Six new end-of-March reviews from Influx Magazine’s Steve Pulaski

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ACRIMONY

I’ll be eating crow come this October or the next after this proclamation, but if sitting through one of Tyler Perry’s dreadful Boo! sequels means we can also get something like Tyler Perry’s Acrimony from the largely self-made filmmaker, then that’s not a terrible trade-off. Acrimony is the kind of meaty, immersing drama that has Perry being conscientious of craft and other aesthetic details that usually fall by the wayside in his run-of-the-mill “Madea” efforts. Furthermore, it’s a strong, Joan Crawford-esque showcase for Taraji P. Henson, who was recently shortchanged in the generic actioneer Proud Mary, and would have you believe she’s redirecting her rage for that project over the course of Perry’s latest.

BEST F(R)IENDS: VOLUME ONE

In many ways, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero deserve the high they’ve been on for the better part of this decade. Wiseau’s film, The Room, has endured a cult following the likes of which many other filmmakers could only dream to have, with midnight screenings and Q&As popping up all over America to commemorate a job poorly done. Paradoxically, had Wiseau and Sestero actually achieved the much harder feat of making a good film, their work probably wouldn’t have sustained the kind of success it has gone on to enjoy, including a recent surge in popularity thanks to last year’s uniformly well-made, James Franco-directed biopic, The Disaster Artist.

READY PLAYER ONE

It’s 2045. The mentality of America is to survive problems rather than try to collaborate and fix them. Many of the country’s most notable cities, such as Columbus, Ohio, have taken the appearance of junkyards, with high-rises assembled out of scrap-metal in lieu of economic meltdown being the new norm for society. To cope with the disillusionment of reality, millions have chosen to escape the drudgery by way of the Oasis, a vast virtual world that offers its inhabitants limitless possibilities the moment they strap on their headsets. The world was created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), an eccentric soul who passed away and left three keys hidden throughout the Oasis as his parting gift. The person to find those keys, via a series of riddles, will successfully own the Oasis.

UNSANE

Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane is a troubling film for troubling times. In a moment of great domestic unrest for the United States, it adds more logs to a burning fire by further magnifying a smorgasbord of problems that have sprouted from ignoring other problems. In his second film after announcing his initial retirement from directing movies, Soderbergh delivers a bone-chilling exposé on the commodification of mental health. In doing so, he successfully directs one of the first great films in the #MeToo age that shows the vulnerability of women in an era where gaslighting, assault, and manipulation are disgracefully seen as problems emblematic of the victim’s shortcomings. This was a perpetually uncomfortable sit for me. I can’t imagine someone who has been through something similar enduring this.

MIDNIGHT SUN

People always ask me if I have “celebrity crushes,” and while I admit I don’t have many, Bella Thorne is someone for whom I have a weak-spot. It’s a spot weak enough to have made me rise earlier than normal on a Saturday morning and get me to see her latest film, which, on the surface, looked like nothing more than a clone of the surprisingly effective romantic-dramaEverything, Everything from last year. The things we do for l(ust)ove.

Midnight Sun, as it’s called, is a remake of a Japanese film from over a decade ago, directed by Norihiro Koizumi, starring pop-sensation Yui. Thorne plays Katie Price, a 17-year-old sheltered in her home since early childhood thanks to a life-threatening genetic condition known as xeroderma pigmentosum (you’ll recall in Everything, Everything, Amandla Stenberg’s character Maddy had severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as SCID). Because of the disease, colloquially known as “XP,” Katie cannot be exposed to direct sunlight without severe risk of skin cancer or even death. Her around-the-clock care/company comes from her spirited father, Jack (Rob Riggle), who has been her primary guardian since her mother passed, and Morgan (charmingly played by Quinn Shephard), her disarmingly honest friend from when she was little.

PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST

Paul, Apostle of Christ follows the title character, played by James Faulkner, during his time spent in a Mamertine Prison in Rome due to his efforts to convert people to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Just as Nero has sentenced the saint to die in A.D. 67, the mild-mannered Luke (The Passion of the Christ‘s Jim Caviezel) has paid him a visit in prison with intent to transcribe his story into a Gospel, which would later be known as “Acts of the Apostles.” While Luke attempts to dictate and publish a vivid account of Paul’s personal conversion, from a petty heathen known as Saul (played by Yorgos Karamihos) to the very antithesis of what he was, Christians are heatedly discussing their plan of action as Nero’s vicious persecution continues. They contemplate whether or not to retaliate in the face of executions and intense marginalization, the likes of which might cause them to do things directly opposed to the teachings of their lord and savior.

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