Rosaline humorously skewers Shakespeare
Charming, clever, and witty, Karen Maine's Rosaline is an unexpected delight, a smart take-off of Romeo and Juliet that, each time it seemingly paints itself into a narrative corner, upends our expectations. Based on the novel, When You Were Mine, Kaitlyn Dever takes on the title role, a young maiden living in late 16th-century Italy who happens to be in love with Romeo Montague (Kyle Allen). Yeah, that Romeo...They are besotted with each other, that is until our heroine is set up on a blind date with Dario (Sean Teale), who takes her sailing, causing her to miss the masquerade ball where Romeo meets Juliet (Isabela Merced).
All of the familiar moments from Shakespeare's play are present, but they're given new life as we see the tale of star-crossed lovers from a completely new perspective. Rosaline is smart, independent and displays an acerbic sense of wit that proves devastatingly funny as she deflates the romantic notions Juliet clings to time and again, while pointing out the foolishness of the societal mores that trap her. The chemistry between Dever and Teale is delightful, while Minnie Driver steals every scene she's in as Rosaline's nurse, a woman who suffers no fools and readily puts them in their place. Streaming on Hulu.
Birdy grows on you
Like its protagonist, Catherine Called Birdy grew on me, the film losing its rather irritating edge as it progressed, morphing into a charming and poignant look at one young woman's effort to achieve some measure of independence.
Birdy (Bella Ramsey) is in a bind. The daughter of a 13th-century lord on the brink of insolvency, her father (Andrew Scott) has decided to pawn her off in marriage in exchange for a large dowry. There are many potential suitors, all of them deplorable, Birdy going out of her way to exhibit strange behavior to scare them off.
As Birdy matures, the film becomes more introspective as well, characters who initially seem one-dimensional revealed to be more complex and interesting. She's not the only one hemmed in by unjust expectations: her Uncle George (Joe Alwyn), best friend Aelis (Isis Hainsworth) and companion Perkin (Michael Woolfitt), all forced to behave in ways that belie their true selves. Writer/director Lena Dunham redeems herself from her offensive Sharp Stick from earlier this year, giving us a more positive look at one girl's journey to adulthood, the humor poking fun at practices of the Middle Ages, helping keep the tone from getting too dreary. Streaming on Amazon Prime.
Bland Werewolf bores
Promoted as a "Marvel Studios Special Presentation," Werewolf by Night proves to be anything but. A bland introduction to the supernatural characters of the Marvel Universe, this scant entry sports great potential but ultimately proves underwhelming.
Seems that a group of monster hunters have gathered at the Bloodstone Estate to battle over a powerful talisman. However, among these killers is a creature of the night, one Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), the lycanthrope of the title, who has far greater plans than fighting over a magical trinket.
Initially, it seems as though director Michael Giacchino intends to fashion this mini-movie after the Universal horror classics of the 1930s. However, he abandons that idea once the credits have rolled and settles into a pedestrian approach to a simplistic story. The five hunters enter a labyrinth to search for the bloodstone, engage in a bit of hand-to-hand combat and then meet up for one final throwdown. And that's it. The fights are unimaginatively choreographed, the action muddled, and the titular creature appears far too late. To be sure, it's great to see Marvel's muck monster Man-Thing finally make an appearance, but this proves to be a forgettable one-off. Streaming on Disney+.