Review by Adam Donato
Disney is taking over in more ways than one. The acquisition of 20th Century Fox brought with it a plethora of usable brands to capitalize on. What do they do with an Ice Age franchise that has run way past its course? They produce a cheaply animated sequel of sorts starring the side characters. Night of the Museum seems to be taking a similar route as an animated movie coming straight to Disney+, where the son of Larry Daley takes over the mantle as night guard of the museum. Does anybody still care about Night of the Museum? Doesn’t matter. If there’s juice that’s able to be squeezed out of this fruit, Disney will exploit it. Despite the uphill battle, is Night of the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again good enough to be noticed on this endless crop of mediocrity that is Disney+ original content?
No, it’s bad. The biggest change to note in this installment of the franchise is the switch to animation. This decision makes sense as gathering all these stars would be overly expensive considering the level of quality this feature was expected to be. Not to mention, recasting Teddy Roosevelt is not an easily digestible task. The quality of animation in this movie is the first indication that this movie is meant for babies. Having a run time of 77 minutes also doesn’t help. There’s clear effort in the recast of these memorable characters. The stand out (if there is one) would be Thomas Lennon, who remains one of the most underrated comedic side character actors. Only one scene is worth remembering, where “the camera” flies around the room as each member of the team tries to take down the undead army. That’s really grasping at straws though.
(L-R): Attila (voiced by Alexander Salamat), Joan of Arc (voiced by Alice Isaaz), Sacagawea (voiced by Kieran Sequoia), Teddy (voiced by Thomas Lennon), Easter Island Head (voiced by Kelemete Misipeka), Nick Daley (voiced by Joshua Bassett) and Laaa (voiced by Zachary Levi) in 20th Century Studios' NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: KAHMUNRAH RISES AGAIN, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
If anyone cares about the canon of the franchise, then this continuation is certainly of interest. Passing the torch to the son of Ben Stiller’s character is a logical and easy choice — especially if this story is animated and it doesn’t matter who stars in it because it’s made for babies. It becomes clear that the highest ambition for this franchise is to have this movie spinoff into its own show as we follow the new adventures led by Nick Daley. This story is written by a marketing team and the test screenings probably consisted of babies exclusively. There’s little to no good reason for Larry Daley to leave the fold as he has to take some job overseas. It feels like such a passionless, borderline bastardization of what was a solid fantasy, family comedy franchise.
This half-assed attempt to continue the Night of the Museum franchise should be properly ignored. There is nothing of value or substance. The comedy doesn’t work. The sense of wonder is non-existent. It’s a shell of the type of movie the franchise had been clearly. To be honest, it was never good enough in the first place to demand more stories be told in this universe. Please, go gently into that goodnight.
Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again is now streaming on Disney+.
Review by Sean Boelman
Christmas horror has been done dozens of times before, and while some films try to put a new spin on the genre, others stick with the formula and deliver some old-school thrills. Joe Begos’s Christmas Bloody Christmas does the latter, with plenty of festive kills to satisfy your horror cravings this holiday season.
In the movie, a town is terrorized on Christmas Eve by a robotic Santa Clause toy that goes haywire and sets off on a brutal, vicious killing spree. It’s not the first time there has been a movie about a killer Santa, but Begos manages to make his stand out with a retro vibe and a commitment to shocking the audience.
The film clocks in at a lean, mean eighty minutes, meaning that we get a bit of an introduction before being thrown straight into the mayhem and carnage. The last hour is an absolute bloodbath that doesn’t let up, but those who are familiar with Begos’s past work would expect nothing less.
Of course, this is the type of movie that lives and dies by its kills, and while there’s nothing particularly unique about any of the situations, they are more than well-executed enough to get a guttural reaction out of the audience. The practical effects are pretty awesome, and the score does an excellent job of setting the tone.
There is also a bit of a sense of humor found in the film that cinephiles are sure to appreciate, thanks to a wealth of movie references in the first act. That said, the movie takes itself just seriously enough — with plenty of moments that are precisely f*cked up enough to be both disturbing and make you laugh uncomfortably
Admittedly, there isn’t a ton of character development in the film, but there doesn’t need to be much for it to work. In the vein of many of the campy slasher movies to which this pays homage, it’s more about the killer than the victims. Fans are coming to this wanting to see a killer robot Santa, and that is precisely what they will get.
That being said, there are still some fun turns in the cast. Jeff Daniel Phillips, who is best known for his roles in several of Rob Zombie’s movies, plays the town sheriff, and does so in a way that is enjoyably exaggerated. Sam Delich is also surprisingly charming in a role that easily could have felt overly douchey.
Christmas Bloody Christmas is just as much fun as one would expect from a movie with this premise. There’s a reason that Joe Begos has amassed such a cult following in the horror community, and this might be his most fun flick yet.
Christmas Bloody Christmas hits theaters, VOD, and Shudder on December 9.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
People who want to get things done in this country face some tremendous obstacles. However, young people are starting to realize that change has to happen, and it has to happen now. Rachel Lears's documentary To the End focuses on four women fighting for their mission despite the obstacles.
The film focuses on Varshini Prakash, an environmentalist with the Sunrise Movement, Alexandra Rojas, a CNN consultant, Rhiana Gunn Wright, an executive writer in the Green New Deal, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a state Representative in New York. These women, with the help of many others, hope to get the Green New Deal passed into legislation shortly, but it may be a ten-year plan. Will their strategy work?
This documentary has many talking heads either on the side of the Green New Deal or against it, including Chuck Schumer, Van Johnson, Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, and Native American leader Bear Runner. These men and women are known as Justice Democrats. They are trying to get this deal passed, but it's not easy because they have to work with people they don't want to work with. They have to get their hands dirty.
Various events like the youth climate summit are ways these people can get their message out there. Progressive movements like this aren't easy, but something has to be done to save underdeveloped communities and stop fossil fuels from ruining our environment. Getting new young, energetic politicians into office can help get this deal passed. Going all over the country and getting involved in local elections are crucial.
Bernie Sanders is the candidate that these people who want change latch onto to try to get this deal passed. Flipping these seats isn't easy. Some of these elections are going how they needed to in order to get some of these changes moving forward. It's hard to get people to change. These types of defeats only hope to fuel this movement as we advance. And people are mad about these results. The film shows the various events that can help fuel these people.
Many people show that this little movement doesn't matter, and young people don't have a voice. That's wrong because young people in their 20s represent a huge population in this country. Getting the people at the top to care about the people at the bottom is the key to getting things done in this country. Not giving up is another critical aspect of this movement.
The Sunrise Movement can get something done if people keep fighting for this change. The climate task force will try to get Joe Biden to see the opportunity for what this can do for the future of this country. The Green New Deal is real and in the hands of the current president. The film goes all in on every aspect of this system. It follows these people into political chambers, courtyards, and little offices to get this deal done. There is a chance for these young people to finally get something done with policy and progress.
To The End will ask viewers to get behind words like bipartisanism and compromise. Rachel Lears, the director, points the finger at people like Joe Manchin, a Democratic Senator from West Virginia, and Big Oil and says they have to change to save the future of our country. Both sides of the aisle and the fossil fuels industry must work together for that change. This movie is an eye-opening look at how hard it is for people to implement the change we need.
To the End opens in theaters on December 9.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Roald Dahl is one of the most influential writers of children’s literature in modern history, and his legacy can be seen in one of the myriads of adaptations of his work. His book, Matilda, was adapted into a movie in 1996 and a stage musical in 2011. Now, we are receiving the film adaptation of the stage musical, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. From director Matthew Warchus, this musical is overall an enjoyable experience even if it can sometimes fail to catch the source material’s infectious charm.
Matilda is a unique and special girl. She’s imaginative and unfathomably well-read and intelligent for someone her age. She is in a family that doesn’t appreciate her gifts, and she finds herself in a new school, one run by a cruel headmistress who aims to break the spirits of children. With her special abilities and a sharp mind, Matilda aims to take a stand against oppression and change the trajectory of her life.
Written by Dennis Kelly, who also wrote the stage musical, the writing is quite whimsical as intended. The dialogue isn’t the most fluid, but it mostly captures the imaginative and playful spirit of its source material. There are a few moments and jokes that obviously don’t land perfectly, but as far as writing goes, it achieves what it sets out to do.
A musical requires an ensemble that can act, sing, and dance, and this cast delivers on all fronts. Alisha Weir leads the film in a charming turn as the titular character. For a child, she is very talented especially with the energy she delivers to bring the character to life. Emma Thompson gives a transformative performance as Miss Trunchbull which is outlandish and works very well within the context of the movie. The rest of the cast consists of actors like Lashana Lynch, Andrea Riseborough, and many young actors who are all apt in their respective roles.
The most important part of a musical is its musical numbers obviously. This movie has a handful of sequences that are fantastic thanks to its impressive choreography and blocking. Sadly, most of the numbers are just really solid and fail to capture the eccentric energy of its story. In addition to this, a lot of its visual effects leave much to be desired. Half of this can work due to the imaginative and silly nature of the movie, but the rest unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical will be suitable viewing for families and audiences of all ages will find something to enjoy. It does a decent job of adapting the classic story for a new generation, and it has a talented cast to help bring it to life. The songs are catchy, and the story is as enjoyable as it needs to be. Not a must-see film, but it’s certainly a harmless time for anyone looking for a movie this holiday season.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is in theaters December 9 and on Netflix December 25.
Review by Sean Boelman
For independent filmmakers, one of the best things that can boost your film’s profile is a little bit of healthy controversy. Steven LaMorte’s unauthorized Grinch parody The Mean One set the internet ablaze when it was announced, and while the final project isn’t terribly notable, it’s just about as fun as one would expect.
The movie tells the story of a young woman who, years after the murder of her mother at the hands of a Santa suit-clad monster, returns to her hometown where she hunts down the Christmas-hating monster. The latest in a line of horror movies “bastardizing” beloved children’s properties, it’s a gimmicky film, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
Obviously, there is an inherent humor to the premise of a slasher movie that is essentially sacrilegious to the eponymous Christmas classic, and the movie makes for a pretty joyeux Noel when it goes completely unhinged. Unfortunately, those off-the-walls sequences only make up a small part of the film’s overall runtime.
One of the biggest issues with the movie is that it struggles to find a consistent tone. There are certainly some points in which the film’s tongue is firmly in its cheek, and then others at which it wants to be a serious slasher flick. It either needed to be more over-the-top or less campy for it to be fully effective.
Another distractingly bad choice made in the movie is going with largely CGI blood rather than practical effects. Obviously, it’s an independent film, and the filmmakers did the best they can do, but the lack of practical effects will prevent it from becoming a cult classic a la (the obvious comparison) Terrifier. Even a bit of corn syrup with red dye would have been preferable to this.
There is also the matter of the sound effects and score, which feel like stock music and sounds. Again, a lot of this can probably be chalked up to budgetary restrictions, but it’s in that weird, distracting middle ground between being too bad to be taken seriously and not bad enough to be funny.
That said, where this film succeeds that a lot of other modern low-budget horror movies don’t is giving us characters to legitimately care about. Perhaps it’s leftover goodwill from Cindy Lou Who or maybe it’s the romance subplot that is meant to parody Hallmark movies, but there’s something unexpectedly and undeniably charming about our heroine, Cindy.
The Mean One isn’t a particularly good movie, even by the standards of low-budget horror. Yet, at the same time, the film accomplishes exactly everything it sets out to do. It’s not the iconic movie it should have been, but it’s an enjoyable enough ride.
The Mean One hits theaters on December 9.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Sam Mendes has had an interesting career, consisting most recently of two James Bond movies and the breathtaking war movie 1917. His first movie in three years, Empire of Light, is far more quiet and meditative than his last few movies, but that doesn’t make it any less affecting. Even though it has some glaring flaws, one can’t deny the emotion and great performances that are on display from the captivating set of actors on screen.
It is the early 1980’s in a small English coastal town, and there is a theater that serves as an escape for its clientele. At this theater works a unique group of employees, each with their own personalities. This movie mostly follows the daily happenings of Hilary, an older woman with a complicated past and complicated relationships as she grows closer with Stephen, the young man who has just started working at the theater.
Mendes’ script is quiet yet ambitious at times, and it makes for an interesting combination even if it doesn’t always work. He has a unique way of brining the audience into this setting with great and natural interactions that highlight the power of human connection in times of relative turmoil. However, by its end, it becomes obvious that the movie bites off more than it can chew which leads to some disjointed and odd moments in the film’s writing.
The acting will likely be the most talked about part of this movie and for good reason. This is undoubtedly another showcase of the massively talented Olivia Colman, and she does not disappoint. She exhibits some great range throughout the movie, and she even manages to shine when the rest of the film fails to do so. Another great surprise from the cast is Michael Ward who gets plenty of chances to shine and holds up his own with a master like Colman.
The movie tries to market itself off as an ode to cinema, and while there are elements of that, it doesn’t really deliver on that front. It’s better viewed as a portrait of human interaction with dashes of social commentary. As mentioned before, it doesn’t always juggle these many ambitions well, and a lot of the elements of race aren’t handled particularly well. It does a lot without saying much substantial, and it comes off as slightly hollow. Regardless, one can’t deny the presence of genuine emotion in its writing, execution, and truly affecting performances.
Empire of Light may have limited mileage for some audiences, but it’s a heartfelt movie that explores unique human relationships among a backdrop of social issues of the time. It’s a great showcase for Colman and Ward, and it’s the most meditative we have ever seen Sam Mendes as a director.
Empire of Light is in theaters December 9.
Review by Sean Boelman
The BBC/HBO series His Dark Materials has gained a fair share of fans over the course of its past two seasons, and this third and final season comes after a bit of a wait. Well, the wait was more than worth it, as it is exactly the epic, emotional conclusion that any fan of the series would hope it would be.
The season picks up soon after the last one left off, with Miss Coulter having taken Lyra hostage and Will searching for her. An adaptation of the final book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, this season has a lot of story to wrap up in eight episodes, and yet it does so in a way that is satisfying and fulfilling.
Perhaps the best thing about this season of the show is how it explores the constantly shifting alliances. Rather than the clear battle between good and evil that we saw in the first two seasons, what we see here is more of a war of moral ambiguity, which aligns much more with the sense of Pullman’s writing.
This season is also even more unabashed with its anti-religion themes. Pullman’s books have always been controversial because of their themes, and the film adaptation was relatively neutered in this regard. Now that the first two seasons gave fans enough time to acclimate themselves in the world, it can pull out the punches.
However, this does not come at the expense of expanding the mythology even further. Whereas the second season dove a bit more into the fantasy elements, the third goes back into the sci-fi realm. We also get to spend more time with some of the characters, such as Lord Asriel, than ever before, adding a welcome emotional connection.
The action is also even higher-stakes. There are some full-on battle sequences that are some of the most epic you will see in any series or film this year. They spared no expense with this season, ensuring that it is the epic conclusion to the trilogy, while still emphasizing the emotion and sensitivity of the story.
The visuals are also second-to-none. The CGI in this season is better than ever before, from the creatures to the settings. Viewers will feel completely immersed in the many worlds in which this series takes place, especially the world of the dead, which is perhaps one of the most striking depictions of the afterlife in any media.
Season 3 of His Dark Materials is a wonderful conclusion to the show. It feels nice to finally see this part of the story adapted to the big screen, and in a way that is both so entertaining and so profound. Fans will be satisfied with the way this show ends.
His Dark Materials premieres on HBO on December 5 at 9pm ET/PT, with new episodes airing subsequent Mondays at the same time. All eight episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
Many industries were shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, but few were entirely dragged to a halt as much as showbusiness. The new documentary Broadway Rising follows a group of talented, courageous, and passionate people both in front of and behind the scenes as they face their biggest challenge yet.
The film tells the story of the artisans, craftspeople, performers, and workers who banded together to reopen Broadway after a lengthy closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie opens by mentioning the only other time Broadway closed — the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks — immediately emphasizing how bizarre and dire this situation is.
First and foremost, the film is an ode to perseverance and the creative spirit. As the adage says, “The show must go on,” and this has never been more the case than it is with the industry still struggling to recover from an 18-month shutdown — the longest in the storied history of Broadway.
The movie does a good job of showing us a range of who was affected by the Broadway shutdown, from the Broadway stars to the ushers and backstage workers who lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic. However, the film does — perhaps questionably — nearly glorify the questionable behavior of these individuals who prioritized work over safety without critiquing the system that caused them to reach such desperation.
Given that the movie deals with such a large group of subjects, there is plenty of story to be told. As a result, there’s not any dead time, making the film almost feel rushed. There is enough material here that a solid docuseries could have been made about the revival of Broadway from the pandemic.
One of the biggest missed opportunities of the movie is that it does not contain enough footage of the actual work that has been done to bring Broadway back to “normal.” Of course, much of this can be chalked up to licensing issues, as use of performance or even rehearsal footage could cost a hefty fee — but the absence is notable nonetheless.
Instead, director Amy Rice uses a lot of talking head interviews to a point where the film almost becomes overly reliant on them. Although it’s certainly inspiring to see all of these people with their optimism that their beloved stage can return to the way it was before, it begins to grow old after a bit.
Broadway Rising is a pleasant watch, largely thanks to how heartwarming it is to see everyone involved come together to support an institution they — and we — love so dearly. It’s a bit conventional in its presentation and limited by its budget, but it does the most it can with what it has.
Broadway Rising screens in theaters for one night only on December 5.
Review by Sean Boelman
Sam Pollard is one of the most acclaimed historical documentarians working today, so any film he makes is going to be among the year’s hottest nonfiction titles. Co-directed by Geeta Gandbhir, Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power is an interesting look at a portion of history after that which we already know.
The film tells the story of how the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) fought for Black power in Lowndes County, Alabama after the passage of civil rights legislation was largely ignored by residents and politicians in the state. It’s an important, largely unknown story in history that more people should hear about.
In the film, Gandbhir and Pollard certainly present an interesting — and valid — thesis about how the road to civil rights for people of color in America did not stop with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many history books and documentaries get so caught up in the (still important) fight to pass that act that they ignore the hard work that had to be put in after that act passed.
However, despite the fact that the film explores a topic that could be described as no less than essential, it really fails to communicate just how important this was. These people were not just another group of protestors fighting the good fight — they advocated for their community in a way that no one ever had before, and really never have since, at least in as meaningful of a way.
As is the case with many of the other documentaries co-directed by Pollard, the biggest strength of this film is certainly the use of archival footage. He and Gandbhir weave together this footage of the past in a way that is both harrowing and affecting. For a film about the historical violence experienced by Black people in America, this is integral for its success.
Still, even though Pollard and Gandbhir are able to make a very compelling film out of archive materials, it can’t escape the feeling of being designed to lecture rather than inform. As the viewer, you will feel like you are being taught to, not so much that information is being conveyed to you for
One of the more frustrating mistakes the film makes is not spending more time with the people involved in the events of the film — whether via interview or archive footage. Although we do get a few talking heads with some members of SNCC, much of the film’s runtime is made up of commentary from historians.
Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power might be one of the lesser films co-directed by Sam Pollard, but there’s still plenty here worth recommending. The story it tells is so strong and powerful that it largely speaks for itself.
Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power is now available on VOD.
2022 has really been the year for actors in A24 films to take on dual roles. There was X and Everything Everywhere All at Once earlier this year, and now The Eternal Daughter which is a paranormal family drama starring Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton. Tilda is no stranger to play more than one character in a film, in her latest effort to do so it proves she has what it takes to pull double duty on screen.
The story follows mother and daughter Julie and Rosalind who check into a Welsh hotel. The hotel is quite remote and it seems the two are the only guests there. In the meantime, Julie begins working on a film about her relationship with her mother in light of her father's death just a few years prior. While there, Julie begins to hear strange noises and she and her mother begin to unravel a bit when the hotel brings back memories for them both. While there are familiar tropes from other paranormal films such as strange noises being heard and figures appearing in windows, the film avoids playing upon common fears, instead relying on the emptiness that the hotel has to offer.
Perhaps the most eerie thing the film has to offer is the memories the hotel brings back that are gradually revealed by Rosalind. As the film goes on and their stay at the hotel continues, Julie and Rosalind's buried feelings about each other reach its surface. There is no intense argument between the two of them, yet director Joanna Hogg really captures a different take on grief compared to other paranormal films.
Isolation is another theme that I think was captured beautifully by Hogg here. The quietness that the dialogue is spoken in followed by the decision to have both of Tilda's characters rarely share the screen together, although this could be attributed to the film's budget, allow this slow paced drama to be exactly that. Julie and Rosalind are not total opposites and neither of them try to spite each other so seeing the mother and daughter carry such guilt and remorse is what makes this film stand out in the horror genre.
The Eternal Daughter is not for one looking for jump scares or a jaw dropping twist in its final act, but there is still a sense of unease at how we are supposed to approach repressed memories. There is no definitive answer for that, but Joanna Hogg and Tilda Swinton do a good job at making you feel spooked by one thing, mother/daughter getaways.
The Eternal Daughter is now in theaters and on VOD.