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November Screen Reviews

Words by Harry Moore

 

<Black Adam>

Warner Bros. and DC comics take another swing at its interconnected universe of superhero movies with this Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson-fronted bore about a god-like antihero. The film begins in the ancient country of Kahndaq, where a tyrannical king has enslaved much of the population and rules with an iron fist. When a young slave boy attempts to stage a revolution, he is given mythical powers by the Council of Wizards and becomes the heroic champion of Kahndaq, known as Black Adam, who kills the king before going into an eons-long slumber. But in the present day, Kahndaq is oppressed by a major criminal organization, which leads to freedom fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) to awaken Black Adam in order to retake the mantle as the nation’s protector. This convoluted, uninspired plot is the least of this film’s worries; with stilted performances, flat dialogue and derivative action sequences also being major features in this final product. And “product” is a perfect description for this overly market- tested piece of corporate content masquerading as a movie. An entirely derivative and soulless enterprise that features no inherent character or substance but handily ticks off all the boxes that audiences would expect to find in a superhero origin story.

Johnson is best used when making jokes, using his gigantic physique for stunts and flashing his million-dollar smile. In “Black Adam” he does none of these things. Johnson became a star because of his charisma and one-of-a-kind ability to work a crowd, but the character he plays here is constantly stone faced, charmless and has few endearing factors, if any. Johnson simply isn’t a nuanced enough performer to make such a character compelling. The filmmakers attempt to forge some humanity out of Adam by including a budding friendship/guardian angel relationship with Adrianna’s young son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), who is intent on teaching Adam how to be a modern and cool superhero. But instead of pulling at heartstrings or creating laughs, it just plays out like a pale imitation of the relationship between John Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s robot protector at the center of James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” It is also a reminder that Johnson has failed to reach the movie star heights of Schwarzenegger, who is an everlasting icon of the screen. Perhaps it is because Johnson continues to work with directors who are content with meeting every studio mandate, while Schwarzenegger repeatedly worked with visionary artists like Cameron and Paul Verhoeven. “Black Adam” is an overlong and overwrought drag of a film that is a prime example of some of Hollywood’s worst tendencies, and there will undoubtedly be many more sequels to follow.

 

<Barbarian>

A woman (Georgina Campbell) arrives at an Airbnb she booked for the night only to find a mysterious man (Bill Skarsgård) has also made a reservation for the same time. The stay soon takes a sinister and shocking turn. Previously known for his work in comedy, most notably the sketch series “The Whitest Kids You Know,” writer and director Zach Cregger makes his horror debut with “Barbarian,” the sleeper hit of the fall. Cregger’s twisted and unpredictable screenplay is brought to the screen with confidence and a clear reverence for the horror genre. The film’s opening act expertly builds tension through impeccable pacing, which is inevitably released in satisfying but surprising ways. Campbell is excellent in her role, reinventing the scream queen character for a new generation by doing everything that we as an audience believe is the right decision in such a situation, almost as if she could hear the advice being yelled at the screen. Skarsgård also gives a strong performance, balancing both the appearance of being harmless and seemingly sinister. “Barbarian” is a film that benefits viewers who know as little about it as possible with the story regularly subverting expectations and constantly keeping the audience on the edge of their seat and second guessing what will happen next. It is also likely going to have you opting for a hotel on your next trip out of town.

 

<Weird: The Al Yankovic Story>

The iconic, pop music parody artist Weird Al Yankovic receives the biopic treatment in the most befitting of fashions; with a parody of overwrought musician biopics. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Weird Al, in his second comedic performance of the year after appearing in the Sandra Bullock/ Channing Tatum romcom “The Lost City.” Radcliffe has consistently made interesting choices as an actor, following his great success early on as a child, regularly choosing quirky or unique projects to work on. He has also professed his admiration for comedy throughout his career, and it is clear he is having the time of his life playing a beloved comedy star. He is able to sell the film’s many silly jokes with a knowing performance that leans into the overly dramatic. Written by Al Yankovic himself, alongside director Eric Appel, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is packed with rapid fire jokes and cutting riffs the tropes of the biopic format; from improbably quickly written hit songs to the inevitable indulgence of drugs and alcohol. While the film treads on familiar ground as “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” starring John C. Reilly, “Weird” is still able to find humor in the biopic genre by delving into the absurd, as we see Al not only go through the usual highs and lows of a popstar career, but also take on Pablo Escobar and his cartel, among several other events that probably didn’t really happen. “Weird” is a funny and fitting tribute to the king of musical parodies that lives up to the spirit of its title.

About Harry Moore

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