Given the major distinctions between films this week, it was easy enough to stack the reviews differently. The first half is all genre flicks, with a video game adaptation, a disaster flick, and an alien war movie. There’s a darkly comedic thriller fitting for the times, an immigrant drama, and a period-set neo-noir on the backend. The following features reviews for Monster Hunter, Greenland, Skylines, Promising Young Woman, Minari, and I’m Your Woman.
The Setup: Based on the video game by Capcom, when Lt. Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her loyal soldiers are transported to another dimension, they engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers, with the help of a hunter (Tony Jaa), who may be able to help them survive.
Review: Hot and cold is one way to look at how I view director Paul W.S. Anderson’s films. Honestly, It’s more that I just do not care for the Resident Evil films, but mostly everything else Anderson has worked on has a sort of scrappy B-movie charm. Even with the low bar seemingly set in stone for video game movies, his Mortal Kombat still stands as one of the shining lights of that sub-genre. That’s all a way of saying I enjoyed Monster Hunter, with the caveat that I have no familiarity with the games this film is based on, along with the affinity I do have for giant monsters.
The film does take some time to get going. While it makes sense for Artemis to have a team, it’s really the point at which the cast is narrowed down to her and Jaa that I was much more into what was taking place. The two opposing characters who speak different languages but eventually team up to take on these monsters reminded me of John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific, of all films, which similarly featured the reluctant teaming of Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune during WWII. Of course, the war in Monster Hunter is against these giant creatures, and the film easily delivers on this front as well.
Given their abundance and rather strong CG work done to fully realize these creatures, Monster Hunter is not exactly taking notes from Jaws when it comes to hiding the terror. That said, as an action-adventure movie, even with Anderson’s continued iffy direction, there’s enough in the way of fun set pieces, enjoyable characters, and rather well-realized (if a bit generic) environments to make for a fun flick. The additional bonus of one cast member seen early on is also the kind of delight one would hope for in this kind of movie, which, in turn, builds to a pretty terrific (and ridiculous) ending.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters December 18, 2020.
The Setup: John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his estranged wife (Morena Baccarin), and their young son (Roger Dale Floyd) embark on a perilous journey to find sanctuary as a planet-killing comet hurtles toward Earth.
Review: I’ll be honest, the idea of Butler re-teaming with Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh for his second stab at a disaster movie, following Geostorm, made my eyes roll. Butler can be a fun presence in movies, even with his generally awful American accent, but the effort he’s put into being a B-movie action star has been a mixed endeavor for me as a viewer. All of this is build up to the truth of the matter regarding Greenland – it’s pretty good.
Being a disaster movie, there’s a heavy amount of melodrama, and the writing isn’t all that strong as far as letting these characters develop without stating exactly what’s on their mind. However, with a limited budget, Greenland capitalizes on an impressive sense of scope without looking too silly in the process. There’s also a good amount of economical storytelling. Regardless of the character work (and it’s not terrible), this film’s structure does a good job moving Butler (who gets to remain Scottish) and the others all over in their efforts to stay out of danger.
Some major disaster sequences largely amount to people running or driving out of the way of special effects. Still, there’s a level of stress that feels appropriately high, particularly in the first act. And when the film does call for some real acting, Scott Glenn is on hand to deliver some really great moments to the film that do a lot more than Waugh’s style-less direction to add some emotional weight to a film where the world is literally at stake. Greenland isn’t treading a lot of new ground, but it’s a better effort for a b-movie non-blockbuster from Butler.
Where To Watch: Available on VOD December 18, 2020.
The Setup: When a virus threatens to turn friendly alien hybrids against humans, Capt. Rose Corley (Lindsey Morgan) and her team of elite soldiers embark on a mission to an extraterrestrial world to save what’s left of humanity.
Review: So far, the theme of these reviews has been “unexpected fun from wacky genre movies.” To Skylines’ credit, while I have very few kind things to say about 2010’s Skyline, I have plenty of good things to say about the 2017 sequel, Beyond Skyline, which features Frank Grillo and The Raid’s Iko Uwais elbowing and kneeing aliens in the face. Rounding out this trilogy, Skylines is a fun and quite violent alien war flick and a movie that delivers in a way the sequels to Independence Day and Pacific Rim couldn’t. While those films merely teased an intriguing third film about taking the fight to the aliens, director/writer Liam O’Donnell actually shows us what that would look like.
With a lower budget than your typical alien war movie, Skylines relies a lot on a few key locations, some shrouded in darkness at times, but I get it. To save up for a big ol’ alien battle to serve as the climax of an unexpectedly epic trilogy, it means making certain concessions. Fortunately, there’s a fun spirit at the core of this Aliens-inspired action flick. In addition to the tough soldiers led by Morgan’s character, you also have a guy in an alien suit functioning as comic relief and a creature that knows how to get stuff done. It’s an intriguing presence and admirable for the practical nature of it all. It’s a bold move to put so much of the film on a team-up between a human and a weird alien creature, but the choice fits the film’s vibe.
The action is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s occasionally fun to see the firefights involving soldiers and aliens. The hand-to-hand combat is especially worthwhile, particularly when another actor from The Raid shows up to get down to business. As Skylines only has so much on its mind, it really comes down to finding the joy in these bizarre sets, a fairly silly but decent enough plot for this kind of film, and the level of energy O’Donnell has brought to this little franchise that could. Oh, and the alien-on-alien fights scenes are fun too.
Where To Watch: Available in select theaters, drive-ins, VOD, and Digital December 18, 2020.
The Setup: A young woman (Carey Mulligan), traumatized by a tragic event in her past, lives a double life as a coffee barista during the day and a force of justice against toxic men at night. An unexpected encounter gives her a chance to right the wrongs from the past.
Review: Promising Young Woman seems to be a film built around the idea that it will be talked about for months at a time. Given the buzz that initiated at Sundance and has held on throughout 2020, despite a delayed-release, it seems to be a film that struck a chord with many. I can understand why. Along with a strong central performance from Mulligan (and a pretty good supporting cast), the film finds a way to approach a familiar rape/revenge storyline using tension based around dialogue, music and score choices, along with carefully planned editing. Thankfully staying away from explicit material, the film finds better ways to provoke its audience by setting up uneasy situations laced with dark comedy.
Coming from debut director Emerald Fennell, who has spent time with other female-oriented properties, such as Killing Eve, it is that perspective which informs the way this film was made. Clearly developed with the themes of contemporary times in mind, one of the better aspects of Promising Young Woman is how funny it can be while considering serious scenarios. Where films of this kind tend to emphasize the horror of it all, Cassie’s stern lectures directed at awful men land a different kind of impact, allowing the audience to root for what’s taken place before arriving in situations that feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under them.
It’s an interesting approach, made all the more watchable by a committed Mulligan, who gets to have plenty of fun dialing up the temperature of this film with wordplay and a commitment to her cause. Valuable time is also spent with Bo Burnham’s Ryan, a well-meaning pediatrician, and others played by Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Alfred Molina, and Laverne Cox. Some questions stem from what’s truly fair, based on certain avenues explored by this film, along with what to consider in regards to the fight Cassie is putting up for another character we never actually see. I’d even go as far as to say the film doesn’t go far enough at some points in how to hammer home its message. That in mind, there’s too much style and assured filmmaking on display to hold certain choices again it.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters December 25, 2020.
The Setup: Set in the 1980s, a Korean American family searches for a better life when they move to a small farm in Arkansas.
Review: Minari is a Korean herb that can grow anywhere. It’s a fitting metaphor for this film, though the herb certainly faces fewer challenges. Working as a semi-autobiographical story, writer/director Lee Isaac Chung has made a very likable feature that takes every opportunity to rest on quiet moments, aided by Emile Mosseri’s wonderful score. Much of that quiet comes from Steven Yeun’s excellent work as Jacob, the family patriarch, who remains steadfast in his attempts to turn his newly purchased five acres of land into a prospering farm.
It’s been great to see Yeun grow into such a reliable actor, but he’s aided well by the actors portraying his family. Most notably, Alan Kim as young David, a spunky little boy who loves Mountain Dew and TV wrestling. He’s been growing up American, paving the way for a wonderful relationship with his Grandmother (Youn Yuh-jung). At first, David is not too taken by his grandma, who “smells Korean” to him, but the two become a great core for the film. It’s a good contrast to the other areas explored in Minari, which thankfully stay away from alienating this family from the others in a scornful manner.
Instead, we mainly watch the Yi family’s struggles, as they do what they can to assimilate, hold onto some form of income, and hope for the best as far as maintaining crops. There’s dramatic urgency in the form of this family continuing to get along, despite their limited means. Still, we want to see things work out. Thanks to some great rural photography, achieving the American Dream may be difficult, but there’s beauty in the land this family has, and we want to see them shape it for the best.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters February 12, 2021.
The Setup: In this 1970s set crime drama, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is forced to go on the run after her husband (Bill Heck) betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey.
Review: Director Julia Hart has gone from superheroes (Fast Color) to 70s neo-noir, and it seems clear she knows how to handle genre films. I’m Your Woman feels right in line with crime flicks of the era thanks to not only the terrific look of the film but the labyrinthine plotting stemming from the choice to only feature Jean’s perspective on things. It’s a refreshing way to handle a story like this, as many directors have proven they do not trust their audience. Hart knows the tone she is after, let alone what ideals to follow, and the results are stellar.
Brosnahan makes for a terrific lead. She’s not naïve to the kind of world her husband is involved in, but she only knows so much. Similarly, after being handed a baby, it’s clear having motherhood thrust upon her will be as difficult as it is to adjust to being on the run. With only Jean’s point of view, there’s plenty of thematic space to explore, including gender roles and race relations. This also comes with a level of tension, as Jean doesn’t know who she can trust. Arinze Kene’s Cal makes for suitable support, being a conflicted figure trying to help Jean but wisely not wanting to get too involved with the wife of a man who must have upset some very important people.
The way this film capitalizes on Jean’s predicament by leaving us in the dark with her carries on throughout the film. As she wizens up to her situation, the film responds with shifts in mood, lighting, and even costuming to an extent. It’s a nifty trick to reveal confidence in a character. Fortunately, the film knows how to make the pivotal moments land, including its third act, which could risk explaining too much or relying on cliched resolutions. It’s a good thing these filmmakers did their 70s homework, as I’m Your Woman is stylish as well as quite smart.
Where To Watch: Now available on Amazon Prime.