’s ‘House Party’?

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thank you brond james (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Jacob Latimore, Tosin Cole, DC Young Fly, Karen Obilom, Andrew Santino, Melvin Gregg, Rotimi, Allen Maldonado, Kid Cudi, LeBron James, Mýa

Director: Calmatic

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Party Vices and a Shockingly Violent Turn in the Final Act

Release Date: January 13, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Kevin (Jacob Latimore) and Damon (Tosin Cole) – that’s duh-MON, not DAY-muhn – have just found out they’re about to be fired from their house cleaning job after getting busted for toking up on the job. But they’ve got a side hustle as party promoters, so they decide to go all in on that venture when they find out that the last house they’re cleaning belongs to none other than LeBron James. The NBA great is away on a mindfulness retreat, so they take over his crib for one wild night in the hopes of clearing their debts and launching themselves into the social stratosphere. Naturally enough, though, chaos ensues. A championship ring is stolen, a koala turns violent, and the Illuminati are contacted. And of course, there’s the whole business about the two friends falling apart but then ultimately becoming closer than ever.

What Made an Impression?: If you weren’t around 30 years ago, you might have missed that 2023’s House Party is a remake of the 1990 flick of the same name that starred hip-hop duo Kid ‘n Play and spawned a couple of sequels. That connection feels rather beside the point, though, as it’s not like the original House Party owns a copyright on any and all depictions of cinematic house parties. If you want to make a movie about a party at someone’s house, it’s not like you need Kid ‘n Play’s permission. Although I suppose the brand name recognition helps, and Kid and Play do in fact stop by for a quick cameo.

In that vein, much of the 2023 edition feels like a time capsule from the 90s or at least the early 2000s. In addition to Kid ‘n Play’s pop-in, Bill Bellamy, Lil Wayne, Juvenile, and Snoop Dogg all stop by for some cameos. (Although I guess we can recognize Snoop as eternal at this point.) Plus, there’s a running thread in which Damon tries to book Mýa for the party, and I’m thinking, “Mýa? I haven’t heard from her since ‘Lady Marmalade’!” She still looks great, though!

Anyway, does this 21st century House Party deliver the requisite laughs and welcoming hangout vibes? It’s definitely a little too sleepy at first, as the opening act mostly consists of Kevin and Damon by themselves in a very big house, and there’s just none of the cacophony necessary to fill all that air. When the party eventually starts poppin’, it’s still not exactly a nonstop laugh riot, though there are enough bizarre digressions to at least hold my attention. And Lena Waithe shows up for a scene or two to deliver some chuckle-worthy stoner thoughts. So ultimately, Kevin and Damon string us along on a journey that starts out at Dreadful and ends up at Not Too Bad.

House Party is Recommended If You Like: Movies That Are Surreal But Not Quite Surreal Enough

Grade: 2 out of 5 Koalas

‘Plane’ Keeps It Plain and Simple by Gerard Butler Standards

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Not Pictured: The Plane (PHOTO CREDIT: Kenneth Rexach)

Starring: Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Yoson An, Tony Goldwyn, Daniella Pinda, Kelly Gale, Rami Adeleke, Haleigh Hekking, Lily Krug, Joey Slotnick, Oliver Trevena, Paul Ben-Victor, Quinn McPherson

Director: Jean-François Richet

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Guns and Machetes

Release Date: January 13, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: I don’t work in the airline industry, but I’m pretty sure the flight in Plane never should have been cleared for takeoff. (Although to be fair, that is the conclusion that the majority of the airline workers in this movie arrive at.) Anyway, widowed Captain Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) just wants to get through this one last flight before he’s able to visit his daughter Daniela (Haleigh Hekking). But instead, his titular aircraft is struck by lightning, and he’s forced to make an emergency landing in a remote jungle in the Philippines. He sticks the landing, but now he’s got to deal with a bunch of thirsty, irritable passengers, one of whom is a prisoner (Mike Colter) charged with homicide who for some reason is being extradited on a commercial flight. And an even bigger headache arrives when they discover that they’re in an essentially lawless area that’s run by a militia that may just be interested in holding them for ransom.

What Made an Impression?: I’ve never really been a fan of the Gerard Butler Brand of Action Thrillers, which tend to posit that the world is a sick, violent place, and someone has to stand up if anybody is going to survive. Sure, kidnappings and coups do happen in the real world, but that doesn’t mean that movies about them have to be so joyless. But while it’s not my cup of cinematic tea, there appears to be a loyal audience for this type of genre flick. So for those of you in the market, you’ll be pleased to know that Plane has a clear premise, clearly established stakes, and cleanly shot action. I at least appreciated that the beachside setting allowed for plenty of sunny cinematography. I’m still not a Butler convert, but I respect him for committing to what works for him.

Plane is Recommended If You Like: Olympus/London/Angel Has Fallen, Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal’s Complete Filmographies

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Planes

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