- Focus Features, Netflix and Lionsgate
We’re nearing the start of fall, which means that awards season is almost upon us. But what is that going to look like this year with the pandemic? How will studios present what they believe to be their award-worthy films to the public and to critics? We’ll find out soon enough. Until then, here are a handful of reviews for movies that opened this week at theaters and on streaming services and VOD platforms.
All In: The Fight for Democracy
As important of a nonpartisan message the documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy would have in any election year, it feels so much more critical six weeks away from Election Day 2020. Republicans might take offense in hearing that the United States' system of government is at a breaking point, but even they would probably agree that we are currently living in an unprecedented and dangerous time and that Americans are divided politically like never before. Co-directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes, All In is a reminder to viewers that they have a civic duty to vote and shows them just how far this country needs to go to make sure each American voice is heard. It also makes a strong case in how this great responsibility we have as citizens has limits – for example, individuals using suppression tactics to take constitutional rights away from disenfranchised voters. That story is told effectively through the 2018 Gubernatorial race in Georgia between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. Kemp, who was Secretary of State at the time and therefore in charge of the state’s election, won the contest by merely 55,000 votes. While some might simply call it a tight race, others wondered how much purging of voter rolls and other questionable methods in Georgia affected the outcome. No matter where you come down on that specific election, All In does an excellent job exploring the history of voting and voter suppression through archived footage and interviews with politicians, professors, constitutional experts, civil rights activists and others. No matter who wins this November, the soul of this nation is going to change drastically. It’s up to everyone to decide what kind of country they want to live in — All In advocates for one that is not tainted by totalitarianism. All In: The Fight for Democracy debuts on Amazon Prime September 18. 3.5 out of 5 stars (recommended)
As a historical exploration of this country’s original sin and how it is still influenced by its racist past, the social thriller Antebellum takes an interesting approach in confronting such a harrowing topic, but only uses it in the most obvious and ham-fisted ways. Split into two time periods (present day and the 19th century plantation era), the film uses slavery as a metaphor to get to the root causes of the systemic racism still prevalent in the United States (although the current president does not believe it exists). Antebellum stars Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures) as two separate but related characters. In one part of the film, Monáe plays Eden, a slave suffering inhumane treatment in the Antebellum South. In the other, she is Veronica Henley, a successful Black author who experiences subtle racism most days. First-time feature writers/directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz are ambitious storytellers trying to sell audiences on a cinematic gimmick that is not executed as well as it needed to be for viewers to buy in. There is a timely and insightful narrative buried somewhere in Antebellum, but Bush and Renz can’t maneuver their way out of their clunky screenplay. Also, if anyone tells you Antebellum is like Get Out (and they will because it’s the laziest comparison to make), tell them to get out of the Sunken Place before recommending any more movies. Antebellum hits VOD platforms September 18. 1.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)
The Devil All the Time
Co-writer/director Antonio Campos knows how to intensify a scene. His last film, 2016’s Christine, the true story of 1970s reporter Christine Chubbuck who killed herself on live TV, was a powder keg of painful emotion. In his newest film, the midwestern gothic thriller The Devil All the Time, Ramos utilizes an impressive ensemble cast to tell a dark, sprawling, nonlinear story set across two generations in small-town Ohio. The main narrative revolves around Arvin (Tom Holland), a young man with a dark family past, who butts heads with an egomaniacal preacher (Robert Pattinson). Interwoven within that story, viewers will find everything from a pair of serial killers to unusual religious rituals. Along with solid performances by Holland and Pattinson, the film stars Bill Skarsgård (It), Riley Keough (American Honey), Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Eliza Scanlen (Little Women). The film is narrated somberly by Donald Ray Pollock, who wrote the original book. In The Devil All the Time, the name of the game is depravity, and Campos immerses his film in a sort of cinematic grime that is hard to wash away. It’s not always a fulfilling experience, but like that sharp elbow you might’ve received from your mother if you fell asleep during a church sermon, Campos isn’t shy about jolting viewers awake — aggressively if necessary. A portion of this review original ran at Remezcla.com. The Devil All the Time is currently playing on Netflix and at the Santikos Embassy Theatre. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
Hollywood needs more indie weirdo charm from screenwriters and directors like Miranda July. The filmmaker has been fairly quiet for the last 15 years, but if you were lucky enough to see her delightful 2005 oddity Me and You and Everyone We Know, July hasn’t strayed too far from her unique storytelling habits and eccentric characters. In Kajillionaire, July follows a trio of small-time crooks living in Los Angeles who are also family. Robert (Richard Jenkins), his wife Theresa (Debra Winger) and their gawky AF grown daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) spend most days scheming to make enough money to keep a roof over their heads. For example, they take packages from the post office, so they can return whatever is inside them back to the store for cash. When Robert and Theresa invite Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an attractive stranger they meet during one of their more ambitious crimes, to join them on their next heist, Old Dolio is confused about her parents’ intentions. Their criminal activity has always been a family affair, so why are they letting this woman join their team? Melanie really doesn’t have a reason she wants to participate in the family’s capers besides the fact she is curious, so those loose ends in July’s screenplay are a bit baffling. But there’s just something profoundly likable about the family’s dynamic and the way Old Dolio seeks independence from her unaffectionate parents when Melanie steps in. At times, Kajillionaire doesn’t seem like it’s living up to its potential. Still, anytime Wood is on the screen, you’ll wish someone would make another Ocean’s 11 heist movie featuring Old Dolio hitchhiking across the country alone stealing FedEx boxes off people’s porches. Kajillionaire opens exclusively at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Stone Oak September 18. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
Filmmaker Sean Durkin is the perfect example of how difficult it must be to make movies in the Hollywood system. In 2011, Durkin made his directorial debut with his haunting and extraordinary dramatic thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene — easily one of the best films of that year. Returning for only his second film nine years later, one has to wonder why someone as gifted as Durkin doesn’t have studios kicking down his door. Nevertheless, while his sophomore effort, The Nest, isn’t as chilling as his first foray into filmmaking, Durkin’s ability to stage ominous atmospheres with the same confidence as his colleague David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) is reason enough to give this man more room to develop his talent. In The Nest, Durkin tells the story of Rory (Jude Law) and Allison (Carrie Coon), a married couple who upend their lives in America in the 1980s to move their family to England when Rory lands a new job. While Allison is skeptical about how advantageous Rory’s new position will be for them (they’ve relocated four times in the last 10 years), she carries on with the plan. But once the family takes residence in their new countryside manor, their unhappiness and Rory’s deceptive nature stirs up something in the home that slowly begins to break the family apart. Imagine watching a ghost story without an actual entity occupying the house. The slow-burning intensity all comes from Rory and Allison as they bicker about their new life and the regrets that are now destroying their marriage. Whenever Coon and Law share the screen, The Nest is an unflinching domestic drama that picks at the scabs of a marriage in peril. The Nest hits VOD platforms and local theaters September 18. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
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