‘End of the Road’
The thriller “End of the Road” seems designed to answer the question, “How many misfortunes can one movie character endure before it stops being tragic and starts getting ridiculous?” Queen Latifah stars as Brenda, a California ER nurse who reluctantly decides to sell her house and move to Houston with her slacker brother Reggie (Ludacris) and her two teenage children, after her husband dies of cancer without enough insurance to cover the bills he’s left behind. During the trip the family: is harassed by pickup-driving racists; overhears a drug-related murder; is hounded by a cartel; stumbles into a white supremacist compound; and gets imprisoned at gunpoint by a couple of old rednecks. Only some of these plotlines actually connect with each other.
Director Millicent Shelton — working from a script by Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery — maintains a brisk pace, and she has a likable star in Latifah, who comes across as someone who has both seen a lot of trouble and has learned how to handle it. But “End of the Road” piles on way too much. What looks at first like a stripped-down chase picture — about one nice family trying to make it through the American Southwest with killers on their trail — turns into something far more preposterous, where every non-Brenda character makes terrible decisions that compound the heroine’s suffering. It’s as though the filmmakers couldn’t decide on one complication to set the action in motion, so they picked six. That much narrative congestion keeps the story from really moving.
‘End of the Road.’ R, for some strong/bloody violence, drug use, sexual content, and language. 1 hour, 29 minutes. Available on Netflix
The British psychodrama “True Things” is a moody portrait of intense loneliness and the bad choices that spring from it. Ruth Wilson gives an outstanding performance as Kate, who has a fling with a man called “Blond” (Tom Burke), a client at the welfare office where she works. First he flirts with her, then she has furtive sex with him, then she starts missing work to be with him, and then he starts giving her drugs, borrowing her car and ignoring her texts. It’s … romantic?
Directed by Harry Wootliff (who also co-wrote the film with Molly Davies, adapting a Deborah Kay Davies novel), “True Things” can be a tricky movie to get a handle on, given that Kate’s character is, by design, vaguely defined. She’s an everywoman who’s tired of being just another face in the crowd; and Blond at times seems like someone she’s conjured up from her subconscious, both to satisfy her bad girl fantasies and to punish her for having them. When Kate dances alone in a nightclub to P.J. Harvey’s “Rid of Me,” it’s a simultaneously sad and thrilling assertion of her own right to exist.
In the end, Wilson and Wootliff make this picture work by emphasizing the desperation and dreariness of Kate’s life, defined by her nagging mother and micro-managing boss. If she were in a different kind of movie, a man like Blond would sweep her away, make sure she knows she’s special, and they’d live happily ever after. But she picked the wrong man, in the wrong genre.
‘True Things.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 42 minutes. Available on VOD
Anyone who knows a lot about early 21st century African politics will probably find a lot of layers to peel back in “Saloum,” a genre-bending Senegalese film about some very rough men who stumble into some very strange trouble. Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot (who also co-wrote the script with his producer Pamela Diop), the film begins in the wake of a 2003 coup in Guinea-Bissau and follows a band of mercenaries known as “Bagnui’s Hyenas” as they kidnap a Mexican drug kingpin and steal his gold. When the group is forced to take refuge in a remote compound in the Saloum Delta, it turns out the place and its leader have a disturbing history, tied to the region’s past.
And what about those who know nothing at all about the past 20 years of African history? They should still find “Saloum” tremendously entertaining, if they like Quentin Tarantino, “The Wild Bunch” and “The Evil Dead.” Herbulot and Diop have made a movie that is bold and exciting, combining bits of reality with outsized myth, in a tale of crime, revenge, and literal monsters, set in a wonderland where it seems anything can happen. One of the film’s key lines is, “Stories about heroes travel faster than bullets.” The aim of “Saloum” seems to be to tell one of those stories — and to have it hit so hard and fast that it leaves a mark.
‘Saloum.’ In French and Wolof with English subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 24 minutes. Available on Shudder
‘Our American Family’
Hallee Adelman and Sean King O’Grady’s at-times harrowing documentary “Our American Family” tackles the insidiousness of addiction via an intensely intimate portrait of one Philadelphia mom and her adult children, who have struggled with substance abuse. The film primarily takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, although its primary subject, Linda — who has spent most of her life surrounded by addicts — occasionally talks directly to the camera about her fears.
Linda’s biggest problem is with her daughter Nicole, who has been in and out of rehab, and who always seems on the brink of a relapse if anyone says the wrong thing on the wrong day. More than anything, “Our American Family” gets across how exhausting this kind of life can be, as loved ones waver over whether they should be hands-off in their relationships or if they should be intensely involved. Should they blame themselves or forgive themselves? Figuring that out is hard work, but as this movie shows, it’s also necessary — and never hopeless.
‘Our American Family.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 28 minutes. Available on VOD
‘The Anthrax Attacks: In the Shadow of 9/11’
In the eventful and uneasy month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, several congressional and media offices received letters in the mail containing anthrax spores. Nearly two dozen people were diagnosed as having been infected; five died. Dan Krauss’ true-crime documentary “The Anthrax Attacks: In the Shadow of 9/11” looks back at the long and at times controversial FBI investigation into the attacks, which were initially blamed on foreign terrorists until it became clear that the likely perpetrator was someone working in an American biochemical lab.
Krauss takes the unusual step of casting the actor Clark Gregg to play the FBI’s top suspect, Bruce Ivins, in dramatic re-enactments that illustrate how he went from being a consultant on the case to being a person of interest — and then committing suicide, leaving a lot unresolved. The film is a unique kind of procedural, with fascinating information about how the FBI cracks cases, combined with an admission that some crimes may never be explained.
‘The Anthrax Attacks: In the Shadow of 9/11.’ TV-MA, for language. 1 hour, 35 minutes. Available on Netflix
“Thor: Love and Thunder” brings back director Taika Waititi — who previously helmed the acclaimed “Thor: Ragnarok” — for a post-“Avengers: Endgame” adventure that includes the Guardians of the Galaxy, Greek gods, and the return of Natalie Portman as Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane, who finally gets the chance to wield the hammer Mjolnir. As with the previous film, Waititi mixes over-the-top comic book action with wry, winking humor. Available on Disney+
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“The Funhouse” may not be an unassailable horror classic like its director Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Poltergeist,” but it’s a favorite of many connoisseurs of ‘80s slashers, thanks to its memorable carnival setting and Hooper’s admirable commitment to making audiences feel creeped-out — and not in a fun way. The new 4K UHD/Blu-ray double-disc edition includes multiple commentary tracks and hours of interviews with the cast and crew. Scream Factory