Review by Camden Ferrell
Higher Love is a documentary that will be premiering at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival. This film also serves as the directorial debut for Hasan Oswald. While it is often hard to watch, this is a captivating and bleak look into one man’s story of desperation and love.
This movie mostly follows the exploits of one man who is trying to save his drug-addicted girlfriend in Camden, New Jersey. The real pain of this documentary comes from the fact that his girlfriend is pregnant with his son. It’s a gripping story that unfortunately seems to not be limited to this one case. However, it is a premise that is great at communicating the film’s themes.
Oswald constructs this documentary in a way that feels like a traditional narrative playing out. These moments are where the movie feel the most natural and entertaining. He makes a bold creative choice to show the graphic extent of drug abuse and addiction, and that is why this film is thematically effective. It’s a film that will make you want to turn away, but its immediacy compels you to stay with it.
Our main subject, the father, is one that feels three-dimensional. We see him at his best but also at his worst. The documentary is a candid portrait of the emotional turmoil of a man trying to save his family. He does a great job in leading many sections of this documentary, and he really gives it a unique voice. His girlfriend is also a rather interesting subject, and its painful yet engaging to see her journey.
This movie tackles the concept of family. It contrasts the traditional family unit with the drug “family” that the girlfriend joins. It’s an idea that is intriguing, but the way it plays out feels like it could have been done a little better. We get to see both examples of family, but its execution could have been more effective.
The main problem with this movie is how much it deviates from its central story. There are a couple of side stories about drug addiction that prove to be interesting in their own ways, but it feels like more of a distraction. There are times where the main story seems rushed in order to make time for the other subjects. The film’s strongest aspect is its main story, but it loses its stride when it puts its attention elsewhere.
Regardless, the film’s shock value typically makes up for its shortcomings. Oswald has told a story that feels very necessary, and it’s a subject that doesn’t typically get this kind of unembellished treatment. It may feel slow at times, and it may not recognize its strongest attribute, but it’s an affecting saga nonetheless.
Higher Love is a promising debut for Oswald, and it’s one that may resonate deeply with many viewers. It can sometimes jump around a little too much, but it still does a great job in conveying its themes and messages.
Higher Love is screening at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.
Review by Camden Ferrell
The Turning is a new horror movie that is a modern adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This is a movie with rich source material that ultimately wastes its potential. It constantly squanders the abilities of its cast on an uninspired film that is devoid of any scares.
This movie follows a newly appointed nanny as she cares for two orphaned children. However, she soon learns the kids and the house are not what they seem, and that they pose a sinister threat to herself. This is a premise that is really interesting and ripe for horror even if it feels very familiar.
The main problem with this movie is how bland it feels from start to finish. The script is full of cliché dialogue that doesn’t develop its characters and is too focused on unnecessary and unimaginative exposition. Every character feels thin, plot points are hastily assembled, and there is an obvious lack of originality in the way it tells its story.
One of the few arguably redeeming aspects of this movie is its performances. This movie is led by the typically stellar Mackenzie Davis (Tully). Even though she had really weak material, she definitely gives this role her full effort, and it makes the movie more engaging than it would have been otherwise. Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) continues to prove she is a talented young actress who has a maturity beyond her years. Again, her material is weak, but she makes the creepily cute little girl character work fairly well. Finn Wolfhard (It) plays the second orphan, but his performance is incredibly forgettable, and I felt it didn’t really add anything to the final product.
It’s clear that this is a movie that was bogged down significantly by its content restrictions. Its PG-13 rating seems like a good idea for business reasons, but it feels far too safe as a result. It isn’t graphic, shocking, or scary, and it feels like a film that was tailor made for a mild tween audience.
There is an obvious attempt at trying to create a tense atmosphere, but it always falls flat. The soundscape isn’t eerie, the visuals aren’t frightening, and the execution is just really poor. Its jump scares aren’t effective, and there are moments that become laughably bad as the movie progresses.
The movie also lacks a cohesive narrative. While it’s admittedly refreshing to see it take such creative risks with its structure and storytelling, the execution is completely off, and it doesn’t work the way it should have. It’ll leave many audience members dissatisfied, confused, and ultimately cheated. Again, it’s somewhat daring, but it was probably a better idea on paper.
The Turning is a dull attempt at horror that feels painfully monotonous throughout. It recycles horror tropes and dialogue that are ineffective in telling its story or delivering thrills. Even if it may seem like a great movie to see with friends, it is not worth checking out in theaters this weekend.
The Turning is now playing in theaters everywhere.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Shoot To Marry is the first documentary in over 15 years from Canadian filmmaker Steve Markle (Camp Hollywood). His newest film is a unique documentary that may have some questionable execution but ultimately proves to be a sweet and heartwarming journey.
This movie follows the director, Steve, as he deals with fallout of a nasty breakup. He decides to use his camera and abilities as a filmmaker to interview a number of unique women with the hopes of finding one he can really connect with. It’s an interesting concept, and it feels like the cinematic equivalent of online dating.
Unfortunately, despite its unique and engaging premise, the execution is mostly questionable. The film is described as a real-life romantic comedy. However, the documentary really tries to force the rom-com aspects of the film, and it doesn’t translate particularly well. While his self-deprecation is actually quite funny at times, his stream of consciousness as he narrates can be a bit uncomfortable. It’s genuine, but it just feels bizarre and mildly demeaning in context of the film.
The film also handles its female interviewees in a less than desirable way. At first, the women are mostly ignored in their interviews, and what they have to say is often overshadowed by the subject’s eagerness to find a romantic connection. It feels like its exploiting the women in a way that could be uncomfortable at times. While this can make sense in context of the subject’s development and arc, it still seems like it’s in poor taste.
The women he interviews are genuinely interesting. It’s great how he was able to interview such a wide variety of women from a firefighter to a dominatrix. He will occasionally showcase the talents and hobbies of the women, and this is where the film excels in being a cute story of a man trying to find love. One of the more interesting sections of the movie comes from a hat maker he meets and the fun they have.
The movie also enters into some really bizarre territory. He expands his boundaries as a person, and this leads him to try different things. He goes to a sex club, hires a professional cuddler, and he goes to a workshop on the art of receiving. I admire his willingness to challenge himself as a person, but there are times where his narration and thoughts about these activities (mostly the sex club) can come off as mildly creepy and off-putting. Regardless, it’s these strange moments that give the film a unique voice.
Despite its many flaws with its execution, it makes up for a lot of it in its final act. It’s heartwarming and satisfying to see him grow in more ways than one, and it can actually be quite resonant. It’s undeniably sweet, and it is the kind of sweetness that is absent from the first part of the film. He mostly redeems the film’s shortcomings in the way he constructs his emotional and heartwarming journey.
Shoot To Marry may sometimes be in poor taste, but it has enough humor and charm to remain engaging. It’s an interesting look into the world of love and dating from a man who is so charmingly awkward at times. While it’s not without flaws, it’ll be interesting to see where Markle goes from here.
Shoot To Marry is screening at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Murmur had its premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI Discovery Prize. This docufiction serves as the feature length directorial debut of Heather Young. While the movie can burn a bit too slow at times, its minimalist style and execution effectively tell its emotional story.
This movie follows Donna, a woman coming off of a DWI conviction, who participates in community service at an animal shelter. There, she meets and takes home an old dog who is scheduled to be euthanized. As time goes on, we see Donna take in more animals, slowly getting in over her head. This is a premise that works very well due to how simple it is. It’s also a thematically rich story with many layers.
Young’s script focuses on a lot of visual storytelling. It doesn’t rely on an abundance of exposition or dialogue to convey the subtext of the protagonist’s actions. Whenever the script uses dialogue, it always feels authentic and natural. It’s very reminiscent of what we experience in our daily lives, and this gives the film a more grounded feeling, and it ultimately succeeds in telling its story.
This film is led by newcomer Shan MacDonald. She delivers a powerful and steady performance as Donna. Her performance never feels melodramatic or staged. She succeeds wonderfully in portraying the bleak reality of isolation and addiction all while showing the more humanizing aspects of love and connection. It’s a juggling act that is maintained fairly well from start to finish, and it’s a very impressive debut for MacDonald.
The film’s strongest aspect is its cinematography. Jeffery Wheaton brilliantly uses a static camera throughout to capture the realism of each scene. He frames each shot in such a unique way that is oddly beautiful and effective. It’s a strangely alluring hybrid of bleakness and beauty that is extremely sobering.
This film beautifully tells the story of a woman who feels alienated, and the animals that fill a void in her life. Young beautifully captures the innate connection that we feel with animals, and she portrays it in a way that is highly empathetic. It’s undoubtedly adorable, but it also lends itself to moments of solemnity and bittersweet affliction that will resonate with the audience.
One of the few downsides of this movie is some of the limitations of its minimalism. It’s a short movie, but there are moments that can really drag on, and it sometimes disrupts a steady and natural flow that the film typically has. Regardless, this movie more than makes up for it with its rich themes and practical execution.
Murmur is a deeply human movie that overcomes its pace with a heavy dose of emotion and empathy. It bites off a lot of thematic weight and finds a way to juggle it all within its short runtime. This is a bold and impressive feature film debut for Young, and it suggests a bright and promising future for her.
Murmur is screening at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.
Jezebel premiered at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival, and it serves as the feature directorial debut of Numa Perrier. This is a low-budget film that was partially funded through GoFundMe. While this film is clearly a personal story for the director, it sometimes lacks the narrative drive to remain consistently engaging.
This movie takes place in the 90’s and follows Tiffany who, with the help of her sister, gets a job as a cam girl to make ends meet after the death of their mother. This is a semi-autobiographical film that Perrier both wrote and directed. It’s an interesting concept due to the nature of sex work and how it operated in the 90’s.
Overall, the writing is fairly decent. It has some nuances that heighten the realism of each scene, but there are also moments that feel a bit contrived. The dialogue isn’t super well-written, and it only gives a superficial understanding to its characters. However, through her direction of the actors, Perrier is able to communicate her intent and characterization better.
The best aspect of this film comes from the lead performance. Tiffany Tenille makes her feature film debut in this movie. She is able to give a tangible spirit to her character as we join her on her journey into the industry. It’s interesting to watch her try and become accustomed to her job. Through every interaction in her line of work, we learn more about her and see her grow as a character. It’s not perfect, but Tenille shows a lot of promise through her performance in this movie.
The movie also introduces a side plot about a frequent customer with whom she grows an attachment. It’s a bizarrely sweet relationship in a world that is often defined by the sexual shamelessness of its clientele. However, this is a story that I would have liked to see more of in the movie, but with a limited budget and condensed runtime, I can understand why it had to be short.
On a technical level, it’s a fairly impressive indie film. The cinematography is subtle when it needs to be, but it also knows when to be erratic and vivacious. It really helps show the mental state of working in this industry and adds further depth to the struggles of its protagonist. There are some really effective moments that are created due to the cinematography, editing, and execution.
Unfortunately, this movie can spend a lot of its time meandering on plot points that don’t really warrant the attention. It seems that the movie bites off a lot more than it can chew. The movie tackles a lot of heavy subjects that just aren’t addressed in an efficient manner, and it really bogs down an interesting premise. It’s a rather short film that feels somewhat extended by some of its narrative shortcomings.
Jezebel is an interesting look into the life of a cam girl, and it’s a personal story, but it isn’t as engaging as one would hope. It shows a lot of promise for its director and its star, and it is an admirable feat of indie filmmaking.
Jezebel is currently streaming on Netflix.
KILLER INSIDE: THE MIND OF AARON HERNANDEZ -- A Gripping Crime Documentary About a NFL Star Turned Murderer
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is a Netflix mini-series that documents the rise and fall of an NFL superstar turned murderer. This documentary is presented in three concise and effective parts. While this series may feel like its the product of some not-so-subtle agenda pushing, it is still a gripping story about one man’s fall from grace.
This story follows the upbringing and past of Aaron Hernandez as it aims to examine what led to the infamous and tragic murder of Odin Lloyd. It’s a really interesting subject due to how recent these events transpired and how widespread these events were in the media at the time. It was front page news that everyone saw, and it’s a subject that even those not familiar with Hernandez will thoroughly enjoy.
The series does a great job of collecting information and media about these events. Even though he was a celebrity with lots of material, the series manages to find some revealing interviews, photos, and evidence that makes the whole series feel a lot more compelling. It paints a portrait of his youth and career in a way that is detailed and entertaining. It also eerily utilizes the prison phone calls of Hernandez in a way that gives the series a grounded sense of reality. It doesn’t stray away from the more troubling aspects of the case or his childhood, and it’s fully committed to telling this story.
It also does a great job of not generating sympathy for Hernandez. Even though a loss of life is sad, the series respects Odin Lloyd and the other victims by showing the flaws and shortcomings of Hernandez rather than memorializing him. The series pays homage to the victims and gives their families adequate screen time to properly honor them. This makes the documentary stand out from other true-crime docs by establishing that these crimes were not faceless.
However, the documentary can often feel like it bites off more than it can chew. It’s a really detailed story that is hard to fully capture in a little over three hours. There are many individual branches of the story that warranted more time but unfortunately never received it. The documentary also tends to jump around the timeline a little too erratically, but it still remains mostly cohesive.
Another flaw from this series comes from the controversial topics that it addresses. In my own opinion, the documentary seems to minimize the gravity of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and its relation to the murders that occurred. It tries to overemphasize the alleged homosexuality of Hernandez to justify the murders rather than tackle the urgent issue of CTE and the role of the NFL in creating the deteriorated brain and mental state of Hernandez.
Despite its flaws, the series remains engaging from start to finish. It constantly surprises you with twists and shocking reveals that will change the way you will view Hernandez and these murders. It may not delve deep enough into the titular mind of Hernandez, but it does a great job of telling this story in a way that makes the three episodes go by like a breeze.
This Netflix limited series is a success on most fronts. It’s a thrilling crime documentary about a world-famous athlete and the events that led to his downfall. Its lack of structure is often compensated by effective storytelling and its efficient use of time. This is clearly a serious subject that should be viewed with discretion, but it’s a worthwhile journey for those who watch.
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is currently streaming on Netflix.
Review by Camden Ferrell
A Fall from Grace is the first Netflix film from writer/director Tyler Perry. Unfortunately, it’s a rather tepid Netflix debut from the renowned entertainment giant. This movie suffers from an excess of melodrama that overshadows an already sloppy narrative.
This film is about Jasmine, a lawyer and the woman she represents and defends from her serious charges. As Jasmine learns more about her defendant, dark and surprising secrets slowly become revealed. This legal drama isn’t anything groundbreaking, and its concept is incredibly derivative. However, this is still a genre that’s ripe for compelling narrative, but this film doesn’t use that to its advantage.
The writing of the film is mostly devoid of any personality. The characters don’t feel fleshed out or thoroughly engaging, and it feels rather monotonous for most of its runtime. The dialogue is fairly standard for the genre, and it doesn’t feel clever or thoughtful for the most part. It’s a pretty mindless script that was most likely written to be easily digestible, and it never trusts the intellectual abilities of its audience.
One of the few decent aspects of this film is its acting. Crystal Fox plays Grace, the defendant, and she actually does a solid job despite her weak material. She is able to give some emotional range to the film, and a lot of the film revolves around her recollection of the crucial events in the trial. It’s not phenomenal, but it was mildly effective, and it’s probably the film’s strongest feature.
The technical aspects of this film were also fairly lackluster throughout. Even though the color grading is justifiably bleak, the shot composition is lifeless, and it doesn’t give the film the energy it needs to propel through its story. The film also lacks strong editing, and this leads to many scenes feeling off putting and a little slow.
In a recent interview, it was revealed that this movie was shot in 5 days. This is a fact that is painfully obvious in the final cut of the film. It feels like scenes weren’t executed to the best of their ability and that this was intended to be a quick and inexpensive January film for Netflix. The movie isn’t aggressively bad in any way, but it’s just noticeably boring and messy.
While I won’t reveal any further plot details for those who may still be curious about the film, suffice it to say that the final act felt completely out of place. The twists the film takes are a little bizarre and questionable. This is a movie that seems to depend solely on its surprises and melodrama, but it severely missed the landing.
A Fall from Grace brings a rocky start to Netflix’s new year, and it probably is a film almost exclusively for Tyler Perry enthusiasts. It may feature some decent performances, but the sloppy writing and uninspired execution make this movie feel like a chore more than anything else.
A Fall from Grace is currently streaming on Netflix.
S1E10: Act Two
Review by Camden Ferrell
After a long journey with our characters, Act Two ends the first (but not last) season of High School Musical: The Musical – The Series. This episode resolves and ties up all of the loose ends from the previous and delivers a satisfying conclusion to the story thus far.
This episode follows the second act of the group’s production and deals with Ricky’s decision to concede his role to EJ so Nini has can give a better performance for the dean of the school to which she’s trying to gain admittance. We also get some tender moments between Ricky and his mother that aims for catharsis and almost gets there. There are also some great character moments that fans have been waiting for all season, and it’s definitely worth the wait. Most plot lines are resolved fairly quick in the episode. It spends the latter half of the episode setting up conflict and hinting at future developments for the next season.
The first season finale is satisfying, and it’s adorable. It does its job of giving fans closure over pressing matters while also looking towards the future. Until season two starts, it has been lots of fun.
High School Musical: The Musical – The Series is currently streaming on Disney+.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Cats is a fantasy musical based on the iconic stage musical of the same name. Directed by Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) this film is one of the most magical experiences of the year, and it is an absolutely astounding experience for fans new and old. This is a movie that is elevated by its fantastic performances, choreography, and abundant soul.
This film follows a cat named Victoria as she finds herself among a tribe of cats called the Jellicles. She arrives on the night of Jellicle Ball, a yearly ceremony where one cat gets chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer to find a new life. This is a simple premise which is perfect to serve as backdrop for all of the musical delight that follows in this film.
It’s astounding how Hooper was able to craft such an intimate yet booming musical adaptation in such an undeniably magical way. The sets and effects are beautiful and highly immersive. The execution of the musical numbers is done in such a beautifully meticulous way. This is the best movie of his career, and he perfectly captures the mystical insanity of this story.
This film is full of fantastic performances throughout. Francesca Hayward plays the central character Victoria. She is a fantastic performer, vocalist, and dancer, and she has such a captivating screen presence that truly takes you on the journey with her. Another standout of this film is Laurie Davidson who plays Mr. Mistoffelees. He gives such a quirky yet charming performance that is fantastic throughout. The cast also consists of Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, and Taylor Swift among other big names. They all are great in their respective musical numbers, and it really is amazing to see each of them showcase their talents throughout.
The music in this film is probably its strongest aspect. It encompasses a variety of musical styles and is full of fun lyrics and rhythms that really allow the actors to freely express their characters. Songs like Memory will pull at your heartstrings effectively while other songs like Mr. Mistoffelees will make you want to burst of your seat with explosive joy. Taylor Swift’s original song Beautiful Ghosts is also a welcome addition to the soundtrack that fits in perfectly.
The style of the cats is incredibly risky, but it pays off greatly. It forgoes the typical cat costumes for special effects to make the human actors look like actual cats. It’s creepy and eerie, but it’s oddly beautiful. It’s a bold choice that standouts and gives this film a unique style that elevates the magical qualities of this film. Rather than ruining the magic with obvious costumes, it uses these special effects to really immerse you into this fantasy.
This is one of the most joyful theater experiences of the year. The movie doesn’t waste a single second in telling its story with apt execution. It’s a quick-paced film that remains captivating and engaging for its entirety. The movie is bursting with heart and emotion in every scene, and it is obvious that this film was made by artists who are passionate about these characters and their stories. This film contains some of the best scenes of the year, and they are utterly awe-inspiring and divine. The cinematography and gorgeous ambiance along with stellar execution make this a one-of-a-kind experience that you don’t want to miss.
Cats is the surprise hit of the winter. It’s perfect for families this holiday season, and it is full of scenes that will overwhelm you with feelings of happiness and delight. It is one of the year’s best movies, and it is certainly the most magical one of all. Full of fantastic performances, great direction, music, and choreography, this movie is a must-see.
Review by Camden Ferrell
What do you get when you give Michael Bay (Transformers) $150 million and an R rating? You get his newest film 6 Underground. This Netflix film has a heavy serving of mindless and explosive action, but it ultimately falls flat at telling a gripping story with compelling characters.
This film follows a billionaire philanthropist who fakes his death and forms a highly skilled team of agents. Together, they aim to stage a coup of a corrupt dictator in Turgistan. This premise feels entirely derivative of other action and thriller films and doesn’t offer much originality to the film. Regardless, this movie is never too concerned with telling an original story, only an action-packed one.
The writing in this film is a huge problem throughout. It has muddled timelines and excessive exposition. The dialogue is choppy and forced, and the film is plagued with cliché lines and overused tropes. The movie will deliver the occasionally entertaining quip, but it doesn’t have much else to offer to the film.
The acting in this film is also somewhat mixed. Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) leads the film as the character One. Even though he is given some weak material throughout the movie, his charismatic personality is typically more than enough to make up for it. The rest of the cast which consists of Mélanie Laurent, Ben Hardy, and Corey Hawkins don’t especially stand out but also don’t noticeably bring down the film in any way.
The main appeal of this film comes from its action. Since Bay was able to work with an R rating, this is a bloody and action-filled mess. These scenes of non-stop gore and gunshots are where the movie succeeds the most. It’s surprisingly creative with how it crafts its action sequences, and a higher dose of action would have significantly boosted the film’s entertainment factor. The choreography of the actors and elements in a scene are also really interesting. It is often unrealistic, but that’s why it’s so much fun to watch.
However, the film does fall short of achieving its fullest potential during some action scenes. It’s often backed by a really boring dubstep alternative rock soundtrack that sounds like something you would hear in a commercial for all-terrain vehicles. It becomes very repetitive and obnoxious in a way that slightly hinders the energy of the action sequences.
It’s very clear that this is a film made specifically for action fans and thrill seekers. While it didn’t have a whole lot of depth to prevent the film’s significant lulls, it still should suffice for those who just want a nice serving of action. The cinematography is fairly tacky throughout, but it should be satisfactory for those seeking some adrenaline pumping scenes in this film.
Full of loads of Bay-hem, this movie will be perfect for his fans and those looking for mindless action. However, those who are looking for a gripping story to back the explosions will be sorely disappointed. It's refreshing to see Bay with this much money and an R rating, but the film is ultimately brought down by his shallow storytelling.
6 Underground is streaming on Netflix.