The Film Fix: Previewing August’s Top Films in Theaters, Streaming

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By JONATHAN W. HICKMAN, The Film Fix

Below are reviews and capsules of various films this month in theaters and/or streaming.

Review rating … A “Fix” is recommended with a rating between 6 and 10. A “No Fix” is not recommended with a rating between 1 to 5.

In Theaters

Haunted Mansion (in theaters now) – Fix Rating 6/10 – The decades-old Disney amusement park attraction gets a reboot (see 2003’s “The Haunted Mansion” starring Eddie Murphy), this time with a talented, well-known ensemble cast. The result is a kid-friendly comedy with minimal scares.

When engineer Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) meets and ultimately loses the love of his life, he becomes a hapless drunk. He makes money conducting history walking tours in New Orleans. One day, he’s visited by Father Kent (Owen Wilson), who promises him a big payday if he takes a photography job in an old mansion outside town.

Naturally, this is the title of the haunted piece of real estate, and when Ben steps foot in the place, he enters a very spooky world. The new owner is a doctor named Gabbie (Rosario Dawson). She’s brought her young son Travis (Chase Dillon) to the mansion, hoping to get a new start. Unfortunately, the place is inhabited by many terrifying and annoying apparitions.

Since Ben’s invented a unique camera and lens that can capture images of ghosts, Gabbie and Father Kent reason that he might be able to help them exorcize the mansion. As their investigation proceeds, they turn to Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), a medium, and then to college professor Bruce (Danny DeVito). Reluctantly, they form a ghost-fighting team.

“Haunted Mansion” is an uneven film that gets the job done. However, the terrific Stanfield is in a completely different movie, as he delivers a sincere performance while everyone else has their tongues firmly in their cheeks. The story contains heartfelt emotion positioned next to campy, sitcom-style comedy banter. 

Recent Oscar-winner Jamie Lee Curtis appears briefly hamming it up alongside a completely wasted Tiffany Haddish—both actresses are much better than this material.

Oppenheimer – Fix Rating 10/10 – The atomic bomb makes a thunderous, awe-inspiring appearance in “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s sprawling ensemble epic. Still, the concentration on physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s monstrous ego makes the film more of a personal story and less of a historical one.

An oppressive sense of urgency is built into this artful telling of one man’s pursuit of immortality. As the momentous events in Europe and the Pacific marched forward during WWII, the brilliant physicist was put in charge of the project to develop the powerful war-ending weapon.

Nolan’s typical storytelling structural touches set the film in various time periods, both before and after the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The movie is shot in IMAX, a large-format film typically associated with capturing expansive vistas and thrilling action sequences. With the assistance of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (see “Dunkirk”), Nolan moves the wide angles in closer than usual IMAX productions.

“Oppenheimer” is a visual and narrative achievement that towers above anything I’ve seen so far this year. The palpable drama is so thick that it is almost unbearable. And while Cillian Murphy is a standout in the lead, Robert Downey, Jr., is a lock for end-of-year nominations as a supporting actor. 

The production is flawless. I was both taken aback by Nolan’s craftsmanship and intimidated by the skill he exhibits in his storytelling. The success of the third act, which often evades lesser directors, demonstrates the work of an unparalleled master who learned from his misstep with 2020’s “Tenet.” “Oppenheimer” is an unabashed masterpiece befitting the outstanding atomic achievement and securing the physicist’s legacy in a way that is sad, inspiring, and without pretense.

Streaming Selects

PARAMOUNT+

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (now streaming) — Fix Rating 6/10 – “Rise of the Beasts” isn’t a bad “Transformers” film. It’s a sequel to 2018’s entertaining and successful spinoff “Bumblebee.” What’s confounding is that since “Rise” is set in 1994, its place in the series canon seems incongruous. Is this a reboot? Inquiring minds want to know.

I’d call “Rise” a reboot that builds on the goodwill generated by “Bumblebee” while bringing into the fold the franchise’s variant “Beast Wars.” The story has a Transformer race known as the Maximals seeking refuge on Earth. When a planet-devouring evil entity named Unicron finds its way to our world, the Maximals join the Autobots to save the day.

MAX (formerly HBO Max)

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2 premieres on August 6)  HBO’s hit basketball series returns with its second season. Season one of this high-concept show took viewers to the 1980s and followed the efforts of Hall of Fame player turned coach Jerry West (Jason Clarke) and Lakers owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) to build one of the biggest NBA franchises in history. The all-star cast of familiar faces is combined with some newcomers playing famous players and historical figures. The raucous series comes from producers Adam McKay, Max Borenstein, and Jim Hecht.

NETFLIX

Heart of Stone (August 11) – Netflix continues to bet big on blockbuster action films on the small screen. After the success of the Chris Hemsworth vehicle “Extraction” and its recent sequel, the streaming behemoth gives “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot a massive platform that hints at a franchise. From the team that brought Netflix the Charlize Theron led “The Old Guard” in 2020, “Heart of Stone” is another familiar story of a shadowy agency combating threats to international security. “Fifty Shades” heartthrob Jamie Dornan and German star Matthias Schweighöfer (see “Army of the Dead”) round out the ensemble cast.

AMAZON PRIME

Harlan Coben’s Shelter (series premiere on August 18)  The bestselling author Harlan Coben (see “Safe” and “Tell No One”) produces another adaptation of his pulpy, popular writing with a series based on the 2011 novel “Shelter.” Secrets swirl as teen Mickey Bolitar (Jaden Michael) moves to a new town following his father’s death, and his mother enters rehab. When a classmate disappears, Mickey and his new friends investigate. Is Mickey’s father really dead? The mystery deepens as Mickey tries to find answers.

DISNEY PLUS 

Ahsoka (series premiere August 23) – Rosario Dawson returns as Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano in this “Star Wars” series. Trailers give off a definite “Mandalorian” vibe, but one hopes that the lessons learned from Tony Gilroy’s terrific series “Andor” will carry through to “Ahsoka.” Dawson is perfectly cast in a role that was only a supporting character in previous live-action series entries. If this show manages to capture a little “Andor” magic and builds upon the impressive narrative developments conveyed in installments of the animated “Tales of the Jedi,” Disney may have an opportunity to continue its successful “Star Wars” universe expansion.

Theatrical Teasers

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Now Playing) – This animated franchise entry is yet another adaptation of the 1980s comic book property, this time from the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jeff Rowe (see his work on “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and “Gravity Falls”). 

Meg 2: The Trench (Now Playing) – Jason Statham returns to kick in the nose not just one killer prehistoric shark but at least two of the beasts. The first one was campy fun, but this sequel comes from directing auteur Ben Wheatley (see “High-Rise” and “Kill List”).

 The Last Voyage of the Demeter (August 11) – Bram Stoker’s blood-sucking character never seems to die, and this new take on the classic 1897 novel focuses on Dracula’s voyage from Carpathia to London. Trailers look frightening as no one is safe aboard the Russian schooner Demeter.

Gran Turismo (August 11) – A talented cast led by David Harbour and Orlando Bloom tries to buck the bad video game adaptations trend with this take on the bestselling PlayStation property. The story has a gamer taking his skills to the real world. “District 9” director Neill Blomkamp helms this one.

Blue Beetle (August 18) – After the recent failure of “The Flash,” the DCEU looks to regain some ground with the fun appearing “Blue Beetle.” The story has a recent college graduate selected against his will by an alien symbiote in the form of a scarab to host its power. While the wholesale reboot of the DC Comics film franchise is well underway, one wonders where this entry will land once the new vision firmly takes hold.

Jonathan W. Hickman is an entertainment attorney, filmmaker, college professor, and novelist. More about Jonathan can be found by visiting: filmproductionlaw.com. Folks can also follow him at dailyfilmfix.com.

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