It is a very busy weekend with a dozen new films releasing across a variety of platforms and one more getting its expanded release, so let’s just dive right in.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (Theaters)
Writers: Ed Stone & Nate Hopper, and Mel Brooks & Norman Steinberg & Andrew Bergman & Richard Pryor & Alan Uger
Directors: Chris Bailey, Mark Koetsier, and Rob Minkoff
Starring (voices): Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ricky Gervais
How many writers does it take to make an animated film funny? Eight screenplay credits seem like an unusually high number, even in terms of robust collaborations, and it’s curious to see Richard Pryor listed among the writing credits 17 years after his death. However, this film was initially announced as a remake of Blazing Saddles, which Pryor co-wrote with many others on this list. So, it probably stays very close to that blueprint. If you have been to the movies at all recently, you have likely seen the trailer already and it doesn’t instill much confidence. A sort of goofy but loveable dog aims to fulfill his destiny by enlisting the help of a grumpy, retired cat Samurai. Can they get along enough to thwart the villain? It’s not an entirely unfamiliar story set around the era of Feudal Japan, and I have enjoyed other movies that have focused on that. However, the trailer wasn’t doing much for me here but I could see this being a good choice for kids and families.
Where the Crawdads Sing (Theaters)
Writers: Lucy Alibar (screenplay), Delia Owens (novel) | Director: Olivia Newman
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, and Harris Dickinson
Based on the Delia Owens novel, which was one of the best-selling books of the past few years, Olivia Newman’s sophomore film tells the story of a self-raised woman from the marshlands of the South who gets intertwined into a murder investigation. Daisy Edgar-Jones has been a consistent presence on TV series for a while now and she starred in the Hulu movie Fresh, but this movie doesn’t pack the kind of star power we’ve seen before from these kinds of adaptations. That isn’t a negative, just an observation. It does have Reese Witherspoon producing and it has the hallmarks of fascinating murder mysteries that I tend to like, so I imagine I’ll be checking it out at some point.
The Gray Man (Theaters + Netflix July 22nd)
Writers: Joe Russo and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, Mark Greaney (book)
Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo
Netflix is going big with their action/espionage flick, The Gray Man. I heard rumors that it was the most expensive film their studio has ever made, so I am curious to see what that money pays for. At the very least, it brought in Anthony and Joe Russo as directors and paid for Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas as stars, and that counts for a lot. Whether or not there was anything left in the budget to bring the kind of action that’s promised is something else. The Russo Brothers do have a good track record and I have seen more than enough assassin vs assassin films to know I am interested in this one. With Gosling and Evans at the helm, there should be plenty of charisma to go around. The only question is whether or not to see it in theaters or wait for it to hit streaming next week. Based on the type of film it is, I would opt for theaters.
Mrs Harris Goes to Paris (Theaters)
Writers: Anthony Fabian & Carroll Cartwright & Keith Thompson & Olivia Hetreed, Paul Gallico (novel)
Director: Anthony Fabian
Starring: Lesley Manville, Jason Issacs, Anna Chancellor, and Isabelle Huppert
In 1950s London, a widowed maid sets her sights on a luxurious Dior dress and saves up her money to buy one from the maker in Paris. It looks like there are some other themes about following your heart and it never being too late to find something/someone you love but, if it weren’t for the cast, I would probably just look the other way on yet another Euro-centric period piece. It looks pretty cute and I know the performances will be on point, but the odds of me making time to see this in theaters is slim.
Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down (Theaters)
Directors: Julie Cohen and Betsy West
Starring: Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly
In 2011, there was an assassination attempt against Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Six people were killed and 19 were injured by gunfire, including Giffords who was critically injured by a bullet that struck her in the head. This documentary takes a look at the incident, her courageous fight to survive, and the lasting effects of the damage she sustained. I was getting misty-eyed just watching the trailer because I remember that day and to see that instances of gun violence in public have only continued to get worse, this movie comes at a time when it is much needed. This was the runner-up for my Editor’s Pick.
*Gone in the Night (Theaters) – Editor’s Pick*
Writers: Matthew Derby, Eli Horowitz | Director: Eli Horowitz
Starring: Winona Ryder, Sedrick Cabrera, Dermot Mulroney and John Gallagher Jr.
Kath and Max rent a remote cabin for a weekend getaway but, when they arrive, they find another, younger, couple already there. With nowhere else to go in the middle of the night, they decide to stay but, when Kath wakes up the next morning to find Max and the young woman are both gone, she becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened. This is a good role for Winona Ryder and a good feature directorial debut opportunity for Homecoming creator Eli Horowitz. This is a small-scale production but I like that set-up for a dark, character-driven mystery that pushes genre boundaries. It has the most intriguing setup, and that’s why I gave this one my Editor’s Pick.
Don’t Make Me Go (Amazon)
Writer: Vera Herbert | Director: Hannah Marks
Starring: John Cho, Mia Isaac, and Kaya Scodelario
A single dad takes his daughter on a road trip to find her mom while he struggles with how to disclose his terminal cancer diagnosis. John Cho has found himself pretty firmly in dad territory now, but he’s shown himself to be a good in those roles given the chance. He’s in good hands with Hannah Marks in the director’s chair as she steps into her third feature, and with Vera Herbert on the screenplay coming off the emotional depths of This Is Us. You know you are in for an emotional drama, but it can work well if it’s handled right.
What Else Is New…
American Carnage (Theaters + VOD)
Writers: Diego & Julio Hallivis | Director: Diego Hallivis
Starring: Jenna Ortega, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Allen Maldonado
A group of teens/young adults who are the children of undocumented immigrants are arrested but offered a chance to eliminate their sentences in exchange for participating in some elder care programs. Something is definitely up with the old folks in the facility and the kids’ “volunteer” work turns into a nightmare. Jenna Ortega has been strong in everything she’s done and I see no reason why she won’t excel in this role too. This movie has some Get Out vibes but a seemingly lighter tone and more of a focus on comedy. Horror comedies can be very good when done correctly, but it’s not easy to balance both sides of that equation.
She Will (Theaters + VOD)
Writers: Kitty Percy, Charlotte Colbert | Director: Charlotte Colbert
Starring: Alice Krige, Malcolm McDowell, and Rupert Everett
The debut feature from director and co-writer Charlotte Colbert follows a woman who heads to a Scottish healing retreat after undergoing a double mastectomy. Her recovery brings some existential questions to the surface and her past trauma gives life to a mysterious and powerful subconscious force. This story reminds me a bit of a comic series I read recently called MAW but, anyway, Alice Krige is great and pairing her with Malcolm McDowell really piques my interest. The trailer presents as horror even though it’s tagged as a thriller. I am curious to see how much bleed there is because the substance seems pretty dark psychologically.
Writer: Julia Yorks | Director: Kyle Newman
Starring: Paris Berelc, Ruby Rose, and Hari Nef
Take Pitch Perfect, trade the singing competition for e-sports gaming and shift the fulcrum from classism to sexism and you’ve got 1UP. I enjoyed Pitch Perfect enough, but there were already three of those movies and I see little else that can be taken from Amazon running that formula again. Yes, the world of gaming isn’t just for guys but I don’t think this was the best way to tell that story. Ruby Rose has cultivated a very particular look that has made her famous and she was in Pitch Perfect 3, so she knows the playbook, but acting is a different animal and casting her in the mentor role seems like a miss. There is an outside chance everything clicks, but there’s probably a reason this movie has no Rotten Tomatoes score, no Metacritic score, and an abysmal 2.3 on IMDB so far.
Writers: Ron Bass & Alice Victoria Winslow, Jane Austen (novel)
Director: Carrie Cracknell
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Henry Golding, Cosmo Jarvis, and Richard E. Grant
Adapting Jane Austin works is nearly as old as the film industry itself and, by my count, this is the fifth adaptation of Persuasion (although I think one isn’t finished yet). What is there to say when there’s nothing new being brought to the table? Dakota Johnson has worked to distance herself from the Fifty Shades franchise and she probably had fun with this, but the whole thing is just painfully generic. It’s on Netflix if you are so inclined but I am just going to move on.
The Deer King (Theaters)
Writers: Taku Kishimoto, Nahoko Uehashi (story)
Directors: Masashi Ando, Masayuki Miyaji
Starring (voices): Anne, Luis Bermudez, Ray Chase
The trailer didn’t inform me much but the description says, “The last survivor of a band of warriors is enslaved in a salt mine. One night, savage dogs attack and a mysterious disease wipes out everyone at the mine. The warrior escapes with a little girl, while a gifted physician looks for a cure.” Both the writers and directors have been around a lot of other high-profile anime, so that bodes well but otherwise it’s tough to say.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Expands)
Writers: Dean Fleischer-Camp, Elisabeth Holm, Nick Paley, Jenny Slate
Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp
Starring: Jenny Slate (voice), Dean Fleischer-Camp, and Isabella Rossellini (voice)
One of my favorite films of the year heads into wide release, so if you were interested after hearing my review, you can find it more easily now.
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