In March 2022, I attended a nondescript morning screening of an indie film that had just played well at the SXSW film festival. I couldn’t remember the exact title — too many words squished together to seem decipherable. I also decided to temper my expectations given that the filmmakers’ previous effort, Swiss Army Man, was so out-there that I walked out of the theater while it unspooled at Sundance’s biggest theater and never came back. But hey, this had buzz. And Michelle Yeoh! And Jamie Lee Curtis! And, wait, is that the kid from The Goonies? Maybe those overexcited movie nerds in Austin were right.
One year later, I will admit for the thousandth time that I never did come around to Everything Everywhere All At Once. Though I was all-in during those gripping first 20 minutes, the moment that Yeoh’s character entered the multiverse, I was lost and mentally checked out. I know I took an extended bathroom break just to escape the chaos; I think I dozed off and woke up to rocks talking to each other. I gave the film a mixed review, never ever ever ever expecting it to take seven Oscars, including Best Picture.
I’m relaying this story not to admit I was wrong (puh-leeze). But I will acknowledge the fact that “Oscar Season” doesn’t really exist anymore. A film can be released on any platform during any time of the year and carry a pop culture Zeitgeist-y momentum all the way through the big night. My feelings for the film aside, I’m thrilled that audiences latched to an original theatrical film in the spring with zero proven box office stars. Translation: Though we’re just entering allergy season, do not discount any of these well-regarded 2023 releases. They all have potential, albeit zero hot-dog fingers. Enjoy!
3.5 stars (out of 4)
Few people cared when NBA rookie Michael Jordan signed a contract with Nike in 1984. Almost 40 years later, that foot note has inspired a totally terrific movie (with a banging 80s soundtrack to boot!). But to be sure, the legend isn’t the star here — the actor who portrays him doesn’t even show his face onscreen. Instead, Nike marketing whiz Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is the guy flying high with a dream. He’s on a mission to sign the talented, albeit unproven, star to his fledgling shoe company and refuses to back down until the ink is dry. He even pays an unauthorized visit to MJ’s North Carolina home to pitch his no-nonsense mother (Viola Davis, just superb). Considering that Air Jordans now epitomize corporate American culture, it’s a minor miracle director Ben Affleck (who also plays Nike CEO Phil Knight) has delivered such a shaggy and nostalgic-hued underdog story. Success in this world isn’t rooted in money; it rides on optimism, gumption and faith in greatness. Just see it. (In theaters April 5)
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
3 stars (out of 4)
Nope, you don’t have to be a fan of the classic Dungeons & Dragons game to enjoy its big-screen adaptation. And given that the fantasy-adventure is overly plotted, long (135 minutes!) and CGI’ed, that’s a big-time compliment. A spirited cast helps the cause: Chris Pine, practically oozing charisma, is a thief determined to retrieve a lost relic and his long-lost daughter. (Hugh Grant’s winking villain, i.e., the Lord of Neverwinter, possesses both.) He rounds up a rag-tag team of adventurers, played by Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean Page, Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis, to get the job done — and overcome all the challenges along the way. Because of the dense and insider-y exposition, the screenwriters wisely load their film with fun-for-all humor. Many moments are indeed inspired, especially a scene in which the group quizzes talking corpses in a cemetery. So, who wins? Everybody. (Now in theaters)
John Wick: Chapter 4
3 stars (out of 4)
Let’s just call this stylish action-stuffed installment for what this is: Lots of Keanu Reeves! So, if you want a recap of the previous John Wick films, forget it. Part four can’t be bothered with a catch-up — its hero is too busy crisscrossing the globe and mastering nunchucks to be bothered with such trifling details. But here’s the bottom line: After the former hitman killed a rival on the sacred grounds of the New York Continental Hotel and had a bounty on his head, he’s now taking the fight to the shadowy group of global crime lords known as The High Elders. One of its emissaries (Bill Skarsgard) raises the bounty and sends an impressive array of killers after him, including a blind martial-arts master (Donnie Yen). Lots and lots and lots of butt-kicking sequences ensue. And at 169 minutes, the onslaught can seem a bit, um, excessive. (If Reeves says even 100 words throughout the film, it’d be surprising.) But many of the set pieces are electric — love the festival of samurai swords in a Japanese hotel and the thrilling traffic jam at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Alas, with the sudden death of Lance Reddick (as elegant concierge Charon), the film is tinged with melancholy. (Now in theaters)
3 stars (out of 4)
Truth: Nothing makes the heart swell quite like a shamelessly feel-good sports flick. The latest one is a surefire slam dunk. Woody Harrelson is a commitment-phobic former minor-league basketball coach facing legal trouble after drunkenly crashing his car into a police vehicle. Per the courts, he must lead a hoops team consisting of players with intellectual disabilities and ideally get them to the Special Olympics. But to truly succeed on every level, the coach must first form real connections — including one with a player’s older sister (Kaitlin Olson). Harrelson, of course, is a pro at scoring onscreen. (See: Wildcats, White Men Can’t Jump, Semi-Pro and Kingpin.) Now he finally gets to be the evolving adult in the gym. In the process, everyone learns that being a champion has little to do with winning and losing. Predictable? Yup! Effective anyway? Swish. (Now in theaters)
3 stars (out of 4)
“Everybody loves an underdog story,” insists Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed. They sure do. In fact, this credo epitomizes the essence of the franchise (as well as the preceding Rocky saga). For this hard-charging installment, audiences will be in the intriguing position of rooting for both Creed and his latest foe. The action revs up five years after the champ’s farewell fight, as he lives it up in a mansion with his wife (Tessa Thompson) and adorable hearing-impaired daughter. Then his former best friend, Damian (Jonathan Majors), returns from a prison stint determined to get into the ring. The money match is inevitable, and it doesn’t disappoint. In his directorial debut, Jordan ensures that each punch lands with artful meaning in an electrifying atmosphere. The presence of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is missed, but at least his gritty legacy perseveres. (Now in theaters)