In-House Reviews #111: In the Land of Saints and Sinners, Wicked Little Letters, Dogman & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for In the Land of Saints and Sinners, Wicked Little Letters, Dogman, Asphalt City, Shirley, and Lousy Carter.

The Super Monster Bros.™ are back this week, but plenty of smaller films are here as well. This set of write-ups includes an Irish action drama, a British black comedy-mystery, a bizarre drama-thriller, a gritty drama, a Black history biopic, and an indie comedy. The following features reviews for In the Land of Saints and Sinners, Wicked Little Letters, Dogman, Asphalt City, Shirley, and Lousy Carter.

In the Land of Saints and Sinners: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Ireland, 1970s. Eager to leave his dark past behind, Finbar Murphy (Liam Neeson) leads a quiet life in the remote coastal town of Glencolmcille, far from the political violence that grips the rest of the country. But when a menacing crew of terrorists arrive, led by a ruthless woman named Doireann (Kerry Condon), Finbar is drawn into an increasingly vicious game of cat and mouse, forcing him to choose between exposing his secret identity or defending his friends and neighbors.

Review: That’s more like it. Liam Neeson is back and delivering one of his best films since at least 2019’s Cold Pursuit. Make no mistake, In the Land of Saints and Sinners is not another throwaway piece of action junk that he’s happily accepted throughout this phase of his career. While not on the level of a similarly somber piece of work like The Grey, perhaps putting things back on his home turf in Ireland makes his work as Finbar Murphy (great name!) resonate a bit more. The complicated and politically infused (by default) storyline offers a portrait of a few dark characters who must contend with their choices, the lives they’ve changed for the worse, and how justice may come around to bite them. Director Robert Lorenz (The Marksman) isn’t adding too much flash to the proceedings. However, there is still confidence in the production that registers better than average for these recent Neeson flicks. Plus, the performances from a very talented supporting cast (Condon, Colm Meaney, Ciaran Hinds, Jack Gleeson) keep this whole ordeal closer to the saints than the sinners.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on March 29, 2024.

Wicked Little Letters: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Set in a 1920s English seaside town and based on actual events, the story follows two neighbors: deeply conservative local Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) and rowdy Irish migrant Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley). When Edith and her fellow residents begin to receive wicked letters full of unintentionally hilarious profanities, foul-mouthed Rose is charged with the crime. The anonymous letters prompt a national uproar, and a trial ensues. However, as the town’s women – led by police officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) – begin to investigate the crime themselves, they suspect something is amiss, and Rose may not be the culprit after all.

Review: This was a fun one. In terms of plotting, some may object to the overall story being told feeling somewhat slighter and more predictable than they would like, but that also defeats the purpose of what registers. Wicked Little Letters gets a lot of mileage out of leaning into the ways the old guard takes advantage of gender disparity and turns it on its head by having every central female character constantly display their intelligence, along with what makes them human. Buckley is great here, playing up her raucous character’s persona yet easily making her endearing. Colman is underplaying her role for the most part, as it’s clearly a ploy bound to lead to broader expression. And Vasan has the thankless task of playing a bright police officer stuck behind the invisible barrier of being a woman in a man’s world. Given the high level of profanity, the mileage may vary depending on how funny some may find a film like this. Still, the spirit of “my word, I can’t believe she said that” is the kind of strength that allows director Thea Sharrock to deliver a good, offbeat time at the movies.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on March 29, 2024.

Dogman: 5 out of 10

The Setup: As a child, Douglas (Caleb Landry Jones) was abused by a violent father who then threw him to the dogs. Instead of attacking him, the dogs protected him. Traumatized and leading a life on the margins of society with his dogs, Douglas descends into a murderous madness.

Review: Once again, director/writer Luc Besson has delved into the bizarre to tell a heartfelt story full of macabre elements. It needs daring work from star Caleb Landry Jones, who does deliver on what’s being asked, even if it means he’s stuck in a story that is tonally all over the place. Granted, there is purposefulness in what’s taking place. With the fantastical element in place that pulls from comic book backstories such as The Crow, Joker, and Catwoman, I have to wonder if this is Besson’s way of showing people what his version of a superhero movie would look like. I’m not sure if that is a proper way to justify all the choices he’s making, but it does provide plenty of excuses for visual flourishes, oddball comedic choices, and more. That said, as audacious as the film is, I can’t say I was ever as onboard as I would have liked to have been. So sure, lots of bark and bite being delivered, but I wasn’t hungry enough to want too much more.

Where To Watch: Opening in select theaters on March 29, 2024.

Asphalt City: 6 out of 10

The Setup: A young paramedic (Tye Sheridan) is paired with a seasoned partner (Sean Penn) on the night shift in New York, revealing a city in crisis. Discovering the chaos firsthand, he is tested by the ethical ambiguity that can be the difference between life and death.

Review: It’s not a hot take at this point, but I think Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead is one of his best and most underseen films. With that in mind, not many films focus on paramedics dealing with night shift stress (is Madame Web really the only one that has come close in recent years?). So, even if director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s film feels like Paul Schrader-lite, I can’t deny that it’s pretty effective in spots. Much of that comes from Sheridan’s work as a guy who authentically is green enough to have me believe his journey. More notable is Penn’s work as the veteran who has seen it all. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Oscar-winner do much of real significance, and while this is a relatively minor release that hopes its misery-filled story pays off more than it actually does, the acting challenges mixed with a display of process ultimately helps this gritty flick stand strong enough.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on March 29, 2024.

Shirley: 6 out of 10

The Setup: The story of Shirley Chisholm (Regina King), the first Black congresswoman, and her trailblazing run for president of the United States.

Review: Having already been disappointed by what Netflix delivered with Rustin, I wasn’t sure if seeing another made-for-streaming movie about a Black icon who could use more awareness in the eyes of a modern audience would deliver. Fortunately, while I still see some of the standard issues afforded to these films (shooting digital and working with a moderate budget means getting something that appears fairly TV-like), Shirley still has a lot of heart, which counts for something. Not unlike Colman Domingo in the formerly mentioned film, Regina King is very good in this film. Adopting not only her accent but her directness, a performance like this goes a long way when placed in the right setting to capture what you can for the life of someone who accomplished so much. Not hurting is the well-placed supporting cast that can afford opportunities for the late great Lance Reddick and Terrence Howard, along with lesser-known stars like Michael Cherrie as Shirley’s husband, Conrad. Writer/director John Ridley (the Oscar-winning writer of 12 Years a Slave) is familiar with having only so much to work with, and keeping focus on Chisholm’s presidential race and letting much of the film play out through conversations would grow tiresome were it not for enough going on in the performances and decent enough presentation to keep the movie engaging. As it stands, I vote in favor of this effort.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

Lousy Carter: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Labeled as a deadbeat by his ex and a failure by his mother, ne’er-do-well literature professor Lousy Carter (David Krumholtz) seems to be falling apart. When he learns he only has six months to live, one of his students offers him one last chance to live his dream.

Review: This is the sort of indie movie I miss. Writer/director Bob Byington has delivered a low-stakes comedy heavy on very “written” dialogue to allow the audience to follow a character whom the film wants you to root for no matter what, even when he’s clearly in the wrong. A detached sense of irony is on display with all the characters, helping this movie serve as an ideal place for Krumholtz to shine as the lead. He’s in top form as a sad sack with nothing to lose, in a sense, yet he still has the need to outwit those around him. On top of that, Martin Starr and Olivia Thirlby, among others, provide a match to Carter with their equally droll deliveries, making the film consistently funny, dry as the humor may be. By the end of it all, whether or not there’s a lot to take away in a specific sense, its broad sensibilities and surprisingly affecting moments take this film in a direction that makes it far from lousy.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters and available on digital, starting March 29, 2024.

***

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.

Your Vote

1 0

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.