Many people are saying “let’s-a-go” to the theaters this week for either a big animated adventure (The Super Mario Bros. Movie), or the story of a huge shoe deal (Air), but other films could earn some attention as well. This set of write-ups includes an environmental terrorist thriller, Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize winner, an Adam Sandler comedy sequel, a London-based rom-com, a sweet Jackie Chan film, and a Chilean martial arts flick. The following features reviews for How to Blow Up a Pipeline, A Thousand and One, Murder Mystery 2, Rye Lane, Ride On, and Fist of the Condor.
The Setup: With the climate crisis at a point of no return, a group of young environmental activists devise a daring plan to make their voices heard and disrupt an oil pipeline.
Review: Is it possible for a movie to be casually thrilling? Maybe there’s a weird separation because this film is dealing with Millennial/Gen Z eco-terrorists, but How to Blow Up a Pipeline is able to play so well thanks to how it divides its time, filling in the viewer on each of the characters, making the heist-like bombing plot work in a unique way. The success of the plan has stakes, and the tension gets ratcheted up for various reasons (not everything ever goes right in these scenarios), yet this is a film asking you to follow along with people committing a pretty significant act in the pursuit of social justice. Fortunately, director Daniel Goldhaber and his team are smart about their choices in adapting this 2021 novel by Andreas Malm. The results allow for a film that feels scrappy enough to play into our desire to understand where this group is coming from with their intentions while still having enough to consider the outcome and who it affects.
Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on April 7, 2023.
The Setup: Unapologetic and free-spirited Inez (Teyana Taylor) kidnaps her 6-year-old son, Terry, from the foster care system. They set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in a rapidly changing New York City.
Review: This was my pick for the best film I saw during the Sundance Film Festival, and I was happy to see it win the Grand Jury Prize. Director A.V. Rockwell has developed an engrossing story about Inez (Teyana Taylor), a 90s woman with little means, a rough background, and choices involving her young son. A Thousand and One spans multiple years, showing Inez’s struggles and other developments, adding wrinkles to all this. The film gets by on the strength of Taylor’s performance and is not over-sensationalized when it comes to reckoning with some story turns. Rockwell’s choices in incorporating her feelings of gentrification in New York give further power and meaning to what’s happening. Plus, the film also features a pretty terrific score by Gary Gunn. This is a well-put-together film exploring what it means to attempt to build a family and the ramifications of one’s actions as a result.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Now private detectives launching their own agency, Nick (Adam Sandler) and Audrey Spitz (Jennifer Aniston) land at the center of an international investigation when a friend is abducted.
Review: 2019’s Murder Mystery seems to get a lot of credit as being the “least bad” Happy Madison/Netflix release (it’s actually Hubie Halloween, but whatever). I can’t say the first one did much for me; the same applies to this film. Even saying it’s an amusing romp that doesn’t require much attention feels like too much praise to award to a movie so uninterested in doing more with what it has. The highlight is the continued chemistry shared between Sandler and Aniston; yes, that sort of squabbling can be enjoyable. However, there’s just so much left on the table when it comes to this cast (Mark Strong, Melanie Laurent, Jodie Turner-Smith, John Kani, Jillian Bell, etc.) and the nonsensical choice to not have a significant murder as the central conceit of a film called “Murder Mystery 2.” Instead, there’s lots of banter, some comedic ideas that go nowhere (barricading doors repeatedly), and a few decent comedic action sequences that feel ripped from other movies. Sandler was just awarded a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. I like the guy, but I hope his next collaboration with the Safdie brothers will keep me enthusiastic about his other endeavors.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.
The Setup: Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson), two twenty-somethings both reeling from bad break-ups, connect over the course of an eventful day in South London – helping each other deal with their nightmare exes and potentially restoring their faith in romance.
Review: Another film I initially saw during the Sundance Film Festival. Having revisited it, Rye Lane is an exceptional romantic comedy. At under 90 minutes, what this film lacks in perhaps some deeper characterization, it makes up for in visually inventive direction from debut filmmaker Raine Allen-Miller. This dynamic film is full of color and life in how it explores South London living. The way Yas and Dom communicate stories to each other, let alone proceed through their time together, keeps the pace moving and allows the film’s witty side to frequently pop out. There’s a lot of fun and humor to be found throughout, and the likable leads go a long way in having Rye Lane feel like a proper entry in a well-worn genre.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Hulu.
The Setup: After two debt collectors attempt to seize a stunt horse belonging to washed-up stuntman Luo (Jackie Chan), video of the ensuing confrontation—and the dynamic duo’s narrow acrobatic escape—goes viral on social media. This brings new motivation for Luo, who is also forced to confront how his career has affected his relationships.
Review: So this film caught me off guard. Judging by the setup, I expected a quick romp with Jackie Chan and his loyal horse, Red Hare. Instead, it turned into something of a career retrospective, allowing Chan to delve into emotions concerning his career through the lens of this character. That’s not to say that he and Lao Luo are one and the same, but in addition to seeing various action scenes delivering Chan’s always entertaining style of fight choreography, he’s also pushed to really deliver on an emotional performance. Written and directed by Larry Yang, who pushed hard to get Chan involved, the resulting film is a bit too long at just over two hours but features enough introspection for me to enjoy this somewhat over-melodramatic tale taking place.
Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on April 7, 2023.
The Setup: After centuries of careful safeguarding, a sacred manual of deadly fighting techniques risks falling into the wrong hands, leaving its rightful guardian (Marko Zaror) to battle the world’s greatest assassins to protect the ancient secrets.
Review: By all accounts, Chilean martial artist Marko Zaror has plenty of bonafides to show how skilled he is. I may not have seen him sticking out too much in the films he’s played baddies in until John Wick: Chapter 4, but singled out in this film, I certainly wouldn’t want to mess with him. Fist of the Condor is a wonderful example of simplicity. Divided into several chapters, the gist of this film is so ridiculously simple. Zaror’s Warrior character just needs to stop anyone who challenges him from taking the ancient secrets he’s guarding. Given how this guy is the lead and seemingly exceptional at his craft, what can challenge him? Well, that’s established early on, and continual flashbacks provide further context. It’s all mostly fluff, however, as the joy is seeing the several fight sequences that emphasize the moves on display. The level of respect shown in the build-up to these bouts is also welcome, recalling the days of Bruce Lee. Zaror may not rise to become someone of Lee’s stature, but director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza does plenty to have the viewer root for this guy. Plus, there are some truly killer moves that have to be seen.
Where To Watch: Now playing exclusively in select Alamo Drafthouse locations. Debuting as a Hi-YAH! Original on April 7.