The summer blockbuster onslaught has only begun. Last time we saw retired hitman John Wick, he had become the target of every aspiring assassin in a cinematic world with surprisingly deep mythology. With John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum, the franchise that resuscitated Keanu Reeves takes on its toughest opponent yet, a high-profile May release date sandwiched between Avengers: Endgame and Memorial Day’s tentpole releases. The previous movies ruled October and February, and the third has little competition this week. Other new releases include YA adaptation The Sun Is Also a Star and the continuation of W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s franchise, A Dog’s Journey, which reunites Dennis Quaid with his Boss Dog, Bailey, who, for better or worse, is still voiced by Josh Gad. Through Thursday, Ciné will have Endgame, the Emily Dickinson comedy Wild Nights With Emily and Claire Denis’ acclaimed sci-fi adventure High Life.
On May 17, Ciné will be getting The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the culmination of filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s quixotic 30-year quest to bring his Cervantes adaptation to the big screen. Adam Driver stars as an ad exec trapped in the delusions of Jonathan Pryce’s cobbler, who believes himself to be Don Quixote. The HEAR Film Series continues at Ciné May 18 with Holden On. The screening will be accompanied by a Q&A with filmmaker Tamlin Hall, who was honored by the Georgia House for his film’s tragic portrayal of teen Holden Layfield. On May 21, Ciné will host a screening of the Netflix AOC documentary Knock Down the House. Director Rachel Lears will participate in an audience Q&A to be followed by a community discussion with local organizations like Athens for Everyone and elected officials. Bad Movie Night resurfaces on the 21st, as well, with biker-revenge-exploitation flick Mad Foxes.
On May 13, the Flicker Film Society’s month of Star Wars rip-offs continues with Message From Space, starring Vic Morrow, now best known as the actor killed in the Twilight Zone: The Movie helicopter accident. Also at Flicker, on May 20, enjoy some early films from locals at the Teens With Camcorders Film Fest. On May 16, the GMOA’s Love and Shakespeare Film Series continues with Tom Stoppard’s highly entertaining film adaptation of his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The film stars Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfuss, but you should now recognize the film’s Hamlet, Iain Glen, from “Game of Thrones.” Another screening of Below Baldwin can be caught on May 18 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens as part of the UUFA Chalice Film Series.
So, what can we deduce from last week’s releases?
POKÉMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU (PG) Grab your red hat and your Poké Balls! Detective Pikachu may be the apex of the admittedly runt-dominated litter of video-game adaptations. After Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) learns his estranged father is dead, the young man heads to Ryme City, where humans and Pokémon coexist, and meets Pikachu (v. Ryan Reynolds), whom he can surprisingly understand. Together, the duo must solve the mystery behind the disappearance of Tim’s dad and Pikachu’s amnesia.
The CGI used to create a world filled with Squirtles, Aipoms and more is top-notch, but it is actually the story that ties everything together. Yes, the plot of Detective Pikachu is pretty paint-by-numbers, but the loving respect for this pop-culture phenomenon sets this video-game movie apart from the loveless, quickie cash-ins that dominate the genre. Reynolds is an odd choice for Pikachu, who never came across as a PG Deadpool, but his charming line delivery ensures that a steady stream of laughs buoy up the plot when it flounders. Perhaps other IP owners can learn something from Detective Pikachu, whose focus on making one good Pokémon movie, instead of opening a planned trilogy, paid off.
RED JOAN (R) Based on a novel inspired by the true story of “Granny Spy” Melita Norwood, Red Joan sells itself with Dame Judi Dench, who barely registers as the imprisoned elderly version of British scientist Joan Stanley, who gave away Britain’s atomic secrets to the Soviets for love or peace or something potentially redemptive. The audience is treated to way more of young Joan, played by Keira Knightley knockoff Sophie Cookson, and her scenes are far more compelling than those with Dame Judi moaning excuses for treason in an antiseptic government interrogation chamber.
The story of Norwood may have a compelling throughline from her past to her present, but Red Joan fails to find it, even with Dench, who does not betray any of the young Joan’s agency, individual or collective. It feels odd citing Dame Judi as a film’s weakness, but Red Joan would be better off without her part of the tale.
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