In-House Reviews: RRR, Apollo 10 ½, The Contractor, Nitram, Windfall, and More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for RRR, Apollo 10 ½, The Contractor, Nitram, Barbarians, You Won't Be Alone, and Windfall.

While everyone will dare to see Jared Leto as a vampire this week, there are plenty of other wild things going on in movie theaters and as streaming options. This set of reviews includes an Indian adventure epic, a space-age coming-of-age tale, an assassin thriller, a tragic drama, a home invasion flick, an artsy witch story, and a Hitchcockian thriller. The following features reviews for RRR, Apollo 10 ½, The Contractor, Nitram, Barbarians, You Won’t Be Alone, and Windfall.

RRR: 9 out of 10

The Setup: A fictitious story about two legendary Indian revolutionaries (Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju) who become friends during their journey away from home before they started fighting for their country in the 1920s against evil British colonials.

Review: Given how little I’ve gotten to better know the Indian film industry, having the blockbuster Indian Telugu-language film RRR released in America was a treat. This was a spectacular joy to watch on a big screen. I can’t say I’m being generous with my score, as I don’t have enough to grade this against as far as Indian films like it. However, in terms of seeing something exciting and fresh, RRR in an adventure full of action, drama, romance, comedy, and music, not unlike many of the best films I’ve seen in the past and present.

Separating this from many of the blockbusters I see now — this is just pure, maximalist cinema on display. All the choices are big and bold, showing full-on stylistic decisions made by director S. S. Rajamouli. You rarely see this much life in a film of this size these days. Blockbusters are largely falling into a familiar pattern dictated by a studio that believes they know what works best (delivering the same ol’ thing with a new hat) rather than move in unique directions.

Stars N.T. Ramo Rao Jr. and Ram Charan pull off true movie star performances, allowing them to be dramatic when necessary, funny when needed, and fully capable actions stars, which is entirely necessary. RRR features some incredible sequences that push far over the top in all the right ways to deliver a level of thrill you want. At the same time, a musical/dance number somehow tops all of it. I’m talking about a wild naatu dance sequence that rivals scenes featuring one guy taking on hundreds of extras at once and another scene featuring a man trying to outrun a tiger.

Additionally, it’s not beyond me to know the specific demographic being targeted by releasing this film in the States, but why shouldn’t films cater to an Indian and South Asian audience? Also, it shouldn’t matter. While certainly made in a particular style (it’s not quite Bollywood, but it certainly leans on plenty of those elements), RRR feels like one of the more accessible Indian films of this kind, as far as less familiar audiences who could give it a chance.

And they really should. For those seeking big-screen entertainment and originality in what’s on that screen, RRR does not disappoint.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters for a limited time.

Apollo 10 ½: 7 out of 10

The Setup: A man narrates stories of his life as a 10-year-old boy in 1969 Houston, weaving tales of nostalgia with a fantastical account of a journey to the moon.

Review: As simple as many of his films can seem in terms of setup and structure, Richard Linklater has long been an innovator as well. Whether it’s his choice to leave familiar narrative structures behind or deliver on an ambitious multi-year project like Boyhood, the Texan filmmaker has explored films in various ways. One unique approach is his use of rotoscoping, seen in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. He’s returned to that format again with Apollo 10 ½. As a curious way to recount a nostalgic time in his life, this may be a lightweight effort, but there’s a nice amount of joy here.

Jack Black narrates a lot of this film, portraying an adult version of Stanley, the main character we follow. Being loosely based on Linklater’s childhood, the fun comes from hearing how Linklater has Black go over the details making up young Stanley’s life. Hearing all about how his family operates (he and his many siblings), all of the different TV shows they watched, what kind of games they all played, and more really brings to life a particular time and place. Add to that the whole space side of things, and there’s plenty to smile at.

Yes, the actual Apollo mission (or at least this film’s interpretation) is more of a bookend than the main focus, but it’s a very fun gateway inside the era being explored. The animation looks as good as it needs to. I’d still say A Scanner Darkly was the strongest as far as finding a clever use of the format to apply to the narrative. With that said, I’d imagine using it here freed up Linklater from certain budgetary requirements were this to be done in full live-action. Regardless, Apollo 10 ½ puts viewers on a memorable trip to the moon for other reasons.

Where To Watch: Available to stream on Netflix starting April 1, 2022.

The Contractor: 3 out of 10

The Setup: Involuntarily discharged from the Army, a special forces sergeant (Chris Pine) lands a contract with a private underground military force. When his first assignment goes awry, the elite soldier finds himself hunted and on the run.

Review: Well, I hope everyone got paid. Existing more like the future answer to an obscure movie trivia question than an actual film, it’s a shame Chris Pine had to lead this incredibly unexciting action film offering next to no redeeming qualities. It’s one thing to play off a familiar story. Movies can lose points for lack of originality only to regain them in execution. The Contractor, however, fails in both regards.

Director Tarik Saleh pulls together some interesting ideas focused on dedication to one’s country, let alone the mission’s goals that Pine’s character is pulled into, and does nothing with them. There’s no effort to subvert any of what’s expected. Even reliable supporting actors Ben Foster, Gillian Jacobs, Eddie Marsan, and Kiefer Sutherland feel out to sea.

From an action standpoint, there’s nothing to this film. With so many films of this kind, ranging from the Bourne series to the recent Extraction, yet another cool-under-pressure white guy named Chris only brings so much when simply watching him evade a few bad guys and pull off some neat fight moves when the time calls for it.

Given how much fun Pine can be in oddball supporting character roles or just as someone with some edge, I hope he’s walking away from The Contractor with eyes on a more fulfilling project next.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters and on digital starting April 1, 2022

Nitram: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Living a life of isolation and frustration, a young man (Caleb Landry Jones) develops an unexpected friendship with a reclusive heiress (Essie Davis). When that relationship meets its tragic end, his loneliness and anger culminate into the most nihilistic and heinous of acts.

Review: I had already been aware of the tragic Port Arthur massacre that led to the major Australian gun reform that took place as a result. However, I was less aware of what was behind it. Nitram is a film that doesn’t attempt to provide answers or sensationalize the actual shooting. Similar to United 93, director Justin Kurzel takes the scenario and finds a way to analyze it from a character standpoint. The results are a haunting psychological drama featuring a few powerful performances.

As much as I single out Caleb Landry Jones for portraying greasy individuals, I don’t deny the actor’s talent. Here, as Nitram, he fully delivers as this guy who is clearly intellectually challenged and stuck in a situation where there’s no real way for him to grow. Whatever causes his penchant for unwelcome behavior has caused all sorts of problems throughout his life. Jones embodies this very well.

At the same time, it is heartbreaking to see Judy Davis as his exasperated mother. She’s excellent in her role, finding all the right ways to express sadness and frustration at a son she doesn’t understand, despite not treating him well either. And then there’s Essie Davis’ work as Nitram’s neighbor and eventual friend. It’s an offbeat relationship, but Davis adds the right layers to what’s taking place.

These performances are essential for the film. Their credibility helps sustain an atmosphere needed to build towards the impending awfulness. Kurzel wisely doesn’t put much focus on the actual event, but his direction once again feels inspired, even at this smaller scale (compared to his Macbeth or ill-fated Assassin’s Creed adaptation). Playing in a similar budgetary zone as with True History of the Kelly Gang, there’s a lot of great directorial work being done to put together this chilling story.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters, digital, and on AMC+ on March 30, 2022.

Barbarians: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Four friends come together for a celebratory dinner party at a country house. However, as the night progresses, dark secrets emerge, and unsettling events begin to unfold around them.

Review: Without getting too far into where this film goes, a real joy (not having watched any trailers for it) was coming to understand the character dynamics. Iwan Rheon and Catalina Sandino Moreno play a couple you know nothing about at the top, but we see many of their strengths and flaws pretty quickly. Tom Cullen’s work as an older brother provides plenty to show his role as an alpha male jerk.

Where it goes from the dinner party that brings several people together, I do not need to get into, but director/co-writer Charles Dorfman knows how to let the tension boil. This is not exactly The Invitation, but Barbarians finds great ways to make Rheon’s character squirm at its best. Does some of this work better because of his notable performance in Game of Thrones? Sure. However, early symbolism involving his interaction with a trapped fox, let alone constant digs at his masculinity, allow the film to say plenty without being overly explicit.

Of course, things ramp up considerably in the film’s third section, creating another dynamic to deal with. During this section, the camera choices become more obvious, but not in a bad way. Some stylish editing and the attempts to discern why certain things are taking place allows the film to stay intriguing, even while the story hits a few predictable bumps. Regardless, for 90 minutes, Barbarians provides sufficient suspense and dark entertainment.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters and on VOD starting April 1, 2022

You Won’t Be Alone: 6 out of 10

The Setup: In 19th-century Macedonia, a young girl is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit. Curious about life as a human, the witch accidentally kills a peasant in the nearby village and then takes her victim’s shape to live life in her skin. Her curiosity ignited, she continues to wield this horrific power to understand what it means to be human.

Review: There’s something to be said for a film that feels like a mash-up of Fallen, Days of Heaven, and Robert Eggers’ The Witch. You Won’t Be Alone may not be another horror film from A24 (an A2Horror), but it certainly has the spirit of what people think of when taking in arthouse scare fests. To its credit, this film is not about scaring anyone with jumps and jolts. Its horror is rooted more in body mutilation and psychological trauma.

To be clear, this is a bloody film. The process the main character and her witch “mother” have to take on the shape of others around them is gross, to say the least. However, it does invite several strong performances from all involved, including Noomi Rapace, Anamaria Marinca, and Alice Englert. For a smaller film, You Won’t Be Alone also plays quite well with its makeup and visual effects.

The only issue is how repetitive it begins to feel as we continue watching characters be taken over and repeat the surreal understanding they’re having regarding the newest life they’ve taken on. Were this to amount to something more substantial, perhaps I could have enjoyed the work to get to its conclusion more. As it stands, while the work is appreciated, including the use of the old Macedonian language, I was left with only so much to consider.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on April 1, 2022.

Windfall: 8 out of 10

The Setup: A man (Jason Segel) breaks into a tech billionaire’s empty vacation home, but things go sideways when the arrogant mogul (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins) arrive for a last-minute getaway.

Review: I was fully onboard with Windfall from the get-go. The opening credits present a fixed shot just outside a vacation home in Ojai, California. As we watch the names appear, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ wonderful score evokes the work of Bernard Hermann. Yes, I’m not the first person to suggest this film is designed with Hitchcockian intentions, but the film doesn’t hide this either. Instead, it plays like a modern riff on the sort of circumstances we could find, say, Joseph Cotton, Robert Cummings, and Vera Miles getting into.

Director Charlie McDowell lays out the setup nicely and quickly establishes these various character types. I once again find Segel fascinating in how he manages to blend a sense of humor with a dramatic undercurrent. The freedom his thief character shows in the opening, as he walks in the shoes of the owner of the house he is robbing, says plenty. Once under the pressure of being a hostage-taker, the way he throws around his intimidation tactics while showing varying levels of intelligence keeps everything on edge.

Meanwhile, Collins may play into the innocent dragged into a situation she can’t escape so easily, but Plemons relishes his part as the increasingly unhinged billionaire (or whatever) CEO. His character’s exasperation and anger do plenty to keep the film’s level of tension at an awkward high. I may know some of the beats that need to be hit before anything major goes down, but the mix of humor and angry dialogue make the most out of this limited production because of this livewire performance.

Even the way this film plays with having nowhere else to be suggests thoughts on the state the world has existed in during the more intense parts of lockdown due to the pandemic. McDowell worked with Segel, along with Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) and Justin Lader, to develop a story that could say a lot while doing a little. It leads to moments of insight balanced with… well, the film does need to get to some dark places.

What matters is how willing I was to go along for this ride. For a journey that doesn’t take us anywhere outside of the home being robbed, I was happy with my stay.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, 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 Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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