We’re between big blockbuster releases this week, but the options are out there. This set of write-ups includes Pixar’s element-focused adventure, a sequel to Chris Hemsworth’s streaming hit, a murder mystery comedy, an underdog biopic concerning the Frito-Lay company, a character drama, and a golf-themed comedy. The following features reviews for Elemental, Extraction 2, Maggie Moore(s), Flamin’ Hot, Reality, I’ll Show You Mine, and The Country Club.
The Setup: Set in Element City, where fire-, water-, land- and air-residents live together, the story introduces Ember (Leah Lewis), a tough, quick-witted, and fiery young woman whose friendship with a fun, sappy, go-with-the-flow guy named Wade (Mamoudou Athie) challenges her beliefs about the world they live in.
Review: While it’s not as though I feel Pixar is ever doing less than their best when it comes to assembling their films, Elemental does come up feeling a bit more standard than most of their filmography. It’s a shame, as director Peter Sohn (The Good Dinosaur) drew so much inspiration for this story from his youth, particularly with being the son of immigrants in NYC during the 70s. Using that as a foundation is all well and good, as is the notion of delivering a rom-com as the central narrative. However, between the layering of different ideas, the lack of more memorable characters (despite great vocal performances), and a familiarity of it all, Elemental feels less special and more like a mix of previous Pixar films that executed their ideas more effectively. With all that in mind, Thomas Newman’s score in this film is terrific. Naturally, the visuals are as impressive as ever, as well. Those aspects are enough to make the movie good enough, but combining all of these elements still left a bit more to be desired.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Back from the brink of death, highly skilled commando Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) takes on another dangerous mission: saving the imprisoned family of a ruthless gangster.
Review: Looking at the various projects those “visionary directors” the Russo brothers have produced for various streaming services, I suppose Extraction 2 is the best yet. It’s certainly better than the previous film, which delivered a lot of well-choreographed action through the lens of its ugly yellow/brown filter to make sure we knew we were in a third-world country. This time around, however, the filters are gone, and we are left with another two hours of action featuring a brooding Hemsworth. Gone is the more intriguing co-narrative involving a rival assassin. However, more time is spent with Rake and his mercenary partners, Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) and Yaz (Adam Bessa). As the trio works hard to keep the family connected to Rake’s ex-wife safe, we see car chases, helicopter battles, rooftop fights, and more.
Much like the first film, there’s an extended long take (using plenty of hidden cuts). The first film’s intense “unbroken” shot lasted 11 minutes. Extraction 2 offers a protracted prison escape that is double that length. Given the range of the action and knowing it obviously relies on cuts all over the place, it’s a fine piece of action filmmaking without feeling revolutionary. All of this is a way to say the film doesn’t try to add more to the conversation beyond delivering a large-scale B-movie aided by director Sam Hargrave’s experience as a stuntman. I still don’t find these films as fun as they could be. Still, perhaps an expanded role for Idris Elba’s mysterious character could make for an even stronger Extraction 3.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.
The Setup: Police Chief Sanders (Jon Hamm) investigates the bizarre murders of two women with the same name and unravels a web of small-town lies. He also meets and quickly falls for Rita (Tina Fey), a nosy neighbor eager to help solve the mystery.
Review: I can understand being apprehensive toward a film like Maggie Moore(s). Director John Slattery has brought his Mad Men pal Hamm into a story that is obviously riffing off the themes and atmosphere that makes the works of the Coen brothers and Elmore Leonard unique. Slattery is not really up to the task of recreating that mood nearly as effectively, even with the cute spelling of the title. However, sometimes there’s still too much good in place that can keep a film afloat. Given the story’s structure, which is a bit messy, I was intrigued by how much the film wanted me to know about the central mystery (which lays out the answers pretty quickly). I also genuinely liked what Hamm and Fey were doing here. They work well together and apart in a film that is just serious enough but also allows them some welcome moments of levity. A stronger handle on tone and Slattery could hit closer to Blood Simple. As it stands, it’s still not a big bounce.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available on digital and VOD.
The Setup: The inspiring true story of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), who, as a Frito-Lay janitor, disrupted the food industry by channeling his Mexican American heritage to turn Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from a snack into an iconic global pop culture phenomenon.
Review: In what could be this year’s ultimate version of “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” director Eva Longoria has taken on the story of Montañez and does plenty of service for it when considering how likable this movie is. As a sweet-natured story angling for a family-friendly vibe that still sheds light on how cultures are different, let alone held back, I was willing to let go of the undetermined true nature of the story behind Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and just embraced what was given. It doesn’t hurt that Garcia serves as an unreliable narrator, letting the film at least acknowledge that it’s built on some shaky foundation. Regardless, it’s an enjoyable underdog story with some greater themes, plenty of heart, and an overall nice flavor.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.
The Setup: On a Saturday afternoon in June 2017, 25-year-old Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney) is confronted at her Georgia home by the FBI. A cryptic conversation begins, and Reality’s life quickly begins to unravel.
Review: The staging of this movie is pretty fascinating. Thanks to an FBI interrogation transcript, this entire film (80 minutes) plays out basically in real time. It only omits information that is appropriately redacted from the conversations being had. Seeing how this situation goes from casual to suspicious to tense is a fine accomplishment. It’s no real surprise that writer/director Tina Satter first staged Reality as the play Is This a Room, which ultimately serves as a reason to diminish any real need to revisit this story. Still, between Sweeney’s work as Reality and Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis’ efforts as FBI agents, pulling off what’s needed in this minimalist production is interesting to watch. Not hurting is how this film doesn’t have a way of taking any side since it’s based on a transcript, allowing the viewer to form their own takes based on what the camera chooses to highlight. Some onscreen text at the end provides some facts to give an additional perspective, but there’s enough here for a few takes on the reality of this situation.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Max.
The Setup: An author (Poorna Jagannathan) who has made a career by examining her own trauma sits down to interview her liberated nephew, Nick (Casey Thomas Brown), for a new book about his history as a model. Over the course of a weekend, the two engage in a game of conversational cat and mouse, each challenging the other to confront and reveal their most buried secrets.
Review: Another film that very much plays like a theatrical production brought to the big screen. Director Megan Griffiths and writers Tiffany Louquet, Elizabeth Searle, and David Shields have plenty of good faith afforded to the work they’ve put in thanks to strong performances from both Jagannathan and Brown. There’s a good amount of careful setup as we learn about these characters and their relationship. Even as layers are peeled back, seeing them both make themselves vulnerable allows for a refreshing take on non-romantic chemistry in a two-hander like this. I only wish the results allowed for, well, something to occur. With the way this thing builds up, the possibility of some kind of powder keg going off, whether in a big way or something more subtle, could have given this quiet drama more to think about afterward. As it stands, it’s nice, but it didn’t really show me much else.
Where To Watch: Now available on digital and VOD.
The Setup: Worried about their father being laid off, two resourceful teenage girls (Fiona and Sophia Robert) hatch a plan to win a junior golf tournament prize at a prestigious Hamptons country club. But once they encounter the quirky, wealthy patrons at the club, they are thrust on an adventure of mistaken identity, love, and finding friendship in the most unlikely of people.
Review: It’s incredible how “comedy about a golf and a country club” has been so defined by Caddyshack that there’s hardly any other attempts to go after the same subject. Happy Gilmore comes close, but even that’s more of an underdog sports comedy than a snobs vs. slobs story relying on an ensemble cast and comedic anarchy. Watching The Country Club provides a good reason why we don’t see too many of these, as this film barely registers as a comedy. The pieces are all there. The Robert sisters, who co-wrote the movie with Fiona Robert directing, seem to have enough of a handle for getting all the setups within the frame, but this film has no punch. Any chance to go after the sexism or class structure imbalance, which comes naturally with a country club setting, is shoved aside in favor of lousy schtick or other nonsensical choices. The only saving grace of this film is James Urbaniak channeling all that’s needed as the anxious club owner, but it’s not enough. This is a film stuck in the deep rough.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available on VOD on June 23, 2023.