Review Roundup

‘Dune’ Patrol! ‘Soho’ Grand! Here Are Your October Movie Reviews

Published on October 20, 2021

If you’re reading this page and looking for reviews of scary movies because, you know, October, then sorry to disappoint you. I don’t like ’em! Being scared is just not my jam. Well, I did have a major A Nightmare on Elm Street phase circa the 1980s — my siblings and I would watch the VHS tape incessantly in our basement — but that was the sanitized TV broadcast version. The goriest footage I ever witnessed was a young, naive Johnny Depp getting sucked into his bed, only for blood to splatter all over the room. But when you get older, you start to lose your nerve. And now I try to duck out of screenings in the horror genre. And if I absolutely have to see one (because I get paid to see movies and all), I will cover my eyes until I’m 100 percent sure I’m in the clear. This is my long-winded way of saying that I did not see Halloween Kills. But I did check out all the other prestige biggies this month — including the high-profile Dune and Last Night in Soho (which has a rather macabre twist, so there). Here’s your rundown, and enjoy the candy on that holiday of which I shall not name.



Last Night in Soho

3.5 stars (out of 4)

In the sub-sub-sub-sub-genre of stylish, campy and audaciously weird time travel movies, this dazzler will be impossible to top. Lonely Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit) has just uprooted from her home in rural England to fashion school in downtown London. Feeling out of place and snubbed by her snooty classmates, she decides to uproot to a musty upstairs flat in nearby Soho. Then the magic happens: Every night, Ellie is transported back to The Swinging 60s — where her identity merges with that of a glamorous-but-troubled aspiring singer (Anya Taylor-Joy). Ellie soon becomes obsessed with her alter-ego, as both lives spiral out of control. In case it’s not clear, this is no love letter to the simplicities of the past. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) specializes in off-kilter horror and uses it to chilling effect here, even while fantastic era-appropriate fashion and music fill the screen. It’s all hugely entertaining and engaging, highlighted by several sterling performances and one absurd third-act plot twist that makes zero sense in the light of day. Enjoy the show!  (In theaters October 29)



The Last Duel

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Sometimes it’s good for the soul to go against the grain on Rotten Tomatoes and box-office. And with that, I bring you some good will from your favorite 90s-era Boston boys. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have finally collaborated again on and off-screen, and the result is a thought-provoking and thrilling medieval epic set in 14th century France. Even more surprising, both stars give way to the woman at the heart of the story. Lovely Marguerite (Jodie Comer) is married to Jean de Carrouges (Damon), an embittered squire still in turmoil over the recent plague-induced deaths of his family. One night at dinner, she tearfully reveals that his former friend, the dashing Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), stopped by their home while he was away and raped her. Or did he? In a smart twist, we see what transpired from all three characters’ perspectives. (Damon and Affleck wrote from the male POVs; Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) scripted what is dubbed “The Truth.”) The drama leads up to a breathless jousting match between the foes in front of the count (Affleck, very droll) to settle the matter. Despite its period setting, the film excels mainly because of its blistering and unforgiving take on a relevant topic. Nobody here is chivalrous, making Comer’s Marguerite shine all the brighter.  (Now in theaters)


No Time to Die

When it comes to a James Bond movie, a general rating is secondary. What fans really want to know is whether it adheres to the gold standards — a slinky Bond Girl! Breakneck action! Cool gadgets! — that have been in place since the franchise started in 1962. Under those pretenses, this 25th chapter (and last featuring Daniel Craig in the super-agent role, as you well know by now) shakes and stirs and thrills . . . despite its flaws. Our hero is enjoying life off the grid when he’s lured back into business to help stop a threat involving a deadly bio-weapon. While that plot may hit too close to home, the escapism arrives via a few fantastic set pieces. (Wait until you see Craig and Ana de Armas dispatch with the bad guys at a party in Cuba.) The problem is that Villain No. 1, played by Rami Malek, fails to make an intimidating mark among a way-too-crowded cast. (At 163 minutes, film could have been excised as well.) But Craig, still looking dashing in a tux, carries it all right through to the truly unexpected cliffhanger which I happened to love so there. Pour one out for him. (Now in theaters)


The Many Saints of Newark

3 stars (out of 4)

If you’re a fan of The Sopranos, you’re already extremely well aware that is this is a prequel to the iconic HBO series. So heads up: Despite what the trailers imply, young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini, the son of original star James Gandolfini) is not the focal point here. (Insert sound of air going out of a balloon). That honor goes to his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), a debonair mobster who uses his mouth and his fists to deal with a rival gang and his hot-headed family during the tumultuous 1960s and early 70s. Can you blame his nephew for idolizing him? Creator and co-screenwriter David Chase has said he intended his drama to be a sprawling stand-alone big-screen experience. But Newark is most effective when pays homage to its TV roots, from the casting of junior versions of familiar characters — why, yes, that is a young Big Pussy and Silvio Dante — to revisiting a few memorable New Jersey haunts. And Nivola’s starring role aside, the remarkable Gandolfini possesses the film’s soul . . . and makes it sing.  (Now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max)



2.5 stars (out of 4)

If you prioritize breathtaking visuals and seamless special effects over a comprehensible story, then this way-sprawling sci-fi epic is for you. The ever-dreamy-eyed Timothee Chalamet stars as young hero and purported Chosen One Paul Atreides. His family controls the desert planet of Arrakis that happens to be rich in a valuable spice — and they’re determined to keep it out of clutches of the evil House Harkonnen, who want to plunder its resources and murder the natives. It’s up to Paul to save Arrakis, and he’s helped by a group of fighters called Fremen (which include Zendaya and Javier Bardem). This based-on-a-novel narrative is even more convoluted on the screen, as characters played by Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin and Rebecca Ferguson all pop in to share arcane details and then leave. (During the slower moments, you may want to join them.) Still, there’s something to be said for the technological prowess on display here: Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) has created an orange-hued vision of the future and laced it with grandeur action. Try to see the finished product at a theater, though that will preclude you from Googling things like “Dune Study Guide” mid-movie.  (Now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max October 22)


The Guilty

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Jake Gyllenhaal is such an engaging actor that he can spend nearly every shot of a movie glued to a desk and still manage to captivate. Yet he can’t rescue a gimmicky, lackluster thriller that’s a near shot-for-shot remake of a 2018 Danish project (that you likely never saw). His Joe Baylor is an L.A. cop-in-trouble doing subordinate time as a 911 operator. He’s restless and bored on his last shift — until he takes a call from a woman named Emily (the voice of Riley Keough), who whisper-cries that she’s been abducted and hiding in a moving vehicle. After alerting authorities, Joe takes it upon himself to lead the investigation from his dimly lit station. It’s an intriguing-if-not-terribly-credible premise that fails to reach maximum tension because of the constraints of the format. Some moments just beg for an action scene, especially considering the behind-the-scenes vocal talents. (Yup, that is Peter Sarsgaard as Emily’s estranged husband.) And with a few exceptions — briefly walking into another other room, fumbling with an asthma inhaler — Gyllenhaal is stuck staying static. That’s why, even at 90 minutes, this film won’t entice you to hang on for more.  (Now streaming on Netflix)


Also published on Medium.