While the biggest screens will have audiences living their lives a quarter mile at a time with Fast X this week, there are plenty of smaller films as well. This set of write-ups includes a Paul Schrader drama, a sports-comedy remake, a psychological horror flick, an assassin movie, a Hollywood satire, a Romanian drama, and a live-action Disney remake. The following features reviews for Master Gardener, White Men Can’t Jump, Outpost, The Mother, Fool’s Paradise, R.M.N., and Peter Pan & Wendy.
Master Gardener: 5 out of 10
The Setup: A meticulous horticulturist (Joel Edgerton) is devoted to tending the grounds of a beautiful estate owned by a wealthy dowager (Sigourney Weaver). When he’s told to take on her troubled great-niece (Quintessa Swindell) as an apprentice, his life is thrown into chaos, and dark secrets from his past emerge.
Review: This is the third entry in writer/director Paul Schrader’s “Lonely Man” series, which has also included First Reformed and The Card Counter. Sadly, this film pales in comparison to those accomplished works. While not without its strong elements, such as Weaver’s performance and production design that includes an estate with one room featuring jellyfish wallpaper, the rest of the film leaves more to be desired. Edgerton is a terrific performer, and while he does what he can with his expertly named character, Narvel Roth, the audience is required to take a few too many leaps to get behind this guy, while Schrader opens up doors that he is simply not showing he’s equipped to handle. To say more would be giving away too much of the game, but suffice it to say that Swindell’s character functions more as a plot device than a character, and the things they bring out in Narvel are not exactly ideas I think I needed a perspective on from a 76-year-old white man. I will say there’s a surprising level of tenderness here, but I can say the same about The Card Counter, which similarly features dark material that effectively hits against some incredibly sweet scenes. For this film, however, the bloom is off the rose.
Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on May 19, 2023
White Men Can’t Jump: 4 out of 10
The Setup: Juggling tenuous relationships, financial pressures, and serious internal struggles, two ballers (Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow) –opposites who are seemingly miles apart–find they might have more in common than they imagined possible.
Review: I aim to be optimistic despite even the silliest ideas, but this was tough. I get wanting to remake White Men Can’t Jump, the 1992 basketball comedy, but it’s a pretty impossible task to get anything out of it when the key to that film’s success was the strength of the chemistry between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, let alone Rosie Perez (who’s just as good comedic support as Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinnie). This modern update is not offensively bad, as it’s filmed well enough and feels like everyone at least gave their best effort, but there’s nothing to this movie. It has no real edge (despite retaining the R-rating for language), and it all ends up feeling very clean. The scrappiness of the original is very much a part of its charm. And even if the thought should be to review the film based on what it strives to achieve, this new White Men Can’t Jump feels like a TV movie that downgraded everything about its original form.
Where To Watch: Available to stream on Hulu starting May 19, 2023
Outpost: 6 out of 10
The Setup: After a violent attack, a woman (Beth Dover) searches for strength in the solitude of a lookout job, but is overwhelmed by something darker.
Review: Like most movie nerds that check out this film, I’d imagine the main intrigue is seeing how this is written and directed by funnyman Joe Lo Truglio (The State, Brooklyn Nine-Nine). While it’s of little surprise for me to once again see a comedic performer transfer their sense of tension and timing to the world of horror, I can say that I was ultimately won over thanks to having a cast full of character actors. Along with a fittingly off-balance lead performance from Dover, The Outpost features Dylan Baker, Dallas Roberts, Becky Ann Baker, and Ato Essandoh, all finding the strands needed to make them stand out in this quietly haunting film. The story only offers so much, as it deals with abuse and the PTSD that comes with it, but I was taken by the level of commitment shown by all in this unique setting. It’s enough to make it a worthwhile horror debut.
Where To Watch: Opening in select theaters and on VOD on May 19, 2023
The Mother: 4 out of 10
The Setup: A deadly female assassin (Jennifer Lopez) comes out of hiding to protect the daughter she gave up years before while on the run from dangerous men.
Review: Early in this film, there’s some real promise of the darkest kind. An ambush leads to a deadly encounter where Joseph Fiennes’ villainous character does something to Lopez’s assassin that you just don’t see in movies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t amount to much. Instead, we essentially go through the motions in a moderately entertaining but highly generic story about an A-list star with a particular set of skills who will mess up many bad guys to protect their child. Director Niki Caro is not the name I would have expected to be associated with this, but here we are with a movie that is not beyond her capabilities but comes up lacking when considering the script. Lopez does what’s necessary to show everyone she went through actor boot camp as far as figuring out the fight scenes, but there’s nothing really for her to do here that feels like a next-level step. Really, the only actor who stands out is Gael Garcia Bernal, fully into his hair and costuming as a ridiculous arms dealer. Otherwise, The Mother doesn’t have much to nurture.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.
Fool’s Paradise: 4 out of 10
The Setup: A satirical comedy about a down-on-his-luck publicist (Ken Jeong) who discovers a recently released, mute mental health patient (Charlie Day) who looks just like a misbehaving movie star. The publicist subs him into a film, creating a new star. But fame and fortune are not all they are cracked up to be.
Review: I like Charlie Day, and I’m happy to see him throw himself into a big, dumb comedy about the dangers of Hollywood fame. It’s just a shame this script offers very little as far as good comedy or sharp satire. It’s nice to know Day has a lot of friends in the business, as there’s a real cavalcade of stars present, ranging from Adrien Brody (the film’s highlight) and Kate Beckinsale to Ray Liotta (in his final role) and John Malkovich. None of them have too much to do, and the one star who really does (Ken Jeong, whose schtick becomes insufferable) only emphasizes the problems in this film. For all the frantic pacing that pushes Day’s Chaplin-like character along from scene to scene, it becomes very repetitive when realizing the film only has one angle on Hollywood. Far from a compelling screed against the industry, I could say it has its charming moments, but it matters little when a 90-minute movie still has me checking my watch.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters and available on digital.
R.M.N.: 8 out of 10
The Setup: Award-winning director Cristian Mungiu’s (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) portrait of ethnic and economic resentments tearing at the fabric of a small mountain town.
Review: At the time of this writing, this film has been on my mind for a few weeks at this point, and in a very good way. It’s hard to detail what this is all about without delving specifically into the events that occur in this Transylvanian village, and that’s part of the appeal. The awkwardly titled R.M.N. gets by on slowly revealing where the focus lies, with director Mungiu’s lingering camera moving cleanly through scenes that grow more compelling as the dialogue unveils various motivations. I can say that xenophobia is a topic largely on the mind of this film, and it very easily ties into relevant themes of today that are witnessed all over the world. With that in mind, for all the excellent work by the actors and the sense of naturalism on display, this movie manages to hit on some emotions well before concluding in a rather haunting manner that made me really sit up and consider what I had been watching. Perhaps not fit for a casual watch, but there’s plenty of intrigue to be found in this feature.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available on digital and VOD.
Peter Pan & Wendy: 6 out of 10
The Setup: Based on J. M. Barrie’s novel and inspired by the 1953 animated classic, this is the timeless tale of a young girl (Ever Anderson) who, defying her parents’ wishes to attend boarding school, travels with her two younger brothers to the magical Neverland. There, she meets a boy (Alexander Molony) who refuses to grow up, a tiny fairy (Yara Shahidi), and an evil pirate captain (Jude Law), and they soon find themselves on an adventure far, far away from their family and the comforts of home.
Review: Ultimately, it’s fine. That’s what this latest live-action remake of a Disney animated film amounts to. While that’s a bit underhanded when considering the talent involved, I’m only left with so much to say. I would argue this is one of the better efforts compared to the likes of the much more expensive Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, which is also what I’d expect from director David Lowery, the man responsible for one of the best of these remakes (Pete’s Dragon) as well as the vastly different medieval tale, The Green Knight. I think what makes this latest Peter Pan endeavor passable is its look. I can see more of a vision here, which speaks well to having the umpteenth take on this story stand out. It is pretty moody though, which will undoubtedly rub plenty the wrong way. With that said, having seen so many flamboyant takes on Captain Hook, I quite enjoyed what Law was bringing here. As far as all these kids that don’t want to grow up, I was pleased enough with their antics, and the central aspect of the story involving Wendy and Peter. While far from a definitive version, this one had enough fairy dust sprinkled on it to keep its head above water.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Disney+.