A musical, a Western, and a Texas car dealer’s elaborate home movie highlight this week’s low-profile VOD releases.
Guidance (VOD June 17): A couple heads to a weekend getaway at a secluded house to work out their relationship troubles, both of them carrying big secrets. The difference is that in this vaguely futuristic world, they’ve each ingested a pill that installs an artificial intelligence in their brain, complete with an app called Guidance that’s essentially a foolproof lie detector. For all its sci-fi trappings, director and co-writer Neysan Sobhani’s debut feature is just a dull, plodding interpersonal drama, with occasional references to “the Great War” and technological advancements. The audience is left to fill in the blanks, but there isn’t much to go on, with beautiful nature imagery standing in for more concrete details. Sobhani teases out some underwhelming revelations, while stars Jia Sun and Harry Song put on somber expressions and speak in hushed tones. But the movie underserves both its central couple and its larger ideas about the future of civilization. Grade: C
Granada Nights (VOD June 21): Writer-director Abid Khan captures some of the feeling of being young, open, and free in this likable if aimless drama. Londoner Ben (Antonio Aakeel) is experiencing a bit of a quarter-life crisis as he quits his job and travels to Granada, Spain, to surprise his girlfriend, who’s studying abroad. He gets a surprise of his own when he discovers that she’s vacated her apartment and doesn’t want to see him. Instead of going home, he sticks around, falling in with a group of students and experiencing the city’s vibrant nightlife. Khan shoots in a shifting aspect ratio that starts out as narrow as portrait mode on a smartphone before expanding as Ben’s own horizons expand, and the movie is similarly blunt. The characters remain superficial, but they’re pleasant to spend time with, and Khan makes Granada look so beautiful and enticing that his film could double as an advertisement for the popular university program that the characters attend. Grade: B-
Triple Threat (VOD and select theaters June 21): Pitched somewhere between the finding-yourself earnestness of Tick, Tick … Boom! and the soapy melodrama of Smash, this story of three friends dealing with personal struggles as they bring their original musical to Broadway mostly gets by on sheer theater-kid charm. Best friends Chloe (director and co-writer Stacey Maltin) and Maggie (Margarita Zhitnikova) have spent a decade developing Firefly from a small workshop to an off-Broadway hit poised for the big time. Actor Gus (co-writer Jay DeYonker) has been with them almost since the beginning, but he throws off the trio’s dynamic when he announces his intention to have a baby. Chloe provides the egg and Maggie provides the womb, and predictable complications ensue. The relationship drama can get a bit overheated, but the actors have plenty of charisma, and Maltin effectively incorporates Firefly’s catchy, Broadway-style musical numbers into the narrative. The movie is a double threat at best, but that’s still pretty impressive. Grade: B
Murder at Yellowstone City (VOD and select theaters June 24): A prospector is murdered in a Montana frontier town, so naturally the local sheriff (Gabriel Byrne) immediately arrests the only Black person around, a former slave named Cicero (Isaiah Mustafa). What follows is a slow-moving and not particularly compelling Western murder mystery, with lots of ponderous ruminations on truth and justice. The pokey 127-minute movie eventually coalesces into a showdown between the sheriff and the local preacher (Thomas Jane), who have opposing ideas about what’s best for the town. The overqualified cast also includes Anna Camp, Richard Dreyfuss, and Nat Wolff, all of whom attempt to bring some depth to their thinly conceived characters. Director Richard Gray stages some decent gun battles, but the conflicts are so nebulously defined that it’s tough to care about who prevails. Gray and writer Eric Belgau aim for a serious examination of violence, but the result is clumsy and unconvincing. Grade: C
Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone (VOD June 28): There was a time when regional vanity projects like this would never make it past the drive-ins of the producer/star’s home state, but now everyone can see Texas car dealer Charlie Clark cosplay his action-hero dreams. Clark plays Texas car dealer Charlie Clark, who discovers that he’s one of the heirs to a mystical legacy involving ancient powers and a battle for the fate of the world. He dons the costume he’s been using to moonlight as a luchador and dubs himself the Green Ghost. Clark is a passable actor, and he surrounds himself with professionals, including Kuno Becker, Danny Trejo, and martial-arts mainstay Marko Zaror. The action is tame and goofy, like a cut-rate version of a Robert Rodriguez family movie (Rodriguez’s brother David is a producer). The pasty, gawky Clark is always out of place in a story built around Latin mythology and expert fighting, but at least he’s having a good time. Grade: C+