Between birthdays, a four-day road trip north, and a busy wedding anniversary, writing (if not moviegoing) has taken a relative back seat for yours truly. Throughout the month of June, the cineplex and myriad streamers have gifted us winners, losers, and everything in between. Long live movie theaters.
A Quiet Place Part II (IN THEATERS)
A sensational nail-biter, improving on the original, expanding on its insular world and trading John Krasinski’s perfect patriarch for a compelling male lead in Cillian Murphy, an actor whose eyes emit a nagging question of trust. But this film, and eventually this franchise, belongs to Millicent Simmons as deaf daughter Regan. She and Noah Jupe’s Marcus come of age beautifully, learning from their late father and proving themselves heroes in their own right. Emily Blunt can do no wrong, of course, and visual effects, specifically the film’s rendering of these extraterrestrial creatures, are more impressive the second time around. As director, Krasinski proves himself a master of suspense, utilizing all of the hallmarks of Spielbergian terror: silence, sound, shadow, and the slow crank of impending doom.
Mainstream (ON DEMAND & IN THEATERS)
A dark, wickedly funny if not quite razor-sharp razzing of social media celebrities and the attention-desperate ecosystem they inhabit. Andrew Garfield goes for broke giving one of the best performances of his career as an L.A. slacker whose fuck-Silicon Valley ethos quickly devolves once he’s paid to shill said ethos online as one of the online icons he so despises. Supported by Maya Hawke (Stranger Things) and Nat Wolff (Death Note), Garfield is a livewire of camera-ready charisma, rhetorical gymnastics, and southern Californian entitlement. He’s even somehow likable in spite of his sociopathic delusions of grandeur. Though missing the exclamation point that another draft or two would’ve afforded, Gia Coppola isn’t getting enough credit here, for either her view-askew angle on the ethically dubious and culturally vacuous underpinnings of internet stardom or the casual ease with which she commands the film’s admittedly wild-child style.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (IN THEATERS)
A significant step down from the old-school scares of the 2013 James Wan original and his incredibly creepy follow-up in 2016. With La Llorona alum Michael Chaves taking over directing duties, the franchise takes on a different hue as we follow Ed & Lorraine Warren all over New England in search of clues as to why and how an innocent family has been cursed by a satanic cult. For ill and good (mostly ill), plot-wise this is more akin to paranormal investigations of the CW Supernatural kind than a tried-and-true installment in the Conjuring universe. That being said, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga continue to inhabit the now aging couple with vigor and warmth, and a couple of doozies inside of a morgue and at the opening exorcism attempt are incredibly thrilling. Scary iconic images like a demon lurking beneath a water bed or a young boy’s body bending into spider-like contortions will stick with me for a long time.
Infinite (PARAMOUNT PLUS)
Imagine a world where Mark Wahlberg is the smartest man on Earth. Infinite offers us such a world, and it’s a laughable, expensive ego trip for the long-running star, a film wherein suspension of disbelief is stretched so thin the entire house of cards comes tumbling down within mere minutes of the opening credits. We can’t help but laugh at the concept of Wahlberg as a samurai sword-wielding Great White Hope of reincarnated do-gooders. All credit to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who waxes campy and prophetic as an evil rival attempting to halt the chain of reincarnation. The talented Dylan O’Brien appears briefly as one of Wahlberg’s past selves, and he undoubtedly deserves better than this wannabe franchise-starter cribbing from Highlander and every other action blockbuster of the last twenty to thirty years.
In the Heights (HBO MAX & IN THEATERS)
Probably the best musical ever made that doesn’t contain a single memorable, hummable song in its two hour-plus runtime. Rising star Anthony Ramos and a cadre of young, vigorous, theater-trained actors (Cory Hawkins, Melissa Berrera, Jimmy Smits) bellow their hearts out in the streets of Washington Heights, New York, all to enjoyable effect. The pop-colorful cinematography is vivid and the songs incredibly joyful in spite of the limited setting and lack of memorable songwriting. Arianna Greenblatt makes a brief appearance as a young girl haunting Berrerra’s memories of youth, and Marc Anthony makes a startling impression by NOT singing as a surly, drunken father clearly living a life of regret. The cast enliven a mosaic of east coast blue-collar life, some dreaming of a Midtown makeover or a beachside move, others trying to improve the neighborhood by sticking by it any way they can. They make you forget that you’ll forget these songs by the next day, even if the after-school message about gentrification is lost a bit amid the swirling romance and Lin-Manuel Miranda cameos.
The Ice Road (NETFLIX)
A B-movie that dives head-first into a peculiar and dangerous job that really, truly exists today in 2021: driving eighteen-wheeler trucks across “ice roads,” miles of road paved in ice that connect various sections of Canada and the far north. What begins as an entertaining disaster film, with Liam Neeson, Laurence Fishburne, and co. racing in frigid weather to save a group of buried miners, soon turns a corner toward predictable revenge plotting, right down to Neeson’s war vet losing friends, family, and his own moral compass, and wanting to make right by punching a corporate stooge in the face. Once criminal elements are introduced, including a racist killer-for-hire (Benjamin Walker) on their tail, The Ice Road becomes a generic trip down memory lane for the aging action star. Bonus points for plumbing the oft-forgotten plight of Native Canadians.