Mr. John Wick has found himself competing against the High Table this week, but other films are also here to play. This set of write-ups includes a historical crime drama, a dark comedy, an international drama, a new crime tale involving an iconic Idris Elba TV character, a Disney sports flick, and a psychological thriller. The following features reviews for Boston Strangler, Moving On, Tori and Lokita, Luther: The Fallen Sun, Chang Can Dunk, and The Strays.
Boston Strangler: 4 out of 10
The Setup: Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) becomes the first journalist to connect the Boston Strangler murders. As the mysterious killer claims more and more victims, Loretta attempts to continue her investigation alongside colleague and confidante Jean Cole (Carrie Coon).
Review: When making a period film focused around a famed serial killer in America, modeling it after Zodiac certainly seems like the right play to make. It’s a shame that Boston Strangler is far less involving when compared to David Fincher’s epic crime drama. Writer/director Matt Ruskin seems to have a point to make as far as putting together a film chronicling the efforts by women journalists in the 60s to take on and succeed in uncovering so many details surrounding an ongoing murder investigation. However, much like the recent She Said, while admiration comes with adapting an important story, the delivery doesn’t seem to be up to the challenge. There’s a lack of urgency where it’s needed, and despite strong work from Knightley and Coons, the results do not amount to much beyond a relatively clean recap of events that occurred. This film just doesn’t quite grab ahold of the viewer.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Hulu.
Moving On: 6 out of 10
The Setup: Two estranged women (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) reunite to seek revenge against their recently deceased best friend’s husband (Malcolm McDowell). Along the way, they learn to make peace with the past and each other.
Review: I’m not sure if people are aware, but Fonda and Tomlin really seem to get along…if only someone would put those two together more often, like in a TV show. But I digress. It’s obviously an immense benefit to this film that Fonda and Tomlin are excellent in their scenes with each other. Still, I’ll go further out on a limb and note how strong their work is as far as hitting the various dramatic beats that crop up throughout this offbeat comedy. Fonda, in particular, has to play some darker shades when contending with her situation and what she wants to do about McDowell’s slimy character. It may take a bit for us to fully understand the situation, and this film’s plot only has so much to offer. Still, the work from these veteran performers certainly does more than enough to make for a solid 90 minutes before…um… moving on.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
Tori and Lokita: 7 out of 10
The Setup: A friendship unites two youngsters who have traveled alone from Africa and find themselves contending with the cruel conditions of their exile in Belgium.
Review: Being a film from the Dardenne brothers, it’s not as though I couldn’t have a certain expectation for the kind of film I’d be getting into. This is another one of their humanistic dramas put together in a minimalist manner to show the struggles of people who have been displaced in some way as authentically as a cinematic feature can. The results mostly payoff in terms of texture. Pablo Schils and Mbundu Joely are pretty strong as young actors tasked to carry this feature. If anything, it’s the push into thriller territory that is both evocative and tense, as well as a sign of a different sort of movie emerging. However, it all comes to a close before anything else really gets started, with the bluntness of the film’s message leaving it without much more to consider. Still a decent effort, but it feels a bit lacking on the whole.
Where To Watch: Opening in select theaters on March 24, 2023.
Luther: The Fallen Sun: 7 out of 10
The Setup: A gruesome serial killer is terrorizing London while brilliant but disgraced detective John Luther (Idris Elba) sits behind bars. Haunted by his failure to capture the cyber psychopath who now taunts him, Luther decides to break out of prison to finish the job by any means necessary.
Review: While I can’t call myself a Luther completist, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of the series and was happy to catch up with this brutal cinematic effort featuring Elba’s DCI John Luther. While slightly overplotted, as if all involved felt Luther would be better served with a two-hour feature, there’s a good amount of menace coming from Andy Serkis’ villainous foe. Plus, with next to no familiar characters from the series, adding Cynthia Erivo as a new head detective certainly adds to the prestige of what’s happening in this very grim feature. Still, Elba brings precisely the sort of screen energy that made him appear too big for TV to begin with by continuing to play up Luther’s ability to use his wits to great effect, let alone handle himself in action. It all makes for a pretty rousing crime thriller, with the added bonus of an impressive use of Piccadilly Circus as a notable setpiece.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.
Chang Can Dunk: 6 out of 10
The Setup: Chang (Bloom Li), a 16-year-old Asian American high school student in the marching band, bets the school basketball star that he can dunk by Homecoming. The bet leads the 5′ 8″ Chang on a quest to find the hops he needs to dunk to impress his crush, Kristy Zoe (Zoe Renee), and finally gain the attention and respect of his high school peers. But before he can rise up and truly throw one down, he’ll have to reexamine everything he knows about himself, his friendships, and his family.
Review: I feel like it’s been a minute since I was able to see a coming-of-age underdog sports movie meant for families. Looking back on many of them (particularly during the 80s and 90s), it’s not like that’s a field of riches, but several stand out. Chang Can Dunk is mostly a success by having the benefit of societal context play a part. Granted, being a Disney sports movie not up to the level of Remember the Titans, there’s no full-on racist character for Chang to deal with, but certain implications are given a bit of lip service to further enhance his struggles. Along with the side elements, this movie just happens to be quite fun. The work to build up to a dunk is solid, and the film wisely reaches what could have been its climax early, making way for a swerve as far as getting into the latter half of the film. The results allow for intriguing enough character work that resolves itself in a better way that I can respect when it comes to these low-key movies.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Disney+.
The Strays: 4 out of 10
The Setup: A light-skinned Black woman’s (Ashley Madekwe) meticulously crafted life of privilege starts to unravel when two strangers show up in her quaint suburban town.
Review: The semblance of a good idea here is matched with a compelling and tense production design choice involving the use of water late in this film. I only wish The Strays had a better hold on what it was going for rather than aiming to be cryptic and ambiguous to hold the audience back from the far more interesting reveals. This feels very much like an attempt to piggyback off of Jordan Peele’s success with his social thrillers, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. However, writer/director Nathaniel Marello-White doesn’t do nearly enough for his lead character, Neve (Madekwe), as far as examining the situation she’s put herself in. We certainly see what is tormenting her and how, but I was so vastly interested in getting more from the circumstances presented and eventually delved into a bit that it made me wish the whole film began from its third act and leaped off from there.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.