3 New Movies For Weekend Streaming: ‘Terror On the Prairie,’ ‘Rise,’ And ‘Operation Mincemeat’

To generate buzz over the holiday weekend, top streaming services are premiering big titles—while a conservative-driven upstart is making a splash with their independently produced drama. It comes as stakes for the streaming wars have never been higher. 

Market leader Netflix has faced massive stock declines and staff layoffs in recent months. Their major competitors like Disney Plus, HBO Max, and Paramount Plus have altered strategies to better compete. And, in light of some parents’ backlash to Hollywood agendas, right-leaning players like Daily Wire are making initial moves to reach critical mass.

Increased competition could mean better value for subscribers — if people can navigate the glut of new films and series, many of them forgettable. This weekend, Netflix has the latter half of “Stranger Things” season four rolling out, but they’re holding big-budget actioner “The Gray Man” until July 22. Prime Video has premiered Chris Pratt’s “The Terminal List” Navy SEALS series, while Paramount Plus comedy flick “Jerry and Marge Go Large” is getting rave reviews

Three recent film releases deserve a closer look, including the much-talked-about Western produced by Daily Wire and a couple of based-on-true-story dramas from top streamers. Here are three capsule reviews as your family considers what to watch during downtime. 

‘Terror On the Prairie’: Aptly Titled Drama Depicts Violent Conflict With Evil

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which tracks the most popular streaming films, has lately ranked two films from conservative distributor Daily Wire in its Top 10 list: documentary “What Is A Woman” and old-school Western “Terror On the Prairie.” While the latter made Hollywood headlines when announced, mainstream critics have kept quiet since release.

“Terror On the Prairie,” featuring a cast led by Oscar winner Nick Searcy (“The Shape of Water”) and Gina Carano–former co-star of “The Mandalorian” famously fired for some errant tweets—marks a strong second effort for Daily Wire Entertainment. The first, “Shut In,” introduced audiences to filmmaker Dallas Sonnier and his R-rated “pressure-cooker movies” which he aims to be “unadulterated, unfiltered, genuine, [and] not neutered by the studio system.”

With stunning, untouched Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, this post-Civil War story unfolds on the barren landscapes of southwestern Montana. A mother of two, including a newborn, Hattie McAllister (Carano) feels no qualms about her husband leaving their cabin for a day to get supplies in town. Until, that is, four men on horseback arrive uninvited. 

Producer Sonnier is known for crafting scenes of breathless tension, certainly in evidence here as the black-hat gang chats over food with the fierce mother — until all hell breaks loose. Film critic Christian Toto describes one unexpected element of their stand-off: “The characters shoot, and shoot, and rarely hit their targets. It’s a more realistic version of Wild West gunplay that offers another layer of realism.”

Carano, a mixed martial arts champion prior to her acting career, plays to her strengths without coming off as a superhero. Unquestionably bloody and almost too efficient — a stronger music score might’ve helped a sometimes-lagging pace —“Terror On the Prairie” isn’t for everyone. Despite pulpy archetypes, this revenge plot has more layers than may be immediately apparent. 

‘Rise’: Gripping Family Drama Deflated By Flat Basketball Action

Anyone who grew up watching “Remember the Titans,” “Miracle,” or other inspired-by-true-stories films, have longed for Disney to return to high-caliber sports dramas. After seeing middling biopic “Rise,” just out on Disney Plus, it’s apparent fans will have to keep waiting.

The story of star power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly provides the raw material: raised in poverty in Greece, tried out for a local basketball team, trained to improve himself, and ultimately was picked 15th in the NBA Draft in 2013. Last year, he was named NBA Finals MVP after leading his Milwaukee Bucks to take home the championship trophy. 

“Rise,” produced with Giannis’ family, depicts the origins and personal context of his journey. Viewers encounter Giannis’ parents emigrating from Nigeria to Turkey to Greece, in search of a better life. They raise four sons in Athens, only able to take odd jobs due to their uncertain legal status; a fifth son, their eldest, even had to be left behind with his African relatives. While unexpected in a sports flick, all the immigration policy drama brings greater realism.

Struggling to provide for and raise his boys right, Charles (Dayo Okeniyi, from “The Hunger Games” films) has many up-close conversations with them about discipline and risk. Real-life Nigerian-American brothers Uche and Ral Agada portray rising athletes Giannis and Thanasis. When first joining a regional basketball team, their family can only afford one pair of sneakers; a scene of one in socks as the other laces up tangibly illustrates their shared sacrifice.  

The family’s Christian faith shows up, albeit in a minor role. Parents lead their sons in the Lord’s Prayer before bedtime, and a crucifix hangs prominently in their home. But the script doesn’t engage those really interesting questions: why did a Nigerian family convert to the Greek Orthodox Church? Their mother Vera (Yetide Badaki) says, “God makes no mistakes. Give it your all then let God do his work.” But it lacks context to know the true role of faith in their lives.

What “Rise” glaringly lacks is compelling in-the-paint basketball. The film’s limited hoops action consists mostly of layup shots and players doing drills — less than some Disney Channel flicks. There’s even buildup to Greece’s national scouting exhibition game filmed in a large arena. Characters react as if seeing some incredible Giannis plays on the court, but it’s not there. 

A cross-cultural story built on family bonds, “Rise” aims for the inspirational genre similar to last year’s “Blue Miracle.” By the end, with its dramatic NBA Draft scenes and highlight reel of Antetokounmpo brothers, three of them now NBA stars, it leaves viewers inspired. But it also underlines the film’s lack of actual basketball play, an egregious oversight that sadly limits potential impact and shelf life of “Rise.” 

‘Operation Mincemeat’: War Thriller Soars With Spycraft, Unrequited Romance 

As theater screens shift to mostly big-spectacle blockbusters, it’s led to mid-budget dramas and comedies gradually drying up. Thankfully, streamers have stepped up — with World War II drama “Operation Mincemeat” on Netflix a stellar example. 

Academy Award winner Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) stars as an MI5 agent seeking to fool the Third Reich with an elaborate hoax and ultimately get Hitler to relocate troops. Another newly-minted spy (Matthew Macfadyen, who also once played Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice”) proposes hiding deceptive documents on a corpse, and the two collaborate to execute the ruse. 

Comparisons to last year’s “The Courier” are inevitable, as it’s another British-produced “dad movie” that brings viewers behind-the-scenes of spy craft. While that past war film explored the sacrifice of an everyman keeping his family in the dark, “Operation Mincemeat” depicts a love triangle between the two agents and a member of their clandestine team (Kelly Macdonald, sparkling as ever.) Vying for her affections starts as subtext, gradually coming to the forefront.

Veteran director John Madden (“Miss Sloane”) exudes class and precision in every shot, aided by cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov whose lighting expertly accentuates the ensemble cast. Screenwriter Michelle Ashford, who previously penned episodes of “John Adams” and “The Pacific,” collaborated with author Ben Macintyre to craft a script packed with historical details.

In plotting that recalls “Top Gun: Maverick,” the central mission gets summed up, detailed, and tested about three times before it’s executed—which actually makes it work. How does one stage a floating corpse with a briefcase and other minutiae so it’s believable to the best minds in espionage? A curious wrinkle of history, author Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, played a role in this real-life operation and is depicted in a cameo. An odd title for a unique mission, “Operation Mincemeat” recounts a story worth knowing. 


Josh Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy for several media outlets including The Stream. His articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion & Politics, Faithfully Magazine, Religion News Service, and Providence Magazine. A graduate of the University of Colorado, he previously worked on staff at The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family. Josh and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.

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‘Top Gun – Maverick’ is Action-Based “Dad Cinema” At Its Very Best

‘Top Gun – Maverick’ is Action-Based “Dad Cinema” At Its Very Best

The moving story in “Top Gun: Maverick” of a fatherless son’s journey toward healing is proving popular with audiences worldwide. This is a film highlighting the importance of fatherhood, portraying a tale of reconciliation and redemption.

Top Gun: Maverick is smashing box offices, and it’s easy to understand why.

The film is spectacularly outpacing its weak-because-they’re-woke counterparts, because the film’s unapologetic dad themes resonate.

Alongside the gutsy F-18 camera shots, audiences are in love with the Tom Cruise/Joseph Kosinski sequel because its father-son backstory hits home.

Even the, “it’s all flag-waving, MAGA propagandist tripe” critics are applauding the sequel for keeping to the consistency of the first film’s deep relational backbone.

As The Atlantic’s David Sims explained, the film’s ‘emotional weight rests on Pete Mitchell (Maverick) fighting to earn the respect of Goose’s son (Rooster), who blames Maverick for the tragic loss of his father.’

Childhood Memory

For me, Top Gun: Maverick cut deeper.

My family and I recently saw the film for a birthday bash. The only thing missing was my dad.

Watching the first Top Gun at the cinema with my dad was to be one of the only long-lasting positive memories I would have of him.

It was 1986, I was 9, and we’d turned up late to the cinema.

Missing the iconic afterburner intro of the first Top Gun, dad and I slid into our seats in rhythm with Tony Scott’s smooth golden orange sunset, shot high above a lone F-14 landing on the silhouette of the USS Enterprise.

It became a shared interest, a mutual pursuit, a common bond solely shared between father and son.

From the soundtrack, which always seemed to be on repeat in our broken-down housing commission home, to the old-school Amstrad computer game, the movie connected us.

This was true, right up until my dad’s final week, when, knowing he would never get a chance to wear it, I gifted him a T-shirt with the Top Gun logo on it.

Now covered in dust, I still hold onto the volumes of Warplane magazines he’d chosen to buy me, instead of paying “through the teeth” for participation in a weekend sport.

Healing

I related to the second film because of the first.

Similar to ‘Goose’s’ son in the film, I was confronted by what was lost, what might have been, and what my dad chose to abandon somewhere along the way.

The sequel made the memories all the more material when Val Kilmer (Iceman), tells Maverick — still haunted by the death of ‘Goose’ — “It’s time to let go.”

Seeing the first film at the cinema in 1986 with my dad was an oasis event, an anomaly of normalcy in a wasteland of ash.

This explains why, in almost every scene of Top Gun: Maverick, I heard, and felt my dad’s absence, and choked up at Hans Zimmer’s rendition of Faltermeyer’s iconic Top Gun anthem.

We’re taught in The Good Book to raise up thanksgiving in the face of suffering. Even the smallest object or event that is worthy of our gratitude puts points on the board when it comes to healing trauma.

In retrospect, watching Top Gun with my dad in ’86 was the first, and only time he offered me a healthy introduction to manhood.

His wasn’t perfect, but that was a perfect day. That day my dad did good, and for that I thank him.

For me, the only thing missing from Top Gun: Maverick was the man who took me to see the first one, sitting, at his best, beside me and my uber-impressed family.

Top Gun was, and is, about loss, grief, and recovery; fatherhood, and fatherlessness — as much as it is about courage, defiance, and the determination to overcome obstructions encountered along the way.

The sequel builds on its original father-son backstory. It is “dad cinema” at its very best.

To lean on Miles Surrey’s review in The Ringer,

‘Every single dad — past, present, and those who are expecting to be dads in the near future — should check out Maverick, if not for the sanctity of ensuring Dad Cinema doesn’t fade away, then for experiencing a blockbuster that surpasses its predecessor in every respect.’

___

First published at Dads4Kids.

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‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Is Nothing All Over The Place For Two And A Half Hours

‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Is Nothing All Over The Place For Two And A Half Hours

This article contains spicy spoilers. Approximately 250,000 on the Scoville Spoiler Scale.

During my down moments in the days of Holy Week preparation and celebration, I repeatedly encountered effusive praise for a film that recently opened in theaters nationwide — a zany, multi-layered exercise in sci-fi mayhem, absurdist comedy, and family drama called “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (henceforth EEAAO). Knowing nothing about the film beyond the rave reviews and the plot being rooted in some sort of multiverse concept, I took advantage of a lazy Easter Monday and booked two tickets to a film I expected to floor me with its bonkers uniqueness and annoy my wife with its bonkers uniqueness.

It’s easy to see why critics loved the film, which currently holds a 97 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. EEAAO is tender and thoughtful throughout. It’s creative and clever, complex yet easy to follow. It’s delightfully weird and gut-bustingly hilarious in spots, though irredeemably vulgar in others. (In an uncharacteristic move, this humble pastor did not check the film’s rating before purchasing tickets.)

The actors deliver great performances, and the kooky fight scenes are a welcome relief from the copy-and-paste, computer-generated-images-overload action sequences found in the typical sci-fi fare that has filled cineplexes in recent years. In numerous ways, EEAAO is profoundly original.

In the most important way, however, the film is tragically unoriginal. While the film uses its nutty premise to explore deep, aching questions, it offers only shallow answers we’ve already heard countless times before.

Despite the nutso nature of the film, the film’s plot is relatively simple. Evelyn is a Chinese-American immigrant who, in her youth, defied the wishes of the father who never truly accepted her, married a man he didn’t approve of, and sailed off to America. But now she has been drained by the emptiness of existence. She’s mismanaged the finances at her unfulfilling job. Waymond, the husband she’s pushed away, wants a divorce, and she has crushed her daughter Joy’s joy by not sufficiently affirming her lesbian relationship.

Alternate Universe

Evelyn’s banal existence is shattered, however, during her IRS audit. That’s when she learns that an alternate universe version of herself, Alpha Evelyn, made it possible for people to both consciousness-jump into their alternate universe minds and transfer their skills, namely martial-arts related ones, to their alternate universe bodies.

When Alpha Evelyn perceived that her daughter possessed great aptitude for unlocking the power of the multiverse, she pushed her so hard that Joy tapped into the suffering she experienced in countless universes at the hands of her mother, who oppressed her with the rigid judgmentalism she inherited from her father. The influx of infinite suffering then transformed Joy into Jobu Tupaki, a superpowered villain who murders versions of her parents through the multiverse and ultimately seeks the destruction of everything in order to escape the pain of existence.

Jobu Tupaki is thus a deeper villain than you’ll find in most cinematic sci-fi experiences. Her villainy is not formed by lust for power, betrayal, or madness, but by nihilism. She kills to escape the loneliness she feels in the presence of those who love her and whom she loves. She is driven to destructive despair by infinite instances of rejection from those who embrace her.

Despite her daughter’s penchant for multiverse matricide, however, Evelyn will not give up on saving Joy. This is, of course, quite noble, but it’s also what leads to the film’s rather vacuous conclusion. What wondrous feat does Evelyn perform to pierce light into the multiverse of darkness? What great act of heroism does she undertake to heal the unhealable heart of the villain?

‘Be Nicer’

She celebrates her daughter’s lesbian relationship. At the film’s beginning, Evelyn only half-heartedly accepts her daughter’s girlfriend and passes of their relationship as mere friendship to her stuffy, old-world father.

But after Joy internalizes Waymond’s high-drama admonition to “be kind,” she reveals the true relationship to her father and praises Girlfriend With 37 Seconds of Screen Time as this great force of love and forgiveness who completes Joy, just as the husband her father never accepted completes her. This is the act that saves the multiverse, saves the relationship between mother and daughter, and saves the marriage of husband and wife.

There you have it. Inescapable sorrow overcome by LGBTQ affirmation. This is revolutionary stuff we’ve never seen before except in six thousand arthouse films, 8 million television episodes, and 5 trillion viral TikTok videos telling us that embracing people’s gender identity will eternally drive away the sorrow we all know will hound them again in seven months.

The film tells us that unfathomable emptiness can be healed when overbearing authority figures accept their children for who they are — a bold and audacious solution never seen before except when it swirled around 8,000 glittering Disney princesses. The final act declares that we can prevent inevitable destruction by being a smidge nicer to each other. Cinematic ground has not been broken this brazenly since the days of “Rocky IV.”

Generation Fractured Fairy Tale

While it’s fair to fault EEAAO’s director duo known as Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) for their film’s philosophically lackluster ending, it’s also fair to note that their film is reflective of our contemporary culture’s approach to these existential issues. We are a people who speak more than we think and complain more than we consider, which is why we have a strong talent for identifying problems and virtually no aptitude for finding solutions.

Raised in the First Church of Self-Worship, we know what it means to experience emptiness but can’t understand that fulfillment can’t be accomplished with a heavier diet of navel-gazing. We are Generation Fractured Fairy Tale, deluding ourselves into thinking that we can escape the melancholy monster if only our mothers tell us we’re pretty and powerful, our fathers apologize for dashing our dreams with their dastardly wisdom, and we learn to be proud of who our fleeting passions tell us we are.

Finding True Meaning

How, then, should Daniels have offered meaning to a culture that doesn’t know how to find it? Not by repackaging the Disney solution, but by repudiating it. If you ask people to stare at an ocean of emptiness, you won’t comfort them with the suggestion that the emptiness can be conquered if we just make room for everyone on the raft of self-love.

True comfort comes in the promise that there is a God who has filled every drop of the ocean with true love, meaning, and beauty. If you ask people to wrestle with the idea of infinite lonely universes, the only worthwhile comfort comes from pointing them to the Creator who has wrested every atom of His creation away from sin and sorrow and made you one with Him in the sacrifice of His Son.

For decades, films have tried to soothe the pain of rejection by urging us to slather ourselves in the benzocaine of self-affirmation, only to exacerbate the problem when the numbing agent wears off. If you ask your audience to stare into the void of that pain, you need to sew that void shut with something much better than “let’s boost human kindness by ten percent across the board.”

You need to sew it shut with the promise of the One who can kill everything sinful and filthy within you and raise you up as a new creation, perfect and pure. Nietzschean problems require divine solutions, not Instagram moralizing.

If it sounds like I’m saying EEAAO could only find a satisfying conclusion by embracing explicitly Christian themes, that’s because I am. Christ’s atonement, healing, and self-sacrificial example are the only things that can end the existential crises men endure, which means they’re the only things that can cure our culture’s woes, which means they’re the only satisfactory answers to the questions our culture asks through its art.

This is why the parable of the Prodigal Son will still be known in 3,000 years, while “Frozen” will have long since melted in the dustbin of history. Stories about fathers who clothe their sons in sin-destroying, undying grace last because they’re true. Stories about daughters who find salvation by being true to themselves will perish with the narcissistic cultures that create them.

EEAAO’s mixture of martial arts mayhem, dadaist doofery, and frenetic philosophical questions yielded a film that was enjoyable in the moment. But the shallow answers robbed us of a film that mattered once the credits rolled. Daniels could have given us the multiverse of meaning and mercy. Instead, they gave us “The Kung Fu Lesbian Little Mermaid.”

Very 2022. But not very original.


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