Review by Camden Ferrell
Monday had its premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. This is the fourth feature film from writer/director Argyris Papadimitropoulos. While the leads are charming, the film feels too repetitive and not insightful enough into relationships to be memorable.
Mickey and Chloe are two Americans in Greece who come together after a night of spontaneous passion. We then see this summer fling expand into something more as we see this couple try and maintain their love through the trials and tribulations of life. It’s a simple and sweet premise that is evocative of other romance films.
The script by Rob Hayes and Papadimitropoulos is adequate if nothing else. There isn’t any profound or insightful dialogue, but it does occasionally excel at naturalistic dialogue. The writing is at its best when we are watching the simple connection between the two lovers, but it doesn’t do as well when trying to progress the plot and events surrounding these characters.
The acting is the highlight of the film. The movie is led by Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough. From the start, they have impeccable chemistry, and this remains fairly consistent throughout the film. They play off of each other really well, and this is true even in the scenes of tension and drama. When the script is lacking, you can usually count on them still being able to carry the scene in a believable way.
The movie has the potential to say a lot about self-destructive couples and the downside of passion, and it briefly touches on it, but it doesn’t give it the consideration it warrants. The characters are borderline unlikeable, and this paves the way for some great themes, but it also fails to expound on that. It doesn’t fully explore the destructive capabilities of their romance in a way that feels palpable or significant.
For what the film lacks in its themes, it makes up for in its passion. It is an undeniably sensual film that builds off of the chemistry of its leads. There is lots of onscreen passion to elevate the relationship, which is handled gracefully by Stan and Gough. It is interesting to see their relationship progress over an indeterminate period of time even if it feels hollow as a whole.
The movie can often find itself feeling repetitive by design, but it still creates an inconsistent and somewhat bland story that doesn’t do its characters justice. There are a handful of side characters that feel unnecessary, and it fails to recognize its most valuable assets and its potential themes. It’s not bad, but it is disappointing considering the talent involved in the film.
Monday is a passionate albeit underwhelming film about a summer romance that becomes much more than that. Stan and Gough are captivating leads, but they are brought down by the script and repetitive execution of the film.
Monday is in select theaters and on VOD April 16.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
In the last four or five years, the horror genre has had a resurgence of creative minds writing and directing new and innovative horror-related projects, films, and television shows. Jordan Peele led the charge, but studios such as Warner Bros., Sony, and A24 have done a solid job of releasing some great horror films. There have also been a few foreign horror films that have been quite good as well. Unfortunately, Honeydew falls short of those lofty expectations
The film starts with a couple taking a trip. They stop to camp in a patch of woods off the side of the road. A man tells them they have to leave because they're on his land. They get ready to leave, but then get stranded after their car breaks down. They start walking and end up at a house with an old lady and her so-called son. The two of them have more to their story than meets the eye.
This film has some interesting elements to it that make it different than most other horror films. It has some sound editing tricks to add to the suspense and scares of the film. The problem is they don't work very well. They just get in the way of the story. The film also has music playing over all the sounds they have added to the film. All of this makes the film weird and strange and gives off odd vibes. These editing and musical decisions aren't effective in making the film better, instead doing more damage to the flow and feel of the film.
Kids getting lost in the woods or going to strange houses aren't anything new in this genre either. They've been done to death. So trying new things makes sense, but not if they don't work. Writer-director Devereux Milburn takes some chances with the script and directorial decisions. The plot is a lot like a few other films we've seen in recent memory though so it doesn't make this film very original.
The cast isn't that spectacular either in Honeydew. If the filmmaker were to have gotten some bigger names it may have drawn a crowd to this film. Instead, this cast of unknowns just brings the fact that this film isn't any good more to the forefront. It's just another thing that helps make this film fail in the end.
I always give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their creative decisions on a given film, especially when it comes to horror movies. They can be weird and strange at times. This film fails on all the different things Devereux tries to do to make it original and different. The sound editing, music, and cast are all wrong for this film. It's a shame because it had some potential.
Honeydew hits VOD on April 13.
Review by Sean Boelman
The thing with debut films is that it is easy to see where the filmmaker’s inexperience and bright-eyed passion are at odds with each other. Matthew Balzer makes a valiant attempt to revitalize a dead genre with his first feature The Catch, but its many shortcomings keep it from being particularly enjoyable.
The movie follows a woman who returns to her quaint New England hometown only to find herself in over her head when a crime goes awry. It’s a run-of-the-mill thriller set-up, but a lean and entertaining one at that. Unfortunately, the film clearly wants to be more than pulp, and Balzer largely fails to imbue his script with anything deeper.
This theme of a character having to decide between their small-town roots and learned city lifestyle is quite worn at this point, and that is the extent of the movie’s substance. There seems to be some additional subtext about a trauma that the protagonist experienced, but this is so underdeveloped that it has no impact.
On the other hand, the supporting characters in the film are really generic. Although most of them are likable, their arcs are very familiar, and as a result, the movie lacks a feeling of emotional resonance. Additionally, all of these subplots end up feeling like tangents rather than a supplement to the main plot.
If Balzer does succeed at one thing, it is in building an atmosphere. Granted, audiences have a set expectation for a thriller set in a sleepy Northeastern town, but the film does a solid job of building that suspense. It manages to be mostly intense despite the fact that viewers won’t be invested in the story.
That said, there is a fundamental flaw in the movie that threatens to undermine all of the suspense-building that Balzer does, and that is the cinematography. The film is way too dark to the point of leaving the audience unable to see a significant majority of the action. What makes this even more disappointing is that it wastes its lovely coastal backdrop.
There is a pretty solid cast in the movie, and they manage to make something interesting out of their roles. Katia Winter plays the protagonist in a mostly straightforward way, but is charismatic enough to drive the film forward. Bill Sage and James McMenamin both give supporting turns that are enjoyable to watch. And the extremely talented Kyle Gallner even succeeds despite being given the most underwritten character in the movie.
The Catch would be entirely watchable if it weren’t for the fact that you can barely see most of what is happening. Matthew Balzer should be applauded for trying his best, but with the resources at his disposal, this should have been a lot more.
The Catch screens at the Enzian Theater as part of the Florida Film Festival on April 12 at 6:30pm and is also available virtually for the duration of the festival. The 2021 Florida Film Festival runs April 8-22 in Orlando, FL.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Melissa McCarthy has been working with her husband Ben Falcone for years now. They have made several movies together in the past including Tammy, The Boss, and Life of the Party. He has also acted with his wife a few other times, usually getting the short end of the stick, getting beat up or made fun of. There is no difference in Thunder Force either. Even though he directed this one he still gets tapered in the face and knocked out by his boss. That's the tone of the film.
Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer play childhood friends Lydia and Emily. One is a sports and rock-n-roll fan who loves Chicago. She also does everything spontaneously at a drop of a hat and doesn't think before she does things. The other thinks about everything she does. She's very analytical in all of her decisions and gets annoyed at the other for not thinking about what she does more and how it affects people. Even though they're friends, they seem like opposites of one another.
Thunder Force is full of pop culture references from sports and television in the '80s. That's what decade these ladies grew up in. McCarthy's character is a bit of a tough girl while Spencer's is a bit of a smart girl. They both become friends and teach each other about their differences such as music and educational stuff like spelling. They both have a lot to learn at this age.
If you have a movie about superheroes you need supervillains. Bobby Cannavale plays the main supervillain. He is known as The King, a man who's running for mayor of Chicago. His henchmen, Laser and The Crab, are played by Pom Klementieff (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2) and Jason Bateman (Ozark), respectively. These are your mustache-twirling bad guys. They are very funny but effective in their performances opposite McCarthy and Spencer.
Most of McCarthy's films haven't been that good in her career. She's had the occasional gem such as St. Vincent or Can You Ever Forgive Me?, for the latter of which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. That being said, she's had more films in her career that are duds. Thunder Force has some funny moments in it and it relies on a lot of superhero moments to save the film. It's the story that is the reason that this film succeeds the most. It has a lot of heart to it that I enjoyed.
With a movie that has the title Thunder Force, it makes sense that they have a catchy song to go along with it. And this film has a great rock song in the credits. Stay all the way through to listen to the great lyrics by Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Lizzy Hale (Halestorm), Scott Ian (Anthrax), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), and Tina Guo an electric cellist. They join the composer Fil Eisler on this awesome rock song that gets you into the mood for this film.
At first glance, Thunder Force might just be another campy vehicle written and directed by her husband Ben Falcone for McCarthy to eat up the scenery and have a lot of fun running around in superhero costumes with Spencer. It's not though! It has a story about oddballs becoming friends and how their differences can help them in a difficult world around them full of miscreants. This was a fun film. Families all around the world should watch this film and take it for what it is worth. Netflix has done well getting into business with McCarthy and company.
Thunder Force is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Sean Boelman
Eoin Macken’s Here Are the Young Men is a relatively standard British coming-of-age tale under the guise of something more artistic. And while strong performances keep this worth watching, it exists in the uncomfortable middle ground between edgy and familiar, causing it to be too weird for general audiences but too mainstream for the art house crowd.
Based on the novel by Rob Doyle, the film follows a trio of teenagers who go down a self-destructive path the summer after finishing school when they witness a tragic accident. For a movie about teenage debauchery, this has some lofty goals, as it is less about growing up and more about coping with trauma.
However, the film’s fundamental flaw is that it tries to compress a book of more than three-hundred pages into a ninety minute movie. There are at least four arcs going on, and while the main character is pretty well-developed, that leaves three more that aren’t as fully explored as they should be.
For the most part, Macken frames the story through the eyes of a single protagonist, but there are segments in the film which cut away to perspectives exclusively held by the character’s mates. These sidebars show the more ambitious aspirations that Macken had for the movie, but are relegated to little more than an afterthought.
Much of the film explores the spiral down which the characters fall due to their inability to process their emotions, and it’s a dark but stirring depiction. The movie does fumble some of the plot elements, like a scene in the final act involving the protagonist’s girlfriend and best friend, but for the most part, it’s a surprisingly subtle discussion of its themes.
The acting of the film is also a highlight. Dean-Charles Chapman starts out as charming as ever before peeling back layer after layer on his character over the course of the movie. By the time the credits roll, he does a good job of showing how his character has devolved into a shell of himself. In the supporting cast, Anya Taylor-Joy and Finn Cole are the standouts, although there is no real weak link.
Macken’s directorial style is much less consistent. On one hand, the party sequences are shot quite well in a way that emphasizes the disturbing nature of the situation rather than the fun that they should be, but then there are dream sequences that aren’t fully fleshed out. Stylistically, it feels like Macken threw a lot of ideas to the wall to see what sticks, and some of them didn‘t work.
Here Are the Young Men doesn’t fully live up to its potential, but the strong cast makes the most out of a script that feels somewhat underwritten. Ultimately, filmmaker Eoin Macken is trying to do too much in a short runtime, and as a result, it feels overly busy.
Here Are the Young Men hits VOD on April 27.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Based on the title alone, Sugar Daddy may not seem like an ambitious and feminist tale of identity, but that’s certainly what Wendy Morgan’s feature directorial debut is. It features a promising talent in its lead actor and writer, and it tackles some timely themes in a unique manner even if its message can get muddled throughout the film.
Darren is a talented young musician, juggling jobs to pay rent and trying to find her place in this world. Her current lifestyle impedes her ability to create music, so she decides to sign up for a website that connects her with sugar daddies that pay her to accompany them on dates. This is an interesting premise that sets the stage for an interesting exploration of this line of work.
The script, written by Kelly McCormack is a little inconsistent. The first half features some great discussions about being a sugar baby, sex work, and the morality and ethics of the profession. She develops a really mature and informed dialogue about the nuances of the subject, but she doesn’t expand on the ideas as much as she could have.
McCormack also stars as Darren, and she does a great job of executing the character she wrote. Darren is a character that has some creative elements, but at her core, she is so relatable. We empathize with her pursuit of art in the face of economic burden, and she is flawed character that adds more layers to the film. The supporting cast is mostly forgettable, but the film doesn’t rely too heavily on them, so the film doesn’t suffer as a result.
The first half of the film balances the musical side of the film and the sugar baby story fairly well. However, the movie slowly loses control of this balancing act in the latter half. It makes the movie feel inconsistent and a little uneven towards the end. It throws off the decent momentum that is built in the first half, and it feels like a wasted opportunity to dive deeper into the social issues the film presents.
I also wish the film showed the extent of Darren’s musical talents more than it already did. She’s an interesting character who is clearly talented, but I think the movie could have done more to communicate how unique she is as an individual. Regardless, the movie has a lot to say about the struggle of many artists today, the constant battle of finding one’s voice in a world that commodifies everything.
Despite its flaws, Morgan’s film is brave, and it provides a much-needed perspective about its subject. The film is thematically ambitious, but it also takes some narrative risks in its final moments that I wish had been featured more prevalently throughout the rest of the movie.
Sugar Daddy is a movie whose merits outweighs its faults. It shows promise for McCormack as a leading actress and Morgan as a director. It’s an interesting story about one artist’s pursuit of expression in the face of the modern world, and it’s worth checking out.
Sugar Daddy is available on VOD and select theaters April 9.
Review by Adam Donato
Attempting to ride in the wake of Godzilla Vs. Kong, Voyagers is set to endeavor through the pandemic landscape at the box office. Notable stars Colin Farrell and Tye Sheridan lead the way in this science fiction piece. Neil Burger, director of The Illusionist, Limitless, The Upside, and… Divergent. Yes, Voyagers blends very well in the teenage, post-apocalyptic genre built by book franchises like Divergent and The Hunger Games. A couple of dozen teens discovering their human urges in space. It’s like Nerve, especially with all the neon marketing. This movie is not based on a book, but it was described as “Lord of the Flies in space.”
The best and worst part about the movie is the concept. What a rich science fiction concept to dive into. The problem is that this movie is made for general audiences and the target audience is teens. Of course, the teens would spend the majority of their newfound humanity wrestling and dry humping each other, but playing with the philosophical ideas at hand would be so much more interesting. To put it in simpler words, there’s too much fat and not enough meat on the bones. It’s conflicting to analyze since it makes sense why the plot delves into base human instincts, but the story and dialogue suffer because of it.
Furthermore, the concept of the movie gets in the way of the characters during the first act. The trailer shows that the blue drink they consume has medication that suppresses their human urges. This makes everybody a robot for almost half the movie. It isn’t until shit hits the fan that things get more interesting. The problem with that is that everybody is so stupid. This isn’t wrong, that is because of course, everyone would make poor decisions in the state the crew becomes when they cease taking the medication. The dialogue becomes infantile, to say the least. Therefore, it’s frustrating for the movie not to focus on the ideas being presented, but it makes sense why there’s more ruckus than a philosophical debate.
Weirdly enough, this movie should’ve been crazier. The most intriguing moments are when the audience is forced to just watch their order delve into chaos. With all the flawed logic and lack of self-awareness, it’s quite a riot. It feels almost unfair to criticize for not capitalizing on an already interesting movie. This will leave the audience wanting more from what happened in the story, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. Bumping up the runtime another thirty minutes wouldn’t be the answer for the type of movie that’s being presented here. Speaking of wanting more, the ending is so rushed that one would almost wish there was a sequel. The implications of everything that’s happening are so ripe with potential. Then again, not every movie can be 12 Angry Men, where all the characters just sit and talk for two hours.
Voyagers is not as smart as it thinks that it is and it isn’t as smart as the hungry science fiction fan would want it to be. Just imagine if Interstellar had a vampire baby with Twilight and that’s Voyagers. There are so many ideas presented that are probably more well developed in other movies, but for what it is, it’s a good time. Some middle school child is gonna go on a first date to this movie and wonder how they’re gonna lean in to kiss their date if their date is wearing a mask. It’s not as bad as Chaos Walking and with limited theatrical selections at play, this is really all you got if you don’t like giant monster fights.
Voyagers hits theaters on April 9.
Review by Sean Boelman
Charléne Favier’s Slalom is a highly topical film, dealing with an issue that hasn’t been discussed in cinema very often before. And while this is a discussion that really needs to happen, Favier’s approach isn’t the most consistent or tender, making this a better starting point than a conversation in and of itself.
The film follows a promising teenage girl who is taken under the wing of her strict coach to train to become a top skier, only to form a deeper and more problematic relationship with him. There is an undeniable level of realism to Favier’s script, as there are unfortunately stories like this in the news all the time, but it’s set against a conventional coming-of-age background.
Without a doubt, the biggest strength of this movie is what it has to say about grooming and sexual predation. However, framing this in the context of a sports coming-of-age story is somewhat questionable. Granted, this does happen to young women in the sports world, but the film presents it in an analog to a rite of passage. The message here is obvious, but not conveyed in the most effective way.
The pacing of the movie is interesting, drawing the viewer into the protagonist’s world of intense training. Her exercises are shot in a very static and almost monotonous way to make the audience feel the nature of the character’s routine. However, the film never crosses over into tedium, these prolonged shots instead having a somewhat hypnotic feel to them.
That said, one of the areas in which Favier’s script could have used some improvement is the character development. The movie leans a little too heavily on the audience’s pity for the protagonist as a victim, and while this does have the intended emotional effect, it would have been nice to see the character given more depth outside of her aspirations and victimhood.
For the most part, Favier uses a very simple shooting style, instead emphasizing the power of the performances and script. The use of color in the film is beautiful and creates some interesting (if straightforward) symbolism. Of course, there are some very pretty shots of the mountains down which the characters are skiing, but the actors are the stars of the show.
Young actress Noée Abita gives a nuanced and subtle performance as the lead. It’s a challenging role that easily could have pushed the movie into melodramatic territory with a bad turn, but Abita dials into the more minute details of the script. Jérémie Renier is also excellent and fittingly disturbing as the predatory coach.
Slalom is an interesting film, and while its approach isn’t always the most effective, the message is one that needs to be heard by audiences. Hopefully this will open the door to a more open discussion about these issues.
Slalom hits virtual cinemas on April 9. A list of participating locations can be found here.
Review by Sean Boelman
High-concept, socially-conscious horror often leads to some of the most successful examples of the genre — just look at the massive hit that was Get Out — but a filmmaker has to know what they are doing in order to pull it off. Unfortunately for Held, the script reveals its hand too late, resulting in a message that gets muddled behind an otherwise subpar thriller.
The film follows a couple whose marriage is tested when they get held hostage by an unseen voice giving them increasingly sinister commands. Like a mix of a home invasion thriller and torture porn horror, the movie fails to bring to the table the suspense or extreme gore that makes those respective genres tick, causing the first half of the film to struggle.
When the movie reaches its big twist around the midway point, it becomes something much more interesting. However, this change comes too little too late, a metaphorical cup of originality to compensate for the wildfire of mediocrity that came before it. Had there been more suspense building up to this big reveal, it definitely could have been more effective.
It becomes abundantly clear in the final act of the film there is a feminist and anti-patriarchal message, and while this is undeniably well-intentioned, it is executed poorly. The script by Jill Awbrey isn’t able to find that perfect balance between realism and excess to make the satire effective.
Additionally, the character development in the movie is lacking. Much of the first half of the film is spent trying to get the audience to care about the relationship between the two characters, and it doesn’t succeed. At the bare minimum, we should at least be able to get fully behind the female protagonist, and that isn’t even the case.
Awbrey also plays the lead in the movie in addition to her duties as a writer, and her turn is entirely unexceptional. It is a very reactive performance, something which doesn’t seem fit to the material, particularly during the second half. Bart Johnson is slightly better, although no more believable, as her husband.
The film also leaves something to be desired visually. There are some cool images in the final act tied to world-building, but for a majority of the movie, there isn’t much of a world to build. As such, it’s a rather plain thriller set in a sleek house, and viewers will be left waiting for something gnarly that doesn’t come.
Held has a lot of potential, but the filmmakers are unable to salvage the great concept from a poorly-developed screenplay. As a result, this ends up in the B-movie pile rather than the art house where it should belong.
Held hits theaters and VOD on April 9.
Review by Sarah Williams
The long-take opening shot of Amundsen, The Greatest Expedition, a thrilling plane crash, is a high that's not quite returned to. The Roald Amundsen biopic by Norwegian Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales and Kon-Tiki director Espen Sandberg is a road to an adventure that's never truly felt. Charting the lead-up to the explorer's renowned (and dangerous) polar exploration, the film falls flat when it eventually reaches the end of the world, with a danger that's never felt like that first aeroplane.
Leading the first expedition for the South Pole in 1911, and reaching both poles in 1926, Roald Amundsen (Pål Sverre Hagen) is given the Spielbergian-lite biopic treatment. Most of the film's strengths lie in galas and dinner meetings, scenes building anticipation for the expedition that feels far lower stakes than it should. Perhaps the focus isn't on the trip, but on the life leading to it, but with a team who is strongest with idolized heroes and glamorous set pieces, introspective, moody, character studies don't quote work.
What does shine in these more mundane sections is the outside world around Amundsen. The period setting is beautifully assembled, and for a more minor release, one that's taken two calendar years from premiere to US release, it's startlingly detailed and accurate. The supporting performances are worth noting, with appearances from Christopher Rubeck and Katherine Waterston livening the affair.
What's baffling here is making a film where the selling point is the expedition, and then trying to study a character that's left dull instead. Amundsen's strained family relationships, and the romantic subplot, don't give any of the actual interesting aspects of his character, the lack of fear and why he would want to go where no man has before. The men on the expedition aren't particularly characters we care about, and it all feels far too low stakes. The film is part adventure saga, part slow period drama, and it doesn't quite stitch together. All we know in the end about Amundsen is that he is driven by ego, something that can be extrapolated watching countless other works about the renowned men of the time.
With set pieces like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and the storyline of a Thanksgiving day release, Amundsen is a film that would have replayed the best at a Sunday afternoon matinee, the kind of harmless but forgettable film you see with your parents, shrug, and learn a few history facts from. It's hard to hide that it feels like a relic from fifteen years back, dated and formulaic, destined to be played in a freshman year geography class's end of year explorers unit. It's hard to judge it as a bad film, because it's not all that poorly made, this just feels like deja vu of years past, and the few highlights and surprises are never quite allowed to shine. The issue isn't poor craft, or an offensive misstep, Amundsen just that brings so little to the table that doesn't call back a forty year old formula.
Amundsen, The Greatest Expedition is now available on VOD.