The Film Fix: Previewing February’s Top Films in Theaters, Streaming
By JONATHAN W. HICKMAN, Special to The Paper
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.
Infinity Pool (Now Playing) – Fix Rating 7/10 – Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, son of the filmmaking auteur David Cronenberg, continues to mine his father’s twisted subgenre of body horror with “Infinity Pool.” While there will be a time when Brandon will be talked about without mention of his famous dad, if he continues to make movies like this one, the son will forever be in the shadow of his father. Needless to say, “Infinity Pool” is another Cronenbergian tale that effectively blends horror, science fiction and satire.
The story is about a failed writer named James Foster (Alexander Skaregård in another terrific performance) and his wealthy wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), on vacation at a posh ocean-side resort. When they meet Gabi (“X” and “Pearl” star Mia Goth) and her husband, the Fosters join them for a getaway outside the resort grounds. On the drive home, James accidentally runs over a farmer, killing him instantly.
Soon, James and Em discover that the penalty for the crime is death. But they’re in luck; the tiny nation can construct a replica of James, who will be executed in his place. But the repercussions associated with this other-worldly experience will be impossible to forget.
“Infinity Pool” is a gruesome and decadent carnival of the flesh as James goes down the rabbit hole. Just what all the bloodletting and depravity that follows really means might take multiple viewings. But like all good yarns spun by a Cronenberg, it is an experience of the flesh, exploring the inherent weaknesses of the protagonist, who is caught in a surreal web.
The Last of Us (new episodes each week) – After watching the first two episodes of this high-end video game adaptation, I’m torn as to whether I’ll continue to tune in. It’s a handsomely made series with solid performances led by “The Mandalorian” star Pedro Pascal. But it is bleak and unforgiving and often terribly unpleasant.
The familiar storyline takes place after a fungal pandemic has ravaged the globe leaving those infected as blood-thirsty zombies. While the difference here is that an interconnected fungus drives the infection, “The Last of Us” is just another post-apocalyptic tale ala “The Walking Dead.” “Game of Thrones” actress Bella Ramsey plays a 14-year-old girl who may hold within her a cure or some sort of resistance to the fungus, which will likely offer a distinguishing twist.
Empire of Light (February 7) – This may be of interest because of the top-tier cast, including Olivia Coleman and Colin Firth. It comes from the pen of Sam Mendes (“1917,” “American Beauty,” “Skyfall”), who also directs. The story takes place in 1980s England and centers on Hilary Small (Coleman), the manager of a movie theater, the Empire. While “Empire of Light” wasn’t a hit with critics when it had a limited theatrical run, the Academy did nominate cinematographer Roger Deakins for his camera work.
You (season 4, part 1, February 9) – Joe Goldberg (Pen Badgley) returns, relocating to London, where his obsessive abilities are put to use investigating a set of murders. This social media stalker-inspired series continues to expand with a new location each season, along with another crop of attractive and self-obsessed characters. For some viewers, “You” is a guilty pleasure, while others want nothing to do with its surface thrills.
Your Place or Mine (February 10) – Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher play Debbie and Peter, long-distance best friends who exchange their residences for a colorful change of venue. As playboy Peter bonds with Debbie’s son, Debbie goes out on the town looking for companionship. But when she finds excitement with the handsome Theo (Jesse Williams), Peter starts to wonder if he’s made a big mistake. This “Sleepless in Seattle” type rom-com might seem too derivative to work, but the leads are irresistible and might have more simmering chemistry while they’re apart than if they together occupied every frame.
Hello Tomorrow! (February 17) – I’ve only seen the first three episodes of this show, so I’m not ready to make a “fix” or “no fix” decision. But I will say that “Hello Tomorrow!” is an odd series that reflects Apple’s big swing mentality on their streaming service. “Hello Tomorrow!” takes place in an alternate reality driven by 1950s-style science fiction technology. We get floating robots that service the needs of the planet’s inhabitants, rocket packs that take folks to work, and video calls displayed on cathode ray tube-style televisions.
But despite the amazing conveniences, folks aren’t happy. And a salesman named Jack (Billy Crudup) aims to give people a lift by suggesting that they relocate to the moon. His company sells houses in a domed community on the moon’s bright side. As I said, it’s a weird one, but even though the nostalgic technology is all around them, and the possibility of a blast off to outer space looms in the background, this tale of salesman skirts its action/thriller impulses and embraces quirky drama.
Shrinking (now streaming) Fix Rating 7/10 – While we wait for season three of “The Morning Show,” “Shrinking” is Apple’s mainstream series, and it is solid light entertainment. The story has a therapist named Jimmy (Jason Segel) changing his philosophy after the death of his wife. His partner and mentor, Paul (a terrific Harrison Ford), offers Jimmy support and some much-needed sage advice while also coping with his own demons.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (February 1) – Fix Rating 7/10 – On the heels of five Oscar nominations, including best supporting actress for Angela Bassett, the sequel to the massively successful “Black Panther” hits the streaming service. Director Ryan Coogler returns to deliver a tearful tribute to “Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020 of colon cancer. For most viewers, this will be an opportunity for a second (or third) viewing as Wakanda rebounds from the loss of its King and confronts a new threat from another holder of the power of vibranium.
The Consultant (February 24) – Christoph Waltz plays Regus Patoff, a consultant brought in to save a struggling computer company. His unusual style and methods raise concerns as Patoff begins to take control of the operation. Trailers have given little away but watching multiple Oscar winner Waltz flex is enough for me to give “The Consultant” a shot.
Knock at the Cabin (February 3) – Director M. Night Shyamalan gives us another twisty horror mystery about a family taken hostage by armed strangers who demand that they make a deadly choice to avoid the end of the world. Dave Bautista leads this gripping-looking thriller.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance (February 10) – Channing Tatum returns to the iconic role of stripper Mike Lane in the third film in the “Magic Mike” series. This time, Mike connects with a musical theater producer played by Salma Hayek to produce a stage show in London.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (February 17) – Paul Rudd is back as Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, and Evangeline Lilly joins him as Hope Van Dyne, aka The Wasp, in the third film in the series. This time, Scott and Hope battle Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) in the Quantum Realm. Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas are back, along with series newcomer Bill Murray.
Cocaine Bear (February 24) – I couldn’t avoid mentioning “Cocaine Bear” because it has the potential to be this year’s “Snakes on a Plane” meets “Jaws.” The film has a bear consuming a massive amount of, you guessed it, cocaine and then going on a murderous rampage. But instead of playing it totally serious, director Elizabeth Banks goes for trippy, subversive laughs, as the film’s trailers point out. In addition to a terrific cast, which includes Keri Russell, “Cocaine Bear” features one of the last performances by the late Ray Liotta.
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.