It may not be the most high-profile week, though film fest player I Care A Lot does arrive on Netflix this week, and I still collected a few other new releases of note. With that in mind, this set of write-ups features films about the drama of losing one’s sense of reality, a superhero film about a squirrel, a film addressing drug treatment, a sci-fi romance, and a misguided musical. The following features reviews for The Father, Flora & Ulysses, Body Brokers, Little Fish, and Music.
The Setup: Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) refuses all assistance from his daughter (Olivia Colman) as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind, and even the fabric of his reality.
Review: I’m happy to see award season films overcome expectations thanks to filmmaker ambition. Telling me Hopkins stars as an aging man suffering from progressive memory loss may not leave me entirely uninterested, but I can’t help but get a certain impression from just that description. Fortunately, director Florian Zeller has redesigned his own play as an elaborate cinematic venture into the abstract. The narrative is trickier than one would expect, and it comes down to clever editing, production design, and writing, matched with terrific performances.
Yes, Hopkins truly is compelling here. The 83-year-old performer continues to show just how much skill he can continue to bring to the screen in a lead role requiring him to dig into various emotions. Really, the choice to tell this film from Anthony’s perspective allows for not only a unique handle on this unfortunate condition but a chance for the audience to feel like they’re working out a puzzle. As we watch scenes shift to seemingly different locations and moments in time, the impressive work from Colman, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Mark Gatiss, and Olivia Williams only helps to continue selling the off-key approach.
And yes, it’s no easy feat to pull off without understanding how much editing can impact a story such as this. The same goes for designing the various apartment rooms to have enough similarities to keep an audience wondering where Anthony is at any one moment, let alone who he is speaking with. Coming in at just over 90 minutes, while moments towards the end are designed to hit harder, The Father is another film benefiting from taking a sad state of affairs involving one’s mental faculties and heading in a different direction as a means of getting the viewer to understand. It’s a smart move, as the film leaves an informed impact.
Where To Watch: In select theaters February 26, 2021, expands nationwide March 12, 2021, and available on PVOD March 26, 2021.
The Setup: A girl named Flora Buckman (Matilda Lawler) adopts a squirrel she names Ulysses, who happens to possess superpowers.
Review: This is the kind of movie that can rely on spunk and personality to get by. Yes, the Lena Khan film makes good on letting the audience enjoy a superpowered squirrel, as detailed in the original children’s novel, but the film adds plenty thanks to the efforts of the human cast around this little creature. That all starts with Lawler as a self-proclaimed cynic, who has plenty of attitude built up as a shield to help her deal with her parents’ divorce. Combined with her love of comic books, Flora enters the film fully-formed, getting the adventure off to a good start.
The stakes of Flora & Ulysses are appropriately low, as it comes down to Flora seeing if her parents (Alyson Hannigan and Ben Schwartz) can reconcile and keeping Ulysses away from an obsessive animal control officer (Danny Pudi). Small subplots abound, including one featuring William Spiver (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), a young boy temporarily suffering from hysterical blindness. It adds to the film’s quirkiness, but the antics are played so broadly that it is hard not to see at least some of this film appeal to families all over.
Is there much to say when it comes to Ulysses? Well, it’s a squirrel’s origin story, as far as witnessing him learn to use his powers. The visuals are handled well enough, with plenty of comedic moments coming out of rodent-related destruction. The film is always filled with a good amount of energy, and that’s especially the case when it comes to enhanced moments of squirrel-related action. It all balances out well enough for a movie like this, as this was not a tough nut to crack.
Where To Watch: Available on Disney+ February 19, 2021.
The Setup: Brought to Los Angeles for treatment, a recovering junkie (Jack Kilmer) soon learns that the rehab center is not about helping people but a cover for a multi-billion-dollar fraud operation that enlists addicts to recruit other addicts.
Review: As this is one of those weeks where Martin Scorsese is trending, it’s hard not to think of him when considering my thoughts on Body Brokers, a supposedly scathing look at how the system is failing those in need of treatment while profiting off of them through an elaborate fraud scheme. While director John Swab uses this framework to get around the typical story involving drug abusers, this thriller never really finds the right rhythm to stick with.
It’s not without effort from the cast. Jack Kilmer is more or less the window into this world, but there’s plenty of time for Michael Kenneth Williams to shine as Wood, an experienced body broker. Minor support also comes from underused performers Melissa Leo and Jessica Rothe. That said, plenty of time is spent on Frank Grillo (largely via voiceover), putting in witty comments about how people have decided to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act and how to profit off of those attempting to check into rehab. It makes for a film that should have some dramatic drive in regards to Kilmer’s character’s morality but comes off more like a knock-off of The Big Short, with a different industry focus.
Yes, with the narrative momentum of a high-energy gangster movie, the commentary that should ideally feel insightful, and a colorful cast equipped with witty dialogue, there’s the opportunity to deliver something worthwhile. Instead, the crime movie formula takes over and has little to maintain a sense of urgency. While the information may be good to have, not enough is done to deliver on the riling up an audience more about what’s actually going on right now.
Where To Watch: Available in Theaters and on Digital and On Demand on February 19, 2021.
The Setup: A couple (Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell) fights to hold their relationship together as a memory loss virus spreads and threatens to erase the history of their love and courtship.
Review: Moving past how this film connects somewhat directly to current times (despite being made well before the pandemic and adapted from a short story), Little Fish does well enough in creating a melancholy atmosphere. As the film is based around a time where a mysterious virus causing memory loss is striking without warning, it only feels right for it to maintain a sort-of dreamlike quality, all while letting Cooke and O’Connell give their all into making a crumbling relationship seem believable.
Of course, the possibility of these two falling apart is not based on their personal feelings, but the virus does feed into the metaphor this film has for the unexpected breaking of relationships, in addition to something like Alzheimer’s. Watching it play out on others is both intriguing and terrifying, as we see basic understandings drop, with possible dire consequences. As the film relies on staying more intimate, there’s enough to pull the viewer in, but there’s only so much hope to take away from all of this.
Director Chad Hartigan takes his characters one step further by emphasizing their interests. O’Connell’s Jude is a photographer. Cooke’s Emma enjoys writing. Both of these skills focus on recorded memory in some way. The rest of the film knows how to play into certain subtleties, making some of the more overt ways to understand the film’s themes not take away from it. Instead, you follow a relationship you want to root for, knowing the circumstances can change at any time. Observing this all take place is filmed with skill, and thanks to the specific focus, there’s enough for it to deliver on the emotional level.
Where To Watch: Currently available in theaters and on VOD.
The Setup: Zu (Kate Hudson) is newly sober when she receives news that she is to become the sole guardian of her half-sister named Music (Maddie Ziegler), a young girl on the autism spectrum, whose view of the world is displayed as a colorful world of music and dance.
Review: It already doesn’t help to see Ziegler, a young woman who is not on the autism spectrum, taking an all-in approach to her portrayal of Music, complete with exaggerated facial expressions, flail-heavy attacks, and other cringe-worthy affectations that easily play into the ableist narrative that has surrounded the buzz of this film. Not adding is what’s taking place in the rest of this film, which plays like a stereotypical quirky indie movie. While it’s clear Sia’s directorial debut had nothing but good intentions in mind, affording this much creative freedom to the Australian musician was not the way to hit the right note.
While there’s credit to be given to Hudson for her efforts, she can’t do enough to save a film that features a drug dealer plotline involving Ben Schwartz in cornrows, an estranged half-sister with special needs, fantastical musical numbers, a big-hearted landlord played by Hector Elizondo, a subplot featuring an Asian family involving their son in underground boxing, and, of course, a magical negro character played by Leslie Odom Jr. (adopting an African accent for good measure).
That’s a lot to take in, and while part of me did what I could to try and subtract Music from the screen at times to see what else was going on, there’s only so much to appreciate. The musical numbers are what anyone would expect from a Sia music video. Still, they have so little to offer as far as a connection to what Music is going through that I start to wonder what was intended in the original, non-musical version of this film. Still, the largest takeaway will never extend far past the misguided approach to this film from the get-go. Choices were made, and they really made a mess of things.
Where To Watch: Currently available in select theaters and on PVOD.