Film Reviews: New Releases for June 28 | Buzz Blog
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Film Reviews: New Releases for June 28

A Quiet Place: Day One, Horizon: An American Saga - Part One, Janet Planet, Daddio and more


Djimon Hounsou and Lupita Nyong'o in A Quiet Place: Day One - PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • Paramount Pictures
  • Djimon Hounsou and Lupita Nyong'o in A Quiet Place: Day One
Daddio ***
It would be easy to see writer/director Christy Hall’s debut feature as a filmed two-hander theater piece, exactly the sort of thing that people don’t bother to think of as essential viewing, let alone essential theatrical viewing. But it would be a sad day if there were no longer room for something that allows two actors to fully inhabit great roles. It opens with an unnamed woman (Dakota Johnson) catching a cab at JFK, and beginning a lengthy interaction with her driver, Clark (Sean Penn), as they get stuck in traffic. It’s a simple set-up, one that Hall punctuates periodically with the texts between Johnson’s character and an unknown recipient, and few other bits of external drama. Yet the filmmaker understands how to maximize the way a cinematic performance can heighten a moment, like the simple anticipatory parting of lips Johnson shows as she watches the dots in her texts portent a possibly crucial message. The chemistry between Johnson and Penn—a purely actorly chemistry, nothing sexualized about it—elevates everything, refusing to oversimplify the interactions between a professional woman and a working-class guy. Penn in particular finds a sweet spot between a man who’s not particularly “woke,” but seems aware enough of his flaws that he’s trying to do something about them. And while the stories they share head in some obvious directions, it’s surprisingly potent simply watching two people truly connect in a world where the structures seem set up to prevent such connections from happening. Available June 28 in theaters. (R)

Fancy Dance **1/2
There’s a certain sub-genre of Sundance-pedigree drama that feels like it hasn’t changed substantially in nearly 30 years: Tales set in a very specific cultural milieu, built around one strong main character/performance, and with not enough else to supplement the good intentions. Co-writer/director Erica Tremblay heads to the Seneca-Cauyga reservation of Oklahoma for the story of Dax (Lily Gladstone), who’s caring for her 13-year-old niece Roki (Isabel Delroy-Olson) after Dax’s sister and Roki’s mother has gone missing. After Roki is removed from Dax’s home and placed with Roki’s grandfather (Shea Whigham) due to Dax’s criminal record, Dax takes her back and hits the road for an Oklahoma powwow. Tremblay and co-writer Miciana Alise offer great detail with the various hustles—some legal, some not—that Dax employs to survive financially, including a slick trick at the gas pumps. But while Gladstone brings a no-bullshit intensity to a role that evokes Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout part in Winter’s Bone, the narrative pokes along with an uncertain focus on whether this is a story about racially-based injustice or about the surrogate-mom relationship between Dax and Roki. Fancy Dance has some serious issues it wants to address, and sometimes it feels like the story is stopping dead in its tracks to address them rather than making them part of a well-crafted story. Available June 28 via AppleTV+. (R)

Horizon: An American Saga – Part One **
It’s been 20 years since Kevin Costner last directed a theatrical feature, and in that time, he’s spent several years working on the series Yellowstone, so maybe that explains why the first installment in his planned frontier epic feels like a three-hour pilot episode. Costner’s on-screen character—mysterious and taciturn cowboy Hayes Ellison—doesn’t appear until an hour into the film, as he explores plenty of other sub-plots surrounding a white settlement in the untamed country of the San Pedro Valley circa the early 1860s: a prostitute (Abbey Lee) who seduces Ellison; a widowed settler (Sienna Miller); the soldiers at a nearby fort; a woman (Jena Malone) who flees to create a new identity; the various folks on a westward-bound wagon train; a sketchy band of white guys pursuing bounties on Apache scalps. At the outset, it feels like Costner might be attempting another complicating narrative about interactions between indigenous peoples and white settlers; Danny Huston’s Army commanding officer gets a nice speech about their competing drives to thrive. Unfortunately, there are so many threads for the story to follow that any such thematic complexity vanishes for huge chunks of the movie, and few of the characters develop into anything more than types. It’s clear Costner wants something with an old-fashioned scope, as he emphasizes expansive Western vistas set to John Debney’s heroic score. There’s just too damned much going on here for any of it to connect, and by the time Costner closes with a five-minute montage of stuff that’s coming up in the next installment, it’s clear we’ll have to wait for any clarity until season two … I mean, chapter two. Available June 28 in theaters. (R)

Janet Planet ***1/2
Very little in writer/director Annie Baker’s debut feature is fresh from a thematic or structural standpoint, but it’s so precisely executed that it feels new. It spans several months in the relationship between single mom Janet (Julianne Nicholson) and her 11-year-old daughter Lacy (Zoe Ziegler) in rural Massachusetts in the early 1990s, observing the various relationships in Janet’s life—including a new boyfriend (Will Patton) and an old friend (Sophie Okonedo) through Lacy’s eyes. At its heart, this is a particular kind of coming-of-age story, one centered not so much on growing awareness of sexuality but simply on beginning to see adults, including one’s parents as flawed, complicated people. The particulars of that understanding here lean into oddball Lacy’s attachment to her mother, which Baker captures through a mix of master-shot compositions attempting to take in the whole world—and occasionally needing to strain to hear conversations—and shots where characters aren’t fully visible within the frame. The result is something that has an episodic quality, yet allows every individual scene to build the unconventional circumstances of Lacy’s life—and Ziegler’s beautiful performance—into something rich and distinctive. By the time Janet Planet reaches its final scene, the realization of what we’re not seeing, and the play of a smile on Lacy’s face as she realizes it too, turn into something achingly hopeful. Available June 28 in theaters. (PG-13)

Kinds of Kindness ****
See feature review. Available June 28 in theaters. (R)

A Quiet Place: Day One ***
It’s a bold gambit to evoke 9/11 for a monster thriller, but this expansion of the Quiet Place universe from writer/director Michael Sarnoski (Pig) does a fairly solid job of pulling it off. Sarnoski moves the action from a rural community to the middle of New York City, where terminally-ill hospice resident Samira (Lupita Nyong’o) is taking a field trip on the day when the invasion of blind, super-hearing aliens breaks loose. That hell involves plenty of views of a smoldering Manhattan skyline and people shambling through the streets while covered in ash, a creepy reminder of a dark day. The narrative also folds in a nod to pandemic-era NYC, and as Samira finds herself traveling with an anxious British expat (Joseph Quinn), the story becomes a reminder of how hard it is to exist in isolation—including the connection we feel with our pets—and how your perspective on life shifts in the midst of a crisis. Sarnoski’s visual chops are much stronger in the quieter, character-based moments than they are when trying to capture the alien attacks—it’s a genre movie that’s actually fairly thin on set pieces—which could end up feeling frustrating. The central performances are strong enough, though, to anchor an effective story that centers not just the need to survive, but what it is we decide to survive for. Available June 28 in theaters. (PG-13)