While many may not be able to look beyond F9 at the theaters, there are some new streaming options out there as well. This set of write-ups includes a Rosemary’s Baby riff, another Liam Neeson action-thriller, a messy science fiction drama, and a winning coming-of-age story. The following features reviews for False Positive, The Ice Road, Awake, and Skater Girl.
The Setup: After months of trying and failing to get pregnant, Lucy (Ilana Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux) finally find their dream fertility doctor in the illustrious Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). But after becoming pregnant with a healthy baby girl, Lucy begins to notice something sinister through Hindle’s gleaming charm, and she sets out to uncover the unsettling truth about him and her own “birth story.”
Review: The wise move made by Glazer (who also produces and co-writes) and director-writer John Lee was to merely rip off Rosemary’s Baby rather than remake it. There may be IP value to be found in remaking Poltergeist, but a lot more good came out of Insidious. With False Positive, removing any sort of weight that comes from taking on the classic title, the film has more room to play. I only wish it was able to lock in on a clearer tone.
Based on the setup and years of familiar territory covered in the horror genre, it’s not as though the film is fooling anyone with what’s going on. Clearly, something is up with Brosnan’s ever-so genial character. However, while the film has some fun cranking up the tension now and again with long shots of darkness and eerie angles, it doesn’t quite know how to take on the level of satire being thrown into the mix. It feels clear that False Positive wants to provide some commentary on how a higher class can handle the realm of fertility doctors and pregnancy yet the humor never approaches a level higher than its dry presentation.
Glazer is undoubtedly game, Theroux hardly registers, and Brosnan is having a ball in his role. Gretchen Mol goes the furthest in playing the most into the over-the-top nature of a sterile and controlled doctor’s office. Still, all this talent only goes so far. Again, anyone who has seen their share of horror movies will not be thrown off by where the third act goes, even if they don’t have all the details figured out. What’s left is an occasionally creepy film that doesn’t quite know how to subvert its tropes.
Where To Watch: Available on Hulu June 25, 2021
The Setup: After a remote diamond mine collapses in far northern Canada, a big-rig ice road driver (Liam Neeson) is recruited by trucking company owner Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) to join an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the trapped miners. Contending with thawing waters and a massive storm, they discover the real threat is one they never saw coming.
Review: The Ice Road is another dud of a Liam Neeson action movie that came at me with an intriguingly silly premise and ended up looking like one of his cheapest productions. Of course, that partially comes from the ambitious disaster premise set up by writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh, who provides the film with several set pieces that rely on explosions, trucks flipping, and the shifting of ice-covered waters. That’s all well and good, but when a modestly-budgeted feature needs to rely on CG for a good number of scenes, the results show.
I am curious what challenge this presented to Neeson. Perhaps this was a chance to learn about driving big rigs, or maybe he just wanted to spend some vacation time in Canada. Regardless, he’s not exactly on autopilot (even in these lesser action efforts, Neeson does a decent job of not making it feel like he ever phones it in). Still, there are only so many times one can see the 69-year-old fight off guys half his age without wondering what this is all for. For the sake of this film, Neeson is given a war veteran brother (Marcus Thomas) suffering heavily from PTSD. Barking about the opioid crisis and making emotional faces at his only family does enough for me to take some of this seriously, but the rest of this film is a mess.
Rather than stick with the solid disaster movie premise, The Ice Road decides to pad out its 108-minute runtime with a conspiracy subplot revolving around evil businessmen who want to stop the truckers from reaching their goal. It’s a lot of nonsense leading to various double-crosses. Amber Midthunder does her best as the film’s “lady truck driver” (the film makes a bigger deal out of it than needed), but Benjamin Walker never finds his groove in a movie requiring a certain earnest acceptance of the premise. By the end, where I had hoped for something a little straightforward, I instead got little fun out of this great big convoy.
Where To Watch: Available on Netflix June 25, 2021
The Setup: Global hysteria ensues after a mysterious catastrophe wipes out all electronics and takes away humanity’s ability to sleep. When Jill (Gina Rodriguez), a former soldier, discovers her young daughter may be the key to salvation, she must decide: protect her children at all costs or sacrifice everything to save the world.
Review: Another dud here. It’s a shame, as this was another ridiculous but neat idea. What if the world could no longer sleep? In the realm of Bird Box knock-offs, that’s a pretty good one. It’s just too bad director Mark Raso took a fairly meaningless approach to a story that clearly wants to convey some particular themes about life and death. Even as genre fare, the film rarely finds ways to ramp up the tensions.
Credit where it’s due; some performances work more than others. One can’t deny that Rodriguez is committed to her role, even if the script does her no favors. Jennifer Jason Leigh also does excellent work for the couple of days she was on set. And then there’s Shamier Anderson, fresh off being an inconvenience in Netflix’s space drama Stowaway; here he is again providing a friendly enough presence as an escaped prisoner/decent black character. But these performances only go so far.
This story would be laughable were the film to have a better handle on its pacing. Even in terms of content, Awake seems to toy with how far to take its level of violence. It’s also not without lifting ideas from other films. One sequence finds a continuous shot created from the inside of a car, as chaos erupts around it á la Children of Men. I suppose I should be happy this sci-fi Netflix film actually moves around to different locations. For all its issues, Awake is not so much limited in scope, as much as it is in scripting, let alone its payoff.
Where To Watch: Now available on Netflix.
The Setup: A coming-of-age story set in a remote Indian village. The film follows Prerna (Rachel Saanchita Gupta in her debut performance), a local teen living a life bound by tradition and duty to her parents. When a London-bred ad-exec, Jessica (Amy Maghera), arrives in the village to learn more about her late father’s childhood, Prerna and the other local children are introduced to skateboarding.
Review: Writer-director Manjari Makijany has assembled a winning feature here that is accessible to anyone. Sure, it can be boiled down to some simple storytelling concepts. It even has a borderline white savior element. That said, for an all-too-rare PG sports movie designed to inspire young women (and kids in general) to embrace their interests and find their courage, this movie does a lot right.
Skater Girl is not quite on the level of Queen of Katwe as far as showing off the difficulties to be found in specific environments matched with natural abilities and a display of culture. However, the film does a fine job taking a low-stakes approach to this story of Prerna, focusing on the genuine thrill she gets from discovering skateboarding. I also appreciated the reasonable level of acceptance from the adult outsiders and the people from the village. No one is a villain here. There are simply traditional values that need to be observed, let alone certain mandates necessary for children riding skateboards anywhere they want.
As the film settles on solutions and certain situations become more desperate, an inevitable conclusion means going along with what typically comes out of this sort of story. The key to its success is the lived-in characters, the genuine pleasantness that comes from the film’s tone, and even choices to lean into the appeal being pushed toward a younger audience, without feeling condescending, let alone to rambling for adults. Skater Girl finds a proper balance and lands its moves with both feet staying solid.
Where To Watch: Now available on Netflix.