Ambulance is berserk, while Camila Cabello grows with Familia and A Black Lady Sketch Show soars
Each Friday, our critics provide a few quick-hit reviews of the titles that have them giddy and groaning — or, to put it another way, the Musts & Misses of the week.
Friday, April 8 (in theaters)
There are unauthorized biopics, and then there is Aline, "A fiction freely inspired by the life of Celine Dion." Valérie Lemercier writes, directs, and takes on the title role in a reimagining of the French-Canadian songbird's life that is both psychedelically surreal and surprisingly, endearingly normale: A star is born, she sings, she soars!
She also happens to be played from age 5 to 50 by an actress who is 58 years old, which turns the film into a sort of disorienting Aline in Wonderland trip, somewhere between the thirtysomething teens of Pen15 and Martin Short as a demonic fourth-grader in Clifford. When she is just a tiny Québecoise, the youngest of 14 siblings warbling her kindergarten torch songs at a family wedding? When she is signed at 12 by the much-older record executive (Sylvain Marcel) she will eventually marry? When she conquers the world, via one very large boat song, and triumphs at the 1998 Oscars? Mais oui, toujours, she is 58. (Though FaceTune technology and various camera tricks are brought in to assist with the illusion of size, if not uncanny youth.) The movie itself feels like performance art too, one that recalls both soft-focus Lifetime iconography and the night-terror shenanigans of last year's Adam Driver-Marion Cotillard puppet musical Annette. French singer Victoria Sio provides the glottal, towering vocals, but it is Lemercier's heart that goes on. Watch it sincerely or as a curiosity; at least you know you won't forget it. Grade: B — Leah Greenblatt
Friday, April 8 (in theaters)
Ambulance comes from the mind of Michael Bay, and the first thing you should know is how very Bay it is: way Bay, peak Bay, Bay über alles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Danny Sharp, a maniacally cheerful bandit; Yahya Abdul Mateen II(Candyman, The Matrix Resurrections) is his adopted brother, a former marine with a wife and a new baby. Though they're semi-estranged, Will is desperate to get his wife a surgery they can't afford, and Danny, conveniently, has a job planned for that very afternoon: a $32 million drop in downtown Los Angeles. When things go awry, as they do, the pair is forced to flee the scene in an ambulance with a critically injured cop (Jackson White) and an EMT (I Care a Lot's Eiza González) on board — and the entire air, land, and sea fleet of the LAPD in hot pursuit.
Bay shoots nearly every scene as if he's just been injected with several kinds of lightning, the camera swooping and corkscrewing at seasick angles over freeways and fireballs and blaring California sunshine. And Gyllenhaal, fully going for baroque, seems almost giddy, throwing off one-liners like they're beads at Mardi Gras and making Nic Cage crazy eyes. It all goes on too long and eventually wears itself out (the 2005 Danish original on which the screenplay is based clocks in almost a full hour shorter). The violence is cartoonishly casual and the ending pure Hollywood corn. The absurdity, though, is the point: They're just two brothers on the run, and escape is what we came for. Grade: B — Leah Greenblatt
Also read our full Ambulance review.
A Black Lady Sketch Show
Friday, April 8 (11 p.m., HBO)
This is what it looks like when a series is in its prime. In season 3, A Black Lady Sketch Show remains a wonder of comedic craftsmanship — every joke, every wig, every performance is a work of playful precision.
Created by Robin Thede, ABLSS combines absurd-yet-relatable one-off skits (women gather for a Purge-style purge of their half-used hair products; students realize their 5th-grade teacher is being catfished) with an interstitial soap featuring Thede and her costars, Gabrielle Dennis, Ashley Nicole Black, and Skye Townsend. No spoilers, but just know that this season their apocalypse-themed ordeal evolves in an unexpected way that makes perfect sense for our conspiracy-minded times.
Fan favorite characters return (Dr. Hadassah Olayinka Ali-Youngman, pre-Ph.D has a new book, y'all!) and guest stars abound. The sketches are specific to the Black experience (a woman with ashy feet barters with the Devil for lotion); the sketches are universally relatable (a couple on season 237 of House Hunters pretends not to have buyers' remorse: "You can't burn down a kitchen you don't have!"). Most importantly, the sketches are consistently, ridiculously funny. A- — Kristen Baldwin
Camila Cabello's Familia
Friday, April 8
The pandemic was clearly a period of introspection for Camila Cabello, who pours her life into her third solo album as though it was her diary: discussing mental health on new single "Psychofreak", a haunting and hypnotic collaboration with Willow (Smith, that is); and processing breakups both professional (Fifth Harmony) and personal (Shawn Mendes?).
Though she has always displayed flares of her Cuban-Mexican heritage, on Familia there's an ease and nostalgia to those flourishes. Ease is perhaps an ideal word to describe the album, which is far less excessively embellished than most popular pop. (The "Bom Bom"s on her salsa-infused duet with Ed Sheeran are the closest thing to an earworm like Cabello's breakout hit "Havanah"...oh na-na.)
Even when she veers from her Latin roots for the synth-heavy, Haim-esque "Quiet" and R&B-tinged "Boys Don't Cry" (both album highlights), there's an uncocky confidence more expected from a singer-songwriter decades older than the former X Factor finalist. Ten years into her career — and despite the multitude of insecurities she addresses throughout Familia — the 25-year-old appears more sure of herself than ever. B — Patrick Gomez
Inland Empire remastered
Friday, April 8 (Find theater information here)
David Lynch defined the reality-warped outer reach of jagged movie narrative in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive. His next (and thus far last) feature made those legendary freakouts look positively procedural. Shot across three years, in two countries, with star Laura Dern playing who knows how many people, 2006's Inland Empire reverbs all of Lynch's cinematic fixations (sex, Hollywood, midcentury pop, Harry Dean Stanton) into a three-hour psycho-cinematic nightmare. Dern stars as an actress who slowly becomes the character she's playing. Meanwhile, there's weird stuff in Poland, and a sitcom about human-sized rabbits, and… just so much. Shot by Lynch himself on a low-res digital camera, Inland Empire baffled fans of his sumptuous earlier work. Time has revealed this project as a prescient piece of video art, and one of the first great portraits of identity slippage in the digital age. And those rabbits! Returning to theaters in a remaster supervised by Lynch. A — Darren Franich
Friday, April 8 (Netflix)
If music be the food of love, metal is a full meal for teen angst in Lords, a slight but scatalogically charming coming-of-age penned by Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss and directed by Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist). Jaedan Martell — you may remember him as the budding incel from Knives Out, or somewhere in a river of blood in IT — is Kevin, an introverted kid whose best friend, Hunter (newcomer Adrian Greensmith), lives and breathes for the dark art of bands like Slayer and Judas Priest. (Never mind the general unlikelihood of any Gen-Z youth building a shrine to Rob Halford.)
Hunter, whose peevish plastic-surgeon dad (Fleabag's Brett Gelman) reluctantly bankrolls his dreams, is dead set on winning their high school's battle of the bands, though all odds favor the shiny-haired boys covering Ed Sheeran. Out of loyalty Kevin learns to play the drums, but it's the pull of a girl (Isis Hainsworth), naturally, that colors his world. Metal-god cameos abound — Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello executive-produced the soundtrack — and Joe Manganiello drops in as a physician with a Sepultura-tinted past. But the story belongs to its young cast, and Lords' ramshackle comedy sweetly captures the rank anxiety, random humiliations, and undiluted hope of being young. Grade: B+ — Leah Greenblatt