This week’s roundup includes my reviews of new films in theaters, including “Inside” with Willem Dafoe and “Moving On,” reteaming those “Grace and Frankie” ladies, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Inside (Focus Features)
Willem Dafoe is pretty much the whole show in this claustrophobic story of a robber who gets trapped inside a high-tech apartment while stealing precious artworks when the electronic exits fail—and the owner, always traveling, never returns. Director Vasilis Katsoupis and writer Ben Hopkinsan’s clever but unpleasant look at isolation and mental disintegration has unsettling moments of unease, but once Dafoe is inside his cage, there are only so many variations on survival mode before a certain torpor sets in—for the viewer as well as the protagonist. Maybe a 30-minute short would have been more pointedly disturbing, but Dafoe gives it his all, retaining interest despite the singleminded narrative.
Back to the Drive-In (Noisy Bird)
Director April Wright traveled the U.S. to check in on the health of one of the last bastions of independent moviegoing, particularly in the wake of the pandemic: the drive-in. She finds a patient on its last legs but still hanging in there despite all the obstacles in its way. Visiting 11 locations from north to south and coast to coast. Wright soaks up a lot of local color in places like the suburbs of Buffalo, where the Transit Drive-In—a place I went to many times growing up—still going. Nostalgia permeates this fascinating trip through Americana.
The Magic Flute (Shout Studios)
Florian Sigl’s misbegotten update-cum-adaptation of Mozart’s classic opera reimagines its heroes, heroines and villains through the eyes of a young music student, who drops into the fairy-tale world conjured by librettist Emanuel Schikaneder. There are memorable moments, thanks to some dazzling visual flourishes; too bad that the music (sung in English) doesn’t come off particularly well—only the fine French soprano Sabine Devieilhe perfectly nails the classic Queen of the Night aria. And bookending the film with mediocre pop tunes says more about the filmmakers than about Mozart.
Moving On (Roadside Attractions)
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have gotten a lot of recent mileage from their comedically inspired pairing in the Netflix sitcom Grace and Frankie: first with “80 for Brady” and now teaming for this intermittently funny black comedy-revenge pic about two women attending their longtime friend’s funeral to confront her unruly, prickly widower. Tomlin and Fonda get great mileage out of writer-director Paul Weitz’s serviceable but clichéd premise, Malcolm McDowell enlivens the stock part of the bad hubby, and the movie’s relative brevity (80 minutes) helps keep it from jumping the shark before it predictably but satisfyingly ends.
4K/UHD Release of the Week
Rocky—The Knockout Collection (Warner Bros)
The original “Rocky,” winner of the 1976 best picture Oscar and directed with precision by John G. Avildsen, remains the ultimate rags to (almost) riches fairy tale nearly a half-century later. Too bad its sequels got progressively more gimmicky, from II’s perfectly plausible rematch with Apollo Creed to III’s comic version of fighting Mr. T (as Clubber Lang) to IV’s “us vs. them” Cold War battle with Russian Ivan Drago. Stallone becomes less appealing with each successive movie, while Talia Shire—heartbreaking in the original—has little to do as the stories progress. Still, there are those always exciting boxing sequences. This set brings together the first four films—and a director’s cut of IV, for their first foray onto UHD, looking superlatively grainy throughout. An extra Blu-ray disc collects the extras, mostly from the original movie but also a new, hour-long “Making of Rocky vs. Drago: Keep Punching,” with Stallone himself as our guide.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Leonor Will Never Die (Music Box Films)
Marika Ramirez Escobar’s frivolous if fun feature follows Leonor, retired from the movie business, who dusts off an old script—and, after she is knocked on the head by a falling TV, actually enters her own screen story. There’s cleverness galore, but the initially diverting maneuvering between Leonor’s real and scripted lives—slyly shown in different aspect ratios—soon becomes repetitive. So, even though Sheila Francisco is a wonderful Leonor, her movie (like Inside) might have made a more rewarding short. There’s an extremely good hi-def transfer; extras are Escobar’s commentary, interview and short film as well as a making-of featurette.
Let It Be Morning (Cohen Media)
As in earlier works like his breakthrough, “The Band’s Visit,” writer-director Eran Kolirin’s latest audacious film walks a tightrope between black comedy and outright tragedy; Palestinian-born Israeli citizen Sami, returning to his hometown from Jerusalem for his brother’s wedding—and where he reunites with his estranged wife Mira, whom he’s cheating on with a colleague—finds himself stuck when the military authorities suddenly begin building a wall as part of a local blockade. Kolirin incisively finds both humor and horror in this realistic but patently absurd situation, which doubles as a pointed satire of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The superb cast is led by Alex Bacri as the put-upon Sami and Juna Suleiman as the spirited Mira.
DVD Release of the Week
Goliath (Distrib Films US)
Part preachy but exceptionally enthralling, Frédéric Tellier’s eco-thriller savvily introduces several characters—an environmental lawyer fighting for victims, a slick lobbyist for a chemical conglomerate, and a woman whose husband’s fatal illness has been caused by chemicals in the soil—to tell the complex story of how wary governments try to split the difference between safety and capitalism. A few cringy moments take a backseat to the exciting confrontations of these wildly disparate (and often desperate) people, enacted compellingly by a cast led by Gilles Lellouche (lawyer), Pierre Niney (lobbyist) and Emmanuelle Bercot and the great Marie Gillian as women personally affected by corporate treachery and thuggery.