Ghostface has their eyes set on New York this week, but while you scream, perhaps look at the smaller films also available. This set of write-ups includes a sports comedy, a psychological drama, a Blumhouse thriller, an American drama, a supernatural comedy, a supernatural horror flick, a neo-noir with Liam Neeson, and a gonzo action-sci-fi-thriller. The following features reviews for Champions, Inside, Unseen, Bruiser, We Have a Ghost, Huesera: The Bone Woman, Marlowe, and Project Wolf Hunting.
The Setup: A former minor-league basketball coach (Woody Harrelson) who, after a series of missteps, is ordered by the court to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities. He soon realizes that despite his doubts, together, this team can go further than they ever imagined.
Review: Directed by just one Farrelly brother, Bobby, anyone familiar with their comedies should know how much respect they have for the disabled community. So, it should be no surprise that Champions obviously has its heart in the right place, and the jokes are never at the expense of what this team is going through based solely on their mental or physical struggles. I wouldn’t think I’d have to justify that, but here we are. More importantly, this movie is entirely fine as an underdog sports movie, even if it’s got very little new to offer, feeling like a script dug out of the early 00s basket (despite being a remake of 2018’s Campeones from Spain). Woody is in his zone, doing what he can to balance Bad News Bears and Hoosiers, which this film can’t come close to touching. That said, it’s the kind of nice movie that rewards an audience by endearing them to this intellectually disabled cast that’s given a rare chance to shine.
Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on March 10, 2023.
The Setup: An art thief (Willem Dafoe) is trapped in a New York penthouse after his heist doesn’t go as planned. Locked inside with nothing but priceless works of art, he must use all his cunning and invention to survive.
Review: What a neat premise this is, and what an excellent opportunity for Willem Dafoe to shine again as a performer. I really wish this film by director Vasilis Katsoupis had more to offer. What could work as a bizarre Twilight Zone episode or at least a tighter film (75 minutes as opposed to 105) is an overlong drama that makes its message and themes clear without providing much else of interest beyond Dafoe’s various struggles and attempts to escape. Now, that still allows a good portion of this film to be entertaining. Dafoe knows how to keep an audience’s attention with his perfectly cinematic face. Watching him explore this penthouse, establishing ways to sustain himself allows a good amount of character work to emerge for a man with nothing else to tell us who he is. Still, we’re stuck in this movie for a long while without much of a payoff for what we’ve been observing. It’s a clever conceit, just limited in what it achieves.
Where To Watch: Opening in limited release on March 17, 2023.
The Setup: Two women form an unlikely connection when depressed gas station clerk, Sam (Jolene Purdy), receives a call from Emily (b), a nearly blind woman who is running from her murderous ex in (Michael Patrick Lane) the woods. Using video chat, Emily must survive the ordeal with Sam being her eyes from afar.
Review: In the realm of tight thrillers, at just under 80 minutes, Unseen truly knows how to get in and out. The effectiveness of this premise is vital, and once the stakes are established, this is a really fun ride. Both lead characters are given plenty to do as far as establishing the various dangers and challenges to overcome. Time is spent developing who they are as people in a manner that stays somewhat plausible inside this wild predicament. The way things ramp up is also impressive enough to keep things both fun and exciting. Utilizing split screens and all sorts of neat tricks, director Yoko Okumura gets plenty of mileage out of the video phone chat parameters. Plus, by the end of it all, the emotional connection formed is strong enough to make me champion certain arrangements for where everything ends up. This is a blast of a genre flick that makes good on its small means.
Where To Watch: Available on digital and VOD starting March 7, 2023.
The Setup: 14-year-old Darious (Jalyn Hall) explores the boundaries of his manhood with Malcolm (Shamier Anderson), his strict but loving father, and Porter (Trevante Rhodes), a charismatic drifter. When Darious learns Porter’s true identity, he is thrust into a conflict between the two men.
Review: This is the sort of indie film that’s an easy sell to me. A focused study on masculinity in the form of a domestic drama revolving around the relationships between various family members. Bruiser delivers on its performances, with great work coming from all three male leads and Shinelle Azoroh as Darious’ mother. Add to that enough of a distinct voice in the direction by Miles Warren, and there’s a film that’s working on multiple levels. Partially a coming-of-age story, having a young main character forced to deal with a situation that was never going to be easy for him (let alone anything he could control) allows for the outside perspective of this teenager to inform us of how we can see two paternal figures, and what could come from their interactions. It builds to a breaking point that I’m not sure works all the way, but the film is never less than compelling in reaching its ultimate conclusion.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Hulu.
The Setup: Finding a ghost named Ernest (David Harbour) haunting their new home turns Kevin’s family into overnight social media sensations. But when Kevin (Jahi Winston) and Ernest go rogue to investigate the mystery of Ernest’s past, they become a target of the CIA.
Review: I guess noting the runtime is going to remain a theme for the week, as We Have A Ghost has all the material needed to make a solid feature that doesn’t need to wear out its welcome, much like director Christopher Landon’s previous films, Freaky and the Happy Death Day flicks. Sadly, We Have A Ghost lasts over 2 hours (with credits) and hardly earns that length. It would mean nothing were the film to remain entertaining throughout, but I couldn’t help but feel the energy leave this movie during various segments in the middle. With all that said, David Harbour is perfection here, offering up a terrific silent performance that is worth the price of admission (for a film streaming on Netflix). He brings a surprising amount of complexity to a ghost who cannot speak and allows the film to shine plenty. The rest of the cast is fine, with Winston and Isabella Russo’s Joy, the next-door neighbor, also showing good chemistry. Although, while I’m all for more Anthony Mackie, his role as the father is all over the place. That’s kind of what this movie feels like as well, though it’s overall successful enough at what it needs to do, I just wish it handled it quicker.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.
The Setup: Valeria’s (Natalia Solián) joy at becoming a first-time mother is quickly taken away when she’s cursed by a sinister entity. As danger closes in, she’s forced deeper into a chilling world of dark magic that threatens to consume her.
Review: Sight unseen, I believe most of the most notable comparisons for Huesera bring up The Babadook and Rosemary’s Baby. They are clear influences in this wickedly creepy flick about a cursed woman. Sometimes I get in my head about what is fair for the characters involved, but I also have to consider that demons, ghosts, or whatever other nefarious supernatural forces out there simply don’t care sometimes. As it happens, much of this film is about watching a first-time mother be mentally tortured by a creepy presence. The way Huesera realizes this spookiness is quite effective. Thanks to a combination of effects and performance artists contorting themselves in ways designed to shock, enough imagery is present (along with effective sound design) to make for a solid horror entry from director Michaelle Garza Cervera.
Where To Watch: Now available on VOD, coming soon to Shudder.
The Setup: Set in late 1930’s Bay City, brooding, down-on-his-luck detective Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson) is hired to find the ex-lover of an heiress (Diane Kruger), who is the daughter of a well-known movie star (Jessica Lange). The disappearance is the first twist in a series of bewildering events, and soon Marlowe is embroiled in a deadly investigation and web of lies that he’s determined to bring to light.
Review: Well, this was a real waste. Not even a David Holmes score could save this sleepy noir attempt from director Neil Jordan, of all people. This late period era of Neeson used to at least reward the viewer with an actor who was putting in the effort, even if the plot around him was ridiculous (Non-Stop). In Marlowe, Neeson’s work here joins his past few efforts as ones where the interest level seems to evaporate in his eyes before the plot even gets into gear. Sure, the film looks nice, with some interesting photography emerging within this mid-to-low-budget period film, but to what avail? The plot is so uninvolving and uninventive that a couple degrees to the right and Marlowe could have played as a parody. As it stands, things are relatively serious but rarely pulpy fun like they ought to be. A shame, really, as who doesn’t want to see Neeson rocking a fedora and punching out Hollywood gangsters.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: During transport from the Philippines to South Korea, a group of dangerous criminals unites to stage a coordinated escape attempt. As the jailbreak escalates into a bloody, all-out riot, the fugitives and their allies from the outside exact a brutal terror campaign against the special agents onboard the ship.
Review: South Korea continues its efforts to deliver the most violent films of today when it comes to genre flicks (see also: The Sadness). Here we have what begins as Con Air on a cargo ship, only for it to turn into the third act of The Terminator meets The Raid. I’m not going to delve into why, but the way a sci-fi element enters this film brings things to a whole other level as far as watching mayhem unfold. With convicts and authorities all put into jeopardy, watching director Kim Hong-seon find more and more ways to see bloody fights unfold is pretty insane. This film is brutal and not for the squeamish. However, something must be said for the ingenuity on display to homage several different films creatively. That said, a force of darkness also beats a man to death with his own arm. So, proceed with all of that in mind.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Hoopla and VOD.