Body Snatcher

Amazon Studios

Encounter (2021)

Not sure what it is with these recent British bait-and-switchers, but “Encounter” unfolds very much like “Here Before”: It begins in one genre and then swerves into something else entirely. “Encounter” commences as science fiction, with Riz Ahmed as a former marine Malik Kahn, who, after years of absence, hurriedly snatches his two kids, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), from his estranged ex, Piya (Janina Gavankar). They embark on a secret mission to take cover at a military base amid an alien invasion. Through elaborate special effects, the film depicts people altering their behaviors after insect bites, and their eyes give them away. If you are a sci-fi fan, just know looks here are deceiving. If that doesn’t deter you, beware of spoilers ahead.

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Made in U.S.A.

Samuel Goldwyn Films

Snakehead (2021)

Among the recent films on immigrants – “Limbo,” “I Carry You With Me,” “El cuartito,” “Chal Mera Putt,” “Flee” etc. – “Snakehead” is the only one that actually hammers home the point that lives are at stake. Perhaps that’s because it is also a gangster flick. In the others, border crossing is merely a process: If you get caught, you get deported; it’s no biggie – the movies don’t even remind you of the dangers awaiting the immigrants back home. “Snakehead,” on the other hand, shows that the peril doesn’t end on arrival. The smugglers, to whom the undocumented are indebted, are far more dreadful than the Border Patrol.

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The X-Files



Only the first three episodes of this 6-part series screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. Dropping on Netflix in November, “Hellbound” is so bloodthirsty it’s impossible to guess who’s going to survive; that is not a complaint. The action, characters and pacing ricochet so wildly there’s no predicting from this first half where the second half will go, which is refreshing, but tricky for a review. With that very large caveat, what we have in “Hellbound” is a creepy, disturbing combination of a police procedural, trial by social media, and the supernatural consequences of murdering angels roaming the earth.

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Cat's Cradle

Jaap Buitendijk/Amazon Studios

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)

Benedict Cumberbatch turns up his eccentricity to 11 in “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” as the titular Victorian era artist whose claim to fame is drawing cats for The Illustrated London News. He was apparently also into electricity and patents, which the film glosses over despite the titular reference – but it shows enough here to remind us of the time Mr. Cumberbatch played Thomas Edison in “The Current War: Director’s Cut.”

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Sleuth Operator

Glen Wilson/Netflix

The Guilty (2021)

Some years ago, Halle Berry starred in a movie about a Los Angeles emergency dispatcher plagued with guilt and chained to her phones called “The Call.” A few years ago, Tom Hardy starred in a movie about a man overwhelmed with responsibility and chained to the phone in his car having the worst night of his life called “Locke.” Neither of these were the impetus for “The Guilty” – that was a Danish film of the same name that came out in 2018. But if you mashed up “Locke” and “The Call,” you have the idea; an emergency dispatcher suddenly has the worst night of his life. It all takes place at a few desks in the 911 dispatch center in Los Angeles, in the middle of last summer’s wildfires, and Jake Gyllenhaal is the man chained to his phones, desperately hoping it’s not too late.

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Change of Heart

Tribeca Film Festival

The God Committee (2021)

Based on a Mark St. Germain play, “The God Committee” centers on a panel at the fictional St. Augustine Hospital in New York City that periodically makes the call on who receives an organ transplant from a waiting list of candidates. Each member of the panel is a caricature placed there to deliberate toward a “12 Angry Men”-type verdict: a star surgeon with a conflict of interest (Kelsey Grammer), an idealistic young doctor (Julia Stiles), a bureaucratic administrator (Janeane Garofalo), a no-nonsense old-timer (Patricia R. Floyd), a grief-stricken psychiatrist (Peter Kim) and a utilitarian disbarred lawyer/hospital board member/priest (Colman Domingo).

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Searching for the Real Love

Amazon Studios

Mary J. Blige’s My Life (2021)

The first two credits that appear in the “Mary J. Blige’s My Life” documentary belong to the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul herself and producer Sean “Diddy” Combs, one of the masterminds behind the seminal album referenced in the title. Those are a bit concerning given how Prime Video’s other recent music documentary “Pink: All I Know So Far” has turned out. Thankfully, Ms. Blige isn’t interested in a glowing profile of herself. During the film, she revisits an old TV interview during which she appeared evasive and seemed to be lashing out. This movie affords an opportunity to set the record straight and finally answer those invasive and uncomfortable questions with her guard down and the wisdom and introspection that only come with age and experience.

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Giving Pregnant Pause


False Positive (2021)

“False Positive” is not body horror in the conventional sense, as the terrors visited on our protagonist, Lucy (Ilana Glazer), are from clinical procedures performed by fertility specialist Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan) with a hospital gown obscuring her view. Much like “Here Before,” “False Positive” casts its protagonist as an unreliable narrator suffering mental breakdown, only to reveal its own plot twist as she’s gaslit the whole time.

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Golden Mean Girls

Ray Bengston/Gravitas Ventures

Queen Bees (2021)

The “Queen Bees” trailer pitches the film as “Mean Girls” for the geriatric set, but in actuality it’s a feature-length infomercial singing the virtues of the nursing home and brought to you by the AARP (which, incidentally, was the actual sponsor of the virtual preview this critic attended).

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Family Portrait

Andrew Macpherson/Amazon Studios

Pink: All I Know So Far (2021)

“Pink: All I Know So Far” is the cinematic equivalent of a fawning cover story from a magazine on display at the supermarket checkout aisle – not the tabloids; not Billboard; not Rolling Stone; but People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly. The film follows 20 days out of the pop singer’s 19 month long “Beautiful Trauma” world tour with her husband, Carey Hart, and children, Willow and Jameson, in tow. Although Pink and Mr. Hart insist the 225 tour staff members are also family, none are interviewed on camera.

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