With such a busy week in terms of festival announcements and awards season reveals, reviews of new releases have had to take a backseat (including due to an embargo for one title). That changes today, as we can now run down four of the films that are hitting/hit theaters. The quartet of movies includes the action spinoff Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the documentary Jay Myself, as well as indie dramas in Luce and Teacher. The flicks are all incredibly different, to say the least. Are any/all worth your time and money this weekend? Let me help you decide that right now, ladies and gentlemen…
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Spinning off the Fast & Furious franchise makes perfect sense. They’re such gigantic films that breaking some characters off from the main group for their own adventures isn’t totally insane. However, it does require finding a good reason for it to happen. With Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the series finds a decent enough way to give two less central characters a prime showcase. Though hardly a tentpole that goes above and beyond, those looking for ridiculous fun will get a fair amount of it here. As long as you aren’t expecting to be absolutely blown away, the silliness on display will make you smile.
The movie is an action adventure tale, centering on the unlikely team up of law enforcement agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and outcast Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Independently of each other, they’re initially called on to investigate the theft of a lethal virus. The focus is on Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), but she’s merely carrying it to keep it since it’s being pursued by a shady organization. Dispatching the nearly cyborg Brixton (Idris Elba), the group wants world dominance, as is required in a flick of this sort. Of course, if Hobbs and Shaw want to save the world, they’ll need to figure out how to stop arguing and actually work together for a change. David Leitch directs a screenplay by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, with music by Tyler Bates and cinematography by Jonathan Sela. Supporting players include Cliff Curtis, Rob Delaney, Eiza González, Eddie Marsan, Helen Mirren, and more…including a high profile cameo.
Believe it or not, the film is at its best when just being a lark, focusing on the banter between the leads. Johnson and Statham are having a blast, while Elba and Kirby are having just as fun a time. The action, on the other hand, while engaging for a while, becomes tiresome. By the time the third act has come around, fatigue has set in and you start to wish things would just wrap up. It doesn’t completely torpedo the project, but it does make it more of a mixed bag than you’d probably hope for.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is dumb fun, plain and simple. If huge destruction and silly interactions between movie stars is your thing, you’ll get a kick out of it. For me, things wore down just enough to keep me from giving the thumbs up, but I freely admit that this is still worth seeing if you enjoy the other installments in the franchise. A tighter pace and about 30 minutes taken out of the running time would have saved the day, but still, there’s something here that audiences will dig on. Expect it to make all of the money, even without my full on recommendation…
Documentary cinema usually begins with an idea. Sometimes, it’s the need to shout from the rooftops about a pressing political issue. Other times, it can be something simpler than that. Jay Myself is a kinder and gentler version of that, focusing on a key life in the moment of a famous New York photographer. In depicting an upcoming change in his ways, the film shines a light not just on an odd character, but also gives a glimpse at how much New York City has changed over the course of a generation.
The doc looks at famous photography Jay Maisel as he prepares to move out of his home and work space, a gigantic 30,000 square foot building in the Bowery known as “The Bank.” Maisel has spent 40 years filling the space with what can generously be called an eccentric collection of random objects, though many are beautiful, to be sure. Documenting this all is his protege Stephen Wilkes. Also a photographer, Wilkes finds such joy in his mentor’s creativity that he opts to share it with the world. As we watch a massive move get underway, we also look back on his career and also the time and place which helped to make him such a New York institution. Wilkes directs, with a writing credit going to Josh Alexander. Cinematography is by Jason Greene, while the music is composed by Joel Goodman.
Jay Maisel is a quirky character, something that serves the movie well. As much as the look of the documentary does a lot to charm you, showcasing room after room of junk that the man treasures, it’s the person himself that sells you. Maisel is a relic from another generation, though one with the perfect mix of charisma and quirk to make you want to spend time with him. Photographer turned filmmaker Stephen Wilkes understands this, so any interaction between the two winds up being a lot of fun. Maisel and Wilkes have a connection that the film is able to bring to audiences with ease.
Jay Myself (which, full disclosure, I’m moderating Q&A’s for this week in NYC with Maisel and Wilkes, having done one last night and have more planned as the weekend approaches) is the sort of low stakes documentary that can fall through the cracks. Audiences outside of New York City may not care about The Bank and may see Maisel and Wilkes as just oddballs, but that misses the point. Maisel especially is a bastion of creativity. When he implores people to look at the things he finds interesting in life, it’s a point that truly resonates.
Whenever a movie is generated out of a play, there’s always a concern that the drama won’t fully translate. Perhaps it will feel staged, regardless of the space being opened up. If so, the story or at least the acting really needs to step up and fill the space. In the case of the drama Luce, that’s exactly what happens. Though it can be a bit repetitive with its central thesis, the emotions and performances throughout are real and urgent enough to pave the way towards success.
The film is a look at how different people can look at the same person in multiple lights. Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth) take enormous pride in their adopted son Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Taken as a young boy from a war torn African nation, Luce has grown into a modern student, excelling in both academics and athletics. In all avenues, he seems perfect. However, while they feel their son is doing just fine, his teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) demands more. When she makes an alarming discovery, battle lines are drawn and Luce’s future hangs in the balance. To say more would spoil things, so just keep in mind that all is not how it seems, for everyone here. Julius Onah directs and co-writes the adaptation with J.C. Lee, who penned the original stage production. Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury composed the score, while the cinematography comes from Larkin Seiple. Rounding out the cast are Andrea Bang, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Omar Shariff Brunson Jr., Norbert Leo Butz, Noah Gaynor, and more.
There’s some powerful acting on display here. Julius Onah, in adapting J.C. Lee’s play, allows the cast to really dive in and have their way with the material. From top to bottom, it’s impressive work. Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts especially get to be reliably strong, while Tim Roth plays a lower key. However, it’s Kelvin Harrison Jr. who walks away with the movie. At times, you’re completely on his side, while during others, you wonder if he’s closer to Damien than the idealized boy that’s being presented. Part of what Onah does to make Luce work is give credence to both of those points with equal gusto.
Luce is almost a great movie. If not for the point of it all being hammered home too much and some pointless thriller elements, the acting would pave the way for something special. Still, if the flick is only good, instead of great, that’s nothing to scoff at. In crafting something sure to generate discussion amongst any audiences who see it, Onah, along with the cast, has made something that feels rather urgent. You won’t leave the film with a good feeling in your stomach, but you’ll leave knowing that you saw something timely and of the moment, and that’s far more important.
Dark dramas/thrillers have to walk a fine line. You want to be cinematic and dramatic in order to be compelling, but you don’t want to go over the line and become ridiculous. Teacher has trouble walking that line, tripping over itself more than is ideal, but when it’s on point, it’s really perceptive and troubling stuff. The anger depicted here, in front of and behind the camera, is something to behold. Rarely does this sort of story get the treatment that it’s given here.
This flick centers on a dedicated high school English teacher who ultimately goes to rather disturbing lengths in order to protect two of his favorite students from bullies, including one particular bully of note. James Lewis (David Dastmalchian) has had a dark past, but loves his job. Especially when it comes to students Preston Walsh (Matthew Garry) and Daniela Lopez (Esme Perez), he’s willing to go above and beyond for them. However, on the flip side, is Tim Cooper (Curtis Edward Jackson). A popular athlete, Tim and his jock friends torment Preston mercilessly, only stopping in order to bully Daniela too. When the two begin dating, Tim only ups his game. At the end of his rope, James steps in, drawing the ire of Tim’s powerful father Bernard Cooper (Kevin Pollak). Adam Dick writes and directs, with other cast members including Karin Anglin, Ilyssa Fradin, Alejandro Raya, Cedric Young, and more. John Klein handles the cinematography, while Alexis Grapsas composed the score.
Up until the third act, there’s a foreboding sense of doom here. Then, things go over the top and the climax is too neatly wrapped up, but the overall anger on display carries the day. Dick has tapped into something here, the feeling that courses through the veins of bullies, the bullied, and those who witness it all. David Dastmalchian and Kevin Pollak both turn in fine work, though they put forth performances that couldn’t be more different from each other. Even when things get nuts, unnecessarily so, their acting is noteworthy, though Pollak is somewhat underserved by the material. Dastmalchian, however, is aces.
Teacher very nearly shoots itself in the foot. Up until the plot is recalibrated at the very end, the script has taken things over a cliff. The end result is a flawed flick that does just enough right to be worth your time. Dastmalchian’s complex work is largely what you’ll focus on here, though it’s always nice to see Pollak play against type. Anyone who responds strongly to the issue of bullying will find something to chew on here. You may wish there was more, but what you get is still pretty interesting, all in all…
All of these films are in theaters now!