This week’s main release finds Kenneth Branagh again donning the mustache for another Poirot mystery. Meanwhile, plenty of other releases are out there to be discovered. This set of write-ups includes a comedic dramatization of the GameStop stock story, a Hindi-language Indian action film, a Black comedy-western, a Middle East action-drama, a coming-of-age drama, and a TV cartoon movie adaptation. The following features reviews for Dumb Money, Jawan, Outlaw Johnny Black, Rebel, Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and The Venture Bros. Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart.
The Setup: Every day, people flip the script on Wall Street and get rich by turning GameStop into one of the world’s hottest companies. In the middle of everything is Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a regular guy who starts it all by sinking his life savings into the stock. When his social media posts start blowing up, so does his life and the lives of everyone following him. As a stock tip becomes a movement, everyone gets wealthy — until the billionaires fight back, and both sides find their worlds turned upside down.
Review: Based on a true story that’s only a few years old, here’s a fun presentation of what exactly put GameStop in the news cycle for several weeks, only to be slightly undercut by a lack of a more substantial conclusion. It’s not much of a surprise to acknowledge how billionaires can often avoid the ramifications of whatever ways they attempt to capitalize even more off what has helped put them on the top. Still, while the ultimate case the film is making can seem a bit obvious, regardless of which members of this solid cast end up on the positive side, writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo include a variety of angles to keep things varied.
Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) manages to find the right kind of spark (particularly in the film’s first hour) to provide all the context needed to keep things feeling light on their feet by including the attitudes of the likes of Dano, Pete Davidson, America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, and Seth Rogen, among others. Sure, films like The Social Network and The Big Short have a superior handle on making corporate drama and the stock market cinematic (and the Winklevoss twins are ironically producers of this film), but that doesn’t hold Dumb Money back from letting the time in which this occurred and the excitement stemming from a unique David vs. Goliath story run its course as a variety of Reddit-obsessed investors hold on with diamond hands.
Where To Watch: Opening in limited theatrical release on September 15, 2023. Opening wide on September 29, 2023.
The Setup: An emotional journey of a man (Shah Rukh Khan) who is set to rectify societal wrongs, to get even with his past, driven by a personal vendetta while keeping up to a promise made years ago. A high-octane action thriller where he is up against a dreadful monstrous outlaw who knows no fear and has caused extreme suffering to many. In the journey, he will cross paths with a high-minded, seasoned lady officer (Nayanthara) whose emotions might get the better of her as she gets involved in this battle. As his past catches up with him, to overcome the challenges and restore harmony in their world, he will need all the firepower and intelligence to do so.
Review: Jawan has lots of action, at least four musical numbers, a dual performance from Khan, social commentary with an approach that feels lifted from Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next, cameos and in-jokes for those plenty familiar with Indian cinema, numerous wacky disguises (which are rarely necessary), the most positive prison portrayal I’ve seen in some time, motorcycle chases that seem to further remind the audience of how much Khan enjoys John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2, amnesia-related plotlines, an entire romantic comedy sidebar featuring a little girl (Seeza Saroj Mehta) who brings one of the most winning performances I’ve seen all month, and more. This full meal of a movie is a lot of fun. It’s no RRR (few things come close, honestly), but along with Pathaan from earlier this year, Jawan is the sort of chaotic and earnest …action/thriller/romance/musical that adds just enough purpose and rides high enough on star power to make for a satisfying theatrical experience.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Cowboy Johnny Black (Michael Jai White) vows to gun down Brett Clayton (Chris Browning), the man responsible for his father’s death. He soon becomes a wanted outlaw while posing as a preacher in a small mining town that’s been taken over by a notorious land baron.
Review: While there is plenty of humor throughout the expansive 132-minute runtime of Outlaw Johnny Black, this is not an out-and-out comedy like Mel Brooks’ comedy classic, Blazing Saddles. It’s a good thing too, as there are so few great comedic westerns as if that film left a stamp as indelible as the one left by The Exorcist when it comes to other exorcism-focused horror movies. If anything, Michael Jai White’s directorial effort is more of a pastiche akin to Django Unchained. There are a myriad of references to classic westerns scattered throughout this story, and the notion of a Black filmmaker taking the reigns is promising as well. I only wish the film was tightened up more.
Several fun ideas are baked into this story, and there is a compelling enough reason to want to see Johnny Black have his revenge, but White is not Leone. His measure for deliberate pacing isn’t as strong as it could have been (for reference, the excellent Black Dynamite was a clean 90 minutes and holds as one of the best Blaxploitation parodies one could ask for). Still, there’s a fun charm to this film. White is terrific in the lead role, and enough cast members put in the work to deliver some of the more inspired moments of the movie. This six-shooter may not hit every mark, but it’s not firing blanks.
Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on September 15, 2023.
The Setup: When Kamal (Aboubakr Bensaihi) resolves to change his life for the better, he leaves Belgium to help war victims in Syria. But, having arrived, he is forced to join a militia and is left stranded in Raqqa. Back home, his younger brother Nassim (Amir El Arbi) quickly becomes easy prey for radical recruiters, who promise to reunite him with his brother. Their mother, Leila (Lubna Azabal), fights to protect the only thing she has left: her youngest son.
Review: I’m fascinated by what’s in store for the Belgian filmmaking duo Adil & Bilall. A couple of indie crime films led to them making the better-than-expected Bad Boys for Life, only for them to take on the (unfortunately) canceled Batgirl movie. Now, before taking on another Bad Boys film, they’ve put their talents into a “one for me” project that once again highlights their stylish skills and what they can do to play with narrative expectation. Films focused on the radicalization of young men can be tough to watch, as well as blend together. Here, while not without hitting some standard beats from a narrative perspective, there’s a lot of life given to the film thanks to some evocative camera choices, continuous shots, and, most notably, the insertion of music video-style sequences to highlight the emotions of certain scenes in a unique way. I can’t say all this works incredibly well, and the film is lengthy. With all that said, it’s a compelling watch and another solid showcase for some talented individuals.
Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on September 15, 2023.
The Setup: Mexican-American teenagers Aristotle Mendoza (Max Pelayo) and Dante Quintana (Reese Gonzales) explore their friendship while struggling with racial and ethnic identity, sexuality, and family relationships in 1987 El Paso, Texas.
Review: This film came in with a low-key approach to the story thanks to a set of performers all staying away from going any bigger than needed. As an adaptation of a YA novel, there are certainly areas where the film goes big enough, with writer/director Aitch Alberto putting some extra flair to better emphasize certain aspects of this story. Still, for a movie focusing so intensely on two young men at various crossroads in how they feel about where to go with their identities, I appreciated the intended level of authenticity in depicting 80s teenagers at a questioning stage of their lives. Pelayo and Gonzales are both good here, with enough well-written dialogue scenes to find the film imparting clear enough messages about the bonds and friendships that form, and what that means. If anything, there is something slight about the film surrounding these characters, which may come from limited means to do much more than have a small set of characters converse. Still, it’s a good coming-of-age drama that strays from some of the more standard versions of this kind of story.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.
The Setup: A nationwide manhunt for Hank Venture leads to untold dangers and unexpected revelations. At the same time, an imposing evil from the past reemerges to wreak havoc on the Ventures, The Guild, and even the Monarch marriage.
Review: I have been an unabashed fan of The Venture Bros. for a very long time. The show premiered on Adult Swim way back in 2004 and was unceremoniously canceled by Warner Brothers in 2020. Fortunately, creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer were given the opportunity to make a feature-length direct-to-video movie that serves as the series finale. Even more fortunate – it completely delivers. Yes, this is very much a “for the fans” affair, and why shouldn’t it be? With no real stakes regarding ratings or box office, this wonderfully entertaining film serves as a fond farewell for all those who enjoyed the series, with enough ideas in place to provide the feeling of a proper feature, as opposed to an extended episode.
Okay, sure, you can see how this film could have been divided up to make for another season, but it’s no matter. I had so much fun seeing all these flawed characters again. James Ubaniak and Chris McCulloch bring continual delight as Dr. Venture and The Monarch. Patrick Warbuton’s Brock Samson is a treasure. Various other characters, including Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, Sgt. Hatred, Red Death, Jefferson Twilight, Dr. Orpheus, and others were all very welcome. For any fan of this series that began as a Johnny Quest spoof and evolved into something much more layered and special, this is a wonderful way to close out the story and provide solid answers to series-long questions. Go Team Venture!
Where To Watch: Now available on Blu-ray, digital, and VOD.