I Want You Back
This anti-rom-com from Love, Simon screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger offers some charming Valentine’s Day counter-programming, with Jenny Slate and Charlie Day as two heartbroken strangers who decide to team up and ruin their exes’ new relationships. It’s fun to watch Obvious Child’s Slate and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Day channelling their gift for playing articulate, energetic messes into a dark spin on When Harry Met Sally…; it’s also fun to watch them doing that opposite active, engaged co-stars like Gina Rodriguez, Manny Jacinto, Clark Backo and a surprisingly good Scott Eastwood (son of Clint, and known mostly for his blunt-object work in action movies). I’ll admit that the bar is pretty low for romantic comedies at this point, but I Want You Back gives its ostensible heroes just enough brittle self-awareness to keep us guessing as to how things will ultimately play out – even as it builds to the perfect ending.
111 min. Available to stream on Prime Video Canada Friday (February 11). NNNN (Norman Wilner)
The Worst Person In The World
The wonderful conclusion of Trier’s Oslo trilogy – after Reprise and Oslo, August 31st – is a life study of Julie (Renate Reinsve), a bright young woman figuring herself out. She’s able to master just about anything she sets her mind to – so of course she’s overwhelmed by the choices available to her, constantly changing careers and tempted from her stable relationship with an older artist (Anders Danielsen Lie) by an unexpected connection with someone closer to her own age (Herbert Nordrum). Trier takes a novelistic approach to Julie’s story, throwing in chapter headings to mark key turning points in her development and allowing for a couple of surprising, thrilling stylistic departures from his observational aesthetic. Reinsve’s wide-open performance ensures we remain sympathetic to Julie, even as she makes choices that disappoint or even injure the people around her; she’s not malicious or selfish, just ignorant of how others should be able to rely on her as much as she relies on them. It’s a coming-of-age movie about someone who should have done that a decade ago.
127 min. Subtitled. Opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox Thursday (February 10). NNNN (NW)
The Girl Before
If you’re looking to break up the winter with a stylish murder mystery, here’s a BBC thriller – adapted by JP Delaney from his own novel – starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Jane, who moves into an exclusive London house designed by enigmatic, exacting architect Edward Monkford (David Oyelowo), only to discover a previous tenant, Emma (Jessica Plummer), died there three years earlier under mysterious circumstances. As Jane begins to wonder if she might be in danger as well, the narrative slips back and forth between present and past, offering enough suspects and motives to fill a murder board. Indeed, part of the fun of The Girl Before is its willingness to throw every possibility at us – is there a supernatural angle, with Emma literally haunting Jane? Could the house’s environmental tech be weeding out people it doesn’t like? – and the way the actors all commit fully to their volatile, spiralling characters.
The last episode falls a little flat, as Delaney’s house of narrative cards collapses under an unsatisfying reveal, but you can still enjoy the mood fostered by Killing Eve director Brühlmann and Night Teeth cinematographer Eben Bolter – with extra credit to art director Andrew Munro, whose granite-and-steel sets frame the actors in a chilly, severe space.
All four episodes now streaming on Crave. NNN (NW)
Parallel Mothers may not be writer/director Almodóvar’s most moving and ambitious project, but it sure feels like it while it’s playing. (When it’s over, All About My Mother and Pain And Glory would like a word.) The drama follows two women, older Janis (Penélope Cruz) and younger Ana (Milena Smit), who meet in a Madrid maternity ward. Ana is terrified; Janis is serene. The friendship they form will sustain them through what is to come – and that is all I will say about the plot, though it’s also worth pointing out that the father of Janis’s baby (Israel Elejalde) is a forensic anthropologist whom she met while working to expose a mass grave in her ancestral home; and Ana’s mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) is an actor more interested in chasing a role in a Lorca play than she is in helping raise her granddaughter.
All of these themes are intertwined like the threads of a tapestry, supporting and commenting on one another as Almodóvar lays out his story – and through it all, Cruz gives the performance of her career, holding the screen with the tiniest shift of her gaze. Almodóvar understands her better than any other filmmaker, always finding something new and striking for her; he also introduces the riveting Smit as her co-star, and gives her an arc that’s just as charged.
124 min. Subtitled. Opens at the Cineplex Varsity Friday (February 11). NNNNN (NW)
Stuck in her loft after lockdown retriggered the OCD and agoraphobia she was just getting under control, Seattle tech worker Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) reports an assault she hears in the audio feed of a smart device – and finds herself at the centre of a dangerous corporate conspiracy. Written by David Koepp in lo-fi Hitchcock mode, Kimi is a paranoid thriller for the age of COVID, filtering 70s classics like The Conversation, Three Days Of The Condor, The Parallax View and more through an entirely contemporary lens. As always, half of the fun is watching Soderbergh – working once again as his own editor and cinematographer – figure out how to present a familiar idea in a new way. Kravitz, who spends much of the film silent, masked or both, conveys Angela’s shifting levels of unease and panic, with a cast of character actors popping in and out as the plot requires. It’s swift and resourceful, like Soderbergh’s best pictures, but it’s no lightweight. When Kimi needs to get serious, it gets very serious indeed, with an abduction sequence that’s terrifying in its efficiency and timing.
89 min. Now available to stream on Crave and as a premium rental on demand. NNNN (NW)
Uninspired couples are cordially invited to spend Valentine’s Day watching Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson give each other puppy dog pouts, which the latter is genetically built for. It’s hard to hate on the corny ass rom-com because Lopez uses it to comment on the circus her own love life has been on social media and in the tabloids. Her character, pop star Kat Valdez, has also been thrice divorced. And her latest romances are curated fodder for Instagram stories, much like Lopez’s recent public displays of affection. We meet Kat Valdez as she’s preparing for her own nuptials to another famous singer named Bastian (Maluma). They’re getting married in front of an audience at a live concert, while streaming to 20 million fans. But just before the vows, Kat and the world discovers Bastian’s recent infidelity. In an act of humiliation, desperation and defiance, Kat picks a stranger in the crowd to marry her instead.
The pedestrian writing and directing do nothing to make any of this convincing. But the movie can just lean on the likeable onscreen presence of Lopez, Wilson and supporting players like John Bradley and Sarah Silverman. They can be okay company when your Valentine’s Day date isn’t.
112 min. Some subtitles. In theatres and available as a premium rental on demand . NN (Radheyan Simonpillai)
Liam Neeson has been making generic journeyman thrillers for a decade and a half now; by this point, you know whether you want to spend a couple of hours watching him wearily kick-punch his way through a mob of sinister goons to rescue his wife or daughter or large adult son, or drive over a frozen lake while a shady corporation tries to sabotage him, or save a kid from bad guys, or whatever. The only question now is whether you care if the movies are any good – whether you’ll be getting the grade-A cheeseburger of a Non-Stop or a Commuter, say, or have to settle for the undercooked corn dog of a Cold Pursuit or Honest Thief.
Blacklight director Williams made Honest Thief, so it’s perhaps no surprise that this film is much more in line with that one: a generic, utterly familiar chase-and-shoot thriller about a dark-ops FBI guy who gets pulled into a murderous conspiracy and has to kick-punch a lot of people to keep the daughter and granddaughter with whom he’s just rebuilding a relationship from harm. It’s familiar and predictable and ultimately quite boring, even with The Umbrella Academy’s Emmy Raver-Lampman around as a D.C. journalist dragged into the fray; I amused myself by keeping track of the ways in which literally every character in the movie is bad at his or her job. It passed the time.
104 min. Now playing in theatres. NN (NW)
Available on VOD
Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Dennis Quaid; directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin
Camille Rowe, Emmanuelle Chiqiui, Antonia Zegers; directed by Jefferson Moneo
Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Shailene Woodley; directed by Megan Park
Zoë Kravitz, , Rita Wilson; directed by Steven Soderbergh
Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Sarah Silverman; directed by Kat Coiro
Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son; directed by Sean Baker
Abigail Cowen, Tom Lewis, Nina Dobrev; directed by D.J. Caruso
Ted Bundy: American Psycho
Chad Michael Murray, Holland Roden, Lin Shaye; directed by Daniel Farrands
The Wishing Tree
Laura Adamo, Sebastien Roberts, Altair Vincent; directed by Laura Adamo
Media City Film Festival
The 25th anniversary edition of the experimental film festival – held in Windsor and Detroit, but available virtually across North America – offers more than 70 films that play with form and function in complex and fascinating ways. The international selection features work from Ben Rivers, Ana Vaz, Alexandra Cuesta and Thirza Cuthand, among dozens of others, and the spotlight series highlights eight artists – among them Tracey Moffatt, Tony Cokes and Ximena Cuevas – the festival programmers deem deserving of “increased critical attention and a wider global audience.” It’s all free, and it’ll be streaming for the rest of the month, so pace yourself – but don’t miss out.
Through March 1 at mediacityfilmfestival.com
Disc of the Week
Miller’s Crossing (Criterion, Blu-ray)
Every time I see Miller’s Crossing, I come away wondering if it isn’t Joel and Ethan Coen’s masterpiece. It probably isn’t – and I’m sure you can think of four or five other titles that ought to be placed at the top of the brothers’ filmography – but it does feel like the Rosetta Stone that unlocks their specific skill set of self-aware, meticulously constructed genre cinema. They’re elemental filmmakers, finding the DNA of whatever story they’re telling and knitting it into a new pattern, turning a moody study of betrayal and subterfuge among 1920s gangsters into an eccentric, occasionally brutal and ultimately heartbreaking study of a conflicted man who destroys himself to protect someone he loves. To start a different metaphor, Miller’s Crossing is a love song to Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key, but only in its melody; the lyrics are all the Coens’ own.
Gabriel Byrne has never been better as the (mostly) ruthless Tom, who may or may not be selling out his aging boss Leo (Albert Finney, pretty great himself) in order to possess Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), the woman they both love – or maybe he’s got something else going entirely. Jon Polito, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Mike Starr and J.E. Freeman turn up as other interested parties, each with their own history and agenda; the Coens juggle the ensemble expertly, with each twist of the script clarifying things a little further until the devastating ending. (And while they don’t have much impact on the story, keep your eye out for cameos from Joel’s wife Frances McDormand and their old pal Sam Raimi, who made Darkman that same year.)
Criterion’s special edition is built around a new 2K digital restoration of the feature – it’s a shame the original film elements weren’t available for a 4K scan, but after 30 years I’ll take what I can get – and filled with the label’s signature contextual supplements. Author Megan Abbott sits down with the Coens for a conversation about the symbiotic relationship between “hard-boiled” crime fiction and Hollywood film noir, and we get new interviews with cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who shot the Coens’ first three films before becoming a director in his own right; music editor Todd Kasow, who orchestrated the stirring Danny Boy sequence; and production designer Dennis Gassner, who created the illusion of elaborate 1920s locations on a budget that was a lot smaller than one might think.
There’s also a gallery of new and archival interviews with co-stars Byrne, Harden, Polito and Turturro, and a typically thoughtful essay by critic Glenn Kenny. Buy it, is what I’m saying.