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Including reviews of Summer Of Soul, No Sudden Move, Black Conflux and Werewolves Within
Our picks for the best new movies coming out this week. Plus Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms for the weekend of July 2.
(Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson)
As a musician, podcaster and author, the Roots drummer and main man Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has a way of taking the intricacies of musicianship or seemingly obscure behind-the-music stories and finding something profound. His Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary debut Summer Of Soul, about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, essentially lets him do this at feature-length, resulting in a perfect equilibrium between stunning performance footage and insightful musical and social analysis.
If you’ve never heard of the Harlem Cultural Festival, you’re not alone. Eclipsed by Woodstock in the same year, the multi-weekend event featuring a stylistically diverse lineup, including Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, the Staple Singers, the Fifth Dimension and Stevie Wonder. The performances were professionally shot by festival producer Hal Tulchin, but the footage languished in storage for 50 years thanks to disinterest in “the Black Woodstock.” In just under two hours, Thompson zooms both out and in, showing how the tense political climate, conceptions of Black identity and shifting social mores influenced the music and fashions of the era – and vice versa.
What makes Summer Of Soul so compelling is many of the attendees and artists interviewed react to seeing the footage for the first time, so the talking heads tap a direct, emotionally charged pulse that is very much in line with not only the performances, but conversations around reclamation and Black identity and artistry today. An essential movie for music fans. 117 min. Now available to stream on Disney+ Canada. NNNNN (Kevin Ritchie)
In 1950s Detroit, an ex-convict (Don Cheadle) looking for a quick score takes a job holding an accountant’s family hostage – but when things go sideways, he and another mug (Benicio Del Toro) have to figure out what went wrong… and who set them up to take the fall. Ed Solomon’s script feels like an adaptation of some long-lost collaboration between Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy, using a riff on the Humphrey Bogart thriller The Desperate Hours to launch into a more sophisticated thriller with strategies playing out across racial, political and socioeconomic lines. And in its execution Soderbergh (once again operating as his own cinematographer and editor) undercuts the playfulness of his heist movies with the life-and-death stakes of his crime dramas The Underneath and Traffic, tapping actors like David Harbour, Kieran Culkin, Brendan Fraser, Amy Seimetz, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, Bill Duke and Uncut Gems’ Julia Fox to make sure every character has a life beyond their scenes. But it’s Cheadle’s picture from start to finish, his wary, electric presence perfectly suited to the role of a man trying to find an exploitable angle in a scheme he only barely understands. 115 min. Now available to stream on Crave. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
In a small Newfoundland town in 1987, teenage Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is testing her limits with drinking and dating… and twentysomething Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is slowly giving himself over to an uncontrollable, deeply misogynist rage. In her first feature – which premiered at TIFF nearly two years ago and saw its release derailed by COVID – writer/director Nicole Dorsey places us in a world seething with menace: bars, bedrooms and even the brewery where Dennis works are depicted as lonely, tense spaces where bad things can just sort of happen. A bravura single-take sequence midway through the film lays out its ugly subtext for us, scored to Gowan’s Moonlight Desires, of all things. And while Black Conflux functions primarily as a character study – with excellent work from the leads, and strong support by Olivia Scriven and Sofia Banzhaf – it’s also about showing us the environment that shapes those characters – and the odds against their ever escaping it. 100 min. Now available to stream on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. NNNN (NW)
Ruben follows his dazzling no-budget Scare Me with this somewhat more ambitious but equally eccentric horror-comedy about a handful of weirdos, isolated in a B&B during a snowstorm, trying to figure out if there’s a werewolf in their midst – and if so, who it is. Veep’s Sam Richardson and Other Space’s Milana Vayntrub are a delight as the ostensible authority figures, a timid but kind-hearted park ranger and a more free-spirited letter carrier who serves as his guide to the community; Michaela Watkins, Sarah Burns, Cheyenne Jackson, Harvey Guillén and Catherine Curtin are among the colourful locals. Mishna Wolff’s script mashes up the 70s shut-in classic The Beast Must Die with the goofy spirit of Clue and Knives Out, mining the absurd conflicts that result when outsized personalities start pointing fingers (and firearms) at each other. And Ruben orchestrates the various discoveries, confrontations and betrayals with a genuine admiration for the clichés of this particular subgenre. Werewolves Within is more playful than brutal, so gorehounds might be disappointed at the lack of on-screen carnage. But hopefully they’ll be too caught up in the story to mind. 97 min. Now available to stream on IFC Films Unlimited and Apple TV. NNNN (NW)
Ella Ballentine, Ryan McDonald, Sofia Banzaf; directed by Nicole Dorsey
Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen; directed by Christopher N. Rowley
Breckin Meyer, Emily Kinney, Giselle Eisenberg; directed by Eric Swinderman
Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen; directed by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp
Kelsey Grammer, Julia Stiles, Janeane Garofalo; directed by Austin Stark
Makenzie Moss, Siena Agudong, Tobin Bell; directed by Craig Moss
Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi; directed by Ben Sharrock
Rafe Spall, Zahra Newman, Ronny Chieng; directed by Josh Lawson
Rouhollah Zamani, Abolfazl Shirzad, Shamila Shirzad; directed by Majid Majidi
Alma Pöysti, Krista Kosonen, Shanti Roney; directed by Zaida Bergroth
Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillén; directed by Josh Ruben
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month: