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Including reviews of Gaia, Good On Paper, The Ice Road and The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard
Our picks for the best new movies coming out this week. Plus Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms for the weekend of June 25..
After Ben Wheatley’s In The Earth and Arseny Syuhin’s Russian thriller The Superdeep, this South African creeper about an injured forest ranger (Monique Rockman) -taken in by two uncommunicative survivalists (Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk) arrives to cement a new trend of existential environmental horror that sees human beings – no matter how prepared or capable – prove awfully fragile in the face of the natural world. Bouwer and screenwriter Tertius Kapp create a convincing, unsettling world of scuttling, barely glimpsed threats and dream-logic exposition, with Rockman’s performance as the skeptical protagonist deftly setting the tone. The practical effects go a long way to supporting her revulsion and fascination, too, especially once we learn the true nature of the danger. The deliberately small scale also helps to disguise the fact that the story is ultimately pretty familiar one, as apocalypse narratives go. Still, it’s all in the execution, and Gaia is careful to root its biggest conflicts in its characters rather than just throw a bunch of goop at the camera and see what sticks. 96 min. Some subtitles. Available on VOD platforms Friday (June 25). NNN (Norman Wilner)
In the summer of 2017, The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a weightless diversion, an odd-couple action movie with meticulous security agent Michael (Ryan Reynolds) and cranky assassin-for-hire Darius (Samuel L. Jackson) arguing all the way from Manchester to the Hague while teams of mercenaries tried to kill them. Four years later, this entirely unnecessary sequel finds Michael yanked into action by Darius’s wife Sonia (Salma Hayek), who’s looking to save her husband from a whole different cartel of evildoers. Despite reuniting the same cast and creative team, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is happy to just restage the road-movie chaos of the first film with vastly diminished results, despite the addition of Hayek’s Desperado co-star Antonio Banderas as a Greek tycoon who wants to cripple the European Union. Shots are fired, cars are chased, things explode if someone just looks at them the wrong way, Hayek curses even more profanely and enthusiastically than she did in the first movie… but the whole thing still feels like a contractual obligation. It’s 20 minutes shorter than its predecessor, but somehow seems an hour longer. That’s really all you need to know. 99 min. Now playing at drive-in theatres; available on VOD in early July. NN (NW)
Iliza Shlesinger’s slapstick comedy about a horrifying dating experience is a slick extension of her stand-up material. In specials like Iliza: Unveiled, the comic assesses her relationship to feminism (is she a good or a bad feminist?) within the context of her work and romantic life. And in Good On Paper, Shlesinger does the same against a real-life experience, dating a polite schlub named Dennis (Ryan Hansen) whose stories of going to Yale and managing a successful hedge fund turn out to be highly suspect. The movie rides on Shlesinger’s humour and insight, as well as her sisterly chemistry and antagonism, with supporting players Margaret Cho and Rebecca Rittenhouse, as friend and frenemy, respectively. Shlesinger also unpacks her naivety and willingness to fall for the Dennis’ con against the pressures of being a woman in her mid-30s who is slightly less satisfied with where her life is at. But her search for meaning and resolution leads towards a third act as detached as Dennis’ lies. 94 min. Available now on Netflix Canada. NNN (Radheyan Simonpillai)
When an explosion traps two dozen men in a northern Manitoba diamond mine, a grizzled trucker (Liam Neeson) and his mechanic brother (Marcus Thomas) sign up to deliver the only equipment that might be able to save them – which means driving three very heavy trucks across lakes that are beginning to thaw. Laurence Fishburne and Legion’s Amber Midthunder are their fellow drivers; Benjamin Walker is the shifty corporate guy along for the ride. Things do not go as planned. It’s dumb, but it’s the good kind of dumb, with writer/director Hensleigh (Welcome To The Jungle, Kill The Irishman) heaping on the outsized peril, maudlin dialogue exchanges and multiple scenes that require Neeson to punch out dudes half his age. And somehow you can tell he’s enjoying himself; if he wants to spend his golden years cosplaying as Clint Eastwood, there are worse fates. It’s also nice to see Midthunder – who had one really nice scene with Neeson in The Marksman earlier this year – get a role worthy of her talent; she sketches a full history for her character in the background of every scene. 108 min. Available on VOD platforms Friday (June 25). NNN (NW)
Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk; directed by Jaco Bouwer
Liam Neeson, Holt McCallany, Laurence Fishburne; directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
Harvey Keitel, Sam Worthington, AnnaSophia Robb; directed by Eytan Rockaway
Bradley Taylor, Cary Crankson, Frank Harper; directed by Will Thorne
With the voices of Isabela Merced, Julianne Moore, Jake Gyllenhaal; directed by Elaine Bogan
Rouhollah Zamani, Abolfazl Shirzad, Shamila Shirzad; directed by Majid Majidi
Emma Mackey, Anson Boon, Michael McElhatton; directed by Phil Sheerin
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
Returning to the Ontario Place drive-in for a second year, the outdoor edition of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival offers an international lineup of past favourites and premieres, along with a special Focus Italia series. (There’s also a virtual option, the Canada-wide ICFF At Home online program, that runs from July 5-13.) Things get rolling Sunday with The Comeback Trail, a moviemaking comedy starring Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman from writer/director George Gallo. Drive-in packages from $90-$150/car.
Sunday (June 27) to July 17; details at icff.ca .
Criterion’s new collection of Riggs’s singular cinema arrives just in time for Pride, presenting seven works in new digital masters and placing them in the radical context of their creation. Riggs – a Black, gay, American filmmaker working in the late 80s and early 90s – saw the potential in video technology for inexpensive, ambitious cinema, and created politically charged documentaries and essay films for public television, expanding the boundaries of what was acceptable for broadcast on both political and personal grounds. His work was powerful and prescient, and even more urgent when one realizes he was producing it in increasingly poor health, racing against the ticking clock of his own HIV-positive status.
Ethnic Notions, his 1988 look at Black stereotypes in American culture, prefigures Spike Lee’s Bamboozled in its clear-eyed, judgmental fury; Tongues Untied, the 1989 film about the exclusion of Black men from gay culture, is an argument for intersectionality before the language for that even existed. Color Adjustment, which aired in 1992, is a mirror image of Ethnic Notions, flipping the focus from Black stereotypes to Black representation in American media, noting that the depiction of happy, successful African-American characters was a way of telling viewers the United States had left racism in its past, which was obviously not the case.
The centrepiece of the package is Riggs’s final feature Black Is… Black Ain’t, which was completed in 1995 after his death a year earlier. (The film includes almost unbearably intimate footage of Riggs working on it from his hospital bed.) Using a family recipe for gumbo as a jumping-off point for the African-American diaspora, it’s an invaluable document of the era in which it was made, with Riggs interviewing key cultural figures like Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., bell hooks, Barbara Smith and Cornel West to create a tapestry of what it means to be Black in America. It’s another intersectional work, as is all of Riggs’s filmography; decades on, it’s remarkable to see how much his films speak to the present as much as the past. But that’s what they were designed to do, of course.
Criterion’s boxed set, which takes its name from Riggs’s production company Signifyin’ Works, also includes his shorts Affirmations, Anthem and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, Karen Everett’s 1996 documentary on Riggs, I Shall Not Be Removed, and Riggs’s 1981 Berkeley thesis film Long Train Running: The Story Of The Oakland Blues. There’s also an archival interview with Riggs from 1992, and the filmmaker’s own introductions to Tongues Untied and Color Adjustment, as well as contemporary supplements like four intensive discussions of Riggs’s life and cinema from filmmakers like Cheryl Dunye, Rodney Evans, Christiane Badgley (who was one of the people who completed Black Is… Black Ain’t, and assorted colleagues, experts and academics. It’s an essential tribute to a visionary artist who should have had a much longer run – and a much longer life.