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Film Reviews: New Releases for Sept. 1

The Equalizer 3, Bottoms, Between Two Worlds, The Good Mother and more


Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 3 - SONY PICTURES
  • Sony Pictures
  • Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 3
Between Two Worlds **1/2
Marianne Winckler (Juliette Binoche) is a woman now on the fringes of society, left without resources after a divorce and forced to relocate from Paris to the seaside city of Caen and seek employment in janitorial services. Except not really: Marianne is actually a writer, going deep undercover to experience and chronicle life among those living precariously on shift work, like her new friends Christèle (Hélène Lambert) and Marilou (Léa Carne). The tension in Emmanuel Carrère’s film, adapted from an essay by journalist Florence Aubenas, should involve what it means that Marianne is a tourist among these people—taking work, as one employment office worker notes, from those who actually need it, and befriending people without telling them what she’s up to. But the strong performances, particularly by Lambert as the flinty Christèle, don’t make up for the lack of digging that Carrère actually does into Marianne’s life before this research, making it harder to get a sense for the purity of her motives, or what might be missing that she becomes so genuinely attached to Christèle and Marilou. Nor does Carrère seem particularly interested in the ethical questions involved here, and whether the sociologically accurate portrait Marianne might be able to paint justifies making people case studies without their prior consent. It becomes an uncomfortable character piece that seems to prioritize Marianne’s feelings over all else—which would kind of miss the point of getting real about truly marginalized people. Available Sept. 1 in theaters. (NR)

Bottoms ***
Bottoms may not work particularly well in the tradition of the horny high-school comedies its emulating/sending up, but it works well enough as just-plain-comedy that it’s much easier to let those issues go. It opens with the beginning of senior year for unpopular queer best friends PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), whose quest to finally lose their virginity leads them to manufacture a story about being in juvenile hall over the summer, and hence qualified to lead an extracurricular “fight club” teaching self-defense for women. Though co-writers Sennott and director Emma Seligman (who collaborated on 2020’s Shiva Baby) find a couple of unique angles on the modern high-school world, including the idea that being gay alone isn’t enough anymore to make one a social pariah, there are times when the setting feels almost generic, like it could just as easily have taken place in college. Fortunately, there’s a terrific comedic cast at work here, let by the snappy chemistry between Sennott and Edebiri, the latter of whom in particular keeps justifying her current status as “young actor who seems to be in everything.” And it’s a nice Heathers-esque touch that Seligman and company are willing to go a more than a little bit dark, particularly during a surprisingly blood-drenched finale. When you get 90 minutes of pretty damned funny, there’s no need to nitpick its missed opportunities. Available Sept. 1 in theaters. (R)

The Equalizer 3 ***
I’m not convinced ex-covert operative-turned-freelance badass Samaritan Robert McCall is a fascinating enough character to have earned Denzel Washington’s attention for three features now, but if he’s going to keep going to that well, he might as well provide us with something as sturdy and satisfying as this latest entry. While engaged in one of his self-appointed assignments in Italy, McCall finds himself wounded and recuperating in a small Sicilian town. And as he begins feeling connected to the local townspeople, he’s drawn into conflict with the crime boss (Andrea Scarduzio) making their lives hell. McCall also begins working with a young CIA operative (Dakota Fanning), and the 20-years-on Man on Fire reunion certainly adds a little juice to the proceedings. Mostly, though, it’s a showcase for stylish violence, with director Antoine Fuqua and cinematographer Robert Richardson making both the Italian scenery and the copious bloodshed look great. There’s some vague attempt to make all of it part of McCall’s arc trying to find contentment after his personal tragedies, but this is still the same guy who’s defined less by the details of his back-story than by the meticulous personal habits that make him an OCD John Wick. Washington’s gifts make McCall’s stillness engrossing—and combined with a good old-fashioned revenge yarn where he stabs a guy through the eye with a gun barrel and then kills someone else through the back of that guy’s head, that’s enough. Available Sept. 1 in theaters. (R)

The Good Mother **
Sometimes a movie just screams out, “We have no idea what kind of movie we’re actually making here,” and as a result it ends up feeling like many different bits of story folded uncomfortably into one package. Hilary Swank plays Marissa Bennings, a hard-drinking journalist for a small newspaper in Albany, N.Y., who learns from her oldest son, police officer Toby (Jack Reynor), that her estranged younger son Michael has been murdered in a seemingly drug-related crime. Michael’s pregnant girlfriend Paige (Olivia Cooke) connects with Marissa in what turns into a makeshift investigation into Michael’s death, and director/co-screenwriter Miles Joris-Peyrafitte finds his most effective material in some taut scenes of the two women getting in over their heads. But other, earlier scenes appear to be hinting at subtext about the disappearance of local investigative journalism as a factor in the growing drug epidemic, before trying to inject some family drama into the relations between all the characters, including Toby’s wife (Karen Aldridge). A whole lot of stuff subsequently happens in just 90 minutes of running time, not nearly enough of which is supported by depth of character development, with Swank and Reynor particularly left to flounder. The film ends on a note of deliberate ambiguity, but when so much of what precedes it is underdeveloped, it simply plays like what you get when the filmmakers really don’t know what should happen next. Available Sept. 1 in theaters. (R)

Mutt **1/2
I won’t pretend to know how it feels to live inside someone else’s skin; I just know it feels weird when a story tries to pack the entirety of that experience into one 24-hour time frame. Writer/director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz follows Feña (Lío Mehiel), a trans man in New York who faces a messy day of re-connecting with John (Cole Soman), an ex-boyfriend from pre-transition; spending time with his estranged 14-year-old sister Zoe (MiMi Ryder); and trying to obtain a car to pick up his Chilean father (Alejandro Goic) from the airport. Mehiel turns in a terrific lead performance, evoking the emotional exhaustion of dealing with the unique challenges of trans life on top of the day-to-day challenges of any life. And Lungulov-Klotz does craft a few pitch-perfect scenes, like finding a particular intimacy in Feña allowing someone to touch the scars from his top surgery. The fundamental structural problem is that each one of the three primary narrative arcs described above could have—and perhaps should have—been its own movie, rushing through the revelations and frustrations involved in both romantic and familial relationships. Beyond that, there’s the sense that Lungulov-Klotz includes in a single day seemingly every shitty thing that could befall a trans person, from lacking proper ID to cash a check to getting dead-named by parents. As important as it is to represent the trans experience on screen, a filmmaker needs to know that one movie doesn’t have to do it all. Available Sept. 1 via Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose *1/2
The fact-based story of a skeptical parapsychology investigator and his experience with a strange phenomenon seems ripe for exploring the intersection between what we can prove and what we need to believe, but writer/director Adam Sigal turns it into an awkward mix of limp comedy and half-hearted earnestness. In 1937 England, celebrated psychic researcher Nandor Fodor (Simon Pegg) and his assistant Anne (Minnie Driver) take on the case of a family on the Isle of Man who claim that their farmhouse is home to an “earth spirit” in the form of a talking mongoose called Gef (voiced by author Neil Gaiman). The narrative proves awkwardly structured from the outset, including an extended “brief history of animals that could talk” prologue that has literally no bearing on anything that follows, and continuing with a flashback sequence involving Fodor’s colleague (Christopher Lloyd) that lacks energy as the result of being narrated rather than simply presented. Pegg wrestles with a character who is supposed to embody doubters interacting with people of faith, but he comes off as three-dimension compared to Gef’s host family, as Sigal makes no effort to understand them beyond their simple conviction that Gef is real. Turning the closing credits into a weird, presumably winking attack on the filmmaker’s competence makes it even harder to know when—or why—we should take the thematic subtext at all seriously. Available Sept. 1 in theaters. (PG-13)