In-House Reviews #122: Despicable Me 4, MaXXXine, Janet Planet, Daddio, Tuesday & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Despicable Me 4, MaXXXine, Janet Planet, Daddio, Tuesday, Trigger Warning, and Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person.

As audiences are getting ready for scares and the old West this week, I have some early thoughts on minions and wannabe movie stars, among other features. This set of write-ups includes an animated sequel, the 80s-set conclusion to an A24 horror trilogy, a slice-of-life drama, a two-hander drama set in a cab, a fantasy drama, an action flick, and a quirky French vampire movie. The following features reviews for Despicable Me 4, MaXXXine, Janet Planet, Daddio, Tuesday, Trigger Warning, and Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person.

Despicable Me 4: 4 out of 10

The Setup: Gru (Steve Carell) welcomes a new member to the family, Gru Jr., who’s intent on tormenting his dad. However, their peaceful existence soon comes crashing down when criminal mastermind Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell) escapes from prison and vows revenge against Gru.

Review: These just aren’t for me. I get one enjoyable thing out of Illumination’s Despicable Me series: new songs by Pharrell Williams. Besides that, I glean little joy from Gru’s various adventures. The first film showed promise in its premise but underwhelmed. I admired the scale of the second film and its use of 3D, but it still felt unmemorable. The third wore me down enough to give it a mild recommendation, but I can’t say it has stuck around in my head. Now we have a fourth film (following the second of two Minions prequels that grossed a billion bucks apiece). With nothing to offer in the way of growth, this entry is simply another 90 minutes spent with Gru and his family, featuring a new villain (Ferrell going full French). With its splashy color, oddly shaped characters, and a constant barrage of gags (including the heavily advertised Super Minions), there’s clearly an audience out there happy to settle with what’s given. If I found this series funnier or more engaging, I’d be happy to roll along with it as well. As it stands, I don’t, nor do I feel sorry, let alone despicable about it.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on July 3, 2024.

MaXXXine: 7 out of 10

The Setup: In 1980s Hollywood, adult film star and aspiring actress Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) finally gets her big break. However, as a mysterious killer stalks the starlets of Los Angeles, a trail of blood threatens to reveal her sinister past.

Review: Despite the first entry in this trilogy being the middle chapter, chronologically speaking, it will be interesting for newbies to pick up writer/director Ti West’s Pearl one day, realize there are two more entries, and see how much of a wild path they go down in terms of stylistic shifts. Regardless, A24 has delivered a fun set of features indebted to plenty of fine influences. Following the 70s grindhouse slasher X and the technicolor psychodrama Pearl, this time around, West has a feature capturing the look and feel of Brian De Palma thrillers and Italian giallo cinema. With an expanded budget and star-heavy cast that includes Elizabeth Debicki, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito, and Kevin Bacon, this final entry in the “X trilogy” is the biggest as well as the loosest.

That said, while it may not be packed with thrills (or even all that lurid, given the premise), it is a lot of fun. Goth brings the right amount of informed seriousness to a role that could have easily felt more like a parody. The rest of the actors follow suit, even if Bacon, Cannavale, and Esposito seem intent on going as big as possible (which seems deliberate on West’s part). Keeping this in mind, while a focus on the plot and the characters lines up well with the choice 80s soundtrack and plenty of visual details, West, once again, imbues so much of this film with love for the kinds of films inspired by his chosen time that the movie largely succeeds on being a stylish treat full of atmosphere. That’s certainly one way to turn this thing into a star.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on July 5, 2024.

Janet Planet: 7 out of 10

The Setup: In rural Western Massachusetts, 11-year-old Lacy (Zoe Ziegler) spends the summer of 1991 at home, enthralled by her own imagination and the attention of her mother, Janet (Julianne Nicholson). As the months pass, three visitors enter their orbit, all captivated by Janet.

Review: I’ve seen the word “poise” thrown around to describe this film, and it’s accurate. There’s a deliberate pace at play here, and the narrative is very restrained regarding how willing it is to directly disclose information concerning how these characters arrived at where they are. With that in mind, there is a strength to watching a film about a mother and daughter sharing a special connection while other characters float through. It amounts to the types of reactions we see, the humor and drama that can be derived from everyday events, and the introspection that comes from both a mature woman and an adolescent, both observing each other and those around them.

This is the feature debut from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker, and there’s very much a specific feel to the kind of dialogue we get here. However, the staging, so to speak, of the film widens and contracts, emphasizing the summer atmosphere of this rural part of New England. I wish it ultimately amounted to a bit more, but there’s plenty to admire, and I’m not adverse to the trio of supporting performances that includes Sophie Okonedo, Elias Koteas, and Will Patton. They all play along well with a superb Nicholson and newcomer Ziegler.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on June 28, 2024.

Daddio: 7 out of 10

The Setup: A woman (Dakota Johnson) gets into a taxi at New York airport and gradually tells the driver (Sean Penn) about her unfortunate decisions that led to an affair with a married man; the driver also reveals more and more about his life.

Review: The strength of a premise such as this ideally comes as a chance to see two actors pushing each other to deliver their best. Daddio was originally conceived as a stage play and has been in some form of production since 2017. Now that it’s finally arrived, I can appreciate how easily it fits as a film of the moment, but not entirely dependent on the world of today specifically. Johnson and Penn are superb at playing different generations, finding a connection between each other that leads to storytelling, banter, and even mild ridicule. There’s a mutual respect established early on, which makes the chemistry shared between them consistently worthwhile.

Even when the film slows down (literally, as the cab has to stop for an extended period of time), there’s still enough going on in terms of the language being used, the function of the dialogue, and the intimate approach taken by writer/director Christy Hall. Granted, it’s pretty limited in scope, so intimate is about all there is room for. Still, if one is willing to go along with just how chatty, articulate, and open these two people are to the point of reaching an emotional catharsis of sorts, there’s a lot to enjoy about this dramatic two-hander.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on June 28, 2024.

Tuesday: 5 out of 10

The Setup: A mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her terminally ill daughter (Lola Petticrew) must confront Death (Arinze Kene) when it arrives in the form of an astonishing, size-altering, talking macaw.

Review: This film is undoubtedly an ambitious effort from writer/director Daina O. Pusić, and I wish I could go along with it. So much of what this film commits to seem as though it would be right up my alley, and yet I couldn’t help but feel as though I was still an arm’s length away from becoming more deeply attached to this story. It’s all a matter of degrees sometimes. With a specific visual effect, an against-type performance by Louis-Dreyfus, and the mood of a tone poem with an inevitable climax, managing the mood and atmosphere is key. Perhaps if the macaw didn’t keep standing out in all the ways it did, I would have been more willing to accept what was here. It’s hard to tell. A Monster Calls, thematically similar, also makes bold choices, but something about the control that film had felt more in line with what I needed to appropriately respond. I do think the work done by everyone involved is strong, and I’ll be curious what Pusić delivers next. Unfortunately, Tuesday just wasn’t the day of the week for me.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

Trigger Warning: 4 out of 10

The Setup: A special forces commando (Jessica Alba) returns to her hometown after her father’s sudden death, only to run afoul of a violent gang when she starts asking questions.

Review: First Blood meets John Wick you say? How could that go wrong? Well, despite the presence of Indonesian filmmaker Mouly Surya (Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts), a Netflix thriller starring Jessica Alba and Anthony Michael Hall was only able to go so far. Surya, for her efforts, equips herself well in terms of delivering a small-scale action flick, but she does feel hampered by what’s afforded to this level of production. The C-team cast, including Mark Webber, Jake Weary, and The Night Agent himself, Gabriel Basso, are not bad. Still, one could see how a bit more money in the budget could take this modern politics-infused Walking Tall to a grander place. Since we’re in an era of elaborately choreographed action that one has to pray is shot with clarity, some decent enough sequences find Alba putting in her training that recalls the days of Dark Angel. Otherwise, it’s all very perfunctory, with little to help this film stand out in a sea of direct-to-streaming revenge films.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Young vampire Sasha (Sara Montpetit) has a serious problem: she can’t kill. Her exasperated parents cut off her blood supply, putting her life in jeopardy. Sasha meets Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard), a lonely teen with suicidal tendencies who is willing to give his life for hers, and they begin a nocturnal quest to fulfill Paul’s last wishes.

Review: If we want to talk about big swings, this film is more my speed. As a quirky vampire comedy with some edge (or teeth), this film did the job for me and, fortunately, delivers on having what I assume will be the best movie title of the year. It’s also the latest in a line of genre films focused on young women coming of age that I’ve seen in recent weeks, following Inside Out 2 and Tiger Stripes. I enjoyed the mood here. Perhaps a bit broader than what a Jim Jarmusch would do with this material, but there’s certainly a deadpan sense of humor and distinct production design choices at play under the guide of director Ariane Louis-Seize. In terms of how it uses the genre part of the equation, this film is no Raw in terms of how grisly things get (while holding onto a steady sense of humor), but there is plenty to like in the very European sensibilities on display, making me wonder if Burton and company can take a few notes for how to keep Wednesday interesting. As this film stands, I’m happy to have more offbeat films that can stand around something like A Girl Who Walks Home Alone at Night. The key to both – neither of them suck.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.

***

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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