Boston Strangler (2023) – dir. by Matt Ruskin
Boston Strangler, an investigative journalism thriller, is a captivating mix of Zodiac (2007), Spotlight (2015) and She Said (2022). Released quietly and unceremoniously on Hulu two weeks ago, I can’t help but wonder if this would be the best movie of the year in, let’s say, 2003.
It’s well-crafted, stylistic, topical and ‘important’ in the way so many movies with Oscar buzz are or claim to be. And yet here it is released on one of the less-heralded streaming platforms in the first quarter of the year. Huh.
It’s got a great cast, with Keira Knightley doing some solid work in the lead role and a host of dependable character actors filling out the depth chart (Carrie Coon chief among them). At times it’s a little predictable, a little too indebted to those movies that came before, but it packs a few surprising twists and the true story is so fascinating that I kept wondering how I had never heard of so much of this before.
“Then we looked at a whole range of things from, you know, Zodiac and All the President’s Men to Jeanne Dielman, Chantal Akerman’s film, her domestic drama. So we looked at a range of things for sure” – director Matt Ruskin
You Should Watch If: You like David Fincher, Carrie Coon or true crime
You Should Not Watch If: You can’t stand the color blue and shallow focus photography
Creed III (2023) – dir. by Michael B. Jordan
Okay so apparently I missed Creed II. There’s a lot to catch up on here, but in other ways you can jump right into this, a movie that resets the playing field and introduces a new antagonist, Jonathan Majors’ Dame Anderson.
Creed III can be a lot of fun, with two major movie stars going toe to toe in a genre movie that doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. You know based on the trailer what’s going to happen: Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) lends a helping hand to a childhood friend, Dame, who is fresh out of prison. But Dame runs a little hot and causes a problem too many, leading to Creed coming out of retirement for their face off in the movie’s third act.
While a lot of ‘yada yada-ing’ the script is to be expected, there are still moments here that feel a little too loophole-y. The basics of the story, the dramatic swings, make sense and make for great story, but the stitching from one scene to the next is often labored and a little jumbled. Then you have the subplots with the mom which feel completely forced and manufactured (though the storyline with the daughter works much better).
The movie is fun to watch for the anticipated set pieces, and in the director’s chair, Jordan has a few tricks up his sleeve (but perhaps one too many). [REDACTED] is predictably awesome, Jordan holds his own, and the crowd CGI really breaks the spell cast by either of the two actors.
All that aside, it’s a fun movie but some of the stitching gets in the way of the fun.
You Should Watch If: You prefer the Rocky sequels.
You Should Not Watch If: You prefer the original Rocky.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022) – dir. by Laura Poitras
This feels like an “important” film. Am I about to get my soap box out? I’m already sitting on it.
This documentary from Laura Poitras (who only seems to make “important” films) follows the ongoing life of New York artist Nan Goldin. It’s half a story about her life and half a story about three major crises, one personal and two societal.
In terms of how it goes about these crises, the doc lets us listen to Nan’s own words but never see her as she, effectively, narrates much of the film. Instead we see her life through her photographs, meaning we only see her (in the past) when her camera is turned on herself. It’s very much a story about her life through her eyes.
The other half of the film is in the present day (~2018-20), chronicling Nan’s ongoing efforts to protest the Sackler family and their heavy hand in creating the opioid crisis in America that has taken over 500,000 lives. Through Nan’s own past addiction and her story (her sister’s suicide and living through the AIDS crisis) we see just how important this is to her, and we understand why.
As a whole I suppose this is the story of how an activist (and artist) is forged. The art was a means of expression and survival (a similar theme to that of the documentary Crumb, 1994), and the activism came a little later, but not by much.
You Should Watch If: You listen to NPR and watch Rachel Maddow
You Should Not Watch If: You’re a Sackler
Money Monster (2016) – dir. by Jodie Foster
Money Monster is one of those restrained thrillers with a hostage takeover where the hostage learns a lesson or two and befriends his assailant before the assailant’s tragic but anticipated death. It’s a film about holding power accountable and in which the underdog assailant’s death is meant to be a solemn coda to the fact that those in power will never be held accountable. And I guess that’s a pessimistic reading of a film with an uplifting ending, but isn’t that how these movies always work?
The best part of this movie is the first ten minutes, with the introduction to the inner workings of the “Money Monster” tv show, a parody of Mad Money. George Clooney plays egocentric tv host Lee Gates, and Julia Roberts is his producer (who recently took a position at a new show, serving to incite some melodrama between her and Clooney).
This early portion of the movie is oddly dramatic but more just plain entertaining. I would’ve preferered to watch Good Night and Good Luck to The Taking of Pelham 123. But pretty quickly Jack O’Connell’s desperate terrorist (is he a terrorist? I think he is) comes in and takes control of the production and of the movie. And his character is perhaps the most uninteresting. He’s just a stand in for the change that needs to occur in the financial institutions as depicted (I think correctly) in this movie.
Clooney’s and Robert’s charisma and chemistry, which works so well in the opening few scenes, is completely stymied. How charismatic can you be when someone has a gun to your head?
You Should Watch If: You like group shots of people watching the same program and nodding their heads in consideration
You Should Not Watch If: You thought this was The Newsroom
Scream VI (2023) – dir. by ________
I enjoy playing the whodunnit game involved with watching all of the Scream movies and it’s no different here.
You Should Watch If: You’ve seen any of the other Scream Movies
You Should Not Watch If: You haven’t seen another Scream Movie
The Inspection (2022) – dir. by Elegance Bratton
Some movies are “important” but have little to say. This is one that has a lot to say. It’s a deeply personal story (or feels like it) and sometimes the structure and craft can’t quite keep up with the heart… which isn’t a bad thing, it’s a beautiful thing (especially for a first time director). *or so says this writer who has never made a feature film*
In The Inspection we follow Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) into the army, specifically boot camp. Over the next few months he undergoes a trial by fire and a sort of awakening… or does he close off? There is a definite transformation, and at times it seems unclear if this is a positive transformation (self-acceptance) or if he’s closing off some part of himself to survive in a testosterone-soaked, conservative environment that punishes anyone who stands outside the societal norm (mostly as far as sexuality goes).
It’s a film that dazzles with moments of aesthetic beauty, and the performances are solid but it often feels just a bit out of reach, at a distance, in a way kind of safe. It’s a deeply personal story and yet the plot points are recognizable (the growing brotherhood with fellow soldiers, the hard ass drill sergeant, the respect earned).
You Should Watch If: You like A24
You Should Not Watch If: You hate coming of age
Cocaine Bear (2023) – dir. by Elizabeth Banks
These types of movies used to just exist, and you didn’t know why, like a mole. These were the moles of the film industry. But then there developed a self-awareness bordering on self-consciousness. This is a self-conscious movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.
Whether it’s Snakes on a Plane or Hot Tub Time Machine, this follows in a line of movies designed to hook you with a single sentence, or really a single phrase. They exist to grab your attention, to deliver an experience, to shock and delight you. And Cocaine Bear does that to a point. It’s at it’s best when it wants to do nothing more than make you squeal and squirm. The movie is both violent and silly and, in those moments, confidently so.
But some of the jokes don’t land, some of the character quirks are a little too quirky and then at the end there is some degree of pathos, which is like trying to mix broccoli into your halloween candy.
You Should Watch If: You like Snakes on a Plane
You Should Not Watch If: You’re the type of person to whom people say things like “c’mon just go with it”
Leave (2022) – dir. by Alex Herron
Another self-conscious movie. What does that even mean? I’m not sure but it feels right.
Leave is a movie seemingly inspired by other movies, which I guess most movies are but it feels insincere. It’s well-made, maybe not well-crafted but you can trust that the people behind the movie know what they’re doing. They know how to drive the car, in other words.
But everything here feels frustratingly familiar, devoid of life. It’s a story about a young woman who returns home to Norway to try and figure out who her parents were, the ones who left her in a blanket (with demonic symbols) in a Boston cemetery.
Her investigation is surprisingly efficient and introduces us to a world of the occult, but only sort of. There are sinister characters, ghosts, things that go boo in the night, and aging metal musicians.
But the problem is that nothing stands out or pushes the envelope, both for good or for bad. It just exists, calculating when to try and startle you with a jump scare, when to suggest that the lead character might be losing her mind… it exists more as a formula than anything else. If it were written by an AI I would be impressed but not surprised.
*NOTE: This movie is probably better than anything I will ever make*
*Actually I take that back, I think that, if given the same budget, I could make something that has a point of view*
*I’m trying not to be snarky but I’m feeling snarky*
You Should Watch If: You’ve never seen a horror movie before
You Should Not Watch If: You’ve seen a horror movie before