In-House Reviews #114: Arcadian, Sweet Dreams, Evil Does Not Exist & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Arcadian, Sweet Dreams, The Greatest Hits, Evil Does Not Exist, Baghead, and Yannick.

A rag-tag group of WWII soldiers and a ballerina vampire may be the main event this weekend, but other films are ripe for watching as well. This set of write-ups includes a dystopian horror flick, a comedy-drama about addiction and recovery, a music-infused time travel tale, a Japanese drama, a horror film, and an absurd dark comedy. The following features reviews for Arcadian, Sweet Dreams, The Greatest Hits, Evil Does Not Exist, Baghead, and Yannick.

Arcadian: 7 out of 10

The Setup: In the near future, on a decimated Earth, Paul (Nicolas Cage) and his twin sons (Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins) find tranquility by day but terror by night when ferocious creatures awaken and consume all living souls in their path. When Paul is nearly killed, the boys come up with a desperate plan for survival, using everything their father taught them to keep him alive.

Review: This was a pleasant surprise. While Cage has openly stated he’s choosing his projects more carefully these days, he’s still one to pop up in features that don’t exactly scream “prestige.” This film may not be a new classic, but it’s a very effective riff on the dystopian horror genre in a post-Quiet Place world. Given that I’m not huge on the John Krasinski-directed blockbuster (its sequel was more my speed), apparently, I just needed Cage on board with what director Ben Brewer had to offer.

What the film may come up short on in deeper characterization or a more immense sense of scale, it more than makes up for with atmosphere, genuine tension, and creature design. I have never seen anything like the monsters in this movie, and that goes a long way for me. There’s a terror here that I couldn’t recognize, which easily added to the value of this fairly emotional story about growing up in a society utterly altered by outside forces. Read into that how you will, but this is a killer thriller.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

Sweet Dreams: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Forced into rehab at Sweet Dreams Recovery Center, Morris (Johnny Knoxville) struggles to confront the wreckage of his life. But when their house goes up for auction, he reluctantly agrees to coach their misfit softball team of recovering addicts to win a cash prize and prove that everyone, despite their past, can hit a home run.

Review: I only found out later that writer/director Lije Sarki was a producer on The Peanut Butter Falcon. This makes plenty of sense, as that was a similarly offbeat comedy-drama that took a standard storyline and enhanced it with a sense of place and character. Sweet Dreams is a pretty basic underdog sports movie/addiction-to-recovery drama. However, the extensive roster of comedic talent on board, all given a chance to lean into some dramatic areas, really helps this film shine. Bobby Lee, Jay Mohr, Theo Von, GaTa, Mohammed Amer, and others all pull their weight in a manner that gives this film plenty of personality.

With that in mind, Knoxville truly gets a chance to shine here. The Jackass leader has always had a sense of danger to go with his comedic sensibilities, but here he is essentially delivering something not unlike Michael Keaton in Clean and Sober. Some key monologues detail a character with issues to sort out, and Knoxville steps up to the plate to deliver. A good softball story.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available on digital.

The Greatest Hits: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Harriet (Lucy Boynton) discovers certain songs can transport her back in time. While she relives the past through romantic memories with her former (now deceased) boyfriend (David Corenswet), her time-traveling interferes with a burgeoning new love interest (Justin H. Min) in the present.

Review: Minor pet peeve: movies featuring somewhat obscure songs that I associate with other features that have already utilized them well. I point this out because The Greatest Hits feels like a film that prides itself on a curated soundtrack, and yet having a few instances where I couldn’t help but feel pulled out by its choices seems unfortunate. Also unfortunate – watching a movie utilize its unique premise well enough, yet still feel somewhat hamstrung by tropes of the genre when it comes to a romantic drama. With that said, this film has an easygoing charm, which goes a long way for a story where two of the main characters continually suffer from grief to varying degrees.

As The Greatest Hits is no more a film about the science and logic of time travel any more than time-loop rom-coms feel a need to explain anything, I wasn’t concerned with whether writer/director Ned Benson would have more to offer in that area. As far as the romantic sides of this story, however, there’s enough working in this film’s favor to say it’s worth recommending. However, the way it imposes some of its melodrama would become tiresome if it were not for the film’s brevity. Perhaps a few skippable tracks, but still a solid record.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Hulu.

Evil Does Not Exist: 8 out of 10

The Setup: Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) and his daughter live in Mizubiki Village, close to Tokyo. One day, the village inhabitants become aware of a plan to build a glamping site near Takumi’s house, offering city residents a comfortable escape to nature. When two company representatives arrive and ask for local guidance, Takumi becomes conflicted in his involvement, as it becomes clear that the project will have a pernicious impact on the community.

Review: Following the lengthy but involving Drive My Car, Oscar-winning director Ryusuke Hamaguchi has returned with a similarly quiet and contemplative tale concerning the effect of man’s interference on nature. With long stretches spent observing the natural world, there’s a way to become entranced by what is being presented before settling into the main thrust of the story. Fortunately, the human side has its own rewards, such as an extended town hall meeting sequence that never betrays its authenticity. Presented matter-of-factly, what could be conceived as none too exciting in reality has all the makings of a terrific bit of cinema here. It’s no R.M.N. in this regard, but it’s still as interesting as watching Takumi chop wood for extended periods to better allow us to understand where he’s coming from. A well-made study of what the modern world’s determination can result in.

Where To Watch: Opening in select NY and LA theaters starting May 3, 2024.

Baghead: 4 out of 10

The Setup: A young woman (Freya Allan) inherits a run-down pub and discovers a dark secret within its basement – Baghead – a shape-shifting creature that will let you speak to lost loved ones, but not without consequence.

Review: There really should be bigger signs and warnings given when it comes to people intent on speaking with the dead. It just never works out. Baghead manages to have some fun by treating “the dead speak” scenes like a bit of theater with clever production value. Alas, it doesn’t have much more to offer than that. With an early reveal, the scares and tension never amount to much after an initial encounter. Despite their efforts, none of the main characters register in a significant way. Director Alberto Corredor doesn’t quite show me if there’s hidden brilliance lurking within this film, so I can’t speak up much for the quality of the overall production either. Sure, there’s competence on display, but Baghead ends up feeling very paint-by-numbers.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Shudder.

Yannick: 8 out of 10

The Setup: In the middle of a performance of the play, “Le Cocu,” Yannick (Raphaël Quenard) interrupts the show to take the evening back in hand. He demands to be entertained but is rejected and ridiculed until he takes matters into his own hands.

Review: I’m continuing to enjoy this pattern of French absurdist comedy director Quentin Dupieux having a new film that gets imported over to America every. With features such as Deerskin, Keep an Eye Out, and Smoking Causes Coughing, I’ve said he may be my favorite comedic filmmaker currently working, and I meant it. Yannick begins as a comedy of manners, only to escalate into something with a tinge of darkness lurking beneath what sits as a farce about actors and theater. It’s impressive how capable the film is in being humorously frustrated with different members of this cast as we watch a situation escalate into arguments designed to be irritating. Yet, you can’t turn away from them. Without delving further, once one recognizes the sort of game this film plays, it’s an interesting journey to go on with characters now inadvertently involved in something thrust upon them. That it’s able to convey specific themes while dodging other areas could be a misstep for some. For me, at 67 minutes, this played at the right wavelength.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on MÜBI.

***

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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