We’re entering the thicket of August, a time when the movies tend to be duds. Not so this week. The biggest release is a bloody, and bloody good, satire about Gen Z culture. The appropriately titled “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” along with Netflix’s “The Sandman” and Apple TV+’s “Five Days at Memorial” are the big standouts, as well as a poetic indie featuring a luminous performance from the prolific Dale Dickey.
Here’s our roundup.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies”: Sorry to disappoint you slasher fans, but the laugh count matters more than the gruesome carnage in director Halina Reijn’s ingenious slicing and dicing of Gen Z culture. Stockpiled with overused catch phrases that 20-somethings dispense in texts, emails and conversations, Sarah DeLappe’s wicked screenplay skewers that generation by presenting us with an annoying batch of rich friends/frenemies, all so self-absorbed they could drain the Pacific Ocean. Newbie lesbian lovers Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova of “Borat Subsequent Movie” fame) are the erstwhile party crashers at a secluded parental estate where the terminally gabby and sexually insecure David (Pete Davidson) has invited his “friends” to do drugs and hang out by the pool while a hurricane pummels ahead. These chums don’t have a clue about anyone other than themselves while they get personally battered by jealousies, secrets, lies and social media posts that crop up before, during and after a game called “Bodies Bodies Bodies” that they play to escape life’s crushing boredom. The mystery at the core of “Bodies Bodies” Bodies” is a clever one that leads to a killer reveal and a killer last line of dialogue. Everyone in the cast, particularly Stenberg, Bakalova and Lee Pace (as a 40-year-old Peter Pan who’s partying and romancing hard with a younger tribe) make “Bodies” a total scream. Details: 3½ stars out of 4; in theaters Aug. 12.
“The Sandman”: Netflix’s 10-parter is begging to be gulped down even though it’ll likely divide devotees of Neil Gaiman’s massive DC Comics creative tour de force, a hallmark of dark fantasy story building. Too bad for the nay sayers. The streamer does justice to Gaiman’s grandiose vision, which has been lingering on cinematic outlines forever. It nails down the dark materials and creates a spectacular otherworldly landscape. Gaiman shares co-writing/executive producer credits with David S. Goyer, who gave us “The Dark Knight” and “Dark City.” Their boundary-breaking input is evident throughout. The first episode is a trip, introducing us to the dour Morpheus, aka the Sandman (Tom Sturridge inhabiting the role in look and action), a weaver of dreams who’s suffering from an existential crisis. The ensuing episodes focus on his adventures with his sidekick Matthew the Raven (voice of Patton Oswalt); his nemesis Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), who’s a serial killer with a thing for taking his victims’ eyeballs out; and his encounters with immortal beings that make up the Endless family (Desire, Death, Despair, Lucifer and so on). Each episode links to the others, but relates a separate story as the Sandman wanders through his past and present, both on earth and beyond, to seek more meaning. The production values are tremendous and the special effects are next level, with showrunner Allan Heinberg conjuring up the similar magic that kept us so enthralled in Gaiman’s heady world. Details: 3½ stars; available now on Netflix.
“Five Days at Memorial”: In this grim minute-by-minute chronicle of the moral and institutional failures that plagued New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital in the days after the wrath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, an opening scene sets the bleak tone of what will follow: the discovery of 45 dead patients. What happened to them? Who left them? Those are the questions and answers addressed in Sheri Fink’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative work that’s been turned into a riveting, harrowing Apple TV+ eight-part series. Spearheaded by screenwriters/co-directors John Ridley (an Oscar winner for “12 Years a Slave”) and Carlton Cuse, it is the epitome of a “hard watch.” But it’s an important one, illustrating the need for tenacious, fact-checked journalism that can expose institutional injustices, mismanagement and deadly bureaucracy. Vera Farmiga gets star billing for her portrayal of the idealistic, worn-down Dr. Anna Pou and deserves accolades for a performance that grows as the series progresses. But “Memorial’s” star performer is Cherry Jones. As Memorial’s nursing director Susan Mulderick, the actor telegraphs the growing desperation of someone stuck in a no-win role who hasn’t been prepared for what will follow, and has been let down by the hospital itself. The cast is large and Ridley and Cuse take care to bring the characters to life as the situation grows more dire and the lack of emergency relief arriving in a timely manner leads to unfathomable, irretrievable decisions. Details: 3½ stars; first three episodes available Aug. 12 on Apple TV+.
“A Love Song”: Dale Dickey is hardly a household name, but odds are you’ve seen her at work. In his feature debut, director/screenwriter Max Walker-Silverman all but hands the keys to the camper van to Dickey and she drives every poignant scene. It’s a perfect performance, one where the slightest gesture reveals reservoirs of grief, pain and even sometimes a brush of happiness. “Song” is a quiet story about both a childhood crush and an endless love. Dickey plays the weathered camper Faye. She’s claimed a site near a lake where she can wait for her special someone (Wes Studi) to come visit. Will he show? That’s the rub. While she goes about her daily rituals in her Spartan camper van, she meets a young girl who is hoping to re-bury her father (and Faye’s rig is in the way) as well as a lesbian couple who are wrestling with the idea of getting married. Walker-Silverman’s introspective pace and rhythm might irritate some, but it reflects the rhythms of a sad country love song, the kind you hear on the radio and and are reminded of someone special. This is a film of grace and beauty, and deserves to give Dickey awards recognition. Don’t let it pass you by. Details: 3 stars; in theaters Aug. 12.
“The Reef: Stalked”: The shark thriller tends to be more bad than good these days, cinematic chum so to speak without much of a “Jaws”-like pulse or payoff. Australian director/writer Andrew Traucki’s oeuvre consists of indie thrillers where both sharks and crocodiles prey on people. His latest combines the good and the bad of the shark thriller, but bungles a predator parallel that’s awkward, ham-fisted and just does not work. Four athletic female tourists, two of whom are sisters, go for what they imagine will be a fun vacation at a resort. A shark has other plans, and soon they’re kayaking to save their lives. As with all of Traucki’s films, this is a low-budget but decent production. What is different here is that it’s not a bikini romp; it features strong women in bathing suits who are confronting attackers. Too bad the metaphor at the start overextends itself. Details: 2½ stars; now available on Shudder!
“Mack & Rita”: In this bland body switch comedy, a seedling of a good idea fails to sprout, leading us down a rote rom-com path that’s drained of inspiration and just punches the same numbers. “Mack & Rita” wastes a lot of talent as 70-year-old “Aunt Rita” (Diane Keaton) who is trapped inside a mature-for-her-age 30-year-old Mack (Elizabeth Lail) and emerges after Mack enters a regression pod in Palm Springs. Every character in “Mack & Rita” can be defined by one sentence: the cute house sitter (Dustin Milligan), the fake New Age guy (Simon Rex), the reliable bestie (Taylour Paige) and those wacky older ladies including one (Wendy Malick) who just loves to guzzle her wine. Keaton works overtime to try to keep it bubbly and cutesy but everything about “Mack & Rita” falls as flat as week-old champagne. Details: 1½ stars, in theaters Aug. 12.
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