DC League of Super-Pets ***
Warner Bros. Pictures
DC League of Super-Pets
The self-seriousness in so much of the mainstream, live-action DC superhero features virtually demands a cheeky, irreverent response that began in stuff like Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
and The LEGO Batman Movie
, and continues here with this engaging adventure. Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), the super-dog who came from Krypton with Superman (John Krasinski), loses his own super-powers at a moment when a plan by Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) gives a bunch of other animals heightened abilities, forcing Krypto to put together a super-team of critters like a dog named Ace (Kevin Hart) to stop a megalomaniacal guinea pig (Kate McKinnon). The attempts at emotional story arcs feel fairly perfunctory, including Krypto’s jealousy of Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde) and an abandonment angle for Ace stolen whole-cloth from Toy Story 2
’s “When She Loved Me” segment. Fortunately, that’s less important when director/co-writer Jared Stern (who contributed to the screenplay for the aforementioned LEGO Batman Movie
) is trotting out lots of great gags, targeting not just DC super-hero material (like a great jab at Henry Cavill’s digitally-erased mustache), but everything from Animal Farm
to the improbability of billionaires ever being held to account. And as an action movie, it’s more fun and energetic than most conventional comic-book fare. If the DC Cinematic Universe hasn’t given us many great movies, at least it’s inspired some great laughs. Available July 29 in theaters.
Not Okay ***
The content warning before writer/director Quinn Shephard’s dark satire alerts potential viewers to the presence of an “unsympathetic female protagonist,” and the way Shephard both commits to and undercuts that idea makes for a unique angle on what social-media celebrity does and doesn’t mean. Zoey Deutch plays Danni Sanders, a photo editor at an online magazine who longs to be a follower-accumulating writer. When she fakes a trip to Paris to grab the attention of a himbo influencer (Dylan O’Brien)—a “trip” coinciding with terrorist attacks in that city—she finds herself with the opportunity to become a viral phenomenon by keeping up the charade that she saw the trauma firsthand. The biggest complication comes as she befriends activist/high-school shooting survivor Rowan (Mia Isaac), and the narrative finds a bit of compassion in the idea that creating an online brand is just filling in the holes of lacking genuine real-world connections. But while Deutch’s performance never allows Danni to be a cartoon of oblivious self-absorption, Shephard also doesn’t let her off the hook for cashing in on the kind of actual trauma that has wrecked Rowan’s world, or the way a privileged, attractive white woman can get far without real scrutiny. The broader targets—like O’Brien’s shallow poseur, or media exploiting Danni’s five minutes of fame—feel clunky compared to the way Not Okay
recognizes what’s tragic about its heroine, while also recognizing the far larger tragedies she’s exploiting. Available July 29 via Hulu.
Paradise Highway **1/2
Writer/director Anna Gutto’s film feels caught between several different genre vibes—part gritty crime drama, part earnest message picture, part crowd-pleasing relationship tale—in a way that doesn’t tend to serve any of them well. Juliette Binoche plays Sally, a long-haul trucker who has been smuggling goods in exchange for protection while her brother Dennis (Frank Grillo) serves a prison sentence. Less than a week before Dennis’s scheduled release, Sally gets one last job—but the package she’s being asked to deliver is an adolescent girl named Leila (Hala Finley). The planned delivery goes bad, and the ensuing road trip naturally finds Sally and Leila connecting over their shared history of horrible parents, all while they’re pursued by a retired consulting FBI agent (Morgan Freeman) and his young partner (Cameron Monaghan). The latter subplot never feels fully integrated into the main narrative arc, mostly providing scenes where Freeman’s character can lament the lack of resources provided to stop human trafficking in a way that feels like Gutto’s thesis statement. There is some complex stuff going on here, as Gutto combines Leila’s fate with the prostitution and panhandling surrounding Sally’s world of truck stops, an indication of the cycle of despair created by unstable homes. There’s just not enough time allowed for Binoche to fully develop her growing connection with Leila, or the makeshift family of fellow women truckers she depends on. Sometimes, the need to make a point gets in the way of telling a story. Available July 29 in theaters and on demand.
It would be inaccurate to call writer/director Andrew Semans’ film “derivative,” because it gets too idiosyncratically weird for that. But maybe it’s also true that grief and trauma as the subtext for psychological horror have become so pervasive that it has started to feel far too familiar. In this variation on a theme, Rebecca Hall plays Margaret Ballion—single mother to a soon-to-be-college-freshman daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman)—whose life is turned upside-down by the appearance of David (Tim Roth), bringing back 20-years-gone dark memories. Hall is too committed an actor to phone in a performance, even if she recently played a similar haunted role in The Night House
; Semans trusts her with a long monologue to reveal Margaret and David’s backstory rather than opting for flashback, and Hall justifies that confidence. Yet she might ultimately go in the opposite direction, sending Margaret so far into mania that it’s hard to connect her experience with the kind of manipulative, controlling relationship that David is meant to represent. And while that craziness does lead up to a climax that’s almost as ghoulishly entertaining as it is completely expected, some of the potential resonance—including the internal conflict of someone who kind of believes they deserve the horrible treatment they’re getting—gets lost in how quickly Margaret goes completely bonkers. Maybe there are ways to commit fully to this kind of over-the-top material without it having to be about “the t-word.” Available July 29 in theaters; Aug. 5 via VOD.
Skies of Lebanon **1/2
There’s so much creative filmmaking going on in co-writer/director Chloé Mazlo’s quirky historical drama; I’m still looking for the emotional hook to give its episodic nature some shape. It opens in the 1950s as Swiss émigré Alice Delaloye (Alba Rohrwacher) leaves her family to become an au pair
in Beirut; there she meets aspiring aerospace engineer Joseph (Majdi Mouawad), beginning a life together that seems idea until the onset of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Most of the narrative covers 1975-1977, including the difficulties faced by Alice and Joseph’s grown daughter Mona (Isabelle Zighondi) and the rest of Joseph’s extended family as they gather together for safety in Alice and Joseph’s home. Along the way, Mazlo employs plenty of intriguing devices—from stop-motion, to masking the various warring factions, to turning a negotiating session into a game of musical chairs—that lend an absurdist air to a time of war and chaos. At the center are Alice and Joseph, though, and it feels like a major misstep that the reasons for Alice’s desire to leave her family in Switzerland are left so vague, which would make her reluctance to leave Beirut—especially once Mona decamps for Europe—more understandable. The complexities of this one love story end up a little bit lost in this creative approach to world-changing upheaval. Available July 29 via SLFSatHome.org.
See feature review
. Available July 29 in theaters.