This week offers plenty of fantasy escapism with Dungeons & Dragons, but there are other ways to head in cinematic directions. This set of write-ups includes a video game biopic, a disturbing horror film, a folk horror film, a bizarre comedy, a recent historical drama, a family drama, and a Vietnamese action prequel. The following features reviews for Tetris, Malum, Enys Men, Smoking Causes Coughing, The Lost King, A Good Person, and Furies.
The Setup: Based on a true story, Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) discovers Tetris in 1988 and risks everything by traveling to the Soviet Union, where he joins forces with inventor Alexey Pazhitnov (Nikita Efremov) to bring the game to the masses.
Review: If I were to make a short list of my favorite video games of all time, Tetris would rank in the top five. As an avid gamer, film buff, and former history major, Tetris – the movie- is right up my alley. I can’t say that this film from director Jon S. Baird pulls off anything truly amazing, but it is an engaging enough biopic that happens to run closer than expected to Argo in terms of its tone. Egerton brings all the energy he can to the role of Henk, an enthusiastic video game designer/entrepreneur, which plays well against the stern nature of those in the Soviet Union. Does this film try to dial down the typical depiction of 80s KGB, let alone how greed plays a role in corporate dealings? Not really, but this film is primarily just trying to make an interesting intersection in history feel more cinematic. That means throwing down a lot of pieces, and while it may leave a few holes in the player zone, it still snaps together well enough by the end.
Where To Watch: Available to stream on Apple TV+ starting March 31, 2023.
The Setup: On a search to uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding her father’s death, a newly appointed police officer, Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula), is assigned to the last shift in a decommissioned police station where a notoriously vicious cult saw their demise years prior. The lone officer at the station soon finds herself barraged by terrifying paranormal events. In the process, she is taken on a journey during which she learns the shocking truth behind her family’s entanglement with a demented cult leader.
Review: Co-writer/director Anthony DiBlasi has decided to take another stab at a story he already turned into 2014’s Last Shift. Armed with a larger budget and the benefit of a theatrical release, DiBlasi has a good time turning things creepy in this film, which serves as a cross between Assault on Precinct 13 and The Shining. Not bad reference points to work with, and this film does deliver on setting up plenty of tension and delivering. Sula gives a strong performance as a rookie cop dealing with the worst possible late shift of her life, and enough balance is spent creating intrigue regarding her station and showing the audience things that go bump in the night. This is also the sort of film that messes with our lead character’s mind, making aspects begin to feel unreliable. That means contending with unclear rules about how ghosts (or whatever) work, which may not go well for some expecting demons (or whatever) to play fair. Of course, why would they? What matters is how this film delivers on horror, and Malum certainly offers plenty of chills.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting March 31, 2023.
The Setup: A wildlife volunteer (Mary Woodvine) on an uninhabited island off the British coast descends into a terrifying madness that challenges her grip on reality and pushes her into a living nightmare.
Review: The Covid-19 lockdown certainly led to many films attempting to use closed-off areas and small crews to their advantage. It has particularly led to a number of folk and environmental horror films for clear reasons. Enys Men is a slow burn of a horror film, if there ever was one, but it’s very much rooted in the feeling of the 70s in terms of presentation. Working with grainy 16mm footage, many scenes focus on the lead character observing her surroundings and only the occasional hint that something is amiss. This is very much a mood piece. Take it in the right way, and there’s enough to get out of what the film offers. While not quite as deliberately vague as the minimalist Skinamarink, one gets the sense that this film provided director/writer Mark Jenkin plenty of opportunities to dive into his sensibilities surrounding how to assuredly play with the metaphysical journey taking place in this coastal fright flick.
Where To Watch: Available in select theaters starting March 31, 2023.
The Setup: After a devastating battle against a diabolical giant turtle, a team of superheroes known as the Tobacco Force is sent on a mandatory week-long retreat to strengthen their decaying group cohesion. Their sojourn goes wonderfully well until Lézardin, Emperor of Evil, decides to annihilate planet Earth.
Review: The plot summary is purposefully misleading but kind of wonderful in that way. Yes, this is director Quentin Dupieux’s version of a superhero film (think Power Rangers as opposed to Avengers). However, once we get past an initial (and hilarious) understanding of how the Tobacco Force does their duty, we eventually see what’s really on this film’s mind. Rather than focus on this set of characters, their retreat leads to them telling multiple stories, all featuring some kind of macabre angle. So really, this is more of an anthology film with quite beefy bookends informing things in between. Dupieux has recently delivered some absurdist comedies that I’ve quite enjoyed. Smoking Causes Coughing doesn’t quite rank as high, but I can’t deny how much fun the French filmmaker’s voice is to have when it comes to comedy features I can look forward to.
Where To Watch: Available in select theaters and on VOD starting March 31, 2023.
The Setup: Based on a true story, amateur historian Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins) believes she has made the archeological find of the century: the lost burial site of King Richard III. She takes on Britain’s most eminent historians, forcing them to rethink the legacy of one of the most controversial rulers in English history.
Review: The team behind Philomania Philomena is at it again, and this time they are taking on Richard III. Much like that 2013 comedy-drama starring Judi Dench, The Lost King finds co-writer/star Steve Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope teamed back up with director Stephen Frears for another curious bit of history mystery. However, this story has a bit more punch in what it’s ultimately revealing. It also has a compelling lead in Sally Hawkins, who brings so much emotion with her roles. Here, her quest to find the remains of Richard III is made all the more compelling by knowing that a version of this truly happened, which is sort of wild to think about. To add drama to the circumstances, this film also plays up the level of sexism Hawkins’ Langley faced while attempting to make the discovery of a lifetime, let alone have her voice heard as far as informing others on how much truth there is to the record. That path this film goes down is somewhat predictable, but it’s no less interesting to see unfold. Plus, seeing a friendlier take on Richard III for a change is nice.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Daniel (Morgan Freeman) is brought together with Allison (Florence Pugh), the once thriving young woman with a bright future who was involved in an unimaginable tragedy that took his daughter’s life. As grief-stricken Daniel navigates raising his teenage granddaughter and Allison seeks redemption, they discover that friendship, forgiveness, and hope can flourish in unlikely places.
Review: I feel like there’s a default urge out there to dislike whatever Zach Braff has to offer as a filmmaker, which obviously doesn’t sound great. I haven’t seen Garden State in a good long while, but I don’t hold anything against its twee sensibilities. Meanwhile, Wish I Was Here is such a specific sort of drama that I admire Braff being able to make it, despite being scrutinized for having it partially crowdfunded. A Good Person isn’t much of an upgrade, as Braff has a way of making films that hit upon melodramatic angles and syncing it to specific soundtrack choices that can feel grating. With that in mind, this film does feature very strong performances from Pugh and Freeman, as well as the supporting cast. It’s hard not to count out a few plot contrivances to bring people to emotional climaxes, but then one really has to balance how much they appreciate the performance being given, despite the manipulation used to arrive there. Despite some missteps, I can say I was in on the way things were playing out, which is good enough for an original drama that feels like a developed vision coming to life, flaws and all.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Three furious vigilantes unite to take down a sinister crime syndicate that controls the mean streets of 1990s Saigon.
Review: 2019 gave audiences Furie, a pretty killer Vietnamese martial arts flick featuring Veronica Ngo as a desperate mother trying to get her daughter back. This film finds Ngo in the director’s chair and playing a supporting character in a story that serves as a prequel to Furie, but from a different point of view than one may expect. Regardless, while it has a tangential connection to the first, taken on its own, this is just a solid action movie that relies on heavy thematic elements to convey the stakes. Still, when not focused on the harsh treatment of poor women in impoverished sections of Saigon, the action shines brightly. It also comes through visualized brightly, as the use of heavy neon lighting allows for a level of dynamism that gives a film like this a step up compared to similar fair in the realm of streaming action flicks featuring notable female leads (Kate, Jolt, and Gunpowder Milkshake come to mind). The Furies doesn’t quite nail the sense of urgency like its predecessor, but it certainly balances its intensity with some slick fights.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.