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Movie Reviews
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
(Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Tom Gornican, Tiffany Haddish, et. Al | R | 1 hr 46 min | Lionsgate)

Overview: Short on cash and creative fulfillment, Hollywood star Nick Cage befriends a wealthy Spaniard and has to use every skill as a thespian in order to find what he’s lacking in life — and to help stop a dangerous arms cartel.

Verdict: Everybody has an opinion about Nicolas Cage. Most people tend to view him as either a total joke, or a complete genius. Knowing this, and knowing that his status as Academy Award Winner and Internet Meme are mutually inclusive, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent swings hard for the fences and hits one home run after another.

The plot of #MassiveTalent seems ridiculous — Nicolas Cage plays himself (two versions, actually) and attends the birthday party of a very rich man, Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal). While in Mallorca, he gets roped into a CIA surveillance plot to rescue a politician’s daughter from an arms dealer. It seems ridiculous, because it is.

But what makes it work is Cage himself — not only how good of a sport he is to undertake such a thing, but also the range he presents in doing so. Cage is first, “Nick,” the actor we all know, who is deep in debt, estranged from his daughter, and not getting the sorts of roles he used to.

But at various times, he’s a younger version of himself, “Nicky,” who is tough, wild, and suffers no fools. Not since Adaptation has Cage managed to act alongside himself so convincingly. And his physical comedic timing is impeccable.

The other half of this winning combination is scene stealer Pedro Pascal as Javi, a Nicolas Cage super fan (complete with a Cage filmography memorabilia room) and wannabe screenwriter with whom Nick becomes fast friends after having agreed to make an appearance at his birthday party.

Having only known Pascal from roles in which his characters take a decidedly darker tone (Narcos, The Madalorian), to see him so effortlessly play comedy makes it abundantly clear exactly why he’s such a sensation. And as an aside, it was nice to see Pascal speak his native Spanish, as I’ve always wanted to see him in a Spanish-language feature. This will have to do for now, I guess.

Indeed, the natural chemistry between Cage and Pascal makes Nick and Javi’s (mis)adventures the silly buddy movie you never knew you needed. Of course, things get a little dramatic in the third act, and neither the interactions between the two, nor the individual performances, falter when that change occurs.

The movie is rife with references to its star’s filmography, with footage from Con-Air and Guarding Tess being played on screens at various points, and many more titles just mentioned in the dialogue. A well-placed reference to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was the highlight of the film for this particular diehard Cage fan.

And for the viewers who may be equally or more drawn to that over-the-top, meme-ified version of Nicolas Cage will be glad to see a few of those moments in there, too. (Part of the #MassiveTalent lore says that Nic himself added a Wicker Man “not the bees!” homage into the script).

In short, there’s a Cage-ism for everybody.

The ante is upped when the credits roll and the audience sees that “Nick Cage” is played by Nicolas Cage, while alter-ego “Nicky” is played by one Nicolas Kim Coppola. If you know, you know. And if you don’t, look it up.

On the technical side, the movie is beautifully lit and wonderfully shot, making the most of the beautiful seaside scenery. Writer-Director Tom Gormican is one to be praised, even if his movie feels a bit longer in places than it actually is, and even if the language is, at times, unnecessarily coarse.

While Cage and Pascal carry the film themselves, the supporting cast members aren’t slouches, with Tiffany Haddish shining as Vivian, the more charismatic of the two CIA agents who enlist Nick’s help to take down the local trafficker. Ike Barinholtz is underused in this same capacity, but not missed. Lily Sheen is excellent as Addy, Nick’s estranged daughter while Neil Patrick Harris is nothing super special as Nick’s agent.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is, more or less, the ultimate Nicolas Cage experience, a ridiculous, riotous joyride through one man’s fictionalized existential crisis.

Buckle up.

Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent arrives only in cinemas April 22, 2022.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
(Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, et al / PG-13 / 2h 6m / Walt Disney Pictures)

Summary: In Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before.

Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.

Verdict: While Marvel may have bombarded us into cultural submission through mainstream audience infatuation and growing critical admiration, the latest addition to their catalogue (their 28th feature, to be exact), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, resuscitates a forefather of their alumni in Sam Raimi (who directed the first three Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire, from 2002 to 2007).

The first feature from Raimi in nearly a decade (his last dalliance with Disney, 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful, didn’t do anyone any favors), it’s hardly as Lovecraftian a narrative as one might hope from the horror maverick.

Although signature flourishes (including a Bruce Campbell cameo) suggest Raimi more easily navigates CGI heavy inherited material than other practical effects auteurs who came up alongside him (ahem, Tim Burton), he’s ultimately as shackled to the overstuffed antics and banal formulas of Marvel properties as any other director before or after him.

Since box office profitability now dictates (and normalizes) the incessant output of subpar, repetitive storytelling, this is unfortunately another entry in an endless supply chain, cemented further by the infinite directions allowed by a multiverse blackhole for our content obsessed consumption.

There are certainly worse examples than this direct sequel to Scott Derrickson’s 2016 Doctor Strange, but it’s merely another special effects extravaganza about superhuman forgetting how to administer the human portion of the formula. However, for an overtly zealous fan base, this is likely exactly what the doctor ordered.

Several months after the multiverse overlap of Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is thrust into the murky realm of multiverse travel when a young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) shows up in his universe chased by a tentacled eyeball.

Mourning the loss of his relationship with Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who has just married someone else, Doctor Strange seems to welcome the distraction. With the aid of his colleague, now the Supreme Sorcerer, Wong (Benedict Wong), they determine whoever is chasing after America (whose skills to travel between universes is unprecedented and unique) is using witchcraft.

A quick visit to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) confirms she’s the culprit, desiring to usurp America’s powers so she can travel to another universe in which she has the children she’d conjured from scratch (and are no longer available to her) in this one.

Protecting America from Wanda’s Scarlet Witch proves to be more difficult than Doctor Strange imagined, and as they jettison to other dimensions to see different approximations of Doctor Strange, he begins to wonder, is he really happy in the current reality he’s living?

As far as their newly unfolding multiverse goes, Marvel’s conception feels like something of a stillbirth when compared to the sublime navigation of Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). Since we’re never led to care for anything resembling interiority regarding the superheroes, pondering whether or not they’re happy is hardly fervent storytelling.

Worse, this cruel universe will never let them go, charged as they are with the Sisyphean feat of entertaining us endlessly through the increasingly intricate web of Marvel’s takeover. But the real disservice to this world is the inability of Michael Waldron’s (“Loki,” 2021 ) script to spackle this goopy, shapeshifting multiverse with any cohesion.

It’s no surprise the only resonant characterization in this jaunt through the roundabout is Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff. Although a villain, she’s at least brandishing some kind of tangible intention (even if it is feeding into hysterical women tropes). Her obsession with possessing America’s powers ends up feeling a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West demanding “Surrender Dorothy” in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

But Olsen is no Margaret Hamilton and there’s nothing as potent as flying monkeys or ruby red slippers for this film to secure an actual foothold in the zeitgeist. All of its superheroes, including the titular Master of the Mystic Arts, are so pompous, pretentious and cocky their exchanges become a see-saw of resistance and defeat up until the finale (and two post credit sequences, as is now the norm).

Rachel McAdams, unfortunately, has nothing to do except represent one of many illogical conveniences in this film’s handling of multiverse parameters (even though, ironically, one of her iterations is an expert in this realm), and the ubiquitous dump of self-reflexive omnipotence yields another faction of overruling super beings, this time around we have the Illuminati, led by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo. Shot by John Mathiesen, no stranger to comic extravaganzas with the celebrated Logan (2019) under his belt, assists in capturing one of the few charms of Strange’s realm, the elevated production design (even if the visualization of an incursion looks like Nolan’s Inception, 2010).

The real star of the film is another of Danny Elfman’s customarily idiosyncratic scores, plastered as it is over a whole lot of repetitive standoffs where characters shoot power beams or wield magical shields at one another until someone relents.

In short, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is merely a serviceable, cookie cutter tent pole more concerned with making bank than stimulating brains. Escapist fare doesn’t have to be dull or mind numbing. [NB]

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
(Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, et al / PG-13 / 2h 22m / Warner Bros. Pictures)

Summary: In Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before.

Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.

Verdict: While perhaps the best Fantastic Beasts film, The Secrets of Dumbledore remains a dour movie with lots to say but not enough imagination or understanding to say it well. Fascists, in this world, are recognized by their outfits.

We can tell a character is redeemable because she swaps out black for dark pink. An assassin is clocked by his eyeliner. The film provides a cartoon of fascism, an idea of what the dangers of bigotry must seem to people who don’t understand how bigotry actually works.

Mads Mikkelsen’s version of Grindelwald (the third) brings a weightier and more seductive presence as Dumbledore’s ex, but he’s woefully underused. The same can be said for most of the characters, as development is constantly sidelined to focus on riot imagery.

Previously central characters like Ezra Miller’s Credence have devolved into plot points. Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski remains a bright spot, but his romance has become difficult to root for—unless you’re willing to forgive a foray into fascism with a hug.

While the magic is mostly unimaginative, there is a nice moment with Eddie Redmayne’s charmingly awkward Newt dancing with a swarm of scorpion creatures, where we see a glimpse into a series that might have been. It’s usually unfair to compare spin-offs to originals, but the film relies so heavily on Potter nostalgia that the original is hard to ignore.

Perhaps it was the filmmakers’ hope that fans would sit through the slog to point at the screen for a few moments, saying, “Hey! I recognize that from the movies I actually like.” Unfortunately, those callbacks don’t help Secrets of Dumbledore, but instead remind you of movies that actually felt worth your time. [TB]

Tankhouse [VOD]
(Stephen Friedrich, Tara Holt, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Kind, et. Al | R | 1 hr. 34 min. | Momentum Studios)

Summary: When two avant-garde theatrical performers are blacklisted from New York, they must forge their own path elsewhere. And when elsewhere happens to be the tiny town of Fargo, Tucker and Sandrene must teach the locals about what true art means.

Verdict: TANKHOUSE is the sort of movie you can’t look away from, in the best possible way.

In the first fifteen minutes alone, we get a goofy animated sequence over equally goofy narration to establish the artistic passion and prowess of narrator Tucker Charlemagne and his fiancée, Sandrene, odd camera angles when the chaotic live-action kicks in, and a character death.

When Tucker (Stephen Friedrich) and his fellow performers put on an Immersive Theatre Attack that ends up killing their only financier, he and his partner find themselves kicked out of their troupe. Recalling advice from his mentor, Buford (a tragically underused Christopher Lloyd), Tucker tries his best to secure a new artistic home, eventually having to settle for Sandrene’s hometown, Fargo, ND.

From the moment the couple arrive in town, it becomes a movie reliant on sight-gags and theatre puns, which gives the viewer all the reason in the world to love it. In a plot and setting that feels like a marriage between Schitt’s Creek and Waiting For Guffman, Tucker and Sandrene recruit a misfit band of locals to mount a show in order to establish a show run at the Fargo Theater.

But there’s always a conflict, and this one involves a rival company headed by Sandrene’s old high school theatre director. With this development, Tucker and Sandrene must set up shop in the local tankhouse, giving both their company and the movie its name.

The performances alone are brilliant: Friedrich (with a face you’ve probably seen a million times and never knew it) plays Tucker like the total fop he is, always and only dressing like an extra from a Shakespeare production. He and Sandrene speak to one another in flowery language (“my betroth-ed”), but their love feels shallow until it doesn’t, and Friedrich is masterful at playing in this space.

Tara Holt gives Sandrene slightly more depth, capitalizing on the connections she has with the folks in Fargo, particularly Sandrene’s absolute dream of a high school boyfriend, Hank (Alex Esola). Further, Holt plays well the frustrated creativity Sandrene experiences trying to balance this theatrical calling with her as-yet crushed dreams of being a television actress. This aspect makes for particularly well-placed tension in the film’s final act.

The supporting cast members, too, never once slouch. Richard Kind plays Mr. Morten in a way that could only be matched by the likes of the late, great Fred Willard. The members of the Tankhouse troupe all have their turn to shine, but none shine quite as brightly as Sarah Yarkin as the painfully shy Nina.

If you enjoy theatre — or at least watching one-dimensional, pretentious characters get theirs — this is the movie for you. Writer-Director Noam Thomaschoff really knows how to cater to that demographic, embracing the campiness and dropping occasional dialogue deep cuts, like when Tucker suggests that the Fargo Theater could be his “Globe…but less flammable.” Hilarious. The two companies end up squaring off in a “Modern Major General Off.” The blend of high-stakes plot and low-stakes plot device is perfect.

The pacing is a little slow and the ending may be slightly predictable, but its flawless execution makes it easy enough for the viewer to forgive the simplicity and journey along the scenic route.

Here at the end, a special shout-out must be given to whichever person among the film’s technical crew chose to use Lola Kirke’s “Not Used” over the closing scenes. That was such a cool surprise.

I’m really hoping there is an eventual physical release, because this is one of those films that begs to be watched multiple times.

TANKHOUSE, take a bow while I give a standing ovation.

Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte

TANKHOUSE is available to stream VOD and is playing in select theaters. Check local listings for showtimes.

Official Trailer

Night Caller [VOD]
(Susan Priver, Bai Ling, Steve Railsback, Robert Miano, | 1 hr. 24 min. | R | Girls and Corpses, Crappy World Films)

Summary: When a call-in psychic gets repeated phone calls from a serial killer, she finds herself in a race against time to save more victims’ lives — and possibly her own.

Verdict: Night Caller begins with a lot of promise, its opening shot a view through a car window of a murder scene accompanied by suspenseful music. The opening credits are over a montage of brutal killings. There’s so much potential.

The stakes are upped when the killer, all husky-voiced and menacing, dials in to Clementine’s psychic line. Writer-Director Chad Ferrin makes a good choice with his protagonist by having her be the real deal as opposed to a con-artist who is suddenly in way over her head. Susan Priver plays Clementine with the perfect combination of the concern of a daughter wanting to look after her elderly father and the underlying fear of a woman who suffers from the terrifying clarity of her visions.

And while having Clementine be older and having her father know maybe a bit more than you think he ought may buck a trend, Bai Ling’s Jade feels more like a caricature, not serving nearly as much purpose as she could, seeming more like the one-note scammer that Clementine isn’t.

While the film’s underlying premise is interesting, it is startlingly easy to tune out of, especially if graphic violence isn’t your thing. Scalping and necrophilia are the order of the day. The killer himself is very much a Silence of the Lambs Buffalo Bill-type, wishing to wear the flesh of his victims. To a similar end, the whole of Night Caller feels familiar; not derivative of something, but more of an homage. Fans of horror films and psychological thrillers may want to watch closely.

The final act is a rollercoaster that really needs to be experienced, with an excellent plot twist or two and a performance by Steve Railsback that makes him the MVP of the whole thing.

If you don’t mind a bit of gore or heavy-handed subject matter inside a thriller film that makes the absolute most of tight camera angles and muted color palates, Night Caller is definitely the movie for you.

Review: Ashley J. Cicotte

Night Caller is available to watch VOD.

Top Gun: Maverick
(Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, et al / PG-13 / 2h 11m / Paramount Pictures)

Summary: After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him.

When he finds himself training a detachment of Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose”.

Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.

Verdict: As I was watching Top Gun: Maverick this weekend, I couldn’t help but think of the Bollywood star Salman Khan.

Like Cruise, Khan makes monstrously successful blockbusters that appeal to the masses while being sniffed at by the elites.

Khan’s action movies invariably include utterly implausible scenarios in which the hero performs superhuman feats, sometimes on motorcycles. He doesn’t care about the critics; he’s there to thrill his many devotees. And Khan does it again and again with effortless sincerity on-screen, despite regularly ending up in the news for the wrong reasons between his films.

In a similar vein, Cruise is delivering the goods to his fans in Top Gun: Maverick, which is packing theaters around the world. The story line is laughable; the action scenes are riveting; and in the end, Cruise’s sincerity on-screen somehow overcomes the movie’s campy scenes and his off-screen controversies, leaving admirers thirsting for his next movie.

In Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise also likes riding his motorcycle at high speeds without a helmet, just like Khan.

There’s not a ton of chemistry in the G-rated romantic subplot between Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Jennifer Connelly’s Penny Benjamin. But that doesn’t really matter in a film about American exceptionalism intended to draw in viewers from red and blue states.

For the red-state crowd, director Joseph Kosinski provides dollops of bravery, honor, and antihero nose thumbing at deep-state elitists, as reflected in the characters of Adm. Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) and Rear Adm. Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris).

For the blue-state crowd, there’s a diverse case of buff young pilots who, while acting like hot shots from time to time, show no evidence of sexism or racism. Connelly’s appearance as a strong and independent single mom also helps in this regard — she, after all, has appeared in several movies that appeal to liberals, like A Beautiful Mind, House of Sand and Fog, and Blood Diamond.

While this is Cruise’s movie, Miles Teller, as Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, still manages to upstage him on the odd occasion as the son of Goose from the original Top Gun film.

Cruise has clearly improved as an actor since the first Top Gun in 1986. He’s no longer the cocky young kid who tried to steal every scene he was in.

Perhaps life’s tribulations have enabled Cruise to better convey the subtleties of what his characters are experiencing as he ages — and show more generosity to his fellow performers on-screen.

But the real star of Top Gun: Maverick is the dizzying aerial acrobatics, which are more than worth the price of admission for those not overly concerned about simplistic dialogue, far-fetched reconnections, and a silly plot. But hey, this is Hollywood, not real life.

In the end, Cruise is giving his fans what they want — a short respite from COVID, inflation, mass shootings, and increasingly freaky weather events. And who doesn’t need a break from that? [CS]

The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus
(Danny Trejo, Adrian Paul, Nick Chinlund, et. Al | 1 hr. 33 minutes | Not Rated | Mano a Mano Films, Lennexe Films)

Summary: When a group of soldiers are stalked through a series of underground tunnels in Afghanistan by a monster, they must either escape or fight for their lives.

Verdict: The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus does not begin as a comedy: Middle-eastern men wielding guns and talking rough are in an underground laboratory when there’s a strange, guttural growl coming from deeper within the cave. A strange creature attacks and eats the men, all the while making that same sickening sound.

And if that’s the opening scene, the viewer can safely assume they’re going to watch something even mildly intense, maybe even scary, right? Wrong. Almost immediately, the viewer is removed from the situation by an animated opening credit sequence featuring the big names in the cast — Danny Trejo, Nick Chinlund (reunited here for the first time since Con Air in 1997) and Adrian Paul — played out to a hip-hop song.

The very next scene is an introduction to a squad of American soldiers by way of a debate about retro toys and games. And throughout this conversation which must have accounted for multiple pages of the script, you learn exactly nothing about this group of people, and that’s the first laugh of the film.

It only gets more ridiculous from there, when (a tragically underused) Danny Trejo shows up as part of another gang of soldiers — more like mercenaries — and a gunfight breaks out. Inexplicably, the whole spray of bullets happens overtop ‘Going Up the Country’ by Canned Heat. It’s ridiculous and riotously funny.

And whether it’s meant to be funny isn’t clear. I’m going to guess the answer is no.

Cut to: (an even more underused) Adrian Paul looking over a set of heisted crates, the contents of which are anyone’s guess. These mysterious crates become an object of particular interest when the first squad of people (with whom you’ll form no attachment throughout the entire film), ends up down in the same tunnels from the opening with Tagger (Chinlund) and Reid (Kevin Grevioux).

But ultimately, these crates fall out of focus when the group realizes that they’re being stalked by the Thing. That sort of paranoia coupled with uncertainty and a fair bit of claustrophobia lead to some fantastic overacting by nearly everyone and bizarre hallucinations, including strippers.

Sadly, the ragtag group of soldiers, for all of their discussion of retro fun in the beginning never heeded the cardinal rule of Dungeons and Dragons: Never split the party. One soldier ends up maimed and another gruesomely halved by the Thing, whose calling card remains that same guttural growling.

The final battle is one that needs to be seen, with Chinlund taking the lead in a way that makes him worthy of being one of the marquee names.

While 99% of the cast is absolutely forgettable in their performances, standouts include Masika Kalysha as Lake, and Mingyu Chu, who pulled double duty as both soldier Chen and the Thing when clad in a fur suit that was a practical effects dream. Perhaps the best aspect of The Prey overall is the lighting. Despite much of the film taking place in an underground tunnel, it’s spectacularly lit, and the final battle sequence awash in red light add a nice touch.

To sweeten the deal at the end, as the credits roll, there is behind the scenes photos and storyboard art, and a bit of a tease lingers on the final note: “To Be Continued?”

And if the story of Karnoctus is, in fact, to be continued, I’ll re-up for the next mission as long as it’s as silly as this one is.

Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte

The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus arrives on VOD July 7, 2022.

Official Trailer

The Righteous
(Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Mimi Kudzyk, et. Al | 1 hr. 37 min | R | Panoramic Pictures)

Summary: When a troubled man prays for punishment, he gets more than he bargained for when an injured young man shows up on his property.

Verdict: Indie suspense film The Righteous opens with a lot of promise: White light condenses down into a spotlight in which a man stands, praying a fervent prayer of confession. Moments later, the praying man is revealed to be not only the father of a dead girl, but also a priest that has faltered in his faith and walked away from the priesthood. He even goes as far to question if this is the worst thing that could possibly happen and to pray for punishment for unconfessed sins.

To this end, the film starts out seeming predictable; that some Big Thing is on the horizon that will be the crucible that will ultimately lead Frederick back to God. But fortunately, this is merely the beginning.

The whole of the film takes place on the property owned by Frederick and his wife, Ethel. They are each in their own way unlikeable. Frederick doesn’t have much to say (a fact that doesn’t serve Henry Czerny well as the lead for the first third of the film), and Ethel seems cold.

But then again, you can’t necessarily blame either one of them for being cold or quiet, as each is working through the untimely death of their adopted daughter, Joanie. It’s also known that Frederick has been prone to “lapses of memory,” and seems to occasionally see visions of his little girl. But inexplicably, these visions go nowhere.

Things get weird when Frederick and Ethel are paid a visit on the same night by two separate visitors: Their much more likable family friend Doris, who is battling some issues of her own, and an injured young man named Aaron (Mark O’Brien). It is the latter of the two on which the film hinges, and when Frederick and Ethel take Aaron in for the night and, after a conversation about (tragic) backstories, Aaron collapses and begs Frederick to save him.

Ominous, isn’t it?

The next morning, Frederick awakes to find Ethel having completely gotten over the suspicions she’d had about Aaron, deciding that she wants him to stay. It’s nice to see Mimi Kudzyk’s Ethel have reason to smile, but Frederick isn’t entirely sold on Aaron sticking around, especially after the odd conversation they’d had the night before.

The heartfelt speech that Ethel gives about filling gaps and the right people coming along just when you need them would go a long way toward making this film the nicer, homey family drama than the meandering, extra-large Twilight Zone episode it is.

The final act of the film is the meat of it all, in which Aaron claims to be the manifestation of Frederick’s long-forgotten lovechild with a bit of a demonic twist. It is here that writer-director Mark O’Brien steps out as the shining star of the whole thing as he and Czerny trade tense quips to one another about things like love and mercy and punishment and God’s justice.

The last thirty minutes of the film beg to be watched rather than explained, so that the viewer might decide for themselves if they were able to make sense of the wandering dialogue and plot points that look and feel like red herrings. The high point of The Righteous —apart from Mark O’Brien playing Aaron as half southern gentleman, half dubious entity after whom death seems to follow — is the fact that the film is shot in black and white. Having that element adds to the sensation that the film works so hard to facilitate.

There is also a very nice callback montage that happens at the film’s climax, and it goes a long way toward lending believability to what is being played out in that moment.

And while viewers probably shouldn’t look to The Righteous for any sort of sound theological wisdom, a remark from another priest may well ring true: “Be careful what you wish for and be certain what you pray for.”

Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte

The Righteous is available to stream on VOD.

Official Trailer

Jurassic World: Dominion
(Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, et. Al | PG-13 | 2 hr 27 min | Universal Pictures )

Overview: From Jurassic World architect and director Colin Trevorrow, Dominion takes place four years after Isla Nublar has been destroyed. Dinosaurs now live - and hunt - alongside humans all over the world.

This fragile balance will reshape the future and determine, once and for all, whether human beings are to remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures.

Verdict: Almost 30 years after Steven Spielberg first thrilled audiences with Jurassic Park, the franchise’s new generation realized the way back to recapturing the magic was to, well, go back.

Jurassic World Dominion, the final installment in the revival trilogy, goes all in on nostalgia, regrouping original stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum while also evoking the tone, aesthetic and beats of the 1993 classic.

It worked, to an extent. Jurassic World Dominion is an aggressively fine and mostly enjoyable romp that does some things well and others things less so. It’s the epitome of just OK.

If you’re an existing fan, it’ll serve you well – and there is a lot of fan service including little call backs and nods. You know exactly what the filmmakers including director Colin Trevorrow, are doing when Neill’s Alan Grant is reintroduced on a dig site, surrounded by dirt and paleontology accoutrements, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If you have Neill on board, use him, and milk that nostalgia for all it’s worth. By this point in the franchise, six entries in, it’s well out of fresh ideas so it may as well lean in on what it knows is going to work.

What works is big set pieces with roaring dinos, sharp teeth and humans in peril, or the gleeful comeuppance that awaits every villain.

And, of course, very cute baby dinosaurs – especially when they’re animatronic and not deadening CGI. There is a greater reliance on puppetry and animatronics in general here than in the previous two entries.

A forgettable motorcycle and dinosaur chase in Malta is offset by the pageantry of the third act during which the two parallel story lines converge, even though it takes too long to get there.

There’s one involving Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Grady and Claire on a rescue mission for their kidnapped adoptive daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) and another in which Neill’s Alan and Dern’s Ellie Sattler are gathering evidence of the deliberate ecological disaster being committed by a genetics company’s mustache-twirling boss Dodgson (Campbell Scott).

That caper through the wilds of the dinosaur sanctuary is nakedly aping Spielberg’s movie. We’re talking upturned Jeeps, torchlight beams swinging about in the dark and the tension of remaining very still while a ferocious beast is an inch from your face.

Except there’s not that much tension because there aren’t that many stakes – none you would believe anyway because you know they’re not going to bring back Neill, Dern and Goldblum just to kill them off, and they’re not going to dispatch Pratt and Howard either, it’s not that kind of movie.

So what kind of movie is it? It’s an inoffensive, low-commitment action flick. It may dress itself up in ideas about the ethics of genetic manipulation or the hubris and folly of man’s ambitions to control nature, but in the end, it’s about a few jump scares and the clash of apex predators.

It’s like going on the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios. You board the ride excited for a few safe knocks and shocks, and your breath will momentarily catch before the plunge.

But you also know exactly what to expect. There are no surprises, no stakes and you walk away content enough, but within a few minutes as you line up for the next attraction, you’ve already forgotten what just happened. [WM]