Happy Star Wars Day! I hope you all are having a great May the Fourth. I have a few more mini reviews today of some films that just hit streaming services last Friday. “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is a hilarious animated movie from the “Into the Spider-Verse” team that you won’t want to miss (you can probably skip out on the absolutely dismal “Without Remorse” and “Things Heard & Seen,” however). Read my full reviews of these movies below.
“THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES” (Netflix)
It’s evident from the first shot of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which finds the family of four screaming at each other as they try to outrun robots in their old station wagon, that this movie is going to be chaotic. But it’s just as quickly obvious that there’s a purpose to the busy visuals and the humor and action that is flung fast and furiously, and that beneath it all, there is a specific, soulful story that this film is trying to tell. Directed by Mike Rianda (a writer on the Disney Channel series “Gravity Falls,” who also wrote this film along with Jeff Rowe), the newest film from Sony Pictures Animation centers around the Mitchell family, but specifically Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson). Katie is an aspiring filmmaker who doesn’t feel like anyone in her town, and especially the rest of her family, really get her, and after she’s accept to film school in California, she’s excited to go be with her people. But in an attempt to bond with his increasingly estranged daughter, her nature-loving dad Rick (Danny McBride) cancels her plane ticket and decides to drive her across the country instead. Joining in on the road trip are mom Linda (Maya Rudolph) and younger brother Aaron (Rianda), who is obsessed with dinosaurs. In the middle of their travels, an AI called PAL (voiced by Olivia Colman) betrays her creator, Mark Bowman, (Eric Andre) when he decides to upgrade her, and orders all his new robots to capture all humans and send them to space. In almost no time at all, the Mitchells find themselves the only humans still left on Earth—and the only ones left who can stop PAL. There’s something really special about a movie that feels like it is so many different things at once, but its main purpose remains clear throughout. It’s a story about family coming together and accepting each other’s differences, particularly Katie and her dad, and for all its zaniness, the film really hits the right emotional notes when it needs to. While there’s also the not so subtle messaging about technology taking over our lives, the robot apocalypse feels less like an integral component of the story and more like a means through which to explore the Mitchells’ dynamic. The voice acting is great across the board (Colman’s casting is inspired, and John Legend and Chrissy Teigan are also present as the Mitchell’s Instagram-perfect neighbors), and the animation, which uses a similar style to Sony’s hit “Into the Spider-verse,” is colorful with a beautiful painterly quality. It’s also genuinely funny throughout, with something to appeal to everyone. It’s fast pace may appear overwhelming at first, but give it a few minutes to settle; we may be less than halfway through the year, but “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is already a strong contender for one of the best films of 2021. Runtime: 113 minutes. Rated PG.
“THINGS HEARD & SEEN” (Netflix)
An old house in the country. A wife giving up a good job in the city to follow her husband to a small town, where he has taken a teaching job. Whether we’ve read the book by Elizabeth Brundage or not, we get a general idea where “Things Heard & Seen” is going straight away. But directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini and their cast manage to make the film, if not memorable, at least intriguing for the duration of its runtime. Set in 1980, artist Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), her husband George (James Norton), and their young daughter Franny movie from Manhattan to upstate New York when George’s dissertation lands him a job teaching art history at a small college. Catherine is lonely, suffers from an eating disorder, and soon realizes that the home they’ve moved in to is very likely haunted by its previous owners. But the ghosts aren’t evil themselves; they are mostly there to highlight the evils of the humans in their proximity, in this case, George, who is harboring some secrets. The production design creates an atmosphere that is perfectly creepy without being overly scary; warm flickering lights, for instance. The film drops a lot of hints throughout, but unfortunately they don’t really come together so satisfyingly in the end, with a frustrating finale that feels completely wrong and really falls on its face. But “Things Heard & Seen” is intriguing, and its cast is solid, although Rhea Seehorn, who plays George’s artsy colleague Justine, far outshines them all with her gutsy performance, a unique presence in a sea of generic characters. Runtime: 121 minutes. Rated TV-MA.
“WITHOUT REMORSE” (Prime Video)
“Without Remorse” angered me early on in its runtime, and never did anything to make me change my opinion later on. The action movie directed by Stefano Sollima is based on Tom Clancy’s novel and a spin-off of his popular Jack Ryan series. The story centers around John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan), the leader of a team of Navy SEALS who are sent on a mission to rescue a CIA operative supposedly captured by Syrians, and are surprised to find the captors are actually Russian military. Months later, members of the SEALS team are attacked and killed by Russian operatives; Kelly barely survives, but his pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London) is shot and killed in their own bed. This sets Kelly off on a mission of vengeance to hunt down the assassins, and also marks the point I checked out of the movie. I’m tired of women existing in these action movies for the sole purpose of being brutally killed off as a motivating factor for the male hero’s vengeance. We do at least get one great female character in Jodie Turner-Smith’s Karen Greer, a SEALS commander and friend and former member of Kelly’s team, but she isn’t enough to redeem this movie. Both the action and plot are generic and predictable, not to mention completely lacking any sort of pizazz to make them memorable. There’s no doubt that Jordan is a bona fide star, but he isn’t given a whole lot of opportunity to show it here. Other costars, most notably Colman Domingo, are also wasted. “Without Remorse” lacks a certain amount of confidence to stand on its own; we know that a sequel also starring Jordan as Kelly, “Rainbow Six,” is in development, and this film mostly just feels like one long prelude to that. “Without Remorse” is bad, and it’s frustrating in its badness. Runtime: 109 minutes. Rated R.