Movie reviews: ‘Deep Water’ and more

DEEP WATER: 2 STARS

“Deep Water,” the new movie from Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, now streaming on Prime Video, is an erotic thriller in name only.

Neither erotic nor thrilling, it lacks the smoldering energy of director Adrian Lyne’s previous work. Movies like “9 ½ Weeks” and “Unfaithful” established him as a steamer of screens, but that was then.

This is now. A better title for “Deep Water” may have been “Cold Water.”

Affleck plays Vic, a retired software developer who made a fortune designing a chip that helps drones locate and destroy targets. He spends his days with his daughter while his wild wife Melinda (de Armas), having grown bored of their routine, entertains herself with a series of very public affairs. For the most part Vic bites his lip, but when one of Melinda’s flings winds up dead, face down in their pool, cuckold Vic becomes a suspect and their already tenuous situation comes closer to the breaking point.

Lyne, in his first film in 20 years, seems unable to tease out the tension from the love-hate story, sexual or otherwise. The repeated affair/disappearance cycle gets old fast, and Lyne does little to make us care about any of them: Vic, Melinda, or her unfortunate boyfriends.

I can say that Affleck has one of the best scowls in movies, but that’s not enough to hang an entire performance on. As a Sad Affleck meme come to life, for much of the movie it appears he’s given up — Ben, not Vic. It’s as though he stopped caring after the first reel. Vic should display hidden reserves of resolve, but Affleck’s performance is as inert as the film.

De Armas, so wonderful in “Knives Out” and “No Time to Die,” is reduced to an eye-batting subject for Lyne’s male gaze.

A tepid, psychosexual cuckold tale with a side of murder and loose ends galore, “Deep Water” wastes its stars in a movie that does not rise to the challenge of exploring the story’s themes of morality, murder, and marriage.

THE OUTFIT: 4 STARS

The Outfit

Mark Rylance is tailor-made to play the lead role in “The Outfit,” a new gangster film set entirely inside a bespoke suit maker’s shop. I own up to the stupid joke in the first sentence of this review, but it is true. Rylance stounds as the “cutter”—tailors are best at sewing on buttons and not much else he says—at the center of the action in this twisty-turny chamber piece.

Set in the mid-1950s, the movie revolves around Leonard Burling (Rylance), a former Savile Row cutter who lovingly details the process of making a suit from scratch in the film’s opening voiceover. “This isn’t art,” he says proudly, “It’s a craft.”

Working the front desk is his assistant Mabel Sean (Zoey Deutch), a young woman who has her sights set on a horizon far beyond the tailor shop.

Discreet and meticulous, Burling makes beautiful clothes for his Chicago clients, including members of the Boyle Gang, the heavies who run the neighborhood. “If we only allowed angels in here,” he says, “we’d have no customers.” His services to the gangsters extend beyond making them look good. His store also doubles as a drop spot for the Boyles, a safe place for Richie (Dylan O’Brien), son of the Boyle Gang boss, and the ambitious mobster Francis (Johnny Flynn) to pass messages back and forth.

Burling stays out of the way, rarely makes eye contact with the tough guys and is unfailingly polite. “I don’t judge,” he tells Richie. “I just don’t want to be involved in whatever it is you do.”

Unfortunately, when it becomes clear there’s a rat in the Boyle Gang who may, or may not, be making surreptitious tapes of their criminal activities for the FBI, Burling is drawn into their nasty business.

What unfolds from this point is a whip-lash inducing game of twister as the characters’ motivations tie the story in knots. Manipulation, deceit, double dealings, and death are the name of the game in this literate, adult thriller. Although “The Outfit” was written for screen by director Graham Moore, who took home an Oscar for writing “The Imitation Game,” it feels like a stage play. From the minimal sets—the whole thing takes place in two rooms—to the intimate performances and the intricate, wordy script, it is unabashedly and wonderfully theatrical.

An understated performance from Rylance sets the tone for the ensemble cast. His enigmatic character is a sounding board for everyone from the gangsters who cause all the trouble to Mabel, the neighborhood woman who just wants to see the world. The characters fit together like puzzle pieces to really bring this story alive.

“The Outfit” is a small film that is unafraid to rely on the characters and the words; not elaborate set pieces to make an impact. Writer, director Moore has made a film that, unlike how Burling feels about his life’s work, emphasizes both craft and art.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN: 2 ½ STARS

cheaper by the dozen 2022

Is the third time the charm for “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the story of a “big family, full of big dreamers”?

Based on the 2003 Steve Martin film, which was based on the 1950 Myrna Loy movie, which was based on the autobiographical book of the same name, the new version, now on Disney+, stars Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff as Zoe and Paul Baker, parents of a large, adorable Brady Bunch style blended family of 10 kids and two dogs, Joe Bitin’ and Bark Obama. “As hectic as our life can get,” says Paul, “it always seems just right.”

In addition to raising the kids, Paul and Zoe run an all-day breakfast restaurant, but are running slightly behind on the rent. Their hopes for the future are pinned on Paul’s new invention: Paul’s Hot, Sweet and Savory Sauce. If they can make a go of it, and realize his dream of being bigger (and richer) than Chef Boyardee, they can finally get square with the landlord, put together school tuition, and get a bigger house so the kids won’t have to share rooms anymore.

But they soon discover that a big family is one thing, but in business, bigger isn’t always better.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” is formulaic and sweet enough to give you a toothache, but has just enough edge in its storytelling to give it, well, an edge over the earlier, even more saccharine versions.

It’s a good-natured story about the importance of family that tap dances around issues of racism, privilege—”A few times in your life you felt like you didn’t belong,” Zoe says to Paul. “I feel like that all the time.”—and teenage rebellion. Ultimately, however, whatever problems they have will be solved by a love and a goofy-yet-heartfelt speech from Paul. It is the kind of movie about a “perfectly imperfect family” that you know will end with a pop song and smiles.

Braff, Union and the army of precocious kids are likeable, if a little bland. Your tolerance of “Cheaper by the Dozen” will be directly linked to your appreciation of movies that can only be described as wholesome.

MASTER: 3 ½ STARS

Master

Horror and social commentary are longtime bedmates. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” for example, is an allegory for 1950s fear of communism. “Frankenstein” warns of technology gone amok. More recently, “Get Out” was a powerful condemnation of racism. “Master,” a new Regina Hall film now on Prime Video, confronts white supremacy in a story about legacy and the sins of the past.

“Master,” set at an upscale Massachusetts school built on land that was once the site of a Salem-era gallows, is the story of three African-American women. Liv Beckman (Amber Gray) is a literature professor battling against expectations and prejudices as she nears tenure. Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), is a tenured professor and the recently appointed student “Master.” “I am more than a professor,” she tells her students, “I am a confidante, an ally, a friend.”

Zoe Renee plays first-year student Jasmine Moore. When she arrives, she immediately becomes the talk of the campus as the new resident of room 302 in a co-ed dormitory called Belleville House. The other students whisper about supernatural activity and death in, what they ominously call, “the room.”

Each woman is forced to deal with a reckoning, whether it is the very real threat of insidious racism or the nightmarish reverberations of the Salem Witch Trials — or both.

There are moments of stylish, elevated horror in “Master’s” handling of the historical haunting aspects of the story, but it is in writer-director Mariama Diallo’s presentation of the allegorical dread of racism, microaggressions, and exclusion experienced by the three lead characters that is truly terrifying.

The addition of real-life horror to the supernatural aspects of the tale deepens the movie’s effect, upping the atmosphere of unease and dread. The school’s current day institutional racism juxtaposed against the historical story of a bullied student who killed herself in Jasmine’s room decades ago because she thought a witch was stalking her, illuminates the privilege and bigotry in both timeframes.

“Master” is clunky at times, particularly near the end, but strong performances and deftly interwoven social commentary elevates the horror, exposing the ways that real life, injustice, and privilege are often more disturbing than the ghostly realm.

X: 3 ½ STARS

X

Nearly 50 years after the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” made power tools a staple in grisly horror films, an attempted Netflix reboot upped the gore, but missed the mark completely. The scariest thing about that movie is its “rotten” Tomatometer Score of 34 per cent.

There isn’t a chainsaw in sight in “X,” a new horror film, now playing in theatres, but it breathes the same, fetid air as Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic.

Set in 1979, the film stars Mia Goth as Maxine, an adult entertainer who believes she is destined for a bigger and better life outside of the strip club run by her boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson doing a spot-on Matthew McConaughey impression). “I will not accept a life I do not deserve,” she says.

Her first step to fame and fortune is “The Farmer’s Daughter,” a low budget pornography film Wayne hopes could blow up and be as popular as “Debbie Does Dallas.” As the film’s executive producer, Wayne hires RJ (Owen Campbell), a film student with delusions of arthouse grandeur, his quiet sound technician girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), and porn stars Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi ).

They pile into a van headed for a remote farm in rural Texas where they will live and shoot their film. “It’s perfect,” gushes RJ as they arrive at the farm aka Wayne’s “studio backlot.” “It’s going to have lots of production value.”

But that’s not all it has. There is a creepy, old couple who live in the main house. Wayne neglected to tell farmer Howard (Stephen Ure) why they rented the property. “He doesn’t know what we’re doing, and I intend to keep it that way.”

Despite Wayne’s promise of discretion, Howard and wife Pearl soon find out what’s happening in the sheets, under their roof.

Cue the hillbilly horror.

On the surface “X” is another riff on the “Chainsaw” hapless-city-slickers versus evil-country-folk vibe, but it’s not all blood and guts (though the plasma flows). Howard and Pearl fight against their decaying bodies, resentful of the good-looking folks for flaunting their youth and skin on their property. They may be God-fearing folks, but that doesn’t stop them from acting on their base desires. Writer, director and editor Ti West weaves in the primal fears of aging and sexual repression, plus a dollop of religious fervor, that all add depth to the horror.

The rural setting, the eerie quiet and darkness of the location, takes on a sinister feel as West peppers his sequences with the odd, jump scare or anxiety-inducing overhead shot.

By the time we get to the really gross stuff, West has already established “X’s” slow burn atmosphere, adding layer upon layer of tension and subtext as amuse-bouches for the bursts of violence that come in the third act. West stages some truly unpleasant kill sequences, perfect for slasher fans, but may cause others to shudder or cover their eyes.

“X” is a throwback to the horror stylings of Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, but with a sensibility that simultaneously feels like a tribute and an update.

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