In-House Reviews: Finch, The Harder They Fall, Paranormal Activity, and More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Finch, The Harder They Fall, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, Army of Thieves, and Lamb.

A big Marvel movie is the film launching us into November, but there are plenty of new streaming releases to check out as well. This set of reviews includes a dystopian film starring Tom Hanks, a black western with style to spare, a new entry in a found footage franchise, a zombie movie prequel with no zombies, and an arthouse horror film about family. The following features reviews for Finch, The Harder They Fall, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, Army of Thieves, and Lamb.

Finch: 6 out of 10

The Setup: An ailing inventor, the last man on Earth, builds an android to keep him and his dog company and goes on a journey across the country.

Review: This is a film I’ve been tracking for some time, as we don’t often get Tom Hanks in a sci-fi film (he’s done some fantasy, but I believe Cloud Atlas is the only thing close to this level). Seeing Hanks inhabit a post-apocalyptic world and handled effectively is the kind of thing one can attribute to his innate abilities to command the screen. Not unlike Will Smith in I Am Legend, this is a movie star who is largely alone, save for a dog and a robot portrayed by a terrific Caleb Landry Jones using motion capture. I only wish it could capitalize more on its premise.

I can’t say I entirely fault this film for relying on simplicity amid its dystopian setup and special effects work to create this world and the android. At the same time, at nearly two hours, while there are various forms of drama, it does feel like the film either dropped a couple of elements in the editing process. The goal was clearly to show us who Finch is, why he built this robot, and what he gains out of teaching it to be human. That’s all good stuff, and the film does its best to move between a lighter and darker tone. Still, should I fault the movie for what’s not there?

Director Miguel Sapochnik (responsible for some of Game of Thrones‘ best episodes) makes a clear choice to ease up on tension where it could be in favor of creating human-scale drama. The environment may be deadly, but more drama is based on how Finch and the android can connect at certain moments to get some tasks done. Between Greyhound, News of the World, and now Finch, it seems as though Hanks is recently getting a lot out of playing these thoughtful characters holding a lot inside. Fortunately, even when the films are a bit too straightforward, his relatable confidence easily carries this sort of high concept.

Where To Watch: Available to stream on Apple TV+ starting November 5, 2021.

The Harder They Fall: 7 out of 10

The Setup: When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is being released from prison, he rounds up his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge.

Review: There is a lot of fun to be had with The Harder They Fall. Part of that comes from the excessive style brought out by music video director Jeymes Samuel in his first feature film. The rest comes from this insanely talented cast of black actors who all portray real-life western figures. Sure, this film openly acknowledges that none of what we see really happened, but this feels like getting some favorite toys together and letting them play in a giant sandbox.

Along with Majors and Elba, the film features Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary, Delroy Lindo as Bass Reeves, Lakeith Stanfield as Cherokee Bill, RJ Cyler as Jim Beckwourth, Edi Gathegi as Bill Pickett, and Regina King as Trudy Smith (who gets the coolest character introduction I’ve seen all year). The plot is straight out of a Sergio Leone movie (I think he’d even tip his hat with approval at all of this). Focusing on rival gangs and revenge, the added value comes from what’s gained by making this a black-focused feature.

In addition to relying on hip-hop and reggae to provide The Harder They Fall with the blackest soundtrack of the year, seeing the various interactions of all of these characters has a special kind of weight that plays on the value of their standing in this time period matched up to their skills as outlaws, prominent members of their towns, or even authority figures. At 137 minutes, the film is as overlong as other spaghetti westerns without the benefit of better pacing. However, for a movie full of action and characters dressed to the nines in western attire, there’s a level of awareness in the style, making it all hard to resist.

Where To Watch: Now in select theaters and available to stream on Netflix starting November 3, 2021.

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin: 4 out of 10

The Setup: Margot (Emily Bader), a young woman abandoned by her mother as a baby, travels to a secluded Amish community with a documentary film crew seeking answers about her mother and extended family.

Review: I feel I have more goodwill aimed toward the Paranormal Activity series than many. Despite following a pretty strict formula and supplying diminishing returns (though PA3 is still my favorite), I remained wrapped up in the connective tissue between entries that provided some sort of narrative. Add to that the fun that came with seeing each of these films on their opening nights in theaters, and I was plenty satisfied with a bunch of entries finding different ways to yell “boo!” at the audience through a series of random movements around a house.

Next of Kin is a step in a different direction for the series, as it takes things out of one house and sets all of the action on at an Amish farm community. That said, despite the best efforts from director William Eubank (The Signal, Underwater) to add a fresh coat of paint to the franchise by way of high-quality HD cameras to film the events taking place (which includes calling out B-roll footage and uses of slo-mo), it comes up lacking in scares. It’s a curious choice, as the atmosphere is ominous at times, but things seemed to ramp up far less than expected, save for a fairly intense finale.

Not helping much is Bader’s work in the lead role, as Margot is not exactly portrayed as the nicest of characters within the context of this story. Thank the creators for Dan Lippert, though, as he provides a lot of great comedic relief as Dale, the sound guy. Perhaps a better balance between tension and levity would have been afforded to the film in a theatrical setting over the choice to relegate this relaunch of the series to a streaming service. Regardless, while not quite a series low, there was less to appreciate here than I had hoped.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Paramount+.

Army of Thieves: 6 out of 10

The Setup: In this prequel to Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, small-town bank teller Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) gets drawn into the adventure of a lifetime when a mysterious woman recruits him to join a crew of Interpol’s most wanted criminals, attempting to heist a sequence of legendary, impossible-to-crack safes across Europe.

Review: As there’s nothing really here to link this film to Snyder’s gore-drenched action-heist film aside from some acknowledgment that zombie-related stuff is going down in Nevada, much of the appeal of Army of Thieves will come down to how much one enjoyed Schweighöfer’s character. Now the lead, as opposed to a fun supporting player, Ludwig (known here as Sebastian) is tasked with carrying an entire feature, and he mostly pulls it off.

While the plot is nothing new (it involves pulling off some major heists and avoiding Interpol in the process), something is refreshing about how much the film wants to avoid any sense of crudeness. While it’s technically rated R for language, by being set from Sebastian’s point of view, we have a character focused on the art of safecracking and has little use for violence in his life. Plus, the film is as much a romantic comedy as it is a heist film.

Partnered with Nathalie Emmanuel as a famous criminal (along with Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, and Guz Khan), there’s little tension in the idea of these two getting together, but the film gets plenty of mileage out of playing up their chemistry. When focused on the actual safecracking, as a director, Schweighöfer also brings in enough flair in the form of CG gears and locks turning about to make it all more fun. The film is way too long and seems like little more than a lighthearted diversion compared to Snyder’s return to the world of zombies, but it gets the job done.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

Lamb: 7 out of 10

The Setup: A childless couple in rural Iceland makes an alarming discovery in their sheep barn one day. They soon face the consequences of defying the will of nature in this dark and atmospheric folktale.

Review: Honestly, writing a mini-review for this film feels like the best I can do to hash out what I thought of it overall. Lamb is the kind of movie that really emphasizes how useless assigning a numerical score can be. The film is as intriguing as it is puzzling, and I have no regret taking on the experience of seeing it. Does it ultimately work as a film? Sure. It’s not as wild as Titane, but it also seems like it wants to revel in how dry it presents itself, despite the bizarre turn of events that sets the plot in motion.

This is the sort of film where uncomfortable laughter makes plenty of sense. That said, I don’t think director Valdimar Jóhannsson is unaware of the kinds of reactions his film will receive. Not that Lamb is a comedy (dark or otherwise), but there must be a level of self-awareness in what it’s doing as the latest deliberately-paced A24 horror movie. At the same time, thanks to the Icelandic locations used for the film, this is a gorgeously shot feature that makes plenty of use out of its atmosphere to at least have Lamb feel like it’s committed to whatever it wants to be.

Noomi Rapace is also committed to this assignment, having learned how to be a sheep farmer and speak Icelandic for the role. The way this film puts a focus on her maternal nature, filling in some details about the life she has shared with her husband (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) along the way, only adds to how thought out this whole endeavor has been, even as it pushes the levels of weird to their extremes late in the game. So, yes, I have plenty of good things to say about Lamb. Regardless of how much I took away from it, there’s a level of ambition on display that has made it hard to stop thinking about. That’s a baa-ram-win.

Where To Watch: Now available in theaters and streaming on VOD.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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