A childhood cartoon favorite makes her film debut, while Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss run Hell's Kitchen, and scary stories come off the page onto the big screen this week.
This weekend's movie lineup features diverse titles, with highlights being Dora and the Lost City of Gold, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Brian Banks and The Kitchen and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Other films hitting the big screen this week will include Amazon's One Child Nation, Golden Horse-winner Dying to Survive, a gender-swapped remake of the 2006 film After the Wedding and more.
A weekend's worth of diverse titles yields a number of reviews just as varying and different.
From disappointing to influential, read what The Hollywood Reporter film critics thought of this week's releases.
According to THR's Sheri Linden, the Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth-led crime drama The Kitchen fails to bring the heat.
McCarthy, Haddish and Moss play New York mobster wives, who after their husbands are jailed the group of women are left with nothing but the very little money the Irish mob has to give.
Based on the Vertigo comic books series from DC Entertainment, screen-writer-director Andrea Berloff's film follows the women who decide to take on organized crime and become Hell’s Kitchen’s most powerful mobsters.
"A B-movie summer diversion at best, it's more a collection of genre tropes than an involving crime drama," notes Linden.
Though the film boasts critically-acclaimed leading actresses, the disappointing "two-dimensionality" of the story dampens the flame of their work, she writes.
The movie inhibits the actresses' talent, including Margo Martindale who plays Ruby's (Haddish's) racist mother-in-law.
For McCarthy, The Kitchen serves as a placeholder, rather than improvement.
"The Kitchen is smart enough not to simply equate female empowerment with crime, but whatever price the characters must pay for their newfound clout, the sacrifice is never truly felt," Linden writes.
Nickelodeon's favorite child explorer comes to the big screen in Dora and The Lost City of Gold.
The Muppets director James Bobin's latest venture follows Dora as she navigates high school and teams up both familiar and new friends to find the legendary City of Gold.
Isabela Moner stars the ambitious adventurer and Jeff Wahlberg brings her animal-loving cousin, Diego, to life. Eva Longoria and Michael Peña play Dora's parents and Danny Trejo lends his voice to Dora's best monkey friend, Boots.
Though the film brings the familiar animated series to film, THR critic Todd McCarthy writes that Dora and The Lost City of Gold fails to be as ambitious as its titular character.
"The characters are never truly challenged, as if the filmmakers are afraid that any credible peril might prove too frightening for some little kid," he writes.
Based on the novel by Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain features a philosophical dog voiced by Kevin Costner.
The golden retriever named Enzo observes his best friend and race car owner Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) as he goes through life, falls in love, and begins a family.
Simon Curtis, director of My Week with Marilyn, adds to the plethora of dog-narrated films with The Art of Racing in the Rain.
In Caryn James’ THR review the film could have, “let loose more, because there are touches hinting at what a better, more imaginative version might have been.” James continues, “if you’re going to make a ruminating dog your main character, at least give him clever things to say.” Adding that “endless expository voiceover by a dog is just as tiresome as wall-to-wall narration by a human, even when that dog has the comforting, raspy voice of Kevin Costner.”
Aldis Hodge stars in the titular role of Brian Banks, a drama based on the true story of an all-American high school football star wrongly accused of a sexual assault crime.
Sentenced to a decade in prison and probation, Banks tries to navigate the justice system to reclaim his life, finally getting the chance with the California Innocence Project.
From the director of Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, and Bruce Almighty, Tom Shadyac comes back after his 11-year break from narrative features.
In his review, THR film critic Stephen Farber says “this movie deserves to be shown — partly because it will stimulate more dialogue on a controversial subject, and also because it showcases outstanding performances, especially a career-defining portrayal by Aldis Hodge in the title role.”
Farber also writes that the film is “the opposite of a #MeToo movie, Brian Banks is definitely swimming against the current.” Adding, “although it is at times a little too slick, it is also undeniably effective and moving.”
In Bart Freundlich’s After the Wedding, an orphanage manager seeking monetary support travels from India to New York only to receive anything but charity.
A gender-swapped rendition of Susanne Bier’s 2006 film of the same name, After the Wedding stars Michelle Williams as American transplant Isabel and Julianne Moore as her benefactor Theresa. When Theresa’s husband Oscar (Billy Crudup) and Isabel meet after a joyous wedding, family secrets unravel and tensions rise.
According to THR’s David Rooney, Freundlich’s After the Wedding offers “characters that feel inconsistent, poorly crafted scenes in which even heightened friction plays just a touch flat and emotional gut punches that too seldom land.”
The film, which made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, gains nothing from overly decadent and colorful shots of India, but benefits greatly from the performances not just by its two leading actresses, but the story’s three main women, Rooney writes.
He lauds Williams and Moore but also he praises newcomer Abby Quinn, who plays Theresa and Oscar’s newlywed daughter Grace.
“Quinn is lovely, even if she's stuck with some unfortunate dialogue and Grace's relationship with Jonathan is unconvincing. She injects this simultaneously overstuffed and empty movie with some much-needed genuine feeling.”
Alvin Schwartz’s anthology series of children’s horror stories come to the big screen in Andre Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Based off Schwartz’s 1981 first installment, the horror film depicts the horror that ensues when the monsters and ghouls from Sarah Bellows’ diary (Kathleen Pollard) terrorizes the eerily quaint town of Mill Valley. A group of teenagers played by Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush and must learn the secrets of the stories to save their lives and their town.
THR film critic Keith Uhlich writes that the film, which boasts Guillermo del Toro as producer and story writer, underwhelms in bringing Shwartz’s horrors to life.
“All of these beasties are ‘scary,” he Uhlich notes. “Though they'd be much more so if they felt less like franchisable IP and more like fervent expressions of the ills of the eras on which the film aims to comment.”
Smuggling drugs to help leukemia patients acquire expensive meds, Cheng Yong is the Robin Hood of pharmaceuticals in Dying to Survive.
Wen Muye’s comedy, which took home a number of Golden Horse awards in 2018, apparently influenced Chinese government policies regarding access to medication for those suffering with CML cancer. Following Dying to Survive, the drug went down from $70,000 for a year’s supply to free under health insurance.
Xu Zheng’s small-time dealer Cheng Yong carries the project and allows the actor to showcase his versatility, THR critic Deborah Young writes.
“Comic star Xu Zheng carries the show as a lovable tough guy who switches from exasperation with life to swinging punches out of sheer conviction,” she writes.
Muye’s film may be full of twists and turns, deaths and chases, but its use of comedy makes for a smooth, easy-to-swallow narrative, Young writes.
“Wen and his co-writers Han Jianv and Zhong Wei...use humor to sweeten the pill of tragedy, and so enroll much bigger audiences than with a straight melodrama,” she notes.
Documentarians Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang uncover the consequences of China’s one child policy in Amazon studios’ One Child Nation.
From 1979 to 2015, China enforced laws limiting families to one child in an effort to solve its over-population and starvation problems. Wang and Zhang’s film, which took home the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the Sundance Film festival, “is a shattering investigation of the policy's sinister ripple-effect consequences and its countless tragic victims,” writes THR film critic David Rooney.
The 85-minute doc features stories from families who abandoned infant daughters in markets or handed them over to human traffickers. One Child Nation also highlights the narratives an American couple who adopted three Chinese daughters and their mission to help parents trace their abandoned children’s history.
“The film is a valuable record and a sober but frightening illustration of the dark side of this government-controlled experiment,” Rooney writes.
A crab trapper on the run, a nursing home worker and a wanna-be pro-wrestler with down syndrome make for an unlikely trio in The Peanut Butter Falcon.First-time feature writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz’s take on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn revolves around 22-year-old Zak (Zack Gottsagen) who escapes from his nursing home and meets LaBeouf’s Tyler while on the run.The unexpected friendship that kindles between the film’s two leading men allows LaBeouf’s acting chops to lead the film, writes THR’s Sheri Linden.“LaBeouf holds the screen with natural allure, making every twinge of his character's self-reproach, and every instant of his dawning joy, achingly felt. His nuanced performance propels this journey,” she says.Though Linden writes the film sails smoothly, it’s doesn’t go without flaws. Firstly, its story walks the fine line of too simplistic, keeping backstory to a minimum.Secondly, Linden notes that Dakota Johnson, who plays nursing home worker Eleanor, goes underutilized, writing that “it's disappointing how little the screenplay gives her to bite into.”