Movie Roundup – March / July 2022

Here are some other films I watched between March and July, in alphabetical order.

wdقهرمان (A Hero – 2021)

written and directed by Asghar Farhadi

Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is an average man serving a prison sentence for defaulting on a debt. His girlfriend Farkondeh (Sahar Goldoost) finds a bag with gold coins, and together they try to sell them so Rahim can repay his creditor. But Rahim’s sister (Maryam Shahdaei) convinces him to look for the owner and return the gold. He does, and soon he becomes a celebrity for his good deed. To say more would spoil writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s carefully constructed morality play قهرمان (English title: A Hero), in which every decision carries with it the possibility of praise or condemnation, entangled by family, technology, and the cultural mores of Iranian society.

Rating: ***

Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

written and directed by S. Craig Zahler

Dragged Across Concrete is a strange movie. But if you’re like me, you’ll certainly appreciate writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s unorthodox crime thriller about two strapped-for-cash detectives, Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), who decide to steal from a bunch of bank robbers. You can tell Zahler is into the same type of pulpy low-budget cinema that Quentin Tarantino loves, down to the brutal outbursts of graphic violence. But his style is completely different: Minimalist, methodical, and nihilistic to its core. Best of all? Darkly funny. When Lurasetti declares, “This is a bad idea… It’s bad like lasagna in a can,” you laugh uncomfortably. Because you know death is coming… and it’ll drag everyone across concrete.

Rating: ***

The Night House (2021)

written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski

directed by David Bruckner

Horror is one of those genres that allow for plenty of interesting concepts, yet so few are actually developed into cohesive narratives. The Night House is another one of those movies that starts with an intriguing idea – a devastated widow (Rebecca Hall) discovers a reverse duplicate of her lakeside home, built secretly by her late husband (Evan Jonigkeit) to ward off an evil entity. It sounds intriguing, and for a while I thought the whole thing would develop into a much more incisive reflection on loss and grief. But whatever its metaphorical ambitions, The Night House soon becomes just another ho-hum frightener. For a much better haunted house flick, also starring Hall, check out The Awakening (2011) instead.

Rating: **

Oblivion (2013)

written by Karl Gajdusek and Michael deBruyn

based on a story by Joseph Kosinki

directed by Joseph Kosinki

Tom Cruise has starred in a handful of sci-fi films, some cool (2002’s Minority Report), some fun (2014’s Edge of Tomorrow), some so-so (2005’s War of the Worlds), and some plain dumb (2001’s Vanilla Sky). Oblivion falls somewhere in-between, a post-apocalyptic adventure in which extraterrestrials – called “scavengers” – have decimated Earth and the remaining humans have relocated to Titan. Technician Jack Harper (Cruise) is one of the few still on the planet, protecting hydroelectric platforms from further attacks. Except that the aliens are really a ragtag bunch of survivors led by Morgan Freeman. And Jack is actually a clone. And the woman he just found in a hibernation pod? That’s his wife. And… well, it’s all unnecessarily complicated. But director Joseph Kosinki has a great eye, and same as with his earlier Tron: Legacy (2010), he lets the sweeping visual effects carry Oblivion to the finish line. Forget the plot contrivances and enjoy the drone chases. I did.

Rating: **½

Promising Young Woman (2020)

written and directed by Emerald Fennell

Cassie (Carey Mulligan) was once a medical school prodigy with a bright future. Now she’s in her thirties, lives at home with her parents, and works a dead-end job as a barista. She also pretends to be drunk at clubs so that she can expose men as the disgusting sexual predators they are… and boy, do they deserve it. Trauma is at the center of Promising Young Woman, a no-holds-barred dark comedy/thriller that somehow gets away with its mix of wicked fun and uncomfortable subject matter. Mulligan is a force of nature, playing a broken woman obsessed with avenging the rape and death of her best friend years ago. And first-time director Emerald Fennell juggles disparate tones with a sure hand that would make more veteran filmmakers flinch. A promising young woman indeed.

Rating: ***

부산행 (Train to Busan – 2016)

written by Park Joo-suk

directed by Yeon Sang-ho

Zombie apocalypse? Still cool. Aboard a high-speed train? Even cooler. You’ve seen these hordes of fast-moving undead before, most notably in 28 Days Later (2008) and World War Z (2013). But South Korea’s 부산행 (English title – Train to Busan) ups the ante, pitting a bunch of passengers against a bunch of reanimated corpses aboard a locomotive. It’s breezy fun, but writer Park Joo-suk and director Yeon Sang-ho also get points for keeping things focused on the characters, which include a divorced father (Gong Yoo) trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Kim Su-an). They’ll remake this soon for an American audience (and most probably ruin it), so check it out before they do.

Rating: **½

The Vigil (2019)

written and directed by Keith Thomas

Similar to my comments on The Night House above, The Vigil has a great premise: Yakov (Dave Davis), a young man struggling with his faith as an Orthodox Jew, accepts a job keeping vigil over the dead body of a member of the community – a ritual known as shemira. Too bad there’s also a nasty demon around. I was really hoping to like The Vigil, but you know how I feel about supernatural entities making phone calls or manipulating videos – it’s always ridiculous. Still, kudos for coming up with a clever way to explain why the main character can’t just leave. It involves broken bones. Ouch.

Rating: **

YellowBrickRoad (2010)

written and directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton

Guess I’ve been busy watching horror these past few months. YellowBrickRoad continues my diatribe about mediocre horror movies like The Night House and The Vigil in which an interesting idea does not a good movie make. A film crew comes to a small town in order to investigate an incident years ago in which the whole community mysteriously walked into the wilderness; some died gruesomely, the others plain vanished. Soon the filmmakers walk the same path and start to go mad. The trippy images ain’t bad, but YellowBrickRoad is just not scary or stylish enough to step out from the shadows of other lost-in-the-woods creepers such as The Blair Witch Project (1999).

Rating: **

Carlos I. Cuevas