Movie Reviews: Emma, Onward, Ordinary Love, Greed | Buzz Blog
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Movie Reviews: Emma, Onward, Ordinary Love, Greed

Beneath Us, The Way Back

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Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma. - FOCUS FEATURES
  • Focus Features
  • Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma.
Beneath Us **
The success of Jordan Peele’s films might inspire a new wave of socially-conscious horror, but the good intentions need to be paired with solid storytelling and filmmaking. Co-writer/director Max Pachman’s debut feature finds a quartet of undocumented immigrant day laborers –including brothers Alejandro (Rigo Sanchez) and Memo (Josue Aguirre)—taking a gig at the home of wealthy couple Liz (Lynn Collins) and Ben Rhodes (James Tupper), where they soon discover that their employers have a dark plan. The allegory here isn’t exactly subtle—it’s a story where rich white people simultaneously believe immigrants are less than human, and benefit financially from their labor—which isn’t inherently a problem. But Pachman skimps on fleshing out the relationship between the two brothers, built on a potentially interesting dynamic of how family members left behind feel about those who cross to the U.S. Collins bites into her villain role with admirable gusto, and there are some effectively tense moments built into the survival drama. It would be more satisfying, though, to find this tale of class warfare willing to explore anything but the most obvious corners. Opens March 6 at Megaplex Valley Fair. (R)—Scott Renshaw

Emma. ***1/2
Before smartphones and Instagram, there were influencers—and they could be as shallow, overconfident and pejorative as they are today. This new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel brings that sort of modern frisson to the tale of a rich young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) who amuses herself by interfering in the romantic lives of those around her. Taylor-Joy’s Emma is a queen bee with more sting than previous depictions of the character; there’s real bite, too, in Johnny Flynn’s Mr. Knightley, the family friend who acts (reluctantly) as Emma’s conscience. A recurring visual motif by director Autumn de Wilde, of schoolgirls in blood-red cloaks fluttering through Emma’s village of Highbury, is a vivid splash of color amidst the soft hues of the movie’s palette, evoking The Handmaid’s Tale in this story’s suggestion of women’s highest achievements as marriage and baby-making. Yes, there’s light entertainment to be had here, including Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy as Emma’s widower father. But Austen’s wisdom about men, women, life and love takes on a sly, penetrating zing. While comedy of manners might seem like fluff and nonsense, it was—and remains—deadly serious, too. Opens March 6 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—MaryAnn Johanson

Greed **1/2
Writer-director Michael Winterbottom goes after the rich and decadent in this satire, with his usual muse Steve Coogan—once again at his obnoxious finest—as a fashion mogul celebrating his 60th birthday on the Greek island Mykonos. He’s known as the king of high-street fashion, but also for building a clothing empire through buying up and dissolving businesses, avoiding taxes and rounding up material on-the-cheap from Sri Lankan sweatshops. For a movie whose sole intention is to stick it to the 1%, I kinda wish this film was more balls-to-the-wall with it. Winterbottom (who co-wrote with Veep/The Thick of It writer Sean Gray) has basically crafted a rapid-fire, burlesque farce, complete with serious subplots—like the one involving refugees residing on the beach—that are mostly there for finger-wagging social commentary. It’s almost like he’s been watching the dizzying, Oscar-nominated satires Adam McKay has been doing lately, and decided to do a more posh, British version of them. I will say the movie has a savage climax, where Winterbottom truly does an on-the-nose representation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s classic line about eating the rich. Opens March 6 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—Craig D. Lindsey

Onward **
See feature review. Opens March 6 at theaters valleywide. (PG)

Ordinary Love ***1/2
Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) have a married relationship the likes of which we don’t see often onscreen: They bicker gently, tease mercilessly and radiate an intense love for each other that manifests in every mundane interaction, every routine conversation. They have weathered profound challenges. So when Joan finds a lump in her breast, they are ready. We take this new challenge with them, in all its nitty-gritty intimacy. It’s not the medical stuff that is intimate; there is no damaged flesh on view, no gory surgeries, barely even a needle. No, it is an emotional roller coaster the couple are on, one that is beautifully observed and achingly honest—funny, moving, hopeful and buoyant. American audiences will be shocked—and jealous!—to note that none of their anxiety has to do with medical bills for Joan’s year-long treatment. Because they live in Northern Ireland and are covered by the NHS, it’s all free at the point of service. Oh, they have a financial complaint: They have to pay for parking at the hospital, even though Joan is a patient. Can you imagine! Opens March 6 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—MAJ

The Way Back ***
Bulky, bloated and bleary-eyed, Ben Affleck is at his most defeated in this blue-collar sports drama. He plays Jack Cunningham, a former high-school basketball star trying to drink himself blind to forget about the death of his son. His chance to get out of his funk/stupor comes when his old school offers him a job coaching the basketball team, which of course is filled with a bunch of sorry-ass kids who realize their potential once Cunningham starts pumping them full of motivation. While this may sound like standardized sports schmaltz, keep in mind that it’s directed by Gavin O’Connor, who directed Miracle, that thoroughly entertaining film about the U.S. men’s ice hockey team’s historic win at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Therefore, ol’ dude knows how to keep a sports movie exciting and emotional. But the movie is really about Affleck getting back on that horse (and that wagon) and showing everyone—and that includes the audience—that he’s through being a boozing fuck-up. Opens March 6 at theaters valleywide. (R)—CDL