Talking Movies: Critical Thinking, Black Island and Run

Spling reviews Critical Thinking, Black Island and Run as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a coming-of-age sports drama and two mystery thrillers.

Starting off with a film now on Labia Home Screen…


The true story of the Miami Jackson High School chess team’s road to the U.S. National Chess Championship.

Director: John Leguizamo

Stars: John Leguizamo, Rachel Bay Jones and Michael Kenneth Williams

– Critical Thinking leans on some familiar plotting and storytelling devices to other underdog sports dramas.
– While this ultimately adds up to a satisfying, stirring and crowd-pleasing movie experience, it does manage to distinguish itself.
– While predictable as a blend of Dangerous Minds, Life of a King and Spare Parts, it’s tough not to be moved by a triumph of the human spirit story.
– This is Leguizamo’s passion project, who delivers a charismatic and entertaining lead performance as the team’s teacher and mentor.
– Showcasing an up-and-coming cast, they’re energised by good writing and realistic characters creating a lively spirit.
– Leguizamo is known for his energy, channeling quiet intensity to the chess games themselves as the team rise up in confidence and stature.
– Bolstered by a timely theme around reclaiming one’s own heritage and history, it’s much more than just an underdog tale with chess coming to represent the strategic decisions one is faced with on a day-to-day basis.
– Chiming in with some smart dialogue and relatable characters, the language is coarse but justifiably reflective of the classroom environment and flippant atmosphere. – Nursing a subplot involving the dangerous neighbourhood and affects of crime, there are a number of layers to an otherwise straightforward retelling of a real-life underdog glory story.
– Critical Thinking may lean on a familiar structure but moves at a good pace, remaining entertaining and fresh by way of its thoughtful script and engaging performances.

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

Moving on to a film on Netflix…


The dark secrets of a seemingly peaceful island threaten to swallow up an orphaned student.

Director: Miguel Alexandre

Stars: Philip Froissant, Alice Dwyer and Hanns Zischler

– Black Island is a promising German mystery thriller that centres on an inappropriate teacher-student relationship.
– The title, setting, premise, spectacular vistas and unknown cast have great potential, however Black Island doesn’t add up.
– While the title recalls a Tintin adventure, this smoldering mystery has more of a The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo edge.
– Black Island has a TV movie quality, moving forward without much in the way of obstacles or challenges.
– A strange narrative crossover between the protagonist and antagonist provides an omniscient perspective, which dilutes what suspense they do muster.
– While there are enough twists-and-turns to keep a lid on this potboiler, offering some surprising diversions, Black Island comes across as indecisive.
– Appealing to teenagers with its younger cast, it tries to broaden its target audience by switching to its adult teacher and her ulterior motives.
– The performances are appealing and spirited, yet restricted by the screenplay’s superficial characterisation.
– You can sense something sinister is bubbling under, yet the handling is problematic to comical at times making you wonder if there wasn’t an easier way.
– It’s the kind of film that could have used much more finesse and nuance, opting for a rather straightforward low-budget take with commercial aspirations.

A flat 5 on the splingometer!

And finally a film on Showmax…


A homeschooled teenager begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her.

Director: Aneesh Chaganty

Stars: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen and Sara Sohn

– Run is an unconventional mystery thriller that takes you to some unexpectedly dark places.
– Centred on a mother-daughter relationship, this film cleverly supplants us in a domestic situation where everything is not as it seems.
– Somewhat similar to Room, it doesn’t have the same haunting intimacy but eventually comes to parallel some of the human complexities.
– Run’s premise could have capsized the thriller into the terrain of a ludicrous dark comedy, yet carefully unfurls its inherent mystery.
– While it would have been fascinating to see Julia Roberts playing a doting mother, Sarah Paulson’s casting has a similar effect.
– Run has weight, grappling with the idea of cutting the apron strings, empty nest syndrome and the fear of losing a codependent relationship.
– Creating some quick thinking MacGyver style thriller sequences, the suspense could have been leveraged to greater effect.
– Balancing the drama against the suspense, the filmmakers offer a more grounded and realistic take on a situation that can easily spiral out of control.
– Feeding bits of information in a vicarious detective style realisation, it makes for engaging and thoughtful entertainment.
– Two fine performances knit everything together, creating an authentic atmosphere and steadily progressive sense of claustrophobic danger.
– Unfortunately, the resolution is quite divisive, trying to offer a Secret in Their Eyes twist when ending on an ellipsis would’ve been much more haunting.

It did just enough to get a solid 7 on the splingometer!

So just to wrap up…

CRITICAL THINKING… while predictable and familiar, this entertaining and thoughtful coming-of-age drama thrives on cast chemistry, energy and spirit… A solid 7!

BLACK ISLAND… while promising, a thin script, muddled narrative and TV movie ambitions undermine this The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wannabe… A flat 5!

RUN… fine co-lead performances, suspenseful storytelling and powerful dramatic themes compel this well-paced mystery thriller… A solid 7!

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And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!