In-House Reviews: Songbird, Wild Mountain Thyme, Wander Darkly, Farewell Amor & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Songbird, Wild Mountain Thyme, Wander Darkly, Farewell Amor, Ip Man: Kung Fu Master, and Archenemy.

With all of the larger award players out there, here’s a batch of films taking up a smaller spotlight this early December week (also note that Steven Soderbergh’s Let Them All Talk hits HBO Max this week). This week’s write-ups include a quarantine thriller, an Irish romantic comedy, a surreal romantic drama, a thoughtful immigration story, a kung fu movie, and an offbeat superhero film. The following features reviews for Songbird, Wild Mountain Thyme, Wander Darkly, Farewell Amor, Ip Man: Kung Fu Master, and Archenemy.

Songbird: 4 out of 10

The Setup: Immune to the COVID-23 virus, a courier (K.J. Apa) races against time to save the woman (Sofia Carson) he loves from a quarantine camp.

Review: Feeling confident enough to claim the “honor” of being the first movie to be filmed during the pandemic, what started as a bad idea is made worse by the quality of the screenplay combined with the grimy level of slickness that comes standard with many Platinum Dunes productions. Songbird wants to function as a clever enough genre flick, relying on a love story to serve as a solid emotional core. The problem is the position it puts itself in as far as sending a message that is at best tone-deaf, and at worse, dangerously irresponsible. Having a well-rounded cast that includes Demi Moore, Bradley Whitford, Craig Robinson, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Walter Hauser, and Peter Stormare at his sleaziest may seem enticing enough, but Songbird’s poor timing is only made worse by what it throws at these actors.

While no one is doing anything less than what’s expected of them, the amount of silly plot developments thrown at these people makes for an odd ensemble piece. The film’s internal logic (again, guided by alarmist ideas of what extremists expect to happen with this virus) is so heavy-handed that providing this romanticized journey for the protagonist becomes quite sordid when reading between the lines of what’s taking place. Add to that director Adam Mason’s insistence on flinging the camera around as much as possible, making sure the filters are dialed up to ugly up the picture, and rarely approaching scenes with any sense of grace, and you have a bad idea that is somehow watchable, but certainly not comfortable.

Where To Watch: Available on PVOD December 11th, 2020

Wild Mountain Thyme: 5 out of 10

The Setup: Headstrong farmer Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) has her heart set on winning her neighbor Anthony Reilly’s (Jamie Dornan) love. The problem is, Anthony seems to have inherited a family curse and remains oblivious to his beautiful admirer. Stung by his father’s (Christopher Walken) plans to sell the family farm to his American nephew (Jon Hamm), Anthony is jolted into pursuing his dreams.

Review: An Irish romance where things are played too broadly to feel more effectual or authentically Irish, beyond the attempts at accents. Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, the funny thing is, I’ve just recently watched Moonlight, which is very culturally specific, in addition to being effectively romantic. Shanley may be no Norman Jewison, but he is the same John Patrick Shanley that made Joe vs. The Volcano, an oddly offbeat film yet heartfelt in its convictions. Despite a game performance from Walken and believable innocence from Dornan, there’s not a lot here with Wild Mountain Thyme.

Of course, while many will come to see Blunt and Dornan as two people you are just waiting to see finally get together, viewers will largely walk away wondering why the film felt holding a very odd ace up its sleeve was just the sort of thing it needed to kick it into the highest of gears. I’ll just say this, the odd balance of tone (never too funny, never too dramatic) made most of this random reveal’s impact buzz right past my head.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters and OnDemand December 11th, 2020.

Wander Darkly: 7 out of 10

The Setup: New parents Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) are forced to reckon with trauma amidst their troubled relationship. They must revisit the memories of their past and unravel haunting truths to face their uncertain future.

Review: There’s enough good direction from Tara Miele to ultimately have Wander Darkly feel like a worthwhile journey. Providing a sort of out of body experience for its lead characters akin to films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may have some pining for a sense of levity or oddness courtesy of a director like Michel Gondry, but I admire the way Miele takes serious subject matter and doesn’t let viewers off easy. Watching Miller and Luna (both terrific) as a combustible couple, with the chance to literally look back at their lives together, allows for an interesting perspective and approach to performances.

Hopping in and out of the narrative means breaking the fourth wall in a manner that’s cleverer than I’m used to, ultimately building up to various reversals in what we think we know about these people. Of course, the notion of people not being perfect, saying the wrong (or terrible) things, and other choices is true to life, much like the final result, which may not pack the biggest punch, but also feels rather appropriate for a film taking a fantastical idea and doing what it can to stay grounded.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters and OnDemand December 11th, 2020.

Farewell Amor: 8 out of 10

The Setup: An Angolan woman (Zainab Jah) and her daughter (Jayme Lawson) reunite with her husband (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) after spending 17 years in exile. Now strangers, they find common ground in their shared love of dance.

Review: Writer/director Ekwa Msangi’s intriguing approach to a family drama manages to be relevant without calling too much attention to the time. It also effectively avoids pushing into melodrama, despite the developments forcing a father, a mother, and a daughter to confront the differences they have with each other while trying to live new lives together. The structure of the film is a big part of this. Telling the story from multiple perspectives, each kicking off from the reunion point between Walter (Mwine), Esther (Jah), and Sylvia (Lawson) at JFK airport, allows us to key into what’s going on with each of these characters and what they’re doing to ideally embrace their new surrounds, and, at worse, tolerate it.

As an immigrant story, Farewell Amor finds the right ways to have cultures clash while remaining quiet and reserved for much of its runtime. That’s fortunately upset on occasion by the role dance plays in the film. Each character finds themselves connected to dance in some way, and the way this film finds an outlet for this aspect of their lives does plenty to say something about the characters that is far more expressive than reams of additional dialogue. There are also some nice bright spots in the form of colorful supporting characters that include a neighbor played by Joie Lee and a boy from Sylvia’s school played by Marcus Scribner. As a well-acted and tender story, Farewell Amor assembles plenty and does so with proper care.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters, digital, and OnDemand December 11th, 2020.

Ip Man: Kung Fu Master: 5 out of 10

The Setup: During his time as a police captain in Foshan, Ip Man (Dennis To) is targeted by a vengeful gangster just as the Japanese army invades the region.

Review: There’s a sort of “get what you pay for” feeling that arrives with this latest iteration of an Ip Man story. If the desire is to see 85 minutes of Wing Chun action, Ip Man: Kung Fu Master delivers without breaking much new ground in the realm of kung fu flicks. You could say the same about the more popular series of Ip Man films directed by Wilson Yip and starring Donnie Yen. However, the difference is that Yip and Yen are better at this than director Li Liming and To, and I enjoyed those stories more.

As a random adventure, there are things to enjoy here, but there’s a curious lack of weight to everything taking place, as well as a lack of humor. While overacted and stylized, even with the presence of an axe gang ripped straight out of Kung-Fu Hustle, I kept wishing I was having more fun with all of this. Yes, the fights are mostly well shot, or at least fit in with the side of films that understand the importance of geography in a scene, but the ongoing adventures of the man who taught Bruce Lee can only be so entertaining when it becomes a throwaway affair.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters and OnDemand December 11th, 2020.

Archenemy: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) claims to be a hero from another dimension who fell through time and space to Earth, where he has no powers. No one believes his stories except for a local teen named Hamster (Skylan Brooks). Together, they take to the streets to wipe out the local drug syndicate and its vicious crime boss known as The Manager (Glenn Howerton).

Review: What really shines throughout Archenemy is how writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer is working with a small budget and a whole lot of goodwill. He uses both to the best of his ability, along with the strong cast that all seem to get the kind of movie they are in. There’s an over-the-top nature to what’s taking place, as this is a film with an animated prologue suggesting Manganiello is some kind of R-rated Superman from another dimension, but that doesn’t take away from its odd level of heart and thematic messaging. So yes, even at a time when going dark and gritty feels like a punchline, this is a film with the kind of attitude that knows this and carries on in its own punk rock way.

The bonus is seeing Manganiello play this sad, drunk version of his hulking self, Howerton channel something fit for Wild At Heart-era Nicholas Cage, and indie star Amy Seimetz take on the opportunity to get silly with the rest of them. The added use of style by way of costumes, hair & makeup, and even the production design (as limited as it may be), do well to have the film feel like a comic book movie coming to life. That may not be as impressive at a time when we have plenty of well-funded comic book movies, but they don’t have a surprise appearance by Paul Scheer as a drugged-out weirdo either.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters and OnDemand December 11th, 2020.

***

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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