In Review: The Humans

Ritual dictates that families come together on sacredly observed occasions—holidays, birthdays, funerals, other markers of time like new homes or babies. They serve the more obvious function for gathering, but they also distract us from the ground crumbling beneath our feet; we demand that the ritual of things that stay the same as a means to not be suffocated by unavoidable, irrevocable change. Such is the dark stuff of being alive at the core of Stephen Karam’s The Humans, the Tony Award winning and Pultizer shortlisted play that he now adapts for the screen. It’s a taxing and unsettling debut film about how the things that keep us together are insufficient shelter from the things that pull us apart.

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In Review: King Richard

In King Richard, tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams are the latest to get the sports biopic treatment with minimal deviance from the formula, all filtered through the lens of their somewhat eccentric father Richard (Will Smith). The film begins with the Williams family in Compton, with Richard juggling their training schedule (and three other daughters) on opposite schedules with his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis). As Richard woos noted trainers (first Tony Goldwyn as Paul Cohen, later the slick Jon Bernthal as Rick Macci) for his daughters, we see the divergent journeys for both Venus and Serena as the elder sister is given preferential coaching and begins racking up youth tournament wins. The real character study begins as Richard pulls the girls from competing, instilling a delayed power struggle between a father trying to protect his children from the pressures of the world and two young virtuoso athletes ready to take control of their own destiny.

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In Review: The Power of the Dog

The American western is no stranger to cruel men who wield their masculinity to maintain their position. Positioned as heroic embodiments of the demands of the time rather than men capable of (and often willing to enact) intense spiritual violence, the ranchers and cowboys of the genre have been exalted as pure representations of manhood. With lush iconography and archetypal characterizations at its core, the western allowed us, even invited us, to overlook the truth of our violent past and the brutality expected of legacies of men. Such is the setting for The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s momentous return to the cinema that aims to upbend those conventions and does so with the swiftness of a hot blade. The film is not really a western, but interested in the genre all the same—both in the masculine ideals it upholds and their reflections in American culture.

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In Review: Antlers

Scott Cooper returns to a bleak American landscape with Antlers, a horror film that riffs on the Wendigo legend. The film stars Keri Russell as a teacher returning home to her childhood mountain town in rural Oregon, carrying a history of abuse at the hands of her father. Living in the family home with her sheriff brother (Jesse Plemons), she sees the ghost of her past reflected in her ostracized student Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas). But at home with Lucas is far more than what she suspects: it’s not just the horror of the home, but a monster that has been brewing in the mountains, in this community, and in the national identity. In the hands of Cooper, the result is a scareless thriller that handles the opioid epidemic and child abuse with the humanity and, perhaps more crucially, intention of a muckraking local news segment.

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In Review: Last Night in Soho

The films of Edgar Wright are stooped in references, unafraid to invoke his influences with reverie, winking at those in the audience who share in that unbridled affection. His latest, Last Night in Soho, achieves this with the most abandon, blending together such inspirations as giallo, Basil Dearden, and even Fosse for a spell. It’s an unexpected mix, all set to a quintessentially joyous and try-hard Wright-assembled soundtrack. But the gorgeous horror movie spell collapses quickly as Wright wanders into unfamiliar thematic territory. Last Night in Soho’s stumbles reveal that Edgar Wright is perhaps an enthusiast first, and storyteller second. Or maybe third.

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