A Quiet Place Part II (PG13)
97 minutes, opens June 17, now in sneaks, 4 stars
After a flashback scene establishing the day the human-hunting creatures came to Earth, the action moves to the aftermath of the 2018 movie. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) abandon their ruined farm in search of safety. Along the way, they meet other survivors, including Emmett (Cillian Murphy) and a nameless man, played by Djimon Hounsou.
Plot holes abound in this illogical yet hugely entertaining work, the long-delayed follow-up to the original. But by this reviewer's reckoning, both movies have a great excuse.
They take the template of the marooned family ringed by terror - think the Lost In Space series, recently revived on Netflix (2018 to present) - and locate it on Earth, in the present day, immediately making the survival situations more relatable.
An Earth setting, however, prevents screenwriters from inventing science-fiction tools that get characters into, and out of, sticky situations. So director, co-writer and actor John Krasinski gets a massive pass because his job is to make events so gripping, viewers do not notice the goofs. And he succeeds.
This is a terrifically tense movie with carefully edited and clearly filmed scenes of entrapment and escape. The use of Regan's point of view - Simmonds is a deaf actress and her character is also deaf - adds an especially nerve-racking touch.
Also, Krasinski has on his side a gifted actress, Blunt (his wife in real life), whose job in the sequel is to convey terror and vulnerability. She excels in this regard. Jupe and Simmonds are, like Blunt, actors who have no reason to be this good in a monster movie.
Another Round (PG13)
117 minutes, 4 stars
In this Danish drama-comedy, winner of the Oscar for Best International Feature in 2021, writer-director Thomas Vinterberg explores what happens when a group of men leap upon the hypothesis that alcohol, when consumed steadily and in small quantities, boosts confidence and creativity,
Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a teacher, and his friends and colleagues Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), among others, are men in a mid-life crisis. They test the alcohol-as-performance-enhancer idea, taking nips throughout the day at work and avoiding it at night and on weekends. The results are miraculous, but things soon take a turn.
Vinterberg makes the point about how alcohol offers a free pass for bad behaviour in Northern European culture, but only under specific social conditions such as graduation parties. Alcohol is necessary so Danes can act less Danish, while paradoxically being even more Danish for being drunk only under the correct circumstances, he wants to say.
Along the way, Mikkelsen and the other actors deliver beautifully subtle performances as men living lives of quiet desperation, estranged from their wives and their work as teachers. Sometimes, therapy comes in the form of a psychiatrist. Other times, uncorking a bottle releases not just wine, but years of repression.
Under The Open Sky (M18)
127 minutes, 4 stars
This realistic drama about a gangster released from jail after serving a 13-year sentence for murder features pay-offs that are small but substantial. It is hard to not cheer on Mikami (Koji Yakusho), who is trying his best to get by in a Japan that has little use for a middle-aged man with a prison record.
He has been a member of the yakuza for much of his life. "No more yakuza, no more crime" is his motto upon his latest release. He hopes that by finding his birth mother, who gave him away because she was unmarried, he might find emotional closure.
Reality-show producer Tsunoda (Taiga Nakano) is sent to interview the older man because his boss sees potential for a ratings-grabbing, tear-jerking crowd-pleaser.
Adapted from Ryuzo Saki's novel Mibuncho (Inmate Files) and directed by Miwa Nishikawa, who trained with acclaimed humanist director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Oscar-nominated drama Shoplifters, 2018), the story explores Mikami's plight with compassion and a degree of dry humour - his attempts at relearning driving are laugh-cringe moments.
Nishikawa turns her camera on society as much as she does on Mikami, showing the sorry state of the yakuza today and the vampiric nature of reality television.
Nor does she make Mikami cuddly or anti-heroic. He is an average, exasperated human caught in a system that beats him up because he is too young to be retired, too old to learn new skills and too poor to live without financial aid.