This Week at the Movies: ‘Jack Reacher,’ ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses,’ ‘Moonlight’

Sometimes the movie release schedule doesn’t make a lick of sense. Take this week, for example, which has (by our count, at least) four wide releases and fifteen more limited titles opening in New York and/or Los Angeles. And then next week, there’s bupkus. (This is supposedly because people don’t go to the movies on account of Halloween, but c’mon; how many people that will see The Handmaiden opening weekend are gonna skip it for a Halloween party?) But I digress. This is a very good weekend for movie-going – as long as you steer clear of the multiplex.

  • There’s a sequel to Jack Reacher whether you want it or not, and the case for “not” is made over and over again in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Directed, inexplicably enough, by thirtysomething co-creator Edward Zwick, the latest adventure of the freelance mountain-of-a-man ass-kicker (Tom Cruise, snort) is maddeningly vanilla, like a really expensive big-screen CBS prime-time crime procedural. Read our review here.
  • For a movie with so many funny people in it, Keeping Up with the Joneses is shockingly light on laughs. (Also, does anyone actually still use that title expression when they’re not titling movies?) Directed by the usually reliable Greg Mottolla (Adventureland), it’s a strained Mr. & Mrs. Smith wannabee, yielding only occasional laughs from the gifted ensemble of Zach Galifiankis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Matt Walsh, and Patton Oswalt. They do their best, and pull off a few laughs; Fisher is one of our best (and most underrated) physical comedians, Hamm finds a nice mode of barely contained impatience, and the home-brewing obsession of Galifiankis’s suburban schlub is a painfully accurate touch. But scene after scene lands with a thud, stinking of a movie where everyone thought the ‘80s-style high concept was clever enough to carry the picture by itself.
  • But then there’s Moonlight, Barry Jenkins’s forceful and powerful story of a young man’s coming of age, and the struggles he faces with sensitivity and sexuality. In doing so, Jenkins spotlights the kind of life our cinema (and our world) too often leaves unexamined – and does so with vibrancy, humor, virtuosity, and love. It’s a gorgeous, graceful picture, and its closing scenes are emotionally overwhelming. Here’s our review.

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  • Park Chan-wook’s luminous and wonderful The Handmaiden has the costuming, production design, and running time of a dry period piece, but the joke’s on us – it’s a ribald, raw, intricately plotted, exuberantly entertaining con movie, ingeniously told in three parts from three perspectives, each forcing us to reevaluate everything we’ve seen before. It’s somehow both unlike anything Chan-wook has done before and the culmination of everything he’s ever made, sexy and funny and about as much fun as you’ll have at a movie this weekend; read more about it here.
  • Ti West has spent the past few years doing quietly revolutionary works of modern horror, most of them working from a throwback playbook that recalls the slow-burn chillers of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. His latest, In a Valley of Violence, is similarly indebted to genre pictures of the past – this time, the Spaghetti Westerns of the ‘60s and ‘70s. But he’s not just throwing visual and aural signals at the screen and expecting us to chuckle at the homage. He gets these movies – their approach, their simplicity, their rough violence, their outright nihilism, their pitch-black comedy. And he gets a great leading turn out of Ethan Hawke (doing a variation on his Magnificent Seven character), and, in a supporting role, the best work we’ve seen from John Travolta in years. Here’s our capsule review from BAMcinemaFest.
  • And finally, if you’re looking for a real scary movie, let’s take this opportunity to note the 30th anniversary restoration and re-release of John McNaughton’s chilling-to-the-bone Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. McNaughton was originally hired to churn out a cheapo exploitation horror movie — which there was no shortage of in the mid-1980s. But McNaughton employed a bleak, unforgiving style, as well as a cast of honest-to-God actors (including the great Michael Rooker in the title role), and landed about as far as possible from the cartoon villains typical of ‘80s horror. It’s grim, unnerving stuff, made all the more frightening by McNaughton’s slice-of-life approach.

And if none of those strike your fancy, there’s plenty more good stuff in current release: Certain Women, Christine, Kevin Hart: What Now?, The Birth of a Nation, American Honey, Tower and Newtown. Happy viewing!