Summer’s here, yaayy! Let’s see what’s new this weekend to herald such a fantastic season!
HOUSE NEXT DOOR
This is director Deon Taylor’s (sad) follow up to Meet The Blacks. Carl Black (Mike Epps) has moved back to his childhood home, hoping for some happiness, but instead ends up having to contend with a weird neighborhood. The situation gets worse thanks to new neighbor Dr. Mamuwalde (Katt Williams), a likely pimp who may also be a vampire. A contrived set up, which you’ll no doubt go along with, until you see the other flaws. The movie’s not really funny—owing to its numerous vulgar, cheap jokes—and it’s not scary (at all) either, so I’m not sure there’s any point to watching this in a theater. Further problems abound in the way of poor visual effects, continuity errors, and cheap clichés. Whatever ‘depth’ there is—estranged children, Carl’s financial troubles—are too superficial to help prop up this mess. Sorry, folks—this one may not be worth the hassle.
IN THE HEIGHTS
And here we have the cinematic version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (thirteen-year-old) Broadway musical by the same name, about young Dominican bodega-owner Usnavi (ably portrayed by Anthony Ramos), who dreams of moving from his colorful Latin New York neighborhood to the Dominican Islands to take over his dad’s business. Directed by John Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and featuring rap, bachata, and pop music, this corny flick has come under a lot of fire for starring a largely light-colored cast. I agree: if you claim to base a feature on a certain neighborhood (and then loudly proclaim the wonders of the movie’s ‘good racial representation’), you really should feature those colors in your movie. It’s one of the dumbest casting errors, and I’m struggling to comprehend how it happened. It’s possible the movie was cast long before the recent (past two years?) social media outcry against racism, and cast changes seemed prohibitively expensive… and objections were … shot down? Just a guess.
The cinematography is excellent, and the movie does have some great characters: there’s Usnavi’s teen cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) who dreams of becoming a US citizen; Usnavi’s crush Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who dreams of becoming a fashion designer; her pal Nina (Leslie Grace) who’s sick of the racism at Stanford even as her dad (Jimmy Smits) struggles to pay her tuition; and so on. The movie draws on important social issues such as immigration, fallout from reneging of the DREAM Act, gentrification of neighborhoods that destroys old shops, and so on—but sadly, all of these just sort of hang in the air (pointlessly?) as the cast dance their way through the summery flick. Inciting incidents include a lost 96K lottery ticket and a blackout. Check out the trailer here:
Pierce Brosnan and Nick Cannon headline this rather clichéd heist movie. Cannon is Ringo, leader of a band of criminals that includes tough girl Violet (Jamie Chung), has partnered with Pace (Brosnan) to steal gold from a prison owned by Schulz (Tim Roth). Pace (not that you’ll care) also has an estranged daughter (Hermione Corfield) and hopes to impress her by doing the heist just to keep the gold out of the hands of terrorist organization Muslim Brotherhood, which does business with Schulz. The screenplay is a racially insensitive bore, but even that must bow to Cannon’s constant, unnecessary, annoying narration. Here’s the trailer:
AD ASTRA (2019, science fiction)
I just had to give this one another try! And I’m so glad I did. I feel it’s better than many ‘hard’ science fiction flicks. Jaded as I am, I found the screenplay spare, the cinematography excellent and the acting superb. The story is about an astronaut called in to assist in controlling a spatial event from Neptune that threatens the Earth, The movie is in equal parts morbid (oh yeah), exquisite, thrilling, and breathtaking. Watching the scenes set amidst the giant planets, you really sense the isolation of being so far away from Earth.
As to the acting—I always thought actors were overpaid tools, but here… well, I think I might be willing to justify those expenses myself. Ruth Negga is mysterious and ethereal as the Mars administrator, Donald Sutherland great as the captain with the state secrets, and Brad Pitt is actually perfect as the (emotionally stunted) protagonist (to think I laughed when I heard him cast in that role!). But I think Tommy Lee Jones’ performance as the crazy dad is the real hit. That instance where he looks at his own son with suspicion—that look in his eye as if he’s a child suspicious of a parent, as the very old may occasionally do—now that’s talent! The pace is slow, but if you love hard science fiction it’ll feel just right. Let me know what you think—if not here, then on Twitter. I would totally love to discuss this one in particular.
I agree there are some serious duds (for new flicks) here. But hey it’s summer! And we can go out the house! So it’s all good… I hope 🙂 Anyhow, that’s it for me for now. Here’s hoping you have a great week coming up, and see you next time!