This week at the movies, we’ve got a robopocalypse (Terminator: Dark Fate, starring Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger), a great escape (Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr.), a noir mystery (Motherless Brooklyn, starring Edward Norton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and courier canines (Arctic Dogs, featuring the voices of Jeremy Renner and John Cleese). What are the critics saying?
Just about a year ago, David Gordon Green’s Halloween essentially disregarded the prior couple of decades’ worth of sequels to serve as a direct follow-up to John Carpenter’s original 1978 chiller, and it was rather surprisingly well-received. This weekend, Terminator: Dark Fate aims to do something similar by negating the last couple films in the franchise and operating as a direct sequel to 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. That can’t work every time, right? Maybe not, but critics say the new film is at least as good as — if not better than — the past few installments in the franchise. We want to avoid plot spoilers here, so we’ll just say that Linda Hamilton returns to play Sarah Connor in a major role, as she helps protect a young woman from Mexico City whose future may be key to the human rebellion against the evil A.I. that wants to destroy them. Reviews so far have been relieved to find that the movie does its best to play to the franchise’s strengths — a formidable villain, an equally formidable heroine, some thrilling action sequences, and the charisma of its veteran stars — even if it doesn’t quite hit all the right notes. It might not be as thrilling as the first two movies, but there’s plenty of fan service for those who loved them, and the new additions to the cast feel like they belong, so it all boils down to a decent — if not groundbreaking — entry in the series.
As director Kasi Lemmons describes it, the script for Harriet that she inherited from writer Gregory Allen Howard was more of an action-adventure that just happened to have Harriet Tubman as its heroine, so she set about bringing more nuance and historical accuracy to the film. We may never know how Howard’s original script might have fared with critics and audiences, but the final product appears to be a largely satisfying tribute to one of the most celebrated heroes in American history. Cynthia Erivo stars as Tubman, who escapes slavery but returns to the South to free her family and goes on to save hundreds of slaves via the Underground Railroad, and critics say Erivo’s vibrant performance helps elevate the film. Harriet isn’t meant to be a history lesson, and it may feel a little shallow as a biography, but it’s earnest in its intentions and entertaining enough in its delivery that it’s probably worth a watch for anyone interested in seeing the icon brought to life on screen.
Edward Norton hasn’t directed a film since his feature debut, Keeping the Faith, all the way back in 2000. Incidentally, that was also around the time he read a novel called Motherless Brooklyn, became enamored with it, and immediately began planning to adapt it for the big screen. It took almost 20 years, but Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn is finally hitting theaters, albeit with a few changes. While the novel was set in contemporary times, Norton was drawn to its noir elements and set it in the 1950s, following a private detective with Tourette Syndrome obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the murder of his closest friend and mentor (Bruce Willis). Critics say the film is powered by strong performances — no surprise, considering the cast includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, and Willem Dafoe — but Norton struggles with making the material feel rich and layered. The end result is a somewhat boilerplate mystery that feels like a less sophisticated take on the classic noirs that inspired it, even if the actors dig into their roles with gusto.
It’s usually not a good sign when a movie isn’t screened for critics, but even when that happens, there are usually a few writers who will go out of their way to see the film on opening day and submit a review for it. Arctic Dogs failed to meet even that threshold, as it still sits with zero reviews to its name. Jeremy Renner lends his voice to this animated adventure as Swifty, an arctic fox who just wants to become one of the lauded husky couriers he looks up to. When he takes his destiny into his own hands and delivers a package to a mysterious customer, he discovers an evil walrus with a plot for world domination and bands together with his friends to save the day. It all sounds like pretty standard stuff, and as much as we’d like to say all signs point to a critical disappointment, the truth is we don’t really know, because nobody has seen the movie yet. You know what that means: guess the Tomatometer!
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release