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4K Ultra HD Review: DC League of Super-Pets

October 4, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

DC League of Super-Pets is an animated comic book movie about Superman’s best friend; a super-powered dog named Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) who came to earth with him as a baby from the planet Krypton and continues to be his closest companion.

Krypto has settled into a comfy life in Metropolis with his Supes (John Krasinski), taking daily flights with him and stopping crime around the city. But Krypto gets jealous of Superman’s blossoming relationship with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), and worried that he will be replaced by her.

When Superman and the Justice League – Batman (Keanu Reeves), Aquaman (Jemaine Clement), Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), The Flash (John Early), Cyborg (Daveed Diggs) and Green Lantern (Dascha Polanco) – are taken by Lex Luthor (Marc Maron), Krypto must accept help from a team of shelter animals who gain their own super powers from a piece of orange Kryptonite and correspond with the Justice League.

There’s hardened dog Ace (Kevin Hart), a boxer mix who gains strength; potbellied pig and Wonder Woman fangirl PB (Vanessa Bayer), who is able to grow and shrink in size; the elderly turtle Merton (Natasha Lyonne), who gains super-speed; and anxious squirrel Chip (Diego Luna), who can harness electricity. They also have to contend with a hairless guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon), a former lab animal with a major chip on her shoulder and a passion for world domination.

From here, DC League of Super-Pets goes exactly where you predict, playing out like a cross between The Secret Life of Pets and a riff on superhero movies. The story is not exactly revelatory compared to any number of other animated films, and the broad messages about teamwork and recognizing each other’s strengths are exactly what we expect, but Super-Pets offers them in a colourful and fairly enjoyable package.

The Warner Animation Group film is brought to life through lively vocal performances from the celebrity voice cast, and there is some nice animation by the Australian studio Animal Logic (particularly during a well done flashback showing Ace’s backstory). The mostly appealing visual style of the film mixes the cute animals with some lush backgrounds – including an Art Deco-inspired Metropolis – and more caricatured, action figure-y designs of the human superhero characters.

The film is often goofy and cartoony, and filled with obligatory callbacks to the DCEU, but the story also has a surprising amount of heart as it shows the bond between dogs and humans, as well as encouraging people to give shelter animals a second chance. It’s definitely a movie that is made more for kids, with some jokes being geared towards the younger crowd, but there is some stuff here for adults to enjoy as well. I didn’t mind watching it, and it’s cute and amusing enough to pass the time.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The 4K offers an expectedly sharp and colourful viewing experience, and the set comes with a regular Blu-ray disc where the bonus features – a selection of featurettes and deleted scenes – are held. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which comes with a slipcover.

How to Draw Krypto (6 minutes, 48 seconds): Animation supervisor David Burgess teaches us how to draw Krypto the Super-Dog.

Behind the Super Voices (14 minutes, 39 seconds): The main cast members talk about their characters, with director Jared Stern and others sharing what it was like to work with them.

Super-Pets Animation 101 (8 minutes, 18 seconds): Producer Patricia Hicks, writer/co-director Sam J. Levine, animation supervisor David Burgess, layout supervisor Régis Schuller, discuss the designs of the animal characters and how they resemble with their human counterparts.

The World of Super-Pets (7 minutes, 41 seconds): Hicks, Levine, Stern and Burgess are joined by art director Kristen Anderson and production designer Kim Taylor to discuss the design of the world.

Find the Easter Eggs (3 minutes, 39 seconds): Levine and Stern take us through some of the many Easter Eggs and DC references in the film.

Deleted Scenes (Play All – 20 minutes, 48 seconds): A dozen deleted scenes presented mostly in storyboard form.

Storm Scenes

SC 50: Meet the Rescue Animals (Backstory Version)

SC 100: Krypto Powerless

SC 110: Wild for the Night

SC 135: Lulu Visits LexCorp

SC 170 Hero Team Assemble (Previous Version)

SC 190: Meanwhile at the HOJ (A)

SC 220: Meanwhile at the HOJ (B)

SC 285: Capturing the JLA

SC 340: Stryker’s Island

SC 367: Lulu Gathers the Troops

SC 377: Krypto’s Solo Flight

DC League of Super-Pets is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 105 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: October 4th, 2022

Blu-ray Review: The Munsters (Collector’s Edition)

October 3, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The Munsters is a mix of passion project and glorified fan film from horror filmmaker Rob Zombie, that serves as an uneven but at times mildly amusing reboot of the 1960s sitcom about a monster family living in suburbia.

Zombie’s film is a prequel of sorts to the series, with much of the story taking place in Transylvania. The loose plot covers the romance between reanimated Frankenstein’s monster Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and the 150-year-old vampire Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie), daughter of The Count (Daniel Roebuck), showing how they came to America and got their house on Mockingbird Lane.

Better known for his R-rated gore fests like House of 1000 Corpses and the two Halloween remakes, The Munsters finds Zombie working in PG-rated, family movie territory for the first time in his career. There is a campy innocence to it that does keep true to the spirit of the show, with Zombie also paying homage to the classic Universal monster movies, and you can’t say that his film isn’t sincere.

It’s all knowingly cheesy, from Zombie’s screenplay offering a litany of silly puns, sight gags and corny jokes, to the cartoonish transitions between scenes and low-budget special effects. The props look like props and the costumes look like costumes, especially under some harsh lighting, but this is also kind of the point. The entire production has a Spirit Halloween aesthetic to it that is clearly intentional. Yes, the end result looks sort of cheap, but this gives it an old school, homemade quality that suits the material.

The biggest issue with The Munsters is that it’s not paced particularly well, with scenes that go on longer than they need to and no real drive or momentum to it. The episodic story often spins it’s wheels at an overlong 110 minutes, and it can feel more like a series of throwback sketches strung together, before morphing into a different movie in the last act and then just sort of ending. It’s kinda messy and not very well structured as a feature film, but there are still amusing moments scattered throughout, and the cast members – particularly Phillips and Roebuck – do commit to their roles.

It’s not completely successful, and there probably isn’t a ton here for those who aren’t already fans of the property. But I’m weirdly happy for Zombie that he got to make this goofy tribute to his favourite show growing up, and there is some enjoyment to be found in his quirky vision. I don’t think it entirely works as a film, and The Munsters is way too long. But it’s still pretty cool that a project like this got made, and there’s enough here to amuse that I can see certain audiences taking to it.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray comes with the welcome addition of an hour-long documentary on the production as well as a commentary track. The package also ships with a slipcover.

The Munsters: Return to Mockingbird Lane (61 minutes, 52 seconds)

Feature Commentary with Director/Writer/Producer Rob Zombie

The Munsters is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 110 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: September 27th, 2022

New This Week (09/30/2022): Bros, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, Hocus Pocus 2, & More!

September 30, 2022

By John Corrado

New releases for the week of September 30th, 2022.

Theatrical Releases:

Bros (Wide Release): Following its world premiere at TIFF three weeks ago, Bros is now playing in theatres, and I don’t have enough good things to say about this incredibly entertaining and also quite sweet romantic comedy starring Billy Eichner, who co-wrote the perceptive and very funny script. It’s produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Nicholas Stoller, both veterans of the genre. As I wrote in my #TIFF22 review, this is “the big, R-rated gay rom-com we deserve,” and I stand by that. I adored this one for obvious reasons, and hope other audiences take to it as well. (TIFF 2022 Review)

The Good House (Limited Release): This is a movie that actually premiered at last year’s TIFF, and is finally getting a theatrical release now. Sigourney Weaver stars as an alcoholic real estate agent in a small New England town who falls back in love with an old flame (Kevin Kline). It’s mostly enjoyable as a throwback romantic dramedy, save for a jarring tonal shift in the last act. (TIFF 2021 Review)

More Releases: Smile (Wide), God’s Creatures (Limited), Ponniyin Selvan: I (TIFF Bell Lightbox)

Streaming Releases:

The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Apple TV+): Despite receiving mixed reviews from a lot of critics, I actually enjoyed this one when I saw it at TIFF a couple of weeks ago. Based on a pretty wild true story, Peter Farrelly’s followup up to his Oscar-winning Green Book stars a very good Zac Efron as a man who brought beers to his buddies in Vietnam, and it functions as an enjoyable mix of buddy comedy with Efron’s character learning some deeper lessons about the war. A fine streaming choice. (TIFF 2022 Review)

Hocus Pocus 2 (Disney+): Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker have a ball reprising their roles as the witchy Sanderson Sisters in this direct-to-streaming legacy sequel to Disney’s 1993 Halloween classic, and it’s a surprisingly enjoyable affair that offers a good mix of callbacks for fans while also playing to a new audience. I had fun with it, and it’s a good choice for families this Spooky Season. (Disney+ Review)

Dead for a Dollar (VOD Release): Walter Hill’s stab at making an old Western is a fairly decent genre exercise, nothing more and nothing less. It’s a little dry in places, but with some good dialogue exchanges and fine performances from a cast led by Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe and Rachel Brosnahan. It’s fine enough for what it is, especially at home. (VOD Review)

More Releases: Carmen (VOD), Blonde (Netflix)

VOD Review: Dead for a Dollar

September 30, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Dead for a Dollar is a pretty good new Western written and directed by Walter Hill, the veteran filmmaker who has played around in the genre before, while perhaps being best known for action comedies like the 48 Hrs. films and the cult classic rock musical Streets of Fire.

The film opens in New Mexico circa 1897, with the reunion of pragmatic career bounty hunter Max Borlund (Christoph Waltz), and Joe Cribbens (Willem Dafoe), a criminal and gambler who has just finished his jail sentence and has a bone to pick with Borlund for putting him there in the first place.

Max is hired by the wealthy landowner Martin Kidd (Hamish Linklater) to bring back his wife Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), who was taken across the Mexican border by Elijah Jones (Brandon Scott), an African-American deserter from the army. But what is allegedly a kidnapping is actually a consensual relationship between the interracial couple, with Rachel choosing to flee her abusive husband. Max is working with Alonzo Poe (Warren Burke), a former ally of Elijah’s who has chosen a different path for a Black man in the Wild West as a means of survival.

The first stretch of Dead for a Dollar is all about offering slow-burn buildup to the final shootout, with the expected standoffs and tense arguments. If this approach can make the film feel overly dry in places, Hill’s screenplay (from a story co-credited to Hill and Matt Harris) features some well-written dialogue exchanges between its different morally ambiguous characters, while also exploring the racial politics of the American Frontier. It’s brought to the screen through some competent framing by cinematographer Lloyd Ahern II (if the washed out, slightly dusty colour grade at times makes it look a little flat), and a decent Western-influenced musical score by Xander Rodzinski.

The result is a fairly decent stab at making an old Western, nothing more and nothing less. If Dead for a Dollar never fully feels like it builds to being more than the sum of its parts, and the storytelling is a bit needlessly convoluted, Hill’s film is still frequently good enough purely as a genre exercise. It’s carried by fine performances from a cast led by old pros Waltz and Dafoe, who, as expected, are satisfying to watch in their few scenes together, with Brosnahan holding her own in a supporting role.

Dead for a Dollar is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Quiver Distribution.

Disney+ Review: Hocus Pocus 2

September 29, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The witches are back in the new Disney+ legacy sequel Hocus Pocus 2, which sees those eccentric Sanderson Sisters – Winnie (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) – returning to modern day Salem.

Set 29 years after the events (and release) of Disney’s 1993 film Hocus Pocus, this surprisingly fun sequel follows a new group of teenagers who accidentally bring the three witches from the 1600s back to life by lighting the Black Flame Candle on Halloween.

Becca (Whitney Peak) is an aspiring witch whose birthday falls on Halloween, with her annual tradition being to have a sleepover with her best friends Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), and spend the night reciting spells and watching scary movies. But things are a little different this year, and there is a rift in their friend circle.

While Becca and Izzy are perpetual outsiders and still quite close, Cassie has become popular and drifted away from their trio, and is planning her own Halloween house party while her father Jefry Traske (Tony Hale), who happens to be the Mayor of Salem, is busy with the town’s festivities. Becca is given an old candle as a gift from Gilbert (Sam Richardson), the eccentric owner of a magic shop where the old spell book belonging to the Sanderson Sisters is held. The candle is lit, the Sanderson Sisters come back looking for the book, and the girls have until dawn to send them back.

As far as direct-to-streaming legacy sequels that weren’t really needed go, Hocus Pocus 2 is actually a surprisingly enjoyable one. Directed by Anne Fletcher (Step Up, The Proposal), the film finds a good balance between offering moments of fan service and callbacks to the original – including the well handled return of the sisters’ reanimated former lover, Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) – while also successfully playing to a new audience as a slightly spooky but mostly fun Halloween movie.

It’s a followup that likely wouldn’t have even existed in its current form if the original film had not gained such a following (and gotten a reappraisal) from nineties kids who grew up with it, and Hocus Pocus 2 smartly plays to this contingent of the audience as well. This is homage to the first as much as anything else, with the Sanderson Sisters being treated by many in Salem as icons worthy of Halloween costumes much in the same the characters are in our world. It’s fitting, then, that Hocus Pocus 2 also acknowledges the campy (i.e., queer) following that the first film has gained, including an amusing costume contest sequence involving drag queens.

The film largely follows the same beats as the first one, but the screenplay by TV writer Jen D’Angelo has enough bits that work for the film to be satisfying overall (including a very good opening prologue that serves as a flashback to when the Sanderson Sisters were young in the late-1600s). If this sequel’s three new teenage leads maybe aren’t always as compellingly written as the young characters in the original, their story of friendship does nicely mirror that of the Sanderson Sisters.

Put simply, Hocus Pocus 2 works as an undemanding good time that offers exactly what you want as both legacy sequel and spooky season treat. Middler, Najimy and Parker are simply having so much fun reprising their beloved Halloween character roles, whether delightfully riffing off each other or during the boisterous musical numbers, that it’s hard not to have a ball along with them.

Hocus Pocus 2 will be available to stream exclusively on Disney+ as of September 30th.

4K Ultra HD Review: The War of the Worlds (1953) and When Worlds Collide (1951)

September 28, 2022

By John Corrado

Paramount is releasing the 1953 adaptation of The War of the Worlds for the first time on 4K Ultra HD this week, in a set that also includes the 1951 film When Worlds Collide on Blu-ray. The two sci-fi films were both produced by George Pal, and present a compelling double feature.

The main attraction here is the 4K restoration of director Byron Haskin’s classic take on the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds, starring Gene Barry as a scientist who is brought in to help study a pod that crash lands in the desert and signals the arrival of martian invaders, as entire cities start falling to the aliens with deadly lasers and tricolour eyes.

It had been a little while since I watched this film, and I’d forgotten how almost impressively bleak it becomes as a portrait of first contact and society devolving into chaos as the world ends, building to its spiritual, quietly hopeful finale. The 4K offers a truly impressive upgrade for the Technicolor film (which had previously been released on Blu-ray through Criterion), with a rich and vibrant image that offers incredible clarity, resulting in the best possible presentation of this landmark picture.

While bundled as the “B-movie” of this science fiction double feature, When Worlds Collide is much better than this designation might suggest. Richard Derr stars as a hot shot pilot who gets caught in the middle when astronomers discover an unknown star (Bellus) hurtling towards Earth at alarming speed, with a new planet (Zyra) that is orbiting it, spelling the end of civilization. A plan is hatched to escape to Zyra when the planet passes close enough to Earth, raising ethical questions about who will be selected for a spot on the rocket ship, with weight and fuel limitations needing to be taken into account.

Adapted from a serialized story co-written by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie, and directed by Polish cinematographer Rudolph Maté (who worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Foreign Correspondent), When Worlds Collide often feels quasi-Biblical with its allusions to the story of Noah’s Ark. While maybe a bit stagey at times in terms of its execution, there is a sense of dread running through the film as scientists struggle to convince the public that the star and planet pose a real risk, and chaos erupts as people fight for one of the limited seats on the escape pod to repopulate the new planet. The Blu-ray presentation is sold, and it’s a hugely influential work that deserves to be rediscovered.

Aside from both being sci-fi films from the 1950s that share a producer and deal with different “end of days” scenarios, The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide also both won Oscars for best special effects in their respective years. Paramount has done a good job of presenting them together, with the stature of the former film helping to shine a much deserved spotlight on the latter.

Bonus Features:

The set includes bonus features on both discs, with the majority of them accompanying The War of the Worlds on the 4K disc. Digital copy codes for both films are also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

The War of the Worlds (4K Ultra HD):

The Sky is Falling: Making The War of the Worlds (29 minutes, 59 seconds)

H.G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction (10 minutes, 29 seconds)

The Mercury Theatre On the Air Presents The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (59 minutes, 30 seconds): The infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast from October 30th, 1938, which reportedly caused people to think a real martian invasion was taking place.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 20 seconds)

When Worlds Collide (Blu-ray):

Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes)

The War of the Worlds (1953) and When Worlds Collide (1951) is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. The War of the Worlds is 85 minutes and When Worlds Collide is 82 minutes, both are rated PG.

Street Date: September 27th, 2022

Blu-ray Review: Mean Girls (SteelBook Edition)

September 27, 2022

By John Corrado

Paramount is releasing a new edition of the 2004 teen comedy Mean Girls on Blu-ray today. Dubbed the “So Fetch! Limited Edition,” this new release features SteelBook packaging tied to the film.

With a screenplay by Tina Fey, the film itself is a wicked sharp satire of high school politics that unfolds around the formerly home-schooled outsider Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) who infiltrates “The Plastics,” a mean girl clique led by the popular Regina George (Rachel McAdams).

The dark pink SteelBook package is designed to look like the infamous “Burn Book” seen in the film, complete with pencil scribblings and lipstick marks on the back. On the inside panels are a series of photos and quotes from the film, reminding us of several iconic moments.

As I said to in my review of the standard edition Blu-ray that was put out in honour of the film’s 15th anniversary a few years ago, Mean Girls is nothing short of a modern classic, that has had an indelible impact on pop culture. While some new bonus material would have been nice, this SteelBook functions as both a cool set for Mean Girls fans and physical media collectors alike. It’s also conveniently timed to coincide with the Toronto production of Mean Girls the Musical opening next month.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The bonus features remain the same as on previous releases, including a commentary track and several archival featurettes. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package.

Commentary by Director Mark Waters, Screenwriter & Actress Tina Fey and Producer Lorne Michaels

Featurettes (Play All – 45 minutes, 52 seconds)

Only the Strong Survive (24 minutes, 52 seconds)

The Politics of Girl World (10 minutes, 33 seconds)

Plastic Fashion (10 minutes, 25 seconds)

Word Vomit – Blooper Reel (5 minutes, 44 seconds)

So Fetch – Deleted Scenes (Play All – 7 minutes, 1 second): Presented with optional commentary by Fey and Waters.

Damian Rigs Table (32 seconds)

112, Excellent! (1 minute, 12 seconds)

Mom’s Underwear (40 seconds)

Shoe Shopping (29 seconds)

Tonight I’ll Like It (21 seconds)

Eaten by Cannibals (45 seconds)

Regina in Bed (49 seconds)

Norbury’s Car Explodes (32 seconds)

Cady and Regina in the Bathroom (1 minute, 37 seconds)

Interstitials (Play All – 1 minute, 39 seconds)

Frenemies (33 seconds)

New Girl (33 seconds)

PSA (33 seconds)

Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 35 seconds)

Mean Girls (SteelBook Edition) is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 96 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: September 27th, 2022

Blu-ray Review: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (Collector’s Edition)

September 26, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A housecleaner dreams of owning a Christian Dior gown in the delightful Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, which has to be one of the nicest cinematic surprises of the year.

Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) is a war widow who is just making ends meet as a cleaner and seamstress in 1950s London. When she becomes enchanted by a Dior dress that she sees hanging in the home of one of her rich clients (Anna Chancellor), she starts saving her money for a trip to Paris so she can buy one of her own.

The active nature of the film’s title lets us know that she will get to France, but the journey includes a variety of successes and setbacks. Mrs. Harris ends up having to stay in Paris for at least a week while she is fitted for the dress, where she bumps into a variety of characters that both help and hinder her in her goal.

There’s Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert), who serves as the director of the House of Dior and acts as elite gatekeeper for the rich clientele; the young accountant André (Lucas Bravo), who has his own ideas for reinvigorating the flagging company; and the French model Natasha (Alba Baptista), who would rather be reading the work of Sartre and other existentialists. Back in London, Mrs. Harris has her best friend Violet (Ellen Thomas), as well as Archie (Jason Isaacs), the attractive gentleman who has asked her for a dance at the legion hall.

Directed by Anthony Fabian, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is an example of a film that does almost exactly what we expect it to do, but does it extremely well. The screenplay (co-written by Fabian and adapted from Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, which has been adapted for TV twice before) nicely sets up a series of conflicts involving its colourful cast of characters, and blossoms in some lovely ways to offer several deeply satisfying payoffs. 

The film is carried by an utterly charming performance from Manville, who captures the genuine joie de vivre that Mrs. Harris exudes. She portrays her as a working woman who chooses to keep her chin up as a way to not get bogged down by a lifetime of disappointment and grief, while revealing bittersweet moments when she lets regret seep in. That the relatively simple stakes of the story feel so engaging is a testament to the likability of Manville’s performance, making the title character’s longing for her own piece of haute couture feel genuinely relatable and never completely frivolous.

We not only root for Mrs. Harris to get the dress, but enjoy doing so, and find ourselves sharing her frustration when things don’t go right. The story is brought to the screen with fine attention to period details, including the impeccable costumes by three-time Oscar-winner Jenny Beaven, who recreates classic Dior gowns. It’s a good old fashioned feel-good movie that I thoroughly enjoyed watching.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray includes a few short bonus features. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (Play All – 4 minutes, 24 seconds): Two brief moments clipped from the final cut, followed by a full version of the dinner cabaret performance seen in the film.

Ada Rushes Toward the Metro (25 seconds)

Ada Wants to Speak to André (22 seconds)

Full Cabaret (3 minutes, 36 seconds)

Gag Reel (5 minutes, 14 seconds): A classic gag reel made enjoyable thanks to the charming cast.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 115 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: September 6th, 2022

Review: Don’t Worry Darling

September 23, 2022

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Neither good nor bad enough to fully justify its widely publicized behind the scenes drama, Olivia Wilde’s overly ambitious second feature Don’t Worry Darling is instead a thoroughly mediocre and undercooked effort that tries to be a lot of things, but doesn’t really do any of them particularly well.

Florence Pugh stars in the film as Alice, a young woman who is living in a seemingly utopian 1950s suburban community with her husband Jack Chambers (Harry Styles). It’s a community where, almost like clockwork, the men all drive to work in the morning to go to their secretive jobs, while the wives stay at home to cook and clean and look after the kids.

They are part of something called the Victory Project, a housing development in the middle of the desert run by a man named Frank (Chris Pine), a shadowy figure whom all the men work for and desperately try to impress. But everything is not as it seems. While many residents, like Alice’s friend and neighbour Bunny (Wilde, in a campy supporting role) seem perfectly happy fulfilling the stereotypical gender roles, Alice starts to feel a discontent that leads to her asking questions about the true nature of her idyllic world.

Before I go any further, it’s worth noting that Pugh is very good here. She acts her ass off (for lack of a better phrase) as she tries to hold up the entire movie around her. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is also quite solid, capturing the pastel colours of this 1950s suburbia (a fine feat of production design), with his camera swirling above for bird’s eye view shots. But the best efforts of Pugh and Libatique can’t fully save the film from sort of crumbling apart as it goes along.

Not to dump on Styles or anything – I do like him as a performer and he is okay in a few scenes – but he also doesn’t really have the range yet to pull off the nuances of this character, and his acting often feels amateurish. There are moments (such as a scene when he attempts to prepare dinner by hammering a bowl of uncooked potatoes with a whisky bottle) where his performance just doesn’t land. I don’t really know if he would have been given this role had he not already been famous. The other issue is that it still feels like we are supposed to like Styles, when his character requires someone who can grapple with the underlying darkness.

Which brings us to the behind the scenes drama. Shia LaBeouf was originally cast as Jack, but dropped out. Wilde then claimed she fired him due to his behaviour, which was put to rest when LaBeouf released a video message of her begging him to come back, and condescending Pugh (“Miss Flo”). Wilde, who was married to Jason Sudeikis at the time, also infamously had an on-set affair with Styles, which drew the ire of Pugh, who had a falling out with the director. This was evidenced by the dynamics at the Venice Film Festival. Now how frustrating it must be for Wilde that Pugh, who basically recused herself from the publicity tour, has taken the lion’s share of praise for her film.

The trouble is that Wilde, whose only previous film was the enjoyable if overpraised 2019 comedy Booksmart, seems to think she is making a cross between The Stepford Wives, A Clockwork Orange, Blue Velvet, The Truman Show, The Matrix, Get Out and Us (both Jordan Peele movies feel like pretty big influences), and simply isn’t a strong enough filmmaker to really pull it off. Even as a pastiche of cinematic references, this might have worked better if it had been guided by more confident hands, but the film’s trendy, TikTok-level politics end up feeling plasticy and surface deep.

Yes, there was darkness hidden behind the seemingly perfect facade of 1950s suburbia, but this is hardly a new idea, and the film is never as deep as it seems to think it is in addressing it. The screenplay by Booksmart scribe Katie Silberman (who overhauled a spec script by Carey and Shane Van Dyke that made the 2019 Black List) introduces some vaguely interesting ideas, but doesn’t do the adequate follow up work to really address them, and ultimately leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions in the last act. And not in an intriguing way, mind you, but in a frustrating way that makes the film feel almost wholly underdeveloped and not fully fleshed out.

The other problem is that the story requires it to go some very dark places, but Don’t Worry Darling still feels like it is trying to be a piece of glossy, easily digestible entertainment. An early moment when Alice starts to notice something is off is when she cracks an egg in her hand and realizes it is just an empty shell. This serves as a pretty nifty metaphor for the film itself; an empty vessel that looks smooth and perfect on the outside, but with none of the required ingredients on the inside.

Why, then, if the reach of Don’t Worry Darling so clearly supersedes its grasp, am I not completely writing off the film? It’s simply because I was rarely bored during it. For all of the story problems and messiness, Pugh does keep us watching, and there is a “fascinating misfire” feel to the entire thing that has been fuelled by the gossip of what transpired on-set. I just wish there was more beneath the surface of a story that demands more depth that what it has been given. But see it if you’re curious what all of the fuss is about.

Don’t Worry Darling is now playing exclusively in theatres.

New This Week (09/23/2022): Don’t Worry Darling, Eternal Spring, Blonde, & More!

September 23, 2022

By John Corrado

New releases for the week of September 23rd, 2022.

Theatrical Releases:

Avatar (Theatrical Re-Release): Disney is re-releasing James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster Avatar back into theatres today, in 3D and IMAX, leading up to the release of the long-awaited sequel Avatar: The Way of Water in December.

Don’t Worry Darling (Wide Release): After a lot of early buzz and behind the scenes drama that has trickled out into the open, Olivia Wilde’s ambitious second feature starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles is finally opening this weekend. I saw it at one of the early shows yesterday, and it’s neither as good nor as bad as it could have been, and ultimately a thoroughly mediocre, undercooked affair that should still draw an audience for its stars. (Full Review)

Eternal Spring (Limited Release): Director Jason Loftus’s documentary Eternal Spring won both the Audience Award and Rogers Audience Award for Best Canadian Documentary at this year’s Hot Docs. The film uses vivid animation to recount the story of a group of activists who hijacked a Chinese state TV broadcast to challenge propaganda about the persecuted religious group Falun Gong. It’s very well done, and also Canada’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature, so worth checking out. (Hot Docs 2022 Review)

Blonde (Limited Release): There is a ton of controversy surrounding Andrew Dominik’s NC-17 biopic of Marilyn Monroe, which stars Ana de Armas in the iconic role. I’m incredibly curious to check it out for myself in the next little bit. It’s opening today in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, before coming to Netflix on September 28th. (Review coming soon!)

More Releases: Bandit (Limited), Clerks III (Limited), Catherine Called Birdy (TIFF Bell Lightbox), God’s Country (TIFF Bell Lightbox)

Streaming Releases:

On the Come Up (Paramount+): I was not a fan of this one at TIFF. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Angie Thomas (who also wrote The Hate U Give), and follows an aspiring battle rapper. I found it to be heavy-handed, cliched, and not particularly well made. But younger audiences and fans of the book may beg to differ. (TIFF 2022 Review)

More Releases: Sidney (Apple TV+), A Jazzman’s Blues (Netflix), Athena (Netflix), Blank (VOD)

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