In-House Reviews #105: Lisa Frankenstein, The Promised Land, Cobweb, Marmalade & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Lisa Frankenstein, The Promised Land, Cobweb, Out of Darkness, Marmalade, Orion and the Dark, Fitting In, Scrambled, Self Reliance, and The Underdoggs.

Whatever one may think about learning who the real agent Argylle is, February is kicking off with plenty of smaller, more interesting features. This set of write-ups includes an 80s horror romance, a Danish drama, a movie about making a movie, a paleolithic horror film, a romantic heist flick, an animated feature, a coming-of-age story, a comedy-drama, a comedic thriller, and a foul-mouthed sports flick. The following features reviews for Lisa Frankenstein, The Promised Land, Cobweb, Out of Darkness, Marmalade, Orion and the Dark, Fitting In, Scrambled, Self Reliance, and The Underdoggs.

Lisa Frankenstein: 5 out of 10

The Setup: A misunderstood teenager (Kathryn Newton) and a reanimated corpse (Cole Sprouse) embark on a murderous journey to find love, happiness, and a few missing body parts.

Review: As a debut feature from Zelda Williams, there’s promise shown here. At its best, Lisa Frankenstein capitalizes on its zany tone by showcasing its love for everything from Edward Scissorhands to Heathers. Newton is having fun evolving Lisa from an isolated teen to a vamping 80s goth girl. Liza Soberano receives some of the best character work as Lisa’s sister-in-law, who subverts expected tropes. The issue comes through in the writing and the clunky handling of a film desperate to obtain cult status before people can determine this for themselves. Written by Diablo Cody, while I can appreciate the way it hits beats visited in Jennifer’s Body somewhat more successfully, so many clumsy issues come up that feel like problems a novice writer would have, be it the introduction of an axe murderer that never comes up again, or much of the cast who feel held at arm’s length and lacking in strong comedic rhythm to leave a heavier impact. Colorful and absurd, this movie has strengths in style, but the pastiche only goes so far when the story can’t quite live up to its inspirations.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters on February 9, 2024.

The Promised Land: 8 out of 10

The Setup: In 18th-century Denmark, impoverished war hero Capt. Ludvig Kahlen (Mads Mikkelsen) sets out to tame a vast, uninhabitable land where seemingly nothing can grow. This beautiful but forbidding area is under the rule of Frederik De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), a ruthless nobleman who realizes the threat Kahlen represents to his power. As a new community starts to settle in, De Schinkel swears vengeance, leading to a violent and intense confrontation between the two men.

Review: What a picture! Absent a few large-scale battle sequences, The Promised Land could easily sit with modern epics such as Braveheart. That said, the joy comes from how this fairly brutal historical drama can balance its stakes and big moments with its subtler touches and the restraint shown by Mikkelsen in portraying a man working hard to prove what he knows against all odds and obstacles. Director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) has so many strong elements working for him, from the cinematography to the score to the strength seen in the female characters alongside a more typically male-driven film. Plus, Bennebjerg plays one of the more punchable realistic villains I’ve seen in a movie in some time. Given the kind of movie this is, one could guess he eventually receives his comeuppance. Still, there’s strength in seeing this journey play out, along with lead work from Mikkelsen.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

Cobweb: 7 out of 10

The Setup: The story is set in Seoul in 1970 and features Kim (Song Kang-Ho), a director who is dissatisfied with the conclusion of his work entitled “Cobweb.” Despite obstacles and interference from censorship authorities, disgruntled actors, and producers, Kim is determined to rework the ending of his film in just two days, in hopes of making it a masterpiece.

Review: I’ve missed the last couple of Kim Jee-woon efforts, but while I am always down for his twisted films, Cobweb is the most fun I’ve had watching one of his films since The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Rather than focus on action or thrills, this is a movie about the making of a movie, and it really rides on the frantic desperation of being able to get these two days of reshoots done in time. The always great Song Kang-Ho is on hand as the director, and it’s very fun to watch him struggle to get what he wants, yet clearly be in the position of not entirely living up to his mentor, who is constantly referenced. That said, a clever conceit is how much everyone seemingly agrees with his choices needed to fix an already completed film. Plus, the enthusiasm to get certain shots done (portrayed as finished pieces in the movie in black and white) reminded me a lot of Japan’s One Cut of the Dead, which largely speaks to the high energy this slightly overlong movie has to offer.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters and on VOD starting February 9, 2024.

Out of Darkness: 7 out of 10

The Setup: About 45,000 years ago, a desperate band of early humans finds a new land to settle in. As they realize that something monstrous is hunting them down, they must confront a horrifying danger they never could have imagined.

Review: Given the minimalism on display here, it’s surprising there are not more horror films or thrillers utilizing the Stone Age as a setting. Credit to debut director Andrew Cumming for not only realizing an idea visually but also working with a language developed for the feature to better capture a distinct atmosphere. Admittedly, the movie is a bit thin. At 87 minutes, with minimal forms of development, while the cinematography is strong, the reduced amount of characterization by nature of the approach means the film has to work a bit to keep the momentum going. With that in mind, there’s a level of tension that’s appreciated. Coming after a film like Prey, Out of Darkness has a sound way of taking on the idea of a largely unseen threat versus those with simpler tools to challenge it.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters on February 9, 2024.

Marmalade: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Recently incarcerated, Baron (Joe Keery) strikes up a friendship with his new cellmate (Aldis Hodge), a man with a history of prison breaks. As they hatch a plan to escape, Baron recalls how he met the love of his life (Camila Morrone) and how they devised a scheme to rob a bank.

Review: A comedically balanced crime film is nothing new, even with a romantic angle. With that said, an intriguing set of plays and a zippy pace can go a long way. This is the sort of movie with plenty of twists and turns in its plotting, and possibly an unreliable narrator, meaning Marmalade knows how to keep the viewer on their toes. That’s a very good thing, as one may only get so far with a standard tale of two lovers who may be able to trust each other. Some well-placed plot elements, a handful of good comedic beats, and memorable character design all add up to a heist flick that’s breezy enough and a pretty fun jam.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters and on VOD starting February 9, 2024.

Orion and the Dark: 6 out of 10

The Setup: The thing Orion (Jacob Tremblay) fears the most is the dark. When the embodiment of his worst fear pays a visit, Dark (Paul Walter Hauser) whisks Orion away on a roller-coaster ride around the world to prove there is nothing to be afraid of at night.

Review: I was curious about what this film had to offer, as it features a screenplay adapted from a children’s book by Charlie Kaufman. Perhaps Kaufman’s tendencies proved too odd for DreamWorks to take this to theaters, hence the streaming release. Alas, that’s not so much the case. While much better than the theatrically released Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, there’s only so much a film like this can offer when it balances its opening act full of existential ideas with later story elements that feel derivative of stronger Pixar fair, such as Inside Out. I was initially pleased with Orion dealing with his anxieties, but even as we delve further into his subconscious, the animated expressions of this ultimately fall into familiar and less exciting territory, offering up standard struggles and action. It’s still ultimately well-meaning and looks good enough, but while I wasn’t expecting Anomalisa, there still seems to be unrealized potential left on the table.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.

Fitting In: 7 out of 10

The Setup: A teen girl (Maddie Ziegler) is diagnosed with a reproductive condition that upends her plans to have a sex life. Her relationships are challenged with everyone in her life, but most importantly, herself.

Review: Working with a concept so specific for a coming-of-age story, I could only imagine this film was at least semi-autobiographical (it is), writer/director Molly McGlynn manages to wrap together a series of ideas regarding teen angst into one very modern and offbeat comedy-drama. Whether it’s seeing boyfriend drama play out, dealing with strong friendships, or focusing on mother-daughter dynamics, this kind of film could be much more clichéd if not careful. Fortunately, thanks to the depictions of self-discovery and acceptance, even with Ziegler’s Lindy feeling at her lowest, the movie finds ways to hold onto authenticity while also showing natural recourse. Solid work from Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire as Lindy’s mom is also quite welcome, further helping the story feel just above a familiar arc.

Where To Watch: Now available in select theaters.

Scrambled: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Perpetual bridesmaid Nellie Robinson (Leah McKendrick) always finds herself between weddings, baby showers, and bad dates. With her biological clock ticking, she decides to freeze her eggs and embark on an empowering journey of self-discovery.

Review: Also fitting in the realm of semi-autobiographical comedy dramas, writer/director McKendrick’s efforts play off some version of her state of mind at one point, leading to a good film about self-acceptance as an adult. With some overt stylistic choices and a bevy of comedians and character actors filling up the supporting cast, the push to watch a character go through a rough time in their lives yet still have people like Andrew Santino and Clancy Brown showing up for sparring sessions via sharp dialogue makes for an engaging film. Scrambled is the kind of movie where we naturally root for the protagonist to make the choices that align with what we accept about them, even while understanding how certain arcs need to play out. As I try to clarify, nothing is wrong with the formula when the foundation is strong enough. With winning characters and honest humor, this offbeat indie, so clearly rooted in the challenges of being a modern woman, does what’s needed.

Where To Watch: Now available in select theaters.

Self Reliance: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Tommy (Jake Johnson) receives an invitation to win $1 million by playing a game where he must outwit hunters attempting to kill him. He realizes the hunters can only attack him when he’s alone, but none of his friends and family believe the game is real.

Review: I quite enjoy these scrappy Jake Johnson movies. Whether it’s Win it All or Ride the Eagle, he has the sort of energy of a guy who is constantly down on his luck, but you want to root for him anyway. Here, in his directorial debut, he aims for a modern riff on “The Most Dangerous Game” but tries to add an extra layer of sincerity. I can’t say that the additional element is all that successful, but it does allow the characters to have more to play off beyond just the hunt taking place. That’s a benefit because there’s not much to see with the hunters being after Tommy. We are mainly just being told that it’s a thing. Still, with the reflective moments only doing so much to enhance the character, I did find a lot to enjoy in Tommy’s attempts to find the holes to help him survive and the challenges they present, such as the use of Biff Wiff’s James, a homeless man, being paid to stick around and hold the hunters back. Loopy stuff like this helps hold this pretty short film together.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Hulu.

The Underdoggs: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Jaycen Jennings (Snoop Dogg), a former NFL superstar, agrees to coach a youth football team to avoid serving time in prison.

Review: If you want to see Snoop Dogg do Bad News Bears, this is that movie. There’s no further depth here, and it comes down to whether or not you find any of this funny. I basically did. It’s not particularly innovative, and director Charles Stone III isn’t relying on many tricks to enhance what’s on display in any meaningful way. What he does have, however, is Snoop. This is less about proving that Snoop is a good actor and more about showing what a force of charisma he can be with his unique screen presence. His sparring with this struggling youth football team made me smile enough, and adding on Mike Epps as a petty crook/assistant coach is enough to push me over the line.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Prime Video.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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