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Cinematic Spillover: Short reviews of Sputnik, Project Power and Boys State 

click to enlarge IFC FILMS, NETFLIX AND APPLE TV+
  • IFC Films, Netflix and Apple TV+

The Spurs got bounced from the playoffs for the first time in 22 years and we’re still stuck in a pandemic bubble, so what else are you gonna do this weekend except watch some movies? Here are three flicks opening today from which you can choose.

Boys State

If any readers have ever participated in one of those model United Nations programs in high school before, you’ll sort of get an idea of what the program Boys State is all about. Basically, it’s a group of teenagers coming together to learn how government works. In the case of Boys State, it’s apparently also a way to show students how to embrace the worst parts of the political process. This, of course, is not the fault of documentary filmmakers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss. Their film Boys State, which follows a handful of male high school students who partake in a program that teaches them how to build a mock state legislature from the ground up, captures both the inspiring and unfriendly sides of The American Legion-sponsored event. The ugly side of politics in Boys State, the program, is what is most concerning. Shouldn’t a program like this be teaching these boys about political ethics (oxymoron?) as much as how to create party platforms and draft bills? And why after 85 years are the male and female programs still separate? How is not working with the opposite sex beneficial to the young men who aspire to become political leaders, especially in today’s political climate, where the #MeToo movement is forcing industries to reevaluate the way they run businesses? While McBaine and Moss do not dive deep enough into everything that is wrong with the program, they are able to capture wonderful individual portraits of some of the participants in their film. Boys State is a strong doc because it always feels authentic — a perfect example of what the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” really means, for better or worse. Read our interview with Boys State subject and San Antonio native Ben Feinstein. Boys State is available on Apple TV+ August 14. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

Project Power

Searching for a different angle to take when developing an original superhero movie must be a painstaking process, especially for screenwriters who understand mainstream audiences are more than fine with consuming as much Marvel and DC content as Hollywood can dole out. Unfortunately, writer Mattson Tomlin, who is co-writing next year’s The Batman with director Matt Reeves, tries to do too much with his script for Project Power, a fast-paced, stylized clutter of ideas that don’t always complement one another. The film stars Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Ray) as Art, a military vet who is looking for the supplier of a new drug on the street that gives some users superhero powers. When Art’s daughter, who holds the secret of the drug in her DNA, goes missing, he teams up with a drug dealer and aspiring rapper (Dominique Fishback) to track him down. A bulletproof New Orleans cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who uses the drug himself to level the playing field with criminals, also gets in the mix, so he can save his city from wannabe superhero villains. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who made the third and fourth installments of the Paranormal Activity franchise, the kinetic energy running through the veins of Project Power keeps the movie pumping at a chaotic tempo. By the third act, however, the film falls prey to some action flick clichés. Gordon-Levitt’s cop character also never meshes well with the rest of the narrative. The chemistry between Fishback and Foxx is what keeps Project Power from losing all sense of reality. Project Power is available on Netflix August 14. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)

Sputnik

The Russian sci-fi horror flick Sputnik doesn’t break any new ground in the genre, but first-time filmmaker Egor Abramenko and screenwriters Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev spin their tale in a few unique directions. In doing so, the film, which is all in Russian, doesn’t simply rely on its grotesque and effective body-horror elements to keep viewers interested. Set in 1983 during the Cold War, Sputnik stars Russian actress Oksana Akinshina as Tatyana Klimova, a neuropsychiatrist recruited by the government to examine an amnesic cosmonaut who returns to Earth after a terrifying mishap in space. When Tatyana learns that an extraterrestrial entity has burrowed itself inside the man and is using him as a host, she is compelled to figure out a way to separate the two beings before the alien does any more damage. While many parasitic alien horror movies have come before, most notably the Alien franchise and whichever version of The Thing you like best, Sputnik takes the time to really explain the mechanics of the horror show. Yes, the movie hits a lot of the same conventional beats as its predecessors, but its rethinking of certain aspects of the narrative (for example, exploring the dark side of mankind), keeps it from fading into the shadows of the better movies it borrows from. Sputnik opens at Santikos Embassy Theatre and on VOD platforms August 14. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

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