Reviews: ‘Raymond & Ray,’ ‘The School for Good and Evil,’ ‘Matriarch’


What would the horror genre be without eccentric, far-flung little British villages ruled by mistrust and cult rituals? In “Matriarch,” from writer-director Ben Steiner, Laura (Jemima Rooper), a cocaine-addicted, terrified middle-aged executive, returns to her hometown at the invitation of her long-distance mother, Celia (Kate Dickie). strained relationship. But at home, everything feels strange: like Celia’s continued happiness and the strange behavior of the neighbors who don’t seem to have aged in decades, and the black goo spontaneously oozing out of various objects and openings.

Perhaps Steiner is taking on too much with “Matriarch,” which begins with a long look at Laura’s miserable urban working life before eventually reaching the spooky dump where the action really begins. There’s a lot going on in the village, too, as Laura reconnects with old acquaintances and tries to unravel some of the mysteries of her past – all while suffering from drug rehabilitation and nightmarish hallucinations.

But like Ari Aster’s similarly raunchy Hereditary, Steiner’s film deftly alternates between the real-life physical menace of dark supernatural forces and the elusive damage wrought by a lifetime of poor upbringing. Laura sometimes can’t tell if her problems are in her own head or if she’s being manipulated by a mother with her own warped agenda. Steiner keeps both possibilities in play while unsettling audiences with the murky goings on in and around Laura’s old neighborhood, where people smile in her face and hatch dark conspiracies behind her back.

‘Matriarch.’ Not rated. 1 hour 25 minutes. Available on Hulu

Ewan McGregor, left, and Ethan Hawke in the film Raymond & Ray.

Ewan McGregor, left, and Ethan Hawke in the film Raymond & Ray.

(Gilles Mingasson/AppleTV+)

“Raymond & Ray”

The title characters of writer/director Rodrigo Garcia’s Raymond & Ray are half-brothers: mild-mannered middle-class bureaucrat Raymond (Ewan McGregor) and cynical musician Ray (Ethan Hawke). They were reunited by the death of their father Ben, an unreliable womanizer who made his boys and their mothers miserable despite apparently being well liked by everyone else. As a last resort to mess with his son’s heads, Ben leaves one final request: that Raymond and Ray dig his grave together.

This central plot driver may make “Raymond & Ray” sound more gimmicky than it actually is, or more like a dramedy. This movie is actually – for better or for worse – more of a subdued character piece, most of which consists of the brothers sitting around and talking about their past. Sometimes they sit in a room. Sometimes they’re in a car or in a graveyard. Sometimes they talk to each other. They sometimes talk to women who knew and loved their father, including his nurse Kiera (Sophie Okonedo) and his recent lover Lucia (Maribel Verdú). There is a lot of talk – and not much action.

The cast of Raymond & Ray is outstanding; and there is a strong idea at the center of the film that explores many people’s experience of being profoundly and negatively influenced by a parent who is ultimately alien to them. But Garcia is holding back too much and maybe trying to avoid false disclosures. As a result, its two main characters are too busy re-litigating old grudges to do or say anything worth mentioning.

“Raymond & Ray.” R, for language and some sexual material. 1 hour, 46 minutes. Available on Apple TV+


At its most basic level, Slash/Back is another low-budget alien invasion film about a group of girls who use their wits and homemade weapons to fight off creatures that can infect and inhabit humans and animals – just like them Monsters in “Body Snatchers” and “The Thing”. But what makes director Nyla Innuksuk’s debut film fresh is who these young ladies are and where they live. Set in a small Inuit community on Baffin Island, Nunavut – in the summer when the sun always comes up – the film is about life in one of the most beautiful, remote parts of the world as well as killer ETs.

Innuksuk works with a cast of newcomers with varying acting abilities; but her story (co-written with Ryan Cavan) is simple and specific enough that these kids are allowed to bring a lot of themselves to their roles. “Slash/Back” hits its genre beats pretty well, with some nifty looking beasts and tight action sequences set to a memorable ethno-tronica score by the Halluci Nation. But it’s the moments of more personal observation — of how the girls interact with each other, with their parents, and with a culture that’s sometimes an uneasy mix of Canadian and Indigenous — that give this image its spark of originality. There are many genre films like this one. Neither are these.

‘Slash/Backspace.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 27 minutes. Available on VOD


The found footage horror craze was just about to end when the 2012 anthology film V/H/S came out, offering a new approach to the genre by focusing on both the humor and the creepiness inherent in retro -technology inherent. Subsequent entries in the series have followed the original, with the latest “V/H/S/99” telling five stories set around the turn of the millennium when media as a whole will change.

Typical of the anthology format, the five shorts here mostly try to make do with a catchy concept and a few good scares. Still, late ’90s nostalgia should push a few Gen X and Gen Y buttons, with segments about anarchic alternative rock bands, student unions gone awry, an unwinnable Nickelodeon-esque game show, and teenage pranksters who thrive on it trying to stare at a sexy neighbor, and a satanic ritual that literally leads to hell.

Each segment runs too long; and none of them have the killer ending an anthology film deserves. But they all deliver what they promise: a 1999 look and vibe, with moments destined to make audiences squirm. And if viewers start turning away early, they should fast-forward to the final short, To Hell and Back, which makes the best use of the lo-fi format, using lousy lighting and colors to create realistic vision a demonic underworld seen in terrible lightning.

‘V/H/S/99.’ Not rated. 1 hour 48 minutes. Available from Shudder

Michelle Yeoh, left, Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington walk in "The School of Good and Evil."

Michelle Yeoh, left, Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington in The School of Good and Evil.

(Helen Sloane/Netflix)

“The School of Good and Evil”

Teen-focused fantasy romance The School for Good and Evil is a tiresomely long, cluttered film that probably would have worked better as a television series. Directed and co-authored by Paul Feig – an adaptation of Soman Chainani’s best-selling 2013 fantasy novel with co-author David Magee – the film is set in a Hogwarts-like academic facility where potential fairytale heroes and villains study to use their powers. Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso play best friends who are placed on opposite sides of the good/evil divide. Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Laurence Fishburne, and Michelle Yeoh all work in broad strokes, playing authority figures so obsessed with enforcing the school’s longstanding rules that they risk unleashing real — not textbook — evil on the outside world to let go For two and a half hours, the film is packed with so many special effects-driven magical battles and lengthy explanations of how fairy tales work that there is no time for recklessness. Put simply, this “school” is no fun.

“The School of Good and Evil.” PG-13, for violence and action and some frightening visuals. 2 hours, 28 minutes. Available on Netflix

Also stream

“mama’s boy” was adapted by veteran documentary filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau from a memoir by Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk.” Through home video and interviews, the film explores the author’s relationship with his mother—a conservative Southern Mormon who eventually came to accept Black’s homosexuality—and suggests that the key to bridging sociopolitical divides is to get to know the people on the other side. Available on HBO Max

Now available on DVD and Blu-ray

“ET the Alien” remains one of the most amazing films ever made: a suspenseful, entrancing, hilarious and heartbreaking sci-fi adventure that turns director Steven Spielberg’s own childhood and divorce memories into pure entertainment. The new 40th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition features over four hours of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews that do justice to this Hollywood classic about a lonely suburban boy and his amazing alien sidekick. Universal Reviews: ‘Raymond & Ray,’ ‘The School for Good and Evil,’ ‘Matriarch’

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