Lucius Hoyos, Gina Rodriguez and Ariana Greenblatt in Awake
There’s only one major problem with this quick-and-dirty apocalyptic drama, and that’s the “quick” part. Gina Rodriguez plays Jill, a military veteran and ex-addict whose two children—teenager Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and 10-year-old Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt—are in the custody of her late husband’s mother (Frances Fisher). On a day when Jill has the kids, a solar flare knocks out all microchips, and simultaneously scrambles brain chemistry so that nobody can sleep—or at least almost nobody, since Matilda can sleep, making her potentially the key to saving the world. The ensuing road trip feels greatly indebted to the Spielberg version of War of the Worlds
, what with a non-custodial parent working out issues at the end of the world; there’s even a scene involving the discovery of plane wreckage. Rodriguez does fine work as she feels her sleep-deprived sanity slipping away and tries to prepare Matilda for her absence, but Awake
suffers mostly from the fact that people start acting crazy too rapidly to allow for a gradual raising of the stakes. As predictable as the “family in crisis” premise is for a disaster movie, it works well here, and might have worked even better if it had been given a little more time to breathe before the naked cultists and unhinged gunfire took over. Available June 9 via Netflix.
Bad Tales ***
Right there in the English title of Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo’s Italian-language feature is the hint that things might take a dark turn, but it’s still frustrating when they trade in great coming-of-age observation for shock value. Framed as the creation of an unseen narrator after he becomes fascinated with finding the diary of a young girl, the story mostly follows three Italian adolescents—Dennis Placido (Tommaso Di Cola), Geremia Guerrini (Justin Korovkin) and Viola Rosa (Giulia Melillo)—and their families through mostly-episodic events spanning approximately a year. Those events often involve their terrible parents, as well as the awkward, frequently-terrifying first stirrings of sexual awareness, like Dennis’s fascination with a young pregnant neighbor (Ileana D’Ambra). And the brothers D’Innocenzo rarely shoot their scenes in the most obvious manner, sometimes employing rhapsodic slow motion, other times peering over a fence from a voyeuristic distance, regularly distorting images or sound. It’s generally terrific (if occasionally cringe-inspiring) material, right up to the point where the tales get … well, bad. The trials of living a standard-issue dysfunctional childhood seem far more interesting and relatable than those that might become tabloid headlines. Available June 11 via SLFSatHome.org.
Co-writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond makes a reflexive case both for and against slasher horror in this intriguingly enigmatic offering. Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) is an examiner for the film ratings and classification office in Thatcher-era England, her workload now including a slew of blood-and-gore “nasties” taking advantage of the new direct-to-home-video boom. But her job takes on additional stress due to a high-profile murder that might be a copycat killing from one such film, and due to Enid’s unresolved childhood trauma over the disappearance of her sister years earlier. Bailey-Bond clearly wants to explore the chicken-or-the-egg relationship between fictional and real-life violence, while textually coming to the conclusion that scapegoating art is a great way to avoid solving real societal ills. It’s a little murkier when it comes to her protagonist, and Algar’s deliberately unsettled performance, as Enid’s own history might explain a lot about her career path. Some stylish visual choices—like the light from a projection booth going red-tinged to suggest the film-within-the-film on-screen violence we’re not seeing—make this a meta-genre piece worth exploring, as it plays with the purgative qualities of make-believe cruelty, and how trying to lock it away does nothing to erase actual dark impulses. Available June 11 in theaters; June 18 via VOD.
In the Heights ***1/2
See feature review
. Available June 10 in theaters and via HBO Max.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
Available June 11 in theaters.
Queen Bees **
Ellen Burstyn and James Caan in Queen Bees
Showcases for senior actors are rare, and generally traffic in mawkish sentimentality, broad yuks, or both. Director Michael Lembeck trots out both, depending almost entirely on the goodwill generated by the cast to provide depth. Ellen Burstyn plays Helen Wilson, a retired widow who reluctantly agrees to stay in a retirement community while the results of a kitchen fire are being repaired. There Helen encounters both a surprising potential romantic interest (James Caan) and a clique of sassy friends (Loretta Devine and Ann-Margret) led by the controlling, ill-tempered Janet (Jane Curtin). Burstyn and Caan make for a charming pair, and all of the cast members (including Christopher Lloyd as another recent arrival) give the story some energy. Unfortunately, this is the kind of movie where an entire comedic scene is built around how crazy it is that two older women might get high, and the medical crises that provide a framework for deciding to carpe diem in the face of creeping mortality come at too rapid a clip. Most disappointingly, Queen Bees
decides far too late that the real central relationship here is the strained one between Helen and her adult daughter (Elizabeth Mitchell), and the narrative ends up feeling overstuffed. Available June 11 in theaters and via SLFSatHome.org.