Screening Room: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Sisu, Big George Foreman, Peter Pan & Wendy, Showing Up and More

Darling Story

Peter Pan & Wendy

by Hope Madden

There’s reason to cheer for David Lowery’s latest effort for Disney, Peter Pan & Wendy. First of all, there’s Lowery’s vision.

In the hands of the Green Knight director, Neverland has never looked so gorgeous. He finds ways to exploit the wonder, beauty and danger of this adventureland in a way that fits his lilting retelling.

For the script, Lowery reteams with longtime producer Toby Halbrooks, who co-wrote the director’s previous Disney outing, Pete’s Dragon. Both of Lowery’s films for the Mouse only draw attention to the fact that the Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and The Old Man and the Gun filmmaker possesses no sense of irony, cynicism or fatalism. He seems weirdly perfect for family films.    

And, like Jon Favreau’s wonderful The Jungle Book, Lowery draws inspiration not only from the original text, but also from Disney’s classic animated version. Snippets of songs from the 1953 musical are woven throughout, enough to give parents and grandparents some nostalgic feels.

But do we need or want another Peter Pan story? Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin couldn’t find an audience for his 2020 bayou adaptation, Wendy. No one went to see Joe Wright’s star studded, Hugh Jackman led 2015 musical, Pan. Maybe a more traditional telling is in order? One that weighs the humanity as heavily as the whimsy?

Jude Law’s Hook offers surprising pathos. Never the campy pirate you may have come to expect, Hook is resigned to evil, his own pain a tender nerve just below the surface. It’s a dastardly but tender performance that gives the film a broken heart.

At his side, Jim Gaffigan’s Smee – pretty ideal casting, although the character is underused. Ever Anderson offers a substantial Wendy Darling, and the Lost Boys are not necessarily boys but they are mischievously charming. The problem is Peter.

Alexander Molony, thought cute as can be, is surprisingly lifeless in the lead. His highs don’t feel highs nor his lows low. His performance is neither cartoonish nor realistic.

The character itself gets a bit lost in the adaptation, which holds focus on Wendy’s arc far more than Peter’s story, and Lowery doesn’t seem entirely sure where Peter fits into all this. It’s one of the more ingenious elements of J.M. Barrie’s novel – Peter Pan is not the hero or the villain, he’s more the iconic fool whose lack of arc helps those around him find their own. But Lowery loses his footing when he focuses on Peter, and though his adventure is truly beautiful, it feels a little unfocused and possibly unnecessary.

Infinite Noise

32 Sounds

by Tori Hanes

Sound is the disregarded miracle of life. Its gravity against the wandering human spirit is a given that’s processed through an apathetic gaze. The dimension that invisible vibrations give to a fleeting, complicated, finite life is the epicenter of documentarian Sam Green’s latest piece, 32 Sounds

Through the exploration of 32 unique sounds, Green examines the net this simple sense casts into every aspect of life. He taps philosophers, composers, scientists, Hollywood engineers (practically, anyone who’s devoted their life to noise) to share their interpretation of the illusive.

Through this dissection, a common theme is identified and isolated: loss. The fleeting nature of life paired with the millisecond reverberation of sound finds fraternity easily. When we extend this to captured sound- the mating call of a nearly extinct bird cooing for its deceased mate, or a voicemail greeting from a loved one passed on – the interwovenness of our existence and the ability to hold the senses that gift us interpretation is astounding.

Green connects loss, the fleeting human experience, and sound throughout the film. He starts by immediately concocting these theories, then attempts to let the film find itself through the interview process. Without Green at the wheel, the message begins to meander and loses footing to absurdity. Green has a strong, interesting message here –sometimes, he just gets lost in his own spectacle. 

Audience members will likely leave 32 Sounds reexamining their connection to the most elusive sense. They’ll let the hum of fluorescents, the padded thud of their feet on a living room rug, and the blare of a faraway horn sweep them into a symphony of miracle. And that, in and of itself, is the miracle of life.

George of the Rumble

Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World

by George Wolf

Sixteen words in that title, leaving little room for nuance or any shred of mystery about the tale being told. And it’s a perfect fit for a film that is content to just summarize a life like a Wikipedia timeline, choosing the safest, most easily digestible path.

After a brief flashback segment, director and co-writer George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Men Of Honor, Notorious, The Hate U Give) just ticks off the events of George Foreman’s life in simple, linear fashion.

He grew up poor in Houston, started boxing during his time in the Jobs Corps, won an Olympic Gold in 1968, won the heavyweight belt from Frazier in ’73, lost to Ali’s “rope a dope” strategy in ’74’s Rumble in the Jungle, quit to be full-time preacher in ’78, came back to the ring 10 years later and won the heavyweight championship again in 1994 at the age of 45.

All of that info is always a search engine away, but Tillman Jr. just regurgitates it onscreen, never embracing the chance to dig deeper or deliver any new insight.

And there are two great opportunities here. The first is George’s relationship with longtime mentor “Doc” Broadus, portrayed with heart and sensitivity by Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker. The second is Foreman’s conversion to a Man of God. Either one of these could have given the film a strong foundation to build around, and an easier route to getting audiences closer to the real Big George.

Khris Davis (Judas and the Black Messiah) beefed up considerably to play Foreman, and while he looks the part, fight sequences range from lackluster recreations to the WTF choice of a deep-faked Davis being inserted into real footage from Foreman’s 1991 bout with Evander Holyfield. Comical portrayals of both Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell only feed a longing for the historical relevance of the 1996 doc When We Were Kings.

George’s rise to gold medals, heavyweight belts and best-selling grills has indeed been extraordinary. It deserves better than the ordinary treatment that comes from Big George Foreman.

Grown Up Girl and Boy Land


by George Wolf

The feature debut from director and co-writer Saim Sadiq unveils an assured and often masterful technician, one able to convey a deep affection for the lives of his meaningful characters.

Joyland is a smart and deeply human drama, a treat for both the eye and the heart.

Haider (Ali Junejo) is the youngest son in a traditional Pakistani family. After a long period of unemployment, he finally lands a job. But while this seems like good news, it signals a seismic shift in his multi-generational family dynamic at home, starting with the family’s decision for Haider’s wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq) to give up the salon job she loves so she may stay home and assist with keeping house and children.

Haider will be joining the backup dancers in a Bollywood-style show led by the strong-willed Biba (Alina Khan), a trans woman. The pay is good, but Haider will have to tell his conservative father (Salmaan Peerzada) that he’ll be managing the theatre, not dancing in it, and avoid any mention of the star of the show.

But Haider’s biggest secret is his infatuation with the magnetic Biba, and the relationship that is budding between them.

Sadiq’s camera moves slowly and confidently, filling frames that are frequently static with mesmerizing dances of color, shadow, and light. Just what he does with a decorative light fixture’s effect on the room where Haider and Biba grow closer is a thrilling wonder of shot choreography.

Similarly, Sadiq’s script (co-written with Maggie Briggs) often speaks loudly through the silence of things left unsaid. Haider isn’t the only one here keeping secrets, and the film begins to ache with the longing for lives that seem hopelessly out of reach.

And yet somehow, the gripping conclusion arrives without any of the melodrama you might expect. And when it does, Joyland leaves a mark that also signals the arrival of its visionary and insightful filmmaker.

Did Nazi That Coming


by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Is there anything in all the world more satisfying than watching Nazis die? Perhaps not.

Jalmari Helander, the genius behind 2010’s exceptional holiday horror Rare Exports, squeezes a lovechild from Leone and Peckinpah by way of Tarantino (natch). The result, Sisu, a kind of WWII-era Scandinavian John Wick.

That sounds borrowed, but it doesn’t feel borrowed. It feels stylized but never derivative.

Rare Exports star Jorma Tommila plays Aatami Korpi. Korpi used to be a soldier. He left that – and his reputation as a “one man death squad” – behind, instead roaming Lapland with his dog and his horse in search of peace and gold.

After finding one, the other becomes even more elusive.

The Nazis, their loss imminent, are leaving scorched earth behind as they move across Lapland. Their paths cross Korpi’s. It doesn’t go well for the Nazis.

Helander’s confident vision meshes majestically with the cinematography of Kjell Lagerroos, capturing the lonesome beauty of Lapland in one minute, the next minute bursting with the frenetic energy and viscera of action. The stunt choreography and editing in the dizzying array of carnage-laden set pieces are breathtaking. Knives, guns, fisticuffs, tank fire, regular fire, land mines, a hanging, airplanes – a seemingly endless string of magnificently crafted violent action keeps the pace breathless.

Speaking of breath, there’s an underwater sequence that’s a real gem. And a great deal of Sisu’s success is in the novelty of its action. We’ve seen about 11 hours of John Wick by now. It’s hard to do something new.

But Helander manages. Composers Juri Seppä and Tuomas Wäinölä also assist in lifting the heights of this spectacle, and it becomes as beautiful a celebration of bloodletting as we’ve seen for some time.

And though a final confrontation between Korpi and the ruthless SS Commander tracking him (Aksel Hennie) is never in doubt, it takes on a greater significance thanks to Helander’s clearly-drawn stakes. The Nazi is looking to buy his redemption, while Korpi sees the chance to finally escape his past.

Vengeance? Oh, that’s here, too, for both Korpi and some POWs who smugly warn their German captors of what is coming. They say the Finnish word for what the wandering stranger is does not translate, but that he is no ordinary traveler.

And the film is no ordinary travelogue. Clocking in at just 91 minutes, Sisu is perfectly lean, relentlessly mean, and consistently satisfying at every blood-soaked turn.

This Property Is Condemning You to Death

The Tank

by Daniel Baldwin

Picture this: a loved one has passed away and you inherit a piece of property from them that they’ve never mentioned. You’ve been handed a house along the coast that comes with its own private beach. We’re talking beautiful, untouched land. An absolute dream come true, with no catch in sight.

Well, except for that weird water tank that’s hidden underground on the property. A tank that may or may not contain an ancient beast that loves to run amok when unleashed. That right, you didn’t just inherit your dream home. You inherited a horror movie as well. Congratulations!

Scott Walker’s New Zealand creature feature The Tank knows its tropes and revels in them constantly. If you’re rolling up to this coastal oasis of terror looking for heaps of originality, you’re going to swim away disappointed. However, if you’re the type that loves a good meat & potatoes monster movie, then you will find quite a bit to enjoy here.

There are two true stars of this bestial B-movie endeavor, with the first being the practical monster effects work on display from WETA Workshop. Their efforts here are just as good as you’d expect coming from the imaginative minds that brought forth the cinematic beasties on display in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 30 Days of NightDistrict 9, and the cult classic Black Sheep. Richard Taylor and his team are in fine form, serving up a cool monster and delivering delicious creature carnage.

The other star is actress Lucianne Buchanan. While the other performances in the film are fine, Buchanan stands tall above the rest, gifting us with a new horror heroine to root for in family matriarch, Jules. Between her turn in this and her leading role on the recent hit Netflix action series The Night Agent, Buchanan is one to keep your eye on.

The Tank does have its issues. The pacing in the first two acts can be sluggish at times, the color palette can get a bit monotonous, and the family drama subplots don’t really amount to much. Of course, that’s not what we’re here for. The Tank promises you some lean, mean, and low budget monster escapism. For the most part, it delivers on that promise, so if this type of movie is up your alley, give it a look.

Art & Craft

Showing Up

by Hope Madden

Visual poet of the day-to-day Kelly Reichardt returns to screens this weekend with a look at art as well as craft in her dramedy, Showing Up.

Michelle Williams is Lizzy, a sculptor who’s not getting enough done for her upcoming show. It’s a small show in a small gallery not exactly downtown, but it’s a show and she’s got a lot of work left to do.

So does Jo (Hong Chau, one of three 2023 Oscar nominees in the cast!), Lizzy’s neighbor and landlord. In fact, Jo has two shows coming up, so who knows when she’ll be able to fix Lizzy’s water heater?

And just like that, Reichardt leaches the glamour from the art world, dropping us instead into a place far from glitzy but bewilderingly human.

Williams is characteristically amazing, her performance as much a piece of physical acting as verbal. You know Lizzy by looking at her, at the way she stands, the way she responds to requests for coffee or work, the way she reacts to compliments about her work, the way she sighs. Williams’s performance is as much in what she does not say as what she does, and the honesty in that performance generates most of the film’s comic moments.

Chau knocks it out of the park yet again, and like Williams, she presents the character of Jo as much in her physical action as in her dialog. The chemistry between the two is truly amazing, simultaneously combative and accepting, or maybe just resigned to each other.

Reichardt’s phenomenal cast does not stop there: Judd Hirsch (irascible and hilarious), John Magaro (sad with an undercurrent of potential danger), Andre Benjamin (chilling), Maryann Plunkett (frustrated) and Amanda Plummer (weird, naturally).

As is so often the case, the environment itself is its own character, every gorgeously mundane detail filmed in Reichardt’s go-to 16mm film. She and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt once again find the grace and beauty in the spots everyone else ignores.

Like Nicole Holofcener and Claire Denis, Reichardt invests her attention in the small moments rather than delivering a tidy, obvious structure. The result feels messy, like life, with lengths of anxiety and unease punctuated by small triumphs.

Black Magic Woman

The Love Witch

by Hope Madden

Anna Biller, everybody. Holy shit.

Wes Anderson with a Black Mass fetish and a feminist point of view, Biller wrote/directed/produced/edited/set-designed/costume-designed/music-supervised the seductive sorcery headtrip The Love Witch.

Elaine (Samantha Robinson – demented perfection) needs a change of scenery. Driving her red convertible up the seacoast highway toward a new life in northern California, her troubles – and her mysteriously dead ex-husband – are behind her. Surely, with her smart eyeshades and magic potions, she’ll find true love.

Shot in dreamy 35mm and produced in lurid Technicolor, the film achieves a retro aesthetic unparalleled in modern cinema. And yet, a mid-film cell phone and third act DNA evidence pulls you from the hip Sixties spell of burlesque shows and tea rooms – but don’t mistake this for anachronism. Instead, it fits perfectly into a narrative that sees a deranged lunatic embrace archaic gender roles with the rage of one already ruined by them.

Enough cannot be said for Biller’s imagination for detail – from the contents of a “witch bottle” to the retro look of every actor, the era-evoking flatness in line delivery to the excruciating art adorning Elaine’s walls.

The orgy of colors, textures and dessert treats signifies the sensual madness eating away at poor, narcissistic Elaine.

Biller’s casting sense is as keen. Every actor not only fully embraces the weirdness of Biller’s spell, but each looks like they just walked out of a Sears Roebuck catalog circa 1968.

Expect a loose confection of a plot, as Elaine molds herself into the ideal sex toy, winning and then tiring of her trophies. This allows Biller to simultaneously reaffirm and reverse gender roles with appropriately wicked humor.

Biller pulls thematically from her 2007 film Viva, but her epic knowledge of the sexual revolution era Black Magic Woman flicks (Oh, there are plenty: Mephisto’s Waltz, Season of the Witch, The Velvet Vampire) and her clear growth in her craft help The Love Witch exceed all expectations.


Fright Club: Frightful Patients

There is something scary about hospitals, especially the old, abandoned ones and those creepy, windowless floors! But what about the patients? We take a look – limiting our discussion to actual patients in actual facilities, not involuntary patients in homes, garages and storage units (although that turned out to be quite a list, so maybe later…)

5. Patrick: Patrick (1978)

One of a number of underappreciated Aussie horror flicks of the Seventies, Patrick is the first pairing of director Richard Franklin and writer Everett de Roche. The two would make a number of solid genre flicks together, but it was probably the popularity of this film that sparked the Ozploitation craze.

Here, big-eyed Robert Thompson is an unblinking catatonic in a Melbourne hospital. Though nothing’s going on in his body and eyelids (honestly, the fact that he never blinks and no one give him eyedrops might generate more unease than anything else in the movie!), his mind is very busy. Especially now that he’s keen on nurse Kathie (Susan Penhaligon).

Thompson owns the screen, regardless of his state, and effortlessly creates dread. Franklin ups the ante with some elevator claustrophobia and the general tension of being in a hospital. This is a low budget indie and suffers a bit from sprawl, but when Patrick turns his head and scares his new nurse. I still jump.

4. Mary Hobbes: Session 9 (2001)

Nyctophobia, dissociative identity disorder, creepy tapes, an abandoned asylum – the pieces are there for a spooky horror movie. Credit writer/director Brad Anderson for swimming familiar waters and yet managing a fresh, memorable and disturbing film.

Gordon (Peter Mullan) needs some cash – and some sleep. Troubles at home aside, he’s having problems getting his latest assignment completed on time. With just a skeleton crew and an unreasonable turnaround time, Gordon has to remove the asbestos from the long-abandoned Danvers Lunatic Asylum.

He sneaks away a lot to call his wife and listen to these therapy tapes he’s found. Meanwhile, a couple of his guys are bickering over a shared girlfriend, another one’s a pothead, and then there’s Gordon’s sweet, mulleted nephew Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), who’s afraid of the dark.

Atmosphere is everything in this film. Performances are outstanding and Anderson has some seriously scary moments in store. Oh, poor Jeff.

3. Elvis Presley: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Who wants to see Bruce Campbell play Elvis Presley?! We do.

Director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) brings Joe R. Lansdale’s short story to the screen to depict the horror and sadness of aging, although its done with such humor that the film is impossible not to love.

Elvis never died, he swapped places with an impersonator who died and ever since then he’s been stuck living someone else’s life. And now he’s in this low-rent old folks home where his only real friend is a guy who believes he’s JFK (Ossie Davis). Obviously, when they realize that the recent spate of patient deaths is due to a mummy sucking the life from people through their assholes, who’d believe these knuckleheads?

The script is great and Coscarelli knows exactly how to make the most of budgetary limitations. The entire cast soars, but Campbell and Davis have such incredible chemistry that the film delivers not just laughs, message, and some scares but genuine tenderness.

2. Nola Carvath: The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

Cronenberg wrote the film during his own ugly divorce and custody battle. He created a fantasy nightmare rooted firmly in the rage, despair, and the betrayal that comes from watching someone who once loved you turn into someone who seems determined to harm you.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar are both unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

1. Patient X: The Exorcist III (1990)

You can absolutely never outdo Friedkin’s original masterpiece, but William Peter Blatty – who wrote the novel The Exorcist – takes a nice stab with the third installment.

Who is this secret Patient X? Or, who’s controlling him? Kinderman (played in this film with much gusto by George C. Scott) will live through a nightmare to figure it out. Jason Miller makes a heartbreaking return, but honestly, Blatty has so much fun with the rest of the patients, the film offers constant, weird terror.