The Creator ***
Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Flora and Son
See feature review
. Available Sept. 29 in theaters.
Deliver Us **
It would have been a pretty nifty trick if co-writer/director/star Lee Roy Kunz, co-director Cru Ennis and co-writer Kane Kunz had figured out a way to combine over-the-top supernatural horror with a deadly earnest attempt to address our personal responsibility to fend off the apocalypse, but … well, trick not accomplished. Lee Roy Kunz plays Father Daniel Fox, a Catholic priest who is preparing to give up the priesthood for the woman he loves (Jaune Kimmel), when he’s given the proverbial One Last Job: attending to Sister Yulia (Maria Vera Ratti), a nun in a Russian convent who claims her pregnancy is immaculate, and that the twins she will bear are the Second Coming of Christ and the Antichrist. Plenty of wild shenanigans ensue, including fleeing a Zoroastrian death cult, Thomas Kretschmann as a crazed one-eyed priest, bear-trap as Chekhovian gun, full-on stigmatas and a guy misunderstanding the concept of “biting my nails,” all liberally seasoned by the filmmakers with wake-up-from-a-nightmare jump scares. It might have been lurid, schlocky fun, except that the script seems determined to make it really all about stuff like environmental collapse and what we all need to do to fend of the Devil (who was, apparently, inside all of us the whole time). It’s just too dumb to be taken seriously, and so convinced it should be taken seriously that it can’t be enjoyed enough when it’s purely dumb. Available Sept. 29 in theaters.
Fair Play **1/2
I’m trying hard to appreciate writer/director Chloe Domont’s feature for the satisfyingly nasty little piece of work it is, rather than be disappointed that it isn’t the thoughtful provocation it seems to be striving towards. It opens with the seemingly happy occasion of the engagement between Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor), except that complications are on the horizon: They’re co-workers at a New York brokerage firm where their relationship is already potentially off-limits, and even more fraught when Emily is promoted into the position of being Luke’s direct supervisor. What follows is the gradual disintegration of their relationship thanks almost entirely to Luke’s sense of emasculation, amplified by his fascination with a self-styled success guru. Domont builds a great drip-drip-drip of mounting tension, anchored by the two impressive lead performances and a low-key supporting turn by Eddie Marsan as the firm’s boss. The only real problem is that Domont stacks the deck such that Luke’s villainy is too obvious too soon, while Emily’s back-story casts her as the scrappy working-class kid who made her own way. Fair Play
effectively captures an environment in which a woman faces a no-win scenario in trying to achieve success; understanding very early on how no-win that scenario is doesn’t leave much beyond the ample superficial pleasures. Available Sept. 29 in theaters; Oct. 6 via Netflix.
Flora and Son ***
John Carney (Once
, Sing Street
) is decidedly a one-trick pony as a filmmaker, but if you happen to be in the tank for that one trick, the pony can take you surprisingly far. Here he follows Dublin single mom Flora (Eve Hewson), whose relationship with her 14-year-old son Max (Orén Kinlan) is strained by his frequent run-ins with the law and her barely-concealed disdain for being a mother. Flora’s attempt at a gift for Max in the form of a salvaged guitar is rejected, so instead she starts taking lessons herself from an online teacher named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) based in California. Carney clearly believes almost religiously in music’s healing, connecting power, which manifests itself in a device where Flora and Jeff seem to be in the same place once the songs start flying. That subplot clearly is meant as component of Flora’s personal growth—the need to feel that her own voice has value before she can feel closer to other people—but it also threatens to overwhelm the more significant relationship indicated by the title. Fortunately, there are some strong moments between Hewson and Kinlan, with the former turning in winning work as a party girl who has defined herself by her poor decisions. Carney’s songs take on slightly lesser role than they have in his previous features, allowing him to focus on the low-key satisfactions of another character piece where there isn’t a human dilemma that music can’t solve. Available Sept. 29 in theaters and via Apple TV+.
The Kill Room **
Uma Thurman has, at times, given very good film performances—but when she’s not on her game, it ain’t pretty. Here she plays Patrice, a financially-strapped New York art gallery owner who makes a deal with mob operative Gordon (Samuel L. Jackson) to serve as the money-laundering front for his operation, with hit man Reggie (Joe Manganiello) providing the art works that they will “sell” for exorbitant prices. Once word spreads that a mysterious artist known as “The Bagman” is selling for big bucks, however, all the trend-chasing collectors want a piece—and thus begins something that should have served as an effective takedown of the art world in Jonathan Jacobson’s script, crossed with a little Bullets Over Broadway
as Reggie’s dabbling in creativity reveals unexpected depths. But director Nicol Paone can’t quite find the tone, as he attempts to mix caustic satire with earnest character study, topped by a con-caper finale that doesn’t feel nearly as well thought out as all the characters seem to think it is. Most frustrating of all, Thurman just seems to have no idea how to play Patrice, going too broad with the comedic moments and … well, also too broad when Patrice is supposed to be a cool, savvy businesswoman, albeit one with a strict moral code. Maybe no actor would have made this odd stew come together, but the one it has just doesn’t give the center a chance to hold. Available Sept. 29 in theaters.
Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie **1/2
Anyone who has been in a parental role thinks of the entertainment designed for young kids in one of three basic categories: 1) “I’m actually happy to watch with them;” 2) “It’s fine, I guess;” 3) “Oh dear Lord, why this?” Never having been exposed to any previous incarnation of PAW Patrol
—including the 2021 theatrical feature—I’ll assume for the moment it’s generally in category 2. This tale takes the puppy team of first responders and their human handler Ryder (Finn Lee-Epp) on a mission to save Adventure City from a don’t-call-her-mad scientist (Taraji P. Henson), during which a meteor’s crystal core gives the pups super-powers. The bulk of the narrative arc is given to runt-of-the-litter Skye (Mckenna Grace) and her feelings of inferiority, and the screenplay does a nice job building age-appropriate messages about insecurity leading to reckless behavior, and transcending perceived limitations. The rest of the time is filled with purely functional CGI animation, fast-paced but never frenetic action, and very little in the way of humor or incident to hold the interest of anyone over the age of 12. But its heart is in the right place, it isn’t aggressively irritating, and when one character says about a plot point, “I know that sounds weird, but just go with it,” it feels like that’s kinda what you’re willing to do when you’re in category 2. Available Sept. 29 in theaters.