Ben is Back
Genre: Drama
Director: Peter Hedges
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton, Rachel Bay Jones, David Zaldivar
Duration: 103 minutes
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

Academy Award winner Julia Roberts returns with a powerful performance, this time playing the mother of a drug addict.

The drama is directed by Peter Hedges (screenwriter of About a Boy, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Pieces of April) and stars his own son, Lucas, as 19-year-old Ben Burns who unexpectedly returns to his family’s suburban home on Christmas Eve.

His mother Holly (Roberts) is relieved and welcoming but wary of her son’s drug addiction. Over a turbulent 24 hours, new truths are revealed and the mother’s love gets put to the test as she does everything in her power to keep Ben clean.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, garnered very positive reviews, with critics showering praise on Roberts and the young Hedges.

Sandie Angulo Chen of Common Sense Media wrote: “Roberts gives one of the most powerful performances of her career as a devoted mother, opposite the equally excellent Hedges, in this emotional addiction drama.”

Equally, Mark Jenkins of the Washington Post remarked: “Julia Roberts’ performance is a complex and winning one, even if Holly is not an entirely believable character.”

Liz Beardsoworth of Empire magazine was not entirely convinced by the film but was also won over the main leads’ performances: “Ben Is Back begins with nuance but is let down by its familiar ‘drugs are hell’ tropes. Still, the pairing of the ever-excellent Roberts and Hedges keep it a largely compelling watch.”

Sandy Schaefer of Screen Rant also notes the film’s “uneven” exploration of addiction but it still praises the protagonists.

The film had a limited release in the US and grossed a mere $3.7 million since its release last December.

IMDB: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Empire: 3 stars

Real-life couple Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem play former lovers in Everybody Knows.Real-life couple Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem play former lovers in Everybody Knows.

Everybody Knows
Genre: Psychological thriller
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Eduard Fernández, Inma Cuesta
Duration: 133 minutes
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

Originally titled Todos lo Saben in Spanish and directed by Iran­ian film-maker Ashgar Farhadi (A Separation, The Salesman), the psychological thriller revolves around Penélope Cruz in the role of a mother who travels from Argentina to Spain with her teenage daughter and young son to attend her sister’s wedding.

However, what ought to be a joyful reunion turns tragic when her daughter gets kidnapped. A dark web of hidden secrets is eventually revealed.

Cruz’s real-life husband Javier Bardem stars as Laura’s former flame. The film received average reviews, with critics saying that it could have been a much better movie.

Jeffrey M. Anderson of Common Sense Media noted: “This might have been a pretty good kidnapping story, but writer/director Asghar Farhadi goes soft; he slows it down to the point of almost stopping it and emphasises goopy, over-the-top soap opera.” On a similar vein, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine wrote: “This muddled melodrama offers surprises too easy to see coming. The machinations begin to smack of desperation. Don’t hold this against Farhadi. Everybody knows he’s capable of doing a lot better.”

All these comments are reflected in the critics’ consensus: “Everybody Knows is somewhat less than the sum of its parts despite the efforts of an outstanding cast ‒ and a disappointing step back for Ashgar Farhadi.”

IMDB: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Empire: 3 stars

Taraji P. Henson uses her newfound ability to her advantage in the comedy What Men Want.Taraji P. Henson uses her newfound ability to her advantage in the comedy What Men Want.

What Men Want
Genre: Comedy
Directors: Adam Shankman
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Kristen Ledlow, Josh Brener
Duration: 117 minutes
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

Adam Shankman (A Walk to Remember, Bringing Down the House, Hairspray) directs this loose adaptation of the 2000 film What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson.

Taraji P. Henson stars as sports agent Ali Davis who wonders what she needs to succeed in a man’s world.

Hoping to find answers from a psychic, she drinks a strange concoction that suddenly allows her to hear what men are thinking. Ali thus start to turn the tables on her odious male colleagues while racing to sign the next basketball star.

The film received mixed reviews. Helen O’Hara of Empire wrote: “The storytelling is a little loose, but as a workplace comedy with a sideline in romance, this earns its laughs thanks to the immensely game Henson and a stellar supporting cast.”

On the other hand, Emily Yoshida of Vulture magazine described the picture as “a wildly uneven stretch of a movie that is more of a flail than a romp.”

IMDB: 4.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 47%
Empire: 3 stars


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