It’s now August. There are theaters in various parts of the world that have opened. America is threatening to open movie houses back up later this month. For now, I have a collection of new reviews for films soon arriving on streaming services in some form this week (and some may even be at drive-ins). Enjoy these brief takes I’ve assembled on new movies, along with one retro pick for the week. There’s a period drama, a father-son story, an urban thriller, a college comedy, and the Lizard King. The following features reviews for Waiting for the Barbarians, Made in Italy, The Tax Collector, I Used to Go Here, and a retro look back at The Doors.
The Setup: Adapted by J.M. Coetzee from his own novel, director Ciro Guerra (Embrace the Serpent) makes his English-language debut with the story of a magistrate (Mark Rylance) on the frontier settlement of an unnamed empire contending with the arrival of a ruthless Colonel (Johnny Depp), who has been tasked with keeping the borders secured by any means. As the Magistrate finds himself frustrated with the sanctioned actions of the Colonel, he begins to question his own loyalties.
Review: There’s a good opening act of this film, which combines the talents of Rylance and Depp with Guerra’s skills at visualizing a purposefully unnamed world. Having the cinematography beautifully capture the barren nature of this land helps to emphasize further how irredeemable the actions of the “civilized” authority figures are when it comes to land they have attempted to colonize and claim ownership to. However, as the pacing begins to waver, the messaging of the film never rises above anything unclear from the start. The ravages of colonialism come at a time in a reality where the question of the presence fascism has reared itself often. Even with stock characters, the film works well enough, but expecting more out of this predicament beyond solid filmmaking may leave some wanting.
Where To Watch: Available on Digital and On Demand, August 7, 2020.
The Setup: An estranged father (Liam Neeson) travels with his adult son (Neeson’s actual son, Michael Richardson) to Tuscany to sell the house inherited from his late wife. Once there, it is clear the once beautiful villa will need renovations, the two find themselves both at odds and bonding over the time spent together reflecting on what went wrong, as well as the happier times.
Review: You’re not going to find anything new here, as far as straightforward dramas go. That said, I have found it interesting to watch the Neeson films allowing the actor to imbue his performance with aspects reflecting thoughts on his late wife. In this case, getting to act out those sorts of emotions alongside his son adds a strong layer to the film, making their bond that much more palpable. Adding Tuscany as a setting, without relying on ways for the film to call too much attention to a wonderfully pleasing visual setting goes a long way in establishing first-time director James D’Arcy as an actor with a good eye behind the camera for performances, regardless of the exotic locale. Still, while well-performed, it’s a father-son drama (with some light comedy) that will come and go.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters, drive-ins, and On Demand, August 7, 2020.
The Setup: Writer/director David Ayer returns to the streets of LA with the story of David (Bobby Soto), a tax collector for the crime lord known as Wizard. Working with his best friend and muscle, Creeper (Shia LaBeouf), the two are known for accepting no nonsense from anyone. When an old rival returns from Mexico, David finds himself desperate to defend his honor and protect his family.
Review: I’ve been a lot more miss than hit with Ayer, so it’s good to see The Tax Collector as something smaller in scale and a return to what worked in Harsh Times and End of Watch (his best film by a mile). That said, attention will obviously go to LaBeouf, who reportedly got real chest tattoos to embody his intimidating character better (we barely see them). It should be made clear that LeBeouf is not playing a Mexican, but a white guy who has grown up in this environment, not unlike Christian Bale in Harsh Times. He’s also a supporting character, and while quite effective, the narrative revolves around Soto’s Bobby, who does well enough to convey the stress of being a rung on a deadly ladder. Attempting to add a level of pulpiness to this gritty crime story, while not a new urban classic, it works as the second-best 2020 film featuring gunplay, Mexican gangs, and witchcraft.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and On Demand, August 7, 2020.
The Setup: Following a lackluster book launch, a canceled book tour, and a deflated ego, Kate (Gillian Jacobs) decides to accept the invitation from her former college professor (Jemaine Clement) to speak at her alma mater. Ideally, this visit could give Kate the boost she needs to get back on the horse, but a weekend full of misadventures with some friendly college kids allows for reflection and thoughts on redefining her future.
Review: In addition to being a simple but entertaining hang-out movie, there is a sense of understanding director Kris Rey has in what it means to be on the latter side of being a millennial stuck in place. The casting of Jacobs almost seems like the default choice, given her work on Community and Netflix’s Love. Still, it’s all the more compelling given the younger cast around her and the way truthful wisdom creeps into the narrative for this main character to understand. At the same time, a blend of clever dialogue, gags, and cringe humor all help build I Used to Go Here into a fun film that knows how to poke in the right places.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and On Demand, August 7, 2020.
The Setup: Oliver Stone’s chronicling of the career of the famous ’60s rock group, The Doors. Val Kilmer stars as Jim Morrison, who drifts his way into Los Angeles, eventually forming the wildly popular band with co-stars Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, and Kevin Dillon. With a focus on Morrison’s short life, we see plenty of drug experimentation, abuse, and the relationship he had with Pam Courson (Meg Ryan).
Review: Somehow, Stone’s take on Jim Morrison in The Doors has eluded me until recently. Now available in a “Final Cut” form available on home media, my first viewing experience of the film, which initially received a mixed reception, was a very positive one. Yes, Kilmer received proper acclaim for his portrayal of Morrison, and it’s one of the great music biopic performances for the genre (and in a less competitive year, he would have surely scored an Oscar nomination). The rest of the film, however, I found to be entirely transfixing in a way fitting of the mood songs by The Doors. And even as the film follows a standard path for music biopics, the recreations of certain events, the casting, and the interweaving of The Doors’ songs all go a long way. Regardless of supposed accuracy, there’s an atmosphere and filmmaking style on display showing why Stone was the ideal director to tackle this particular group and Morrison’s story.
Where To Watch: Available to Stream for Free On Prime and Kanopy