- Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios, IFC Films and Saban Films
We reviewed four movies this week, including the directorial debut of actor Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist). His film is the only one that is opening at local theaters, so make sure you wear a mask if you decide to venture out. See you on the flip side.
Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) portrays physicist, chemist and two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Skłodowska Curie in Radioactive, a thought-provoking narrative that breaks down some of the conventions of most cinematic biographies to deliver a mixed bag of history and romance. Science nerds will find comfort in knowing that Oscar-nominated Iranian director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and screenwriter Jack Thorne (Wonder) stick closely to the study of elements and compounds as they maneuver their way through a script that jumps between the past, present and future with relatively effective results. Most of the film centers on Curie and her relationship with fellow scientist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), her future husband whom she partners with despite being extremely protective of her work. Curie, who died in 1934 at the age of 66 due to her longtime exposure to radiation, shaped science with her discovery of radium and polonium. These elements would later be used in everything from the use of X-ray imaging to the treatment of cancer to the creation of nuclear weapons. In some scenes, Satrapi and Throne flash forward to see the destructive nature of Curie’s scientific breakthroughs — from the annihilation of the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945 with the release of an atomic bomb, to the disaster that took place at a Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. While some of Radioactive feels like Satrapi and Throne are running through a check list of Curie’s career milestones, the film rarely takes its mind off the science. Pike, too, inhabits her character — a brilliant woman who was equal parts ambitious, passionate and headstrong — with magnetism. In one scene, she describes radium as “a most peculiar and remarkable element because it does not behave as it should.” As a pioneering scientist who succeeded in a male-dominated field that once turned its back on her, the same can be said of Curie. Radioactive is available on Amazon Prime July 24. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
In The Rental, actor and first-time director Dave Franco, who co-wrote the script with Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies), follows two couples renting a vacation home from a strange homeowner, who may be hiding a sinister secret from his new tenants. Swanberg, who is known as a minimalist director himself, seems to have influenced Franco for better or worse. The Rental is a subdued thriller that concentrates on its tone and setting more than it does on an actual narrative. That, of course, would not be a problem if the characters inhabiting the home felt more realistic than they do. Instead, Franco and Swanberg focus on some cliché relationship drama and lay a weak foundation for what slowly becomes an uncomfortably intimate situation. Once the setup is complete, the screenwriting duo retreat into a typical slasher-type movie structure that sucks all the tension out of the air. When inconspicuous indie horror productions do it right, they become films like House of the Devil or Creep and Creep 2. Franco might get there one day, but his directorial debut is far from an opening salvo. The Rental is opens at local theaters and on VOD platforms July 24. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)
In recent years, the revenge movie subgenre has given audiences everything from trash cinema like the 2018 Jennifer Garner vehicle Peppermint to impactful independent films like The Nightingale and Blue Ruin. British drama Retaliation does not reinvent the wheel, but it should be commended for its measured pacing and a staggering, career-best performance by Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings franchise). Bloom plays Malcolm (“Malky”), a demolition worker who spends his days breaking down and clearing out dilapidated churches. When he has free time, he visits his elderly mother (Anne Reid) and hangs out with his work friends and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Emma (Janet Montgomery). Malky’s entire existence is devastated when the priest who sexually abused him as a child returns to town. Forced to confront those demons he hoped he had buried, Malky finds himself at an impasse. Should he continue to mask the pain he has been living with for decades or should he seek revenge for the immoral acts committed against him, which have led him to a life of emotional frailty and self-abuse. Directed by brothers Ludwig and Paul Shammasian, Retaliation takes its time coming to that conclusion with an unflinching and vulnerable performance by Bloom. Malky’s blind rage is palpable as he wrestles with those horrifying memories. While screenwriter Geoff Thompson (The Pyramid Texts) can’t seem to say no to some ham-fisted metaphors (there’s a scene where Malky carries a large cross on his back and refuses help, for Christ sake!), Retaliation is powerful enough to let some of its weaker subtexts slide. It’s a search for salvation that epitomizes the meaning of a “tortured soul.” Retaliation is available on VOD platforms July 24. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
Yes, God, Yes
Filmmaker Karen Maine’s feature film debut, Yes, God, Yes, which is based on a short of the same name she wrote and directed three years ago, tells the story of Alice (Natalia Dyer from Stranger Things), an innocent, 16-year-old Catholic high school student in the early 2000s, who worries that masturbating might lead to eternal damnation. When Alice goes on a spiritual retreat with her classmates and meets a cute camp counselor, she must face her hormones head on, all while uncovering the hypocrisy of some people’s holier-than-thou attitudes. She also must decide if rewinding the sex scene in Titanic really constitutes as a cardinal sin. Drawing heavily from her own experience going to Catholic school and a “very manipulative” religious retreat, Maine offers up her quirky dark comedy to critics for sacrifice. Luckily, she recovers it with only a few flesh wounds. The coming-of-age narrative pokes fun at the constructs of religion, but is not sharp enough to pierce skin. Nonetheless, Maine proves herself to be a capable director and Dyer gives a charming performance that never becomes caricaturesque. Why this innocent, little comedy is rated R is beyond comprehension. It’s probably because Jesus is watching. Yes, God, Yes is available on digital cinema and limited drive-in theaters July 24 and VOD platforms July 28. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
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