In-House Reviews #115: Wildcat, Hundreds of Beavers, Humane, Rebel Moon Part 2 & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Wildcat, Hundreds of Beavers, Jeanne du Barry, Humane, New Life, Blood for Dust, Infested, and Rebel Moon – Part 2: The Scargiver.

Summer movie season kicks off this week, and while Gosling and Blunt are getting their stunts in, a collection of other films are out there as well. This set of write-ups includes an imaginative biopic, a slapstick comedy, a period drama, a satirical thriller, a chase movie, a crime story, a creature feature, and a lousy space opera. The following features reviews for Wildcat, Hundreds of Beavers, Jeanne du Barry, Humane, New Life, Blood for Dust, Infested, and Rebel Moon – Part 2: The Scargiver.

Wildcat: 5 out of 10

The Setup: The lines between reality and imagination begin to blur when writer Flannery O’Connor (Maya Hawke) is diagnosed with lupus while struggling to publish her first novel.

Review: I wanted to like this more. The irritating thing is how director and co-writer Ethan Hawke clearly shares the same frustration as I do with so many biopics when it comes to how familiar they can all feel in approach. Between this film and Tesla, Hawke actively goes down paths to stimulate minds in different ways when presenting someone’s life story. I know nothing of Flannery O’Connor, so my interest was mainly rooted in what this movie would offer from a cinematic standpoint (with the notion that I would likely learn a thing or two about the novelist in mind).

With all that stated, I can appreciate what Hawke is attempting here, as the film is seemingly structured to match the fragmented nature of O’Connor’s work, complete with a look and other choices to reflect her preference toward a Southern Gothic style. Sadly, the way the film’s narrative bounces around isn’t as well handled as one would hope. Still, Maya Hawke delivers a strong performance here, which should not be overlooked.

Where To Watch: Available in LA & NY starting May 3, 2024, expanding nationwide May 10.

Hundreds of Beavers: 9 out of 10

The Setup: In this 19th-century, supernatural winter epic, a drunken applejack salesman (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) must go from zero to hero and become North America’s greatest fur trapper by defeating hundreds of beavers.

Review: Movie miracle alert! Hundreds of Beavers is flat-out brilliant stuff. This incredibly and consistently hilarious slapstick comedy takes influences from everything ranging from Silent Era comedies to Looney Tunes to kung fu flicks. Writer/director Mike Cheslik has so many gags designed in this story of a hapless fur trapper that I can’t even begin to think how one designs a screenplay like this so successfully, let alone manages to pull it off on an incredibly low budget. Pure joy comes from how this film allows the audience to quickly pick up on the tone and intent of this feature.

At 108 minutes, it’s maybe a touch long, but that’s hardly an issue when seeing the range of elaborate gags that always find ways to subvert expectations or make the viewer so satisfied with having the jokes on display come together so well. At a time when the fight for originality in mainstream movies can feel like a losing battle, here’s another example of seeing what’s possible with filmmakers operating outside of the bounds of what’s expected to deliver something so surprising, innovative, and entertaining. I’ll be amazed if I see a funnier film this year.

Where To Watch: Now available on digital and VOD.

Jeanne du Barry: 4 out of 10

The Setup: Jeanne (Maïwenn) uses her charms and intelligence to climb the social ladder step by step. She becomes one of the favorites of King Louis XV (Johnny Depp) and falls madly in love. Against all convention, Jeanne moves to Versailles, where her relationship with the king scandalizes the court.

Review: While not aiming to be nearly as anachronistic as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, Maïwenn’s directorial efforts about the woman on the other end of that spectrum, at that time, Jeanne du Barry, does seem to have some modern flair. It suggests an intriguing study of what it means to be a woman who desires more than just the expected lifestyle during those times. With this stance in mind and having a movie star like Johnny Depp involved to add a new level of respectability, I only wish the film didn’t feel so unabsorbing.

It’s a handsomely made feature, and the performances are strong enough (though I can’t say I have a complete bearing on whether or not Depp’s French is supposed to feel impressive). With that in mind, the story it’s trying to tell, given the history of Jeanne, doesn’t feel like the most exciting portion to cover, at least in the way it’s ultimately being handled here. If writing is truly the issue, I wonder how the effort to put all of what’s available on display could have benefited from a more interesting script.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting May 2, 2024.

Humane: 5 out of 10

The Setup: In the wake of an environmental collapse that is forcing humanity to shed 20% of its population, a family dinner erupts into chaos when a father’s plan to enlist in the government’s new euthanasia program goes horribly awry.

Review: It’s fun to see another spawn of Cronenberg (in this case, Caitlin Cronenberg) find their way into directing a bleak thriller examining the decay of humankind in some form. The funny thing is that David Cronenberg appears to be the more hopeful one compared to his children’s work thus far. With Humane, there’s some amusing stuff coming from both the solid cast and the script by Michael Sparaga. Peter Gallagher exudes a certain kind of confidence as the family patriarch, with Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Sebastian Chacon, and Alanna Bale each bringing something unique as the various siblings. Enrico Colantoni also perfectly plays the role of a character you cannot stand (essentially a freelance government contractor reveling in the distress of others). So, of course, it’s a shame that this film can’t stick the landing.

Being a satire, so much of what’s happening is a clever enough reflection of certain aspects of humanity, cultural points of today, thoughts on immigrant populations, and more. And yet, in the final minutes, it becomes a make or break situation with whether or not Humane knows what to do with all of this. Sadly, it just doesn’t quite find the strongest path to take.

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

New Life: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Jess (Hayley Erin) is on the run, desperate to cross the Canadian border to escape her past. On her tail is Elsa (Sonya Walger), a resourceful agent whose recent life-altering diagnosis leaves her one step behind. As their chase narrows to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, holes in Elsa’s investigation begin to fill with fresh bodies.

Review: Part of the joy with this film comes from the matter-of-fact efforts taken to throw the viewer into the moment and let them catch up. Granted, the film does a little bit more work than necessary to provide all the context needed over time. Still, as an 83-minute thriller, writer/director John Rosman seems to have studied his influences (which I feel I should not state) effectively enough to hit at the points a movie like this needs to when it comes to having the audiences on the edge of their seat.

Even when getting some downtime between the parallel stories, focusing on the same chase, there’s a sense of urgency in these characters’ motivations that made me nervous about what would happen next. Once we learn more about what is going on, I could also appreciate the attempts to aim for authenticity to a degree that worked in cinematic form. There’s a sense of style on display, and the way violence occurs is not exactly shocking, but it does leave a mark. It’s all enough to make this a solid little thriller worth keeping an eye out for.

Where To Watch: In select theaters and available on VOD starting May 3, 2024.

Blood For Dust: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Travelling salesman Cliff (Scoot McNairy) is drowning under the weight of providing for his family and finds himself on a dangerous path after a chance encounter with a colleague who has a dark past. Desperate to keep his fragile home life intact, Cliff agrees to partner with Ricky (Kit Harington) and run cocaine across Montana.

Review: While I try to put aside how horrible the poster for this film is (none of those heads look natural), it is funny to note how Blood for Dust ended up playing out exactly how I expected it to, yet I’m not mad at the film for that. It is a crime thriller made in the vein of previous neo-noir attempts, let alone the Coen brothers’ take on that genre, minus the gallows humor or any other kind of quirkiness. Director Rod Blackhurst is not putting much of a mark on this film in terms of style. The screenplay is not offering much that’s new. However, when you have a good foundation and actors who know how to deliver, sometimes a film not feeling so fresh in conception isn’t such a bad thing.

Maybe it’s because I like seeing McNairy playing a sad sack, trying to dig himself out of a hole. Or perhaps it’s the idea of watching Harington shed his Englishness to play a lowlife from Montana. Whatever the case, this is a grim crime flick with just enough menace in the ensemble of actors told to scowl and be mean to each other, and it worked for me.

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

Infested: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Kaleb (Théo Christine) is about to turn 30 and has never been lonelier. He’s fighting with his sister (Sofia Lesaffre) over an inheritance and has cut ties with his best friend. Fascinated by exotic animals, he finds a venomous spider in a shop and returns it to his apartment. It only takes a moment for the spider to escape and reproduce, turning the whole building into a dreadful web trap. The only option for Kaleb and his friends is to find a way out and survive.

Review: As simple as it is to shout out the titles of a few famous creature features based around spiders (Arachnophobia, Eight-Legged Freaks, Big Ass Spider), it’s still not a sub-genre overflowing with entries. However, this year alone, I already have Sting and now Infested, which is quite good. Part of it comes down to approach. When dealing with spiders (of a fairly normal size), keeping the characters contained makes a lot of sense. This film ends up feeling like a French Attack the Block, with less humor and plucky youngsters. What it leaves is the deadly creature factor, as well as the surprising amount of social commentary on display when it comes to marginalized groups and how they are treated by authority figures.

As a result, you have a solid debut feature from director Sébastien Vaniček, who is willing to get under the audience’s skin in more ways than one. There’s effective tension in Infested, solid work from the performers, a decently balanced story, and a pretty frenetic third act. Pretty good for the latest film about creepy crawlers.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Shudder.

Rebel Moon – Part 2: The Scargiver: 2 out of 10

The Setup: Kora (Sofia Boutella) and surviving warriors prepare to defend Veldt, their new home, alongside its people against the Realm. The warriors face their pasts, revealing their motivations before the Realm’s forces arrive to crush the growing rebellion.

Review: I was not very fond of Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon – Part One, but I could concede it was at least visually impressive and had the animus to actually move around and introduce new things. All of that is gone here in what I have the displeasure in declaring Snyder’s worst film. Less of a movie and more of an extended third act that could have easily been cut down and placed at the end of Part One, it is baffling to think there’s a 3-hour, R-rated director’s cut of this movie. Compared to the first, there are less egregious cuts to this film outside of violence, so what’s really left?

As it stands, there’s an hour focused on both slow-motion wheat farming (yes) and characters, one by one, delivering their backstories. The second hour fulfills Snyder’s promise of echoing Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai by way of an extended battle between the evil empire and a band of farmers and warriors. The problem is – none of it means anything. Between the film’s own logic that negates much of what’s taking place, no sense of rhythm to better develop these fights, and a lack of care for the characters involved (leading to perplexing choices in regards to who lives or dies and how), it all just becomes meaningless noise.

I would highlight the actors, but they offer nothing of note. Ed Skrein, for example, returns from the dead in this film without any changes to who he was before, so it’s just a boring rematch where no one has learned anything. For all the money on screen, this film still feels very small. With the threat of 6 more of these from Snyder, I’d kind of prefer the Death Star put an end to this moon.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.

***

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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