Film Reviews: New Releases for March 21-22 | Buzz Blog
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Film Reviews: New Releases for March 21-22

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, Problemista, Immaculate, Road House, Uproar, Shirley, Late Night With the Devil


Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire - SONY PICTURES
  • Sony Pictures
  • Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire ***
The main problem with 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, aside from digitally desecrating the corpse of Harold Ramis, was that it completely misunderstood the fact that Ghostbusters movies should be comedies that occasionally have supernatural action, rather than supernatural action movies that occasionally have comedy. Gil Kenan (who co-wrote Afterlife and takes over the directing duties here) pivots effectively in this follow-up, which finds the new blended Ghostbusting family—Gary (Paul Rudd), Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace)—setting up shop in the old New York firehouse and tackling the threat of an ancient god. This is still a franchise reboot with an overstuffed agenda, trying to make Phoebe’s adolescent angst and Gary’s confusion over being a stepparent matter while also finding ways to squeeze in stuff to do for the original cast members, including token minutes of screen time for Bill Murray that even he seems to realize are wasted. But at least it’s considerably funnier this time around, adding Kumail Nanjiani and Patton Oswalt in roles that optimize their talents, and actually letting Rudd be the nerdy goofball. The CGI spectacle is surprisingly understated, allowing the focus to be on people having funny reactions to the weird shit happening around them, because we’re not really supposed to be afraid of no ghosts—we’re supposed to laugh at them. Available March 22 in theaters. (PG-13)

Immaculate ***
The extent to which Sydney Sweeney’s body has become a culture-wars object feels perfectly attuned to this exploitation horror yarn, in which the metaphorical content simmers casually beneath the more overt genre elements. Sweeney plays Cecilia, an American novitiate relocating to Italy to take her vows at a remote convent—where she soon finds herself carrying the results of a seemingly immaculate conception. Director Michael Mohan and screenwriter Andrew Lobel get ruthless with their narrative in just over 80 minutes of running time, trusting in the atmosphere and the obvious cinematic influences—a little Rosemary’s Baby here, a little Suspiria there—to do a lot of the heavy lifting. And lift they do, as candlelit nighttime excursions and nightmare sequences build slowly but effectively to the outright nuttiness of the final 20 minutes. At the center of it all is Sweeney, whose limitations as an actor are minimized by a focus on her reactions to the things she begins to discover—including, but not limited to, the idea that her feminine fecundity is reason enough for a specific group of people to believe that her agency should be taken away from her. It’s too over-the-top to feel like a lecture about patriarchal institutions denying bodily autonomy, which is kind of why it works as one, and why Sweeney might be the perfect actor to deliver it. Available March 22 in theaters. (R)

Late Night With the Devil **1/2
There’s a solid idea for a spin on “found-footage” horror in this feature from sibling writer/directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes, but nailing the vibe of its set-up isn’t quite enough to make up for a clunky introduction and a foregone-conclusion climax. The majority of the story involves footage from a live broadcast on Halloween night 1977 of Night Owls with Jack Delroy, a syndicated late-night chat show whose titular host (David Dastmalchian) could be facing cancellation unless he can make a last big ratings splash. The occult-themed show includes guests like a mentalist (Fayssal Bassi), a skeptic/debunker Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss) and a parapsychologist (Laura Gordon) with her patient/ward (Ingrid Torelli), the survivor of an demon-worshipping cult’s mass suicide—and as you might suspect, the show eventually goes supernaturally sideways. The Cairnes’ do a great job of capturing the aesthetic of the year and its era-specific devil-worship anxieties, while Dastmalchian finds a great character balancing sweaty desperation and a manufactured “just a regular guy” persona. It’s just a long haul to the good stuff, including a prologue biography of Delroy that telegraphs too much of what’s to come, and an epilogue that feels the need to underline it. A few creepy images in the background and one big explosive money scene might have been better served as part of a short than a stretched-out feature. Available March 22 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)

Problemista **
Real talk: Julio Torres annoyed the hell out of me. That’s kind of a big problem when he’s the writer/director/star, and his sensibility infuses everything about the movie. Torres plays Alejandro Martinez, a Salvadorean immigrant in New York City with dreams of designing toys. But when he loses his day job—and, as a result, his reason for a work visa—he’s forced to scramble for a way to stay in the country, even if that means working for crazy artist Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton). Swinton is far and away the best thing about Problemista, offering a boho spin on a The Devil Wears Prada-esque nightmare boss with her absurd expectations of other people and her insistence that everyone is always shouting at her. But that great performance gets tangled up in one of those seriocomic features that feels like the filmmaker has to offload every idea from their creative notebook—Cryogenics! Fantasy sequences! Kinky Craig’s List ads!—suggesting someone who learned all the wrong lessons from Everything Everywhere All At Once. And while Alejandro’s diffident personality proves to be part of his character arc, as a screen persona, he’s just hard to embrace. What could have been an intriguing perspective on immigrant anxiety gets lost in how irritating it is to hear it from this perspective. Available March 22 in theaters. (R)

Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House - AMAZON STUDIOS / MGM
  • Amazon Studios / MGM
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House
Road House **1/2
It was a bad sign when one character heralds the arrival of Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal)—the ex-UFC fighter-turned-bouncer responding to the request by the owner (Jessica Williams) of a Florida Keys roadhouse to help clean up the place—with “that kind of sounds like the plot to a Western.” Because if there’s one thing the original 1989 Patrick Swayze movie was not, it was snarkily self-aware about its throwback genre roots. A lot of the same basic plot elements remain in place from the original—a shady businessman (Billy Magnussen) who sees Dalton as a threat to his plans; a local doctor (Daniela Melchior) for Dalton to romance; a tragic event from Dalton’s past—and there’s a great antagonist for Dalton in UFC legend Conor McGregor. In fact, it’s not half-bad at the kind of movie it is, which is an action movie directed by veteran Doug Liman with plenty of crunching punches and breaking glass. But it becomes kind of annoying to realize this is a movie that thinks it’s better that its predecessor by virtue of making it grittier and more “real,” what with its dialogue about how ha ha “road house” actually shouldn’t be two words. Gyllenhaal proves solid at the kind of hero he’s asked to play, and Magnussen nails his nepo-baby villain, but once you make the choice that this Dalton will have a first name—and that it's “Elwood”—you’ve let me know you don’t have respect for what made the original Road House work. Available March 21 via Amazon Prime Video. (R)

Shirley ***
In the broadest sense of the term, this is a biopic, but writer/director John Ridley—the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Twelve Years a Slave—generally seems more interested in creating almost a celebration of the messy, complicated political process that Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (Regina King) tackled during her 1972 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. After a brief prologue set during Chisholm’s freshman term in Congress in 1968, the story remains firmly focused on the presidential campaign, introducing allies like Congressman Ron Dellums (Dorian Missick), future Congresswoman Barbara Lee (Christina Jackson) and campaign advisor Wesley McDonald (the late Lance Reddick). As such, Shirley isn’t much interested in cradle-to-grave biography, leaving us to play a little bit of catch-up regarding her strained relationships with her husband Conrad (Michael Cherrie) and sister Muriel (Regina King’s real-life sister Reina King), and how Chisholm became such a ferocious fighter. But Ridley does a great job of connecting the dots between idealistic activism and realpolitik, as well as celebrating Chisholm’s refusal to violate her own principles—including visiting George Wallace in the hospital after the attempt on his life—even if it might alienate potential voters. The visual style inserting snippets of events emphasizes the whirlwind nature of a political campaign, while proving surprisingly inspiring in its suggestion that working within this system can still be revolutionary. Available March 22 via Netflix. (PG-13)

Uproar ***
Coming-of-age stories come in all shapes and sizes—as do the people they’re about—so it’s interesting to see this one approaching the idea of developing a social consciousness at a time when you’d rather just be invisible. The story is set in 1981 New Zealand, where Josh Waaka (Julian Dennison) is a half-Maori high-schooler at a predominantly White private school. Turmoil is hitting the rugby-mad country as the South African rugby team tours New Zealand, inspiring sympathetic protests over the apartheid system, and how close it hits home in another country mistreating its indigenous population. Directors/co-writers Paul Middleditch and Hamish Bennett (working with a larger writing team) also include a sub-plot involving Josh’s growing interest in theater, and it’s part of a narrative that at times feels a bit over-stuffed, including the difficulties faced by Josh’s widowed single mom (Minnie Driver) and his injured rugby-star brother (James Rolleston). But Dennison makes Josh a great protagonist in his self-deprecating wit and his emerging realization that the world is bigger than his desire to avoid drawing attention to himself. The result is a mostly-charming, sometimes challenging recognition of the different points in our lives when we can all learn, in the words of the late John Lewis, when to make “good trouble.” Available March 22 in theaters. (PG-13)