In-House Reviews: Annette, Val, Blood Red Sky & Ride The Eagle

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for the musical Annette, the documentary Val, the vampire-hijacking thriller Blood Red Sky, and the indie comedy Ride The Eagle.

This weekend has another giant superhero movie ready for audiences to see all over, but it helps that The Suicide Squad is a whole bunch of fun. Otherwise, another share of limited and streaming titles are out there to discover as well. This set of write-ups includes a bizarro musical drama, a documentary about Val Kilmer, an airplane hijacking movie with a twist, and an indie comedy-drama. The following features reviews for Annette, Val, Blood Red Sky, and Ride The Eagle.

Annette: 8 out of 10

The Setup: A musical that tells the story of a provocative stand-up comedian (Adam Driver) and his wife, a world-famous soprano (Marion Cotillard). Their glamorous life takes an unexpected turn when their daughter Annette is born, a girl with a unique gift.

Review: So, this must be the year of Sparks. If anything, having Edgar Wright’s entertaining documentary covering the career of Ron and Russell Mael may be the perfect way to build toward watching director Leos Carax’s whacked-out musical based on a story by the absurdist pop/rock duo. That said, it’s not so much that the story is difficult to comprehend, as it basically models itself on what we’ve seen in various versions of A Star is Born. Really, it’s the melding of Carax and the Mael’s sensibilities that will either feel weirdly inviting or too much to take on.

Operating like a feature set to make Terry Gilliam proud, Carax is in fine form with his first English-langue feature. Being a return, following his 2012 effort, the wonderfully strange Holy Motors, it feels like Carax has lost none of what makes his style stand out, and he’s brought along a game cast to play into what’s needed. Fortunately, while they’ve dabbled in weird before, both Driver and Cotillard are award-winning actors who can totally sell the pathos of a given moment.

As a musical, the film is not sung-through, but there is a barrage of songs occurring every so often, and while there are clear peaks along the way (the intro, “So May We Start,” is one of several highlights). No one will be convinced any of the stars are natural singers, but there’s so much on display to show just how intentional that aspect is. The same can be said for maintaining a sense of realism. Specifically, the way the child Annette is handled is truly a sight to behold.

Does all of this work? Perhaps not. At 139 minutes, it’s pretty long, and the pace sometimes stagnates as the characters collect themselves to take on more eccentricities (keep an eye on Driver’s face for a birthmark’s sudden appearance). That said, in a realm where things can follow so many familiar patterns, seeing Carax and Sparks come together for an out-there musical production allows for plenty of thoughts on the deeper meanings, as well as an appreciation for all involved going the distance with this creative team.

Where To Watch: In theaters starting August 6, and streaming on Prime Video starting August 20, 2021.

Val: 7 out of 10

The Setup: For over 40 years, Val Kilmer, one of Hollywood’s most mercurial and/or misunderstood actors has been documenting his own life and craft through film and video. He has amassed thousands of hours of footage, from 16mm home movies made with his brothers to time spent in iconic roles for blockbuster movies like Top Gun, The Doors, Tombstone, and Batman Forever. This raw, wildly original, and unflinching documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a heart-filled, sometimes hilarious look at what it means to be an artist and a complex man.

Review: I wanted to include all of the pre-written summary to highlight what I liked and didn’t about this documentary. To start, for the most part, it is beyond impressive to have all of this old footage assembled together as a sort-of living memoir. While having a camera (which was clearly much larger in the past) invading certain spaces is certainly a choice, but the benefits are so substantial when it comes to having an honest look at what critical times in Kilmer’s life were like.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about this footage is how useful I find it as a means to leave something behind for Kilmer’s children – his son Jack Kilmer (who also narrates the film), and daughter Mercedes (who receives a producer credit). Not everyone is fortunate to have a certain kind of relationship with their parents, let alone a chance to really connect with them on such a personal level, but the material presented here does a lot to allow Val to open up.

With that in mind, for a film that should ideally be exploring the artist that is Val Kilmer, it appears to hold back at many points. The premise of this doc frames itself around Val’s struggle with throat cancer. Charting his path to modern times is meant to be a reflection on things, and it would have been nice to learn about the aspects that led to Kilmer’s approach to acting and, more importantly, what it was that led to so much talk about him being famously difficult to work with.

Now, Val doesn’t avoid all of the tough questions. Some are handled through nicely edited and scored montages. However, Val does come close to being too much of a hagiography, which makes sense, but could have benefited from digging deeper. Still, for many people’s favorite wingman, there’s a lot here that ends up being bittersweet but worth watching.

Where To Watch: Now in theaters and streaming on Prime Video starting August 6, 2021.

Blood Red Sky: 7 out of 10

The Setup: When a group of terrorists hijacks an overnight transatlantic flight, a mysteriously ill woman (Peri Baumeister) must unleash a monstrous secret to protect her young son.

Review: From Dusk Till Dawn is one of my favorite movies and genre-mash-ups. The way it whips from one type of film to another at the midway point allows all kinds of hell to break loose, while never losing the thrill and entertainment it started with. Given the poster and image, let alone other marketing, it makes little sense to hide that this is a vampire film. It’s not as good as the Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration, but it gets the job done by taking on a familiar premise and going to ridiculous lengths to keep it interesting.

Of course, there are also rules to all vampire films, and I will leave that up to any viewer that decides to board this flight. Suffice to say that Blood Red Sky has clever ways of complicating itself, as we follow a mother’s attempts to keep herself and her son safe, as they deal with terrorists and their absurd plan for the plane and its passengers.

Writer/Director Peter Thorwarth pulls out so many ideas that it’s a shame it had to rely on less than stellar flashbacks to clear up certain aspects of the story. At just over two hours, the pace is let down by information dumps at times, while the cast in the main story set aboard this plane is having such a good time leaning into the genre they have signed up for.

What matters most is seeing how this whole thing unfolds, which includes the vampire’s look, and what it means to have to struggle with this disease of becoming a classic monster character. While not operating in a manner to feel enlightening, there are many good choices to make this silly premise actively have you rooting for a demon of the night to take on machine gun-wielding goons. That’s good enough for a click to stream.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.

Ride The Eagle: 6 out of 10

The Setup: When Leif’s (Jake Johnson) estranged mother Honey (Susan Sarandon) dies, she leaves him a conditional inheritance. Before he can move into her picturesque Yosemite cabin, he has to complete her elaborate and sometimes dubious to-do list. Now, Leif and Nora, his canine BFF, must step into Honey’s wild world as she tries to make amends from beyond the grave.

Review: From what I can tell, Jake Johnson is perfectly fine, having starred on a popular sitcom for several years and putting together a solid filmography, in addition to having a family and all of that. That’s why I find it interesting to see how effective he is at portraying likable slacker-types that just need a push in the right direction to find success. He does this with aplomb in Ride the Eagle, an easygoing comedy-drama that is all about letting go and growing up.

Perhaps handled differently, I would have found this film to be one of my favorites of the year. For different reasons, particularly surrounding the mother-son relationship, I saw plenty of relatable qualities in Leif. Johnson, who co-wrote the film with director Trent O’Donnell, pushes things into a wackier territory, so it’s more fit for a movie than reality. However, it’s still effective in what it’s trying to say and how it handles the characters.

Speaking of which, while Johnson is a capable enough lead and Sarandon’s role is handled well, given how her character is dead right away, it’s time to once again sing the praises of J.K. Simmons. He pops into this film and simply destroys his scenes. Bringing a level of humor and surprising pathos to such a small part is precisely what Simmons can nail, and he very much does. It’s exactly the kind of thing you expect from a small-scale indie comedy, which makes it worth keeping an eye out for.

Where To Watch: Now in theaters and streaming on VOD and digital.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of 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 We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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