Review by Dan Skip Allen
The world has become so dependent on technology in the last couple of decades with smart devices popping up everywhere you look. Smart washing machines, garage door openers, and alarm systems are all the rage these days. That being said, middle school kids shouldn't have robots that do everything for them and are their best friends included in that. It just shows how shallow of a society we live in that we can't develop friends without social media and YouTube channels. Ron's Gone Wrong is an indication of our devolving society.
Barney is an awkward middle schooler who doesn't relate to other kids because he doesn't have the hottest new device every other kid in his school has. It's dubbed your "best friend out of the box". When they realize Barney wants what all the other kids have, his father finally caves and buys him a do it all robot. Barney calls him Ron, but Ron isn't everything he thought he would be. This causes more problems than he can imagine, socially and otherwise. Technology isn't everything it's cracked up to be.
This film is giving the wrong message to parents and kids when it suggests that society should be dependent on technology such as smartphones and smart devices in general. Kids, especially middle schoolers, don't need to have smart devices to take them away from a more in-person social existence. They should be interacting with their classmates and family members at that delicate age, not having their lives dictated by a do-it-all robot. Sure, kids can be shy and not so outgoing at that age. It's more imperative that they learn skills they need to talk, interact with, at or in work surroundings, and go to school with people of all walks of life, creeds, and religions in the future.
The voice acting work from Jack Dylan Grazer, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Olivia Colman, and many others are the first-rate. The animation is a bit nondescript, though. It doesn't really stand out like Pixar or even Illumination does. Or even earlier this year, The Mitchells vs the Machines was a more vibrant beautiful style. As a whole, it wasn't bad, just unmemorable. The story and where the thought process involving that is what failed this film in the end.
Animation movies involving robots are nothing new. It's how the robot in question is used in this particular film. Big Hero 6 and other films have used them much better. Ron's Gone Wrong gets the whole idea of a robot relationship with a human so very wrong. I think people forget a robot should be like a dog or family pet. It should interact with the family member but not overtake the family dynamic. And obviously, the whole socially economic aspect of this is all wrong as well. This is not a good film based on its idea of what it's trying to say and how it goes about it. In the end, kids should just go and talk to other kids and their family members and not rely on technology to be their friend and confidant.
Ron's Gone Wrong hits theaters on October 22.
Review by Sean Boelman
Winner of a Special Jury Award for acting in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Maltese film Luzzu is minimalistic in its approach, for better or worse. Telling a simple story very simply, there are some strong moments throughout the movie, but not enough to allow it to have the intended impact.
The film follows a fisherman who risks everything to provide for his wife and newborn son by getting involved in the black-market illegal fishing industry. There’s a lot here that shows the potential to be really interesting, but for the most part, it ends up being just another tale of a man who the world seemingly has it out for.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the movie is that it doesn’t make much of anything with its themes. On one hand, this is a film about the social class system in Malta, following a member of the working class who toils every day only to be exploited by those in more favorable conditions. Then there is also the part of the movie about the environmental regulations and the black market. Unfortunately, neither of these are explored with much substance.
Instead, what we get is a dramatic thriller pretty much divided into two halves. The first part shows the character’s entire world falling down around him, before he starts to rebuild it in the second part only for it to collapse again. It’s a series of beats that we have seen done again and again without much in the way of variation.
Unfortunately, the film does not have the depth in its character work to justify redoing these beats. Although we sympathize with the protagonist for his plight as the sole provider for a young family, there isn’t much more to the character than that. There’s a thread about the protagonist’s relationship with his legacy coming from a long line of fishermen, but this isn’t all that interesting.
That said, the acting in the movie certainly does impress. Non-professional actor (and actual fisherman) Jesmark Scicluna does an excellent job in his leading role. Of course, his expertise in the area makes all of the physical fishing scenes feel authentic, but he also does an exceptional job pulling off the dramatic, dialogue-oriented moments.
The film is also strong on a technical level. The use of color in the movie is great, which is fitting since the title comes from the name of the colorful fishing boats used by fishermen such as the protagonist. And the sense of claustrophobia created in the market scenes goes a long way in creating a sense of tension.
Luzzu is a film with a lot of good ideas and plenty of strong moments, but they don’t boil down into anything especially noteworthy. It works best as an acting showcase for its non-professional star, although that may not be enough to make it worth going out of your way to see.
Luzzu is now in theaters and virtual cinemas.
SECRET AGENT DINGLEDORF AND HIS TRUSTY DOG SPLAT -- An Atrocious and Embarrassing Kid's Adventure Movie
Review by Camden Ferrell
Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog Splat had a brief theatrical run in July of 2021 and is now set for its VOD release. This movie is directed by Emmy-nominated cinematographer Billy Dickson and is based on the book series of the same name. From the start, it’s clear that this is a movie aimed exclusively to young children and nobody else. Unfortunately, Dickson’s film finds itself severely unsuccessful due to the movies weak writing, poor acting, and cringingly awkward execution.
Bernie Dingledorf is an average 10-year-old boy. He deals with bullies, and he spends time with his two friends, Lens Cap and I.Q. However, all of this changes when him and his friends are tasked by a secret agency to destroy a diabolical Laugh Generator that is set to be used by malicious clown Dr. Chuckles. This premise is ridiculously silly, but it’s to be expected from a movie meant for young children. However, the execution doesn’t do much to help make its premise more engaging.
Immediately, it’s painfully obvious that this film was made with no thought or consideration in any department. The script by Bill Myers is weak, and it lacks any original dialogue. It’s full of tired jokes, unbelievably cringy physical comedy, and a central story that fails to have any heart or emotion. On top of that, the execution of this film is uncomfortably poor from start to finish. Scenes feel stilted, editing is choppy, and it frankly doesn’t feel like this should have made it past post-production. For an experienced cinematographer like Dickson, it’s legitimately shocking that he would have undeniably one of the most poorly shot movies of the year.
If anything positive can be said about this film, at least the child actors seem to be giving it their all. Zackary Arthur plays Bernie, and he isn’t great by any means, but it’s clear that he’s doing his best with the poor material he’s given. He is supported by the young Shiloh Nelson and Cooper J. Friedman, and they both also seem to be in the same boat. The cast also consists of both Paul Johansson and Jason Dolley, who both seem completely out of their element and checked out of their performances.
While I understand the budget was small for this film, it relies heavily on special effects that make the movie feel severely cheap. Rather than writing set pieces and moments that wouldn’t be feasible to pull off, it seems like they could have made some narrative changes so that their vision didn’t horribly exceed its budget. However, this still wouldn’t fix the fundamental flaws with the film’s writing, execution, and general overall vision. It clearly doesn’t appeal to older kids or adults, but there are times where it can feel like even young children will find nothing of merit in this movie.
Secret Agent Dingledorf and his Trusty Dog Splat is not the charming underdog story it seems to think it is. It is a poorly made kids film that may not even appeal to most of them. It has plenty of embarrassing moments for the cast and crew, and it can often be difficult to watch due to its consistently poor quality.
Secret Agent Dingeldorf and his Trusty Dog Splat is available on VOD October 15.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Hard Luck Love Song had its premiere at the 2020 Austin Film Festival. It is the feature directorial debut of writer/director Justin Corsbie. The movie is based on the song "Just Like Old Times" by Todd Snider. While the movie creates an enjoyable atmosphere, it suffers from an inconsistent tone and meandering pace.
This movie follows Jesse, a street-smart musician, floating from motel to motel, making money and bad decisions. This, combined with a chance encounter with an old love, leads Jesse to an existential crossroad. This is a simple premise about a troubadour and the people he meets along the way, and it had the potential to be quite endearing.
Corsbie’s script is charming albeit underwhelming. It has all the enjoyability of the intimate small-town dialogue, but it can often find itself lacking substance. To the movie’s credit, it does a pretty decent job of adapting the Snider song into a feature-length film. However, the script does seem to juggle a lot of tones, and this inconsistency can lead to some overarching problems throughout the film. This is also due to the fact that the movie tries to capture the spirit of multiple genres simultaneously, and the end result is interesting yet questionable.
The acting in the film isn’t impressive, but it’s fairly strong at times. Michael Dorman leads the film as Jesse. He does a good job of taking on this drifting character and the suavely streetwise nature he embodies. He also proves to be quite a talented musician throughout. He is supported by a cast including the likes of Sophia Bush and Dermot Mulroney. While they don’t do anything memorable, they do have some good chemistry with Dorman.
One of the film’s main virtues is how it can sporadically create immaculate vibes. There are a handful of well-executed scenes which seems to capture the true spirit of the source material. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t ever fully commit to maintaining that feeling, and it instead tries to become a hybrid of other genres. This can often impede the film’s momentum, and it prevents the best parts of the movie from truly shining.
Hard Luck Love Song is a rather underwhelming romantic drama with a handful of legitimately great moments. It has a hard time committing to a tone or pacing, and this hinders the movie’s ability to be emotionally resonant.
Hard Luck Love Song is in theaters October 15.
Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Ridley Scott predominantly works in three genres — sci-fi, crime, and historical epics — but it’s been seven years since his last work in the latter of the three, and even longer since his last memorable one. The Last Duel hopes to join the ranks of his Best Picture-winning Gladiator, and while it’s as well-crafted as can be expected, it’s basically a longer, medieval version of Rashomon.
The movie follows two friends-turned-rivals who participate in a duel to the death when one accuses the other of assaulting his wife. It’s based on an interesting true story, but in both structure and content, the film plays out very similarly to Akira Kurosawa’s masterful courtroom drama from 1950.
There are four main sections to the movie — one from the perspective of each involved party, and then the eponymous duel that serves as the finale. There is some repetition in the first and second segments, as they are essentially an alternate take on the same events, whereas the third segment feels like more of an addition. And the climactic battle pays off after the slow build.
One of the more noticeable flaws of the film is that it takes a somewhat questionable approach to its themes. The storytelling device exploring multiple perspectives is an interesting way to question the idea of the truth, but the dialogue (particularly in the third act) poses some potentially problematic questions. Asking what the truth is worth feels somewhat insensitive in this situation.
The character development in the movie is also lacking in nuance. It’s clear from the beginning of the film who each of these people are, and the movie doesn’t explore anything beyond the basic archetypes. Even the protagonist’s arc, coming to terms with his own desire for honor and notoriety, feels very cold and generic.
That said, the cast manages to do an exceptional job with their roles. Matt Damon and Adam Driver are great together, capturing the constantly shifting dynamic between the two characters extremely well. However, it is the prominent supporting players that steal the show. Ben Affleck goes all-in as the pompous lord, and Jodie Comer is cripplingly emotional in her pivotal role.
The film is as gorgeous as one would expect given the filmmaker that Scott is. The level of detail in the production design and costuming is very precise and immersive. And while there aren’t many scenes in the movie that have much violence, those scenes which do are viscerally brutal.
The Last Duel is entirely solid, but one expects no less from such an established filmmaker. Although there are a few really brilliant moments, it’s mostly just an all-around entertaining and well-shot epic.
The Last Duel hits theaters on October 15.
Review by Sean Boelman
Todd Haynes is an exceptional filmmaker, so the release of his first-ever documentary film was obviously highly anticipated. And as one would expect, The Velvet Underground is not an average rock documentary, the filmmaker’s and subjects’ unique sensibilities come together to form a genuinely distinctive movie about the musical process.
The movie tells the story of The Velvet Underground, a band whose experimentation with sound became highly influential in the world of rock-and-roll. However, unlike a majority of rock documentaries, this film isn’t just about the eponymous band — it’s more about the scene that popped up around them and allowed them to become who they are.
This is a documentary more for people who are already familiar with rock-and-roll history, as it covers so much ground that pre-existing knowledge would be useful to have. Haynes connects the dots between The Velvet Underground and some of the most popular musicians of the day quite well, but it requires a moderate understanding of the technicalities of music to follow these developments.
There’s something to be said about the counterculture movement of the 1960s (and to a lesser extent, the 1970s), but this is more of a love letter to music. Haynes is clearly much more interested in the musical aspects of the story than the way in which the music reflected the anxieties of society at the time, but if the viewer aligns with those interests, this is a fascinating watch.
Since the movie is about the overall movement that The Velvet Underground started in the music industry, there isn’t as much insight into the band itself as one would expect. There are portions of the film which are devoted to each band member, but this is by no means a biography. Those looking for deeper insight into the personal lives of the band should look elsewhere.
Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack of the movie is very diverse and eclectic. In addition to the songs of The Velvet Underground, which span a wide range in and of themselves, the film features music from the various groups that they influenced. From some of the most popular tunes of the ‘60s and ‘70s to inventive and obscure songs, there is a lot of great music to hear in the movie.
On a technical level, this is one of the most accomplished music documentaries in recent memory. Although one shouldn’t be surprised that Haynes’s newest film is technically impressive, the fact that it is so confident despite being his documentary debut is astounding. There’s rightfully a lot of experimentation to the visual style, fitting given the experimental nature of the subjects’ music, echoing some of the groundbreaking techniques of the classics in the genre.
The Velvet Underground is an amazing documentary, although that won’t come as much of a shock. Those wanting a traditional movie need not bother, but this is a rewarding viewing experience in more ways than one expects.
The Velvet Underground hits theaters and Apple TV+ on October 15.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Thai horror film The Medium partners some of the best voices in horror from across Asia, but the result isn’t as scary, nor even as interesting, as one would hope. A few interesting ideas and a strong premise aside, there isn’t enough going on here to make this any more than a decently-executed found-footage horror flick.
The movie takes the form of a fictional documentary following a shaman whose niece begins to experience supernatural occurrences that suggest that she may be inheriting the family’s shamanism, but could have more sinister implications. The title cards in the introduction of the film show its potential to be something interesting, but what results is a pretty standard possession horror.
What threatens to make the movie stand out is the cultural specificity it has. The film is set within a region of Thailand with unique customs relating to shamanism. And while these traditions and rituals set the stage for an interesting horror, the script doesn’t make much of them. That said, the movie thankfully doesn’t otherize the people whose culture it depicts.
Part of the issue with the film is that the pacing is rather weak. It’s rare for a horror movie to clock in at over two hours, and a movie has to earn that length. Unfortunately, this one does not, with little happening in the way of tension for much of the runtime. The final act offers a supposed payoff that is hectic, but not all that memorable.
The character development in the film is also lacking. For a movie that is about a tight-knit community, there isn’t a whole lot here that is especially emotional. There is an investment in the family dynamic in the first hour or so, before the horror starts to take over, but it doesn’t result in any real connection.
For the most part, the cast in the movie is solid. As the lead, Narilya Gulmongkolpech does a good enough job convincing the audience of her horrifying situation. Although Gulmongkolpech doesn’t add anything new to the possession canon, she has a few scenes in which she really heightens the terror.
Visually, the film doesn’t have a whole lot going on that lets it stand out from the many found-footage horror movies. The camerawork is about as shaky as it can be, and the setting is mostly generic rainy woods. There are some solid effects in the final third, but they aren’t enough to immerse the viewer.
The Medium isn’t a bad film, but it’s definitely a disappointment considering all of the talent involved. It’s ultimately going to be little more than a forgettable entry into a genre full of generic B-movies.
The Medium is now streaming on Shudder.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
The 2018 Halloween reboot/sequel was quite a hit. How could it not be, now being produced by Blumhouse, who puts ten million dollars into no-name movies with no-name talent and they are successful. Give them a franchise like Halloween and the tickets just sell themselves. The film had a finale that felt satisfying, but when a movie makes over twenty-five times its budget, there has to be a sequel.
Halloween Kills picks up right where the first movie left off. Laurie Strode and her daughters are driving away from the burning house where Michael Meyers was left to die. Some firefighters come to the rescue and inadvertently allow The Shape to escape. As he goes off on a killing spree, the town bands together to make sure evil dies tonight. Did the continuation of the story feel organic? Of course not. Does that matter? Honestly, no.
While most of the main characters have little to nothing to do in the story and having the ending of the first movie go to waste, this movie is still a good time. Let’s be very honest with ourselves. This is the third second movie in a franchise that has squeezed out more juice than it probably deserves. At the end of the day, all that matters is that the scary sequences were effective and the humor kept things entertaining in between.
It is absolutely imperative that you watch this movie with a crowd. At the early screening, people were screaming and jumping out of their seats. There was nothing crazy inventive about the horror in the movie, but it was pure classic slasher horror. The body count was certainly high and the constant threat of dread, whenever Michael Meyers is on the loose, was prevalent as ever. It’s certainly one of the scarier movies of the year.
David Gordon Green has such an interesting filmography. How does the same director of Pineapple Express direct Joe? Then he goes on to reboot the Halloween franchise. It goes without saying that a movie written by Danny McBride is funny. The weird part about it is the most dominant emotion felt in the theater was laughter. Obviously, comedy and horror go hand in hand, but the focus on comedy here is almost admirable. This just might be the saving grace of the movie because the concept is so drawn out and ridiculous at this point. Like can this dude ever die? The humor certainly went a long way making up for the lack of a substantial story.
There are much worse reanimated horror franchises to deal with on a yearly basis. Better another at least fun Halloween movie than another Paranormal Activity spin-off. The only real complaint is the lack of thought put into the story and characters. Announcing that there is going to be not one, but two sequels and the second one has the word “ends” in the title, instilled confidence that they had some kind of plan for the trilogy. The lack of story, character, and enticing cliffhanger shows that none of those things are the priority. This is fine because this movie is a surface-level crowd pleaser. It’s a scary and funny good time at the movies. Nothing more, nothing less.
Halloween Kills hits theaters and Peacock on October 15.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Mike Lombardi is most famous for his role in the FX original series Rescue Me about firefighters in New York. The Retaliators is a far cry from his days on that show. The title says it all. It's a revenge thriller with a horror twist that is quite horrific indeed.
Lombardi plays a father who is also a pastor. He has a nice family: a wife and two daughters. He is quite protective of them. When he finally finds it in himself to let his oldest daughter go to a party on Christmas Eve, it will be the biggest mistake in his life. His daughter gets killed by a mad man and he ends up going down a rabbit hole of revenge-fueled violence and blood.
A local New Jersey cop helps him try to uncover what happened to his daughter and whose responsible. He turns out to have a secret of his own. His lust for revenge sets him on a different path than the pastor. It's not what anybody would have expected. The pastor gets in a little over his head when he has to confront a makeshift prison filled with blood-crazed killers. He is in a fight for survival.
The directors and writers have created a world of nasty no good characters in this film: a crazy biker gang, the revenge-filled pastor, and the detective who's not necessarily on the right side of the law. All of these wide characters surround the innocence of various teenage girls. It's a mix for an absolute bloodbath that is right for the Halloween season.
The film features music from some pretty big names in the rock n roll/metal genre, such as Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, Tommy Lee from Motley Crue, Sixx AM, and Five Finger Death Punch. All of these singers and members in these bands also feature prominently in the film in smaller but important roles. It's nice to see some of my favorites get the movie treatment, even if it's not a very good movie.
The dialogue in the film isn't anything special to write home about and the acting isn't the best either. This film is just a bunch of B-horror movie violence with a couple of stories that come together to make an overall script. The violence is pretty solid for a horror movie as well. The problem with this film is we've seen it before to some extent. It's just a little too excessive and over the top.
The Retaliators debuted at the 2021 edition of Screamfest, which runs October 12-21.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
Who doesn’t love a good time travel movie? Needle in a Timestack is fortunate enough to be headlined with a pretty solid cast. Leslie Odom Jr. stars as a man who is desperate to maintain his relationship with his wife, but feels threatened by her rich, time traveling ex-husband. Cynthia Erivo and Orlando Bloom star as the wife and ex-husband, despite their limited roles. Famous producer John Ridley is the writer and director for this project. Does this movie have the star power and substance to claim relevance despite its lack of theatrical release?
Leslie Odom Jr. is a solid leading man. Most recently receiving awards nominations for his role in One Night in Miami…, it’s been nice to see him get more roles in projects. His character in this movie is entirely paranoid and deeply depressing, but his performance makes it worthwhile.
As previously stated, Erivo and especially Bloom are brief in this movie despite the plot entirely surrounding their characters. Erivo makes more of an impression as she has good chemistry with Odom Jr. Bloom, on the other hand, it’s just nice to know that he is still around. As the villain, Bloom isn’t very present in the movie, but when he is on screen he does leave an impact.
The plot of the movie is boring and feels drawn out. It’s not surprising to find out this is an adaptation of a short story. It is surprising to find out that it was a short story published to Playboy back in 1983. There's nothing sexier than trying out a new wife for a few weeks. The pacing issue is not detrimental to the individual character arcs, all of which feel fleshed out and satisfying by the end.
The only annoying aspect about the movie is the law of time travel in the movie’s universe. Not how time travel actually works (almost every movie gets that wrong), it’s explained in the movie that time travel is legal, but exorbitantly expensive. It is illegal to change things in the past though. This is maddening because wouldn’t the smallest of actions have the possibility of changing big things? Not to mention that one of the characters goes back in time specifically to change something, does it, and gets away with it like it was nothing. Like no, you went to a legit business and deliberately disobeyed their rules. When you go back to the present and things are very different for you, then it should be clear that the past was changed. There’s no consequence. It’s just weird.
Needle in a Timestack definitely not bad, but it’s also not one that you’d be eager to recommend. It’s a solid time to watch and everything feels wrapped up all nicely. The pacing and plot discrepancies are slightly annoying, but nothing that would prohibit the experience. It’s a cute movie that’s enjoyable enough to watch.
Needle in a Timestack hits theaters and VOD on October 15.