Film Reviews: New Releases for March 14-15 | Buzz Blog
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Film Reviews: New Releases for March 14-15

Love Lies Bleeding, Arthur the King, Knox Goes Away, One Life and more


Katy O'Brian and Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding - A24 FILMS
  • A24 Films
  • Katy O'Brian and Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding
The American Society of Magical Negroes ***
Writer/director Kobi Libii concocts the kind of satirical premise that easily could have tipped over into pedantic self-importance, but emerges with a deft enough touch to end up both entertaining and urgent. The prospects for Aren Mbondo’s (Justice Smith) career as a visual artist appear to be vanishing, when he is approached by Roger (David Alan Grier) to join the titular secret society—a group of Black people dedicated to the proposition that solving White people’s problems and making them comfortable is the best way to keep their own lives safe. There’s a charming romantic-comedy angle in Aren’s relationship with a co-worker (An-Li Bogan) of his first White “client” (Drew Tarver), and a great (though under-used) character in Rupert Friend’s disconnected-from-reality tech CEO. But Libii understands how to keep the focus on the tension between the Society’s goals and the idea that White people don’t have an inalienable right not to be uncomfortable, even figuring out how to provide a climactic thesis-statement speech that doesn’t feel like a climactic thesis-statement speech because it’s so well-integrated with comedic chaos. It does feel like Libii doesn’t fully exploit the opportunities for actual magic in his premise—perhaps for budgetary reasons?—and pokes kind of obviously at examples of the trope in The Green Mile, Driving Miss Daisy and others. The result is still an engaging way to walk a tightrope between its two contrasting ideas: not making White people feel bad, while still asking them to listen. Available March 15 in theaters. (PG-13)

Arthur the King **
It’s hard not to feel like there’s a little bit of a bait-and-switch in the marketing of this odd drama, which suggests a “dude and his dog” story that takes forever to materialize. The fact-based narrative focuses on Michael Light (Mark Wahlberg), a veteran adventure racer who’s in semi-retirement circa 2018, never having won the world championships of his sport. He puts together a team (Simu Liu, Nathalie Emmanuel and Ali Suliman) for one last run at the championships in the Dominican Republic, but along the way picks up a stray dog Michael eventually dubs Arthur, and which becomes kind of a mascot for perseverance. “Along the way” feels a bit misleading though, since for more than half the movie, Arthur is basically part of an entirely separate story as we observe his hard life on the streets, and later making his way alone through the jungle. Meanwhile, director Simon Cellan Jones (last year’s Wahlberg vehicle The Family Plan) shows us the team taking on their dangerous trek, including a nerve-wracking rescue from a zipline. The whole thing just feels rushed towards a conclusion that puts the dog’s fate at the center, and asks us to believe that the animal has taught Michael a lesson in What Really Matters in the, what, several hours that they’re actually together. You learn a lot more about the weird subculture of a niche sporting community than about either the dude or his dog. Available March 15 in theaters. (PG-13)

Frida ***1/2
An artist-bio documentary really needs to accomplish two things—provide a vivid sense of its subject as a person, and celebrate the subject’s work—and director Carla Gutierrez finds a terrific approach to succeeding at both in her profile of Mexican-born artist Frida Kahlo. Gutierrez focuses almost entirely on Kahlo’s own words from journals and personal correspondence, with actor Fernanda Echevarría del Riviero giving voice to subjects like the bus accident that affected the rest of Kahlo’s life, her marriage to Diego Rivera and her experience of the United States in a way that captures her sexual drive, political beliefs and often-savage wit. That alone, however, might have made for tedious filmmaking, except that it’s accompanied by a vibrant style that animates many of Kahlo’s trademark autobiographical paintings, but also illustrates her way of looking at the world, as when black-and-white photographs are suddenly filled with color; even diary pages themselves feel alive as Gutierrez represents them. The result is a cinematic portrait that’s intimately personal in grappling with matters like Kahlo’s inability to have children, or her approach to Rivera’s infidelities, yet creates its own distinct reason for being beyond material that you could read in a book about Kahlo. We might see newspaper headlines that diminish her as someone who “gleefully dabbles” in art compared to her then-more-famous husband, but we also understand why she deserves a profile like this, and why Gutierrez was the right filmmaker to provide it. Available March 14 via Amazon Prime Video. (NR)

Michael Keaton in Knox Goes Away - SABAN FILMS
  • Saban Films
  • Michael Keaton in Knox Goes Away
Knox Goes Away ***
Michael Keaton has only one previous feature as a director under his belt—The Merry Gentleman 15 years ago—but he deftly provides a distinctive sensibility to a story that could have felt extremely familiar. Keaton also stars as John Knox, a veteran contract killer who has received a diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fast-moving degenerative brain disorder. As Knox prepares for his inevitable decline, he gets a visit from his long-estranged son Miles (James Marsden), who needs help after impulsively killing the man who seduced his teenage daughter. An absolutely stacked supporting cast—including Al Pacino, Marcia Gay Harden and Joanna Kulig—provides a pretty firm foundation to start from, but there was still the danger of “hit man losing his memory” to feel an awful lot like … well, Memory, the Liam Neeson vehicle from last year. But veteran writer Gregory Poirier cooks up a solidly constructed screenplay filled with snappy dialogue, including great material for Suzy Nakamura as a police detective. And Keaton understands just how to capture Knox’s loss of himself through abrupt blackouts and jagged edits, while allowing the performances room to breathe. His own on-screen work is a bit less effective, as Knox remains too taciturn to be fully accessible and the “philosophical killer” trope gets taken to a Ph.D. level, but there’s enough enjoyable material here to make me hope that it doesn’t take Keaton another 15 years to find his way to the director’s chair. Available March 15 in theaters. (R)

Love Lies Bleeding ***
Where writer/director Rose Glass tried to walk a line between horror and psychological thriller in her 2019 debut feature Saint Maud, here she fully embraces exploitation cinema with more than a touch of the surreal. In 1989 New Mexico, Lou (Kristen Stewart) is running a small-town gym where she meets new-girl-in-town Jackie (Katy O’Brian), an aspiring bodybuilder. The two quickly begin an affair, which is complicated by steroids, the FBI, Lou’s gun-running criminal dad (Ed Harris) and the abusive husband (Dave Franco) beating Lou’s sister (Jena Malone)—though not necessarily in that order. Glass and co-writer Weronika Tofilska aren’t shy about getting graphic with either the sex or the violence in their story, and they fill the periphery with grimy details like Anna Baryshnikov as a brown-toothed girl obsessed with Lou, and Harris’s stringy-haired creep having an obsession with big bugs. It’s all over-the-top absurdist fun—up to and including the roid-rage hallucinations experienced by Jackie, which sometimes seem to bleed over into the real world—and that makes it a bit less effective when Glass tries to play the plot machinations for straight suspense, or when Stewart’s earnestly intense performance seems to belong in a different movie. When both filmmakers and audience can surrender to the scuzzier aesthetics, it’s much easier to pick up what Love Lies Bleeding is laying down. Available March 15 in theaters. (R)

One Life ***
At the outset, the true story of Nicky Winton feels like it might be something akin to Schindler’s List if Oskar Schindler had already been a saint at the outset—a narrative about atrocities without much of a character arc to pursue—but director James Hawes’ drama eventually carves out its own unique tale about the aftermath of a large-scale rescue effort. It opens in 1987 England, with Winton (Anthony Hopkins) going through old mementos and flashing back to 1938, where as a young stock broker (Johnny Flynn), he travels to Prague to begin arranging transport to England of refugee children from Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Those flashback sequences do find Winton already a socialist do-gooder, and the focus on logistics doesn’t exactly lead to high drama (although Helena Bonham Carter does get a great small role as Winton’s mother). The better material comes in Hopkins’ portrait of a man whose moral compass is so driven by his mantra that “it’s never enough, is it” that he finds himself focused on where his efforts fell short, rather than on those he could save. The tear-jerker of a finale works as a reminder that those with the strongest sense of justice will always be thinking about the “more” they should have done, perhaps requiring others to remind them of what they have accomplished. Available March 15 in theaters. (PG)