Screening Room: Twisters, My Spy 2, Young Woman and the Sea, Oddity & More

Storm Team

Twisters

by Hope Madden

Is Twisters 100% scientifically realistic? Well, taming tornadoes from inside souped up pickups seems likelier than following up the beautiful, Oscar nominated drama Minari with this movie. But if director Lee Isaac Chung can do that, anything is possible.

Chung’s film, written by Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) and Joseph Kosinski (Tom Cruise’s favorite director, who also wrote the Cruse vehicle Oblivion), follows a new generation of storm chasers.

One team—scientists, PhDs with beta tech in their trunks and data collection on their minds—is led by Javi (Anthony Ramos). And yes, his crew carries degrees from MIT, NASA, ETC. But he can’t do it without Kate (Daisy Edgar-Jones).

Team two is a more raucous bunch. Hot YouTuber Tyler Owens (Glen Powell) and his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-truck crew don’t need no stinking degrees. But maybe they also need Kate, who balances Team One’s academic expertise with Team Two’s organic know-how.

Kate doesn’t really need either team, which is one mark in the plus column for a film that doesn’t find a lot of ways to break new ground. It does wait a full hour before putting Powell in a white tee shirt in the rain, though, so at least it exerts a little restraint.

It’s fun, though. Is it big dumb fun? Well, I mean, there may be actual science afoot. I wouldn’t know.

Powell’s as effortlessly charismatic as ever, and it continues to be impossible to root against Ramos, who’s conflict and tenderness almost force you to care what happens. Edgar-Jones cuts a fine presence as hero, and the unexpected turns Twisters takes are welcome.

Yes, most of them are expected, but genuinely solid performances from the leads as well as the full ensemble elevate the script. The writing is better than the plot demands, to be entirely fair, but you don’t go to Twisters for the writing.

The action is arresting. Yes, a couple of set pieces look like MGM Studios attractions, but others—the opening sequence, in particular—impress. But Chung is looking for more than action. He gives his film the very throwback vibe of an 80s style blockbuster. It may be an effort to—as one character literally says—“get everyone into the movie theater” but it might work.

Little Sister, Can’t You Find Another Way?

Oddity

by Hope Madden

Back in 2021, writer/director Damian Mc Carthy cast a spook house spell, rattling chains and all, with his pithy survival story Caveat.  He’s back, and with him another claustrophobic but gorgeous supernatural tale of familial grievance.

Carolyn Bracken is Darcy, twin sister of the recently slain Dani (also Bracken). Darcy is a little touched—she still runs the curiosity/antique shop her mother left her and still holds on to the giant wooden man a witch gave her parents for their wedding. Darcy is also blind, so when she arrives at her brother-in-law’s home—the very spot where Dani came to her bloody end—Ted (Gwilym Lee) and his new live-in girlfriend (Caroline Menton) don’t know how to politely ask her to leave. And to take her giant wooden friend with her.

Oddity stitches together a handful of common enough ideas with a few real surprises. More importantly, Mc Carthy hands this tapestry of folklore and soap opera to a nimble cast and a gifted cinematographer. Together this team casts a spell too fun to break.

Mc Carthy’s framing inside and around the house where Dani died is gorgeous, surfaces of buttery caramel colors that shine and echo with the clicks of heels or rattle of ghosts. And when we’re not in this haunted space we’re in the age-old horror stomping grounds of a mental asylum—filmed rigidly and hopelessly, as if to suggest that the science of men is cruel and ugly.

But that beautiful, buttery home—Darcy and the wooden man have claimed that and they have no fear of men and science.

Both Lee and Menton deliver solid performances, while Steve Wall and Tadhg Murphy are flip sides of a terrifying coin. But Bracken owns Oddity—at first the warm and engaging Dani, authentic enough to make you mourn her, and then the elegantly spooky Darcy. Bracken, who was so terrifying and feral in Kate Dolan’s 2022 horror You Are Not My Mother, frightens in a very different way here.

At times Oddity suffers from a throwback sensibility—like an old Tales from the Darkside episode. But there’s no denying Mc Carthy’s talent for creating an atmosphere where anything can happen.

Identity Crisis

My Spy The Eternal City

by George Wolf

I said it four years ago and I still stand by it: My Spy is “the best huge-former-wrestler-stars-with-little-kid movie I have ever seen.”

Amazon Prime brings almost all the gang back for a trip abroad in The Eternal City, a sequel that unfortunately forgets to pack much of what made the original so charming.

CIA agent JJ (Dave Bautista) is still with Kate (now played by Lara Babalola), but she’s conveniently out of the country, which means JJ is guardian for Sophie (Chloe Coleman) just as she’s getting that teenage itch to test boundaries.

Happily domestic, JJ is still resisting offers from his boss David (Ken Jeong) and partner Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) to quit desk duty and return to the field. But like it or not, JJ is about to be forced back into action.

Chloe’s school choir has earned a trip to Italy, and JJ comes along as a chaperone under the demanding eye of Vice Principal Nancy (Anna Faris). David’s son Collin (Taeho K) is also part of the choir group, until he’s kidnapped by some evildoers so his dad will cough up the info needed to activate all those suitcase nukes hidden by the KGB.

And how do the bad guys know where all those suitcases are? Duh, they stole the thumb drive. It’s always the thumb drive!

Director Peter Segal again teams with co-writers Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber, but this time they seem much more interested in joining a genre they were winking at in part one.

My Spy would have used all this evil plan exposition for more charmingly self-aware humor. The Eternal City has lost much of that awareness, instead vying to launch some sort of hybrid stepdad/daughter action franchise that can also throw out teen hijinks and adult wisecracks.

Juggling is not in this CIA handbook. As likable as this ensemble is, only a few of the gags actually land, the running time starts to swell and the film spreads its tone so thin that no one gets out of The Eternal City feeling like they had a good time.

Especially those of us so pleasantly surprised with the first outing.

Queen of the Waves

Young Woman and the Sea

by George Wolf

She died in 2003 at the age of 98. And to this day, the New York parade that honored her in 1926 is the largest the city has ever given to a single athlete, man or woman.

Her name was Trudy Ederle, and that year she became the first woman to swim the 21 miles across the English Channel.

Disney’s Young Woman and the Sea brings Trudy’s story to streaming with broad strokes of sports inspiration, and a grounded lead turn from Daisy Ridley that consistently keeps engagement afloat.

Ridley brings intimacy to Trudy’s early struggles against health issues and sexism, crafting a quiet determination to conquer both through swimming the Channel.

Director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) and writer Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can) adapt Jeff Stout’s source biography with a familiar treatment of Trudy’s path to history. Solid supporting players (including Jeanette Hain, Kim Bodnia, Tilda Cobham-Hervey) create an Ederle family unit with an earned humanity. In contrast to forced underdog sports dramas such as the recent The Boys in the Boat, the family dynamics here feel earned, and that fuels the conflicts that come with the arrival of Bill Burgess (Stephen Graham).

Burgess – who swam the Channel himself years earlier – sees through the attempts by insecure males to sabotage Trudy’s quest, and commits himself to helping her succeed, even when the Ederle family wants to call it off. The period details are affecting, Rønning mines tension from an outcome we already know, and Ridley makes sure Trudy is inspirational without becoming a one note hero.

Young Woman and the Sea may never attempt to shake up the sports biography playbook, but it doesn’t feel like pandering, either. Disney obviously knows the game plan, and the film’s commitment to execution delivers a satisfying and overdue salute to a woman who earned it.

Knock at the Cabin Door

Crumb Catcher

by Hope Madden

You want to see a nice evening unravel quickly?

Chris Skotchdopole takes an intriguing premise—groom gets too drunk on his wedding night and can’t quite remember what happened—and layers on something hypnotically, catastrophically banal.

Leah (Ella Rae Peck) and Shane (Rigo Garay) have not started their marriage off on the best foot. Last night was a bust, but maybe a quiet honeymoon at Leah’s boss’s gorgeous, art-bedecked cabin will right things.

Garay and Peck develop a believable antagonism, Skotchdople’s first sleight of hand. Because the performers and the writing (penned by the director along with Garay and Larry Fessenden) slowly deepen and tenderize the relationship so that you buy them as a couple, and hope for their best.

And then.

Most couples contain one person who cannot bear to be rude to someone no matter how obliviously, insistently annoying that person is. The other member of the couple can’t decide who to be angrier with, the annoying stranger or their own placating partner.

John (the magnificently deranged John Speredakos) is that annoying creature, and you have absolutely met this guy before: doesn’t pick up on hints, aggressively friendly, needy and clearly has an agenda.

So it is with much contention that the newlyweds greet John late on their first night together at the cabin. What follows is a bold mix of home invasion horror, comedy of manners, and absurdist timeshare nightmare.

Skotchdopole’s feature debut benefits from his years behind the camera, including shooting Fessenden’s 2019 Frankenstein analogy, Depraved. Crumb Catcher’s disorienting camera emphasizes its chaotic, freakshow quality and visually represents the rising anxiety of the hellish social trap.

Garay delivers an often internal, tender performance nicely offset by Peck’s droll sarcasm. Lorraine Farris turns in strong support work as well, but Speredakos owns this show. His display of desperation and entitlement turned delusional would be hilarious were it not so unsettling.

Skotchdopole’s managed a tightwire of tones, delivering a tense and compelling thriller that turns banality into a weirdly funny nightmare.

Love Taken Too Far

Just the Two of Us

by Eva Fraser

L’amour et les Forêts. Love and the Forests. This title, in the film’s original language, deepens the meaning of the English title “just the two of us,” encompassing the audience in a tale of love so vast, manipulative, and obsessive it becomes suffocating like the sickly sweet air in a watchful forest.

Just the Two of Us, directed by Valérie Donzelli, is a story we’ve seen before. That lessens nothing. These 105 minutes of lust, fear, and desperation center on Blanche Renard (Virginie Efira) and her relationship with Grégoire Lamoreux (Melvil Poupaud)— documenting its toxic development over nearly a decade. 

As soon as the film begins, cinematographer Laurant Tangy gives it life with his close-up shots of micro-movements and facial expressions that tell all. The lighting strengthens every shot, intensifying the emotions of each moment: red for lust, blue for a calculated almost-love, and green for jealousy. Everything teems with vibrancy, then it doesn’t, signaling that something must be wrong, priming us for a closer look.

The performances in this film are phenomenal. Efira, who plays twin sisters Blanche and Rose, conveys everything with her deep, expressive eyes. At one point, she licks a tear from her own face so quickly it seems invisible.

Poupaud terrifies as Grégoire, his sharp-witted duality between tenderness and cruelty giving the film its rightful label as thriller. There are no fantastical monsters or jump scares, only the dramatic irony of a dangerous relationship.

Time feels ambiguous and the pacing variable, but it works with the concept of a disorienting relationship that puts love in a liminal space. A few loose ends don’t taint the film because its main focus is the relationship, not the minute details.

Be warned: this film is very intense and could be triggering for those who’ve been in an abusive situation. Just the Two of Us is beautiful with its realism, but it is also hard to watch. But the stunning performances and technical execution are worth it.

Fright Club: Shadow of War in Horror

You don’t find a lot of outright war/horror genre mashups, but there are a few. Most of them involve murdering Nazis (yay!!). But the shadow of war—its threat, its echoes, its reach toward civilians, its leftover orphans, its cowards and criminals—that influences horror. The Last Circus, Dead Birds, A Serbian Film, 2019’s Guatemalan La Llorona, even The Others – all solid genre films all reeling from the memory of war. But we have other favorites:

5. Ravenous (1999)

The blackest of comedies, the film travels back to the time of the Mexican/American War to throw us in with a cowardly soldier (Guy Pearce) reassigned to a mountainous California outpost where a weary soul wanders into camp with a tale of the unthinkable – his wagon train fell to bad directions, worse weather, and a guide with a taste for human flesh.

Pearce is great as the protagonist struggling against his own demons, trying to achieve some kind of peace with himself and his own shortcomings, but Robert Carlyle steals this movie.

As the wraithlike Colonel Ives, he makes the perfect devil stand-in. Smooth, compelling and wicked, he offsets Pearce’s tortured soul perfectly. The pair heighten the tensions with some almost-sexual tension, which director Antonia Bird capitalizes on brilliantly.

4. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Tim Robbins plays Vietnam vet Jacob Singer with a weary sweetness that’s almost too tender and vulnerable to bear. In a blistering supporting turn, Elizabeth Pena impresses as the passionate carnal angel Jezebel. The real star here, weirdly enough, is director Adrian Lyne.

Known more for erotic thrillers, here he beautifully articulates a dreamscape that keeps you guessing. The New York of the film crawls with unseemly creatures hiding among us. Filmed as a grimy, colorless nightmare, Jacob’s Ladder creates an atmosphere of paranoia and dread.

3. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

The Devil’s Backbone unravels a spectral mystery during Spain’s civil war. The son of a fallen comrade finds himself in an isolated orphanage that has its own troubles to deal with, now that the war is coming to a close and the facility’s staff sympathized with the wrong side. That leaves few resources to help him with a bully, a sadistic handyman, or the ghost.

Backbone is a slow burn as interested in atmosphere and character development as it is in the tragedy of a generation of war orphans. This is ripe ground for a haunted tale, and writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s achievement is both contextually beautiful – war, ghost stories, religion and communism being equally incomprehensible to a pack of lonely boys – and elegantly filmed.

2. Under the Shadow (2016)

First-time feature filmmaker, Iranian Babak Anvari, treads familiar ground yet manages to shift focus entirely and create the profound and unsettling Under the Shadow.

The tale is set in Tehran circa 1988, at the height of the Iran/Iraq war and just a few years into the “Cultural Revolution” that enforced fundamentalist ideologies. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) shelter in their apartment as missiles rain on Tehran.

Frazzled, impatient, judged and constrained from all sides, Shideh’s nerve is hit with this threat. And as external and internal anxieties build, she’s no longer sure what she’s seeing, what she’s thinking, or what the hell to do about it. The fact that this menacing presence – a djinn, or wind spirit – takes the shape of a flapping, floating burka is no random choice. Shideh’s failure in this moment will determine her daughter’s entire future.

1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece is Influenced visually and logically by fairy tales. It takes us to a fairy tale land but is not set on any existing fairy tale, not unlike Argento’s greatest work, Suspiria (1977), and Jee-woon Kim’s brilliant Tale of Two Sisters (2003).

But honestly, there is nothing on earth quite like Pan’s Labyrinth. A mythical cousin to del Toro’s beautiful 2002 ghost story The Devil’s BackbonePan’s Labyrinth follows a terrified, displaced little girl who may be the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, daughter of the King of the Underworld. She must complete three tasks to rejoin her father in her magical realm.

A heartbreaking fantasy about the costs of war, the film boasts amazing performances. Few people play villains—in any language—as well as Sergi Lopez, and Doug Jones inspires terror and wonder in two different roles. But the real star here is del Toro’s imagination, which has never had such a beautiful outlet.

The Same, but Different

Man of Reason

by Rachel Willis

Director and star Jung Woo-sung manages to craft his own take on the man with a criminal past trying to live on the straight and narrow in his film, Man of Reason.

Su-hyuk (Jung), newly released from prison after 10 years, finds much of his world has changed. What hasn’t changed is the expectation that he will resume a life of crime. However, an ultimatum from his ex-girlfriend (Lee Elijah) is all Su-hyuk needs to shun his former lifestyle.

But as we all know, walking away from a crime syndicate isn’t easy.

What follows is a predictable blend of attempted murder, fights, chases, and kidnap. Where Jung succeeds is the introduction of fun characters who enliven the action and the tension. Murderers-for-hire, Jin-ah (Park Yoo-na) and Woo-jin (Kim Nam-gil), are a hell of a lot of fun, despite their penchant for bombs and general mayhem. And despite their humorous inclusion, they still bring a measure of hostility to the film, especially Jin-ah, who is the colder and more calculating of the murderous duo.

As our silent, determined hero, Jung is fairly winning as Su-hyuk. In one of the best scenes, a car that was a gift from his former boss is used to great effect as a weapon against said boss. And while we often tread car commercial territory (frequent shots of the BMW emblem are front and center of several scenes), it doesn’t stop it from being a lot of fun to watch.

Of course, you know what will happen. Each beat unfolds in predictable measure. Whether or not you’re able to lose yourself in the movie and ignore the familiar territory depends on how much you like big action sequences. At this, Jung excels.

It helps that the actors are at their best, bringing the right level of humor, menace, and thrills. As you may also expect, a child at the center of the action raises the stakes, and little In-ba (Ryu Jian) is the perfect mix of adorable, sad, and precocious. Her dilemma is where most of the tension lies, and Ryu ably tugs at our heart strings.

While there isn’t anything new to find in Man of Reason, that doesn’t make it any less thrilling to watch.