Review by Camden Ferrell
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is the third full length feature film about everyone’s favorite sea sponge and his friends. Tim Hill, a frequent writer for the SpongeBob franchise, both wrote and directed this film. Even though it tries to shake up its style, this film is a repetitive mess that doesn’t live up to the standards of the franchise.
When a plot finds SpongeBob’s beloved pet snail Gary abducted, he must go on a journey with his friends to the Lost City of Atlantic City in order to find his lost friend. This story is simple, but it rehashes very similar plot points that have been used elsewhere in the character’s history.
Unfortunately, the jokes and visual gags from this film are just as repetitive and recycled as its premise. Most of the humor in this movie is limited to purely slapstick that gets old very quickly. Otherwise, many of the jokes and punchlines are unearned and lazy. There are a handful of genuinely funny moments, but it’s severely outweighed by the less stellar parts of the film.
The voice cast is adequate as always. However, there does seem to be a subtle lack of enthusiasm from a cast that has been in these roles for multiple decades now. It’s not too distracting, but it lacks a lot of the charisma of its glory days. There are some really interesting celebrity cameos, but they don’t factor prominently into the film.
The animation style is also an aspect that weighs down the film. This new 3-D style of animation is interesting, but it’s a little gratuitous and flashy. It’s harder to take in certain scenes due to this style, and it feels like the movie could have been less visually distracting if they stuck to their typical 2-D animation.
A lot of the movie feels very inconsequential which makes it hard to care about the characters and their journeys. It’s first act is decent and charming, but it’s final two acts, don’t do much to build on its foundation to tell an emotional story. It’s shallow, and a lot of the film seems to serve as an appetizer to the new series for the Paramount+ streaming service.
In addition to this movie, they are also releasing a new show, Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years. This show is alluded to significantly in the movie; but sadly, it’s less engaging than the film. Its 22-minute episodes feel too long for the lazy writing and storytelling. It may appeal to die-hard fans, but it’s a disappointing endeavor into a spin-off show for SpongeBob.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run may be a great film to keep the kids occupied during the weekend, but it will underwhelm fans looking for a movie that lives up to the standards of the series. It feels lazy and repetitive, and it pales in comparison to the other films.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run will be streaming on Paramount+ and will also be available on VOD March 4.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Live-action/animation hybrids have been around for a while. Disney has done quite a few of these types of films through the years: Pete's Dragon, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and most notably Mary Poppins. Arguably the most popular of this genre is the 1986 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, directed by Robert Zemeckis. This was a perfect mesh of live-action cinema and animation. Tom & Jerry almost lives up to this lofty benchmark.
Chloë Grace Moretz plays a woman who, having just been fired from her job, goes to a local hotel and bamboozles her way into a new job by posting as another woman. When the hotel realizes it has a mouse infestation — Jerry, to be specific — she embarks on a mission to get rid of it, enlisting the help of Tom so that she can save the wedding of a famous couple.
With live-action/animation amalgamations comes the live-action portion of the film. The cast in this one is quite famous. Michael Peña plays a snooty hotel concierge, Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live fame plays the groom of the wedding, and Ken Jeong plays the uptight hotel chef. Pallavi Sharva, Rob Delaney, Patsy Ferran, and Daniel Adegboyega all are nice additions to the cast as well They offer a few laughs and a contrast to the animated stars of the film, Tom and Jerry.
These two characters are brought back vividly to life by the Warner Brothers animation team. The animation is amazing in this film. The mix of set traps or playing the piano is seamless. Tim Story does these two iconic characters justice from beginning to end. Their angst is an anchor for all the fun and action scenes. That's exactly what was needed to bring these characters to life.
These types of films have to have a story that begins and ends in the time the film takes place in. That's a necessary evil of these films. The story was quite contrived, to say the least. It was just created to have these characters and actors come together. In that effect, it worked, but it was still a contrived story. That said, it was fun seeing Tom & Jerry back on any screen, even on a streaming service like HBO Max. I was just happy seeing all this craziness unfold in front of my eyes.
All in all Tom & Jerry was fun and entertaining. It wasn't trying to do anything special. It was just a nice time machine for me to when I was a kid watching these two characters go at it time after time. The animation was very solid and it was combined well with the live-action portion. It didn't distract from my enjoyment of the film at all. The story was a little contrived, but that was a small issue in an otherwise entertaining film. Mel Blanc should be happy with the end product, and so should those watching in theaters or at home.
Tom & Jerry is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
BILLIE EILISH: THE WORLD'S A LITTLE BLURRY -- An Ambitious but Inconsistent Portrait of a Young Star
Review by Sean Boelman
Winning her first Grammy Awards at the age of eighteen, Billie Eilish undeniably has one of the most astronomical rises to stardom in recent memory. The documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry offers some strong performance footage and behind-the-scenes access, but filmmaker R.J. Cyler’s questionable approach keeps this from reaching its potential heights.
The film follows Eilish as she prepares and releases her first album, trying to cope with her newfound fame while still being a teenager. Cyler is known for his documentaries that peel back the curtain on tragic figures, but the issue with this is that Eilish’s story doesn’t feel tragic, especially with how young she is.
There is something to be said here about the exploitation of youth for entertainment, but Cyler seems unwilling to commit to say anything too hard-hitting about his subject. Throughout the movie, Eilish voices doubt in herself, but it’s just brushed off as stage fright rather than the genuine manifestation of anxiety that it seems to be.
Ultimately, a majority of viewers are going to come into the film already being fans of Eilish, so it won’t take much for them to respect her music. However, in developing her personality off the stage, Cyler treats her like a fully-realized adult, and while this respect for her is welcome, the immature moments caused by her childhood coming to an abrupt and early halt end up being frustrating.
One of the movie’s other problems is that it is nearly two and a half hours long. Although a significant majority of that runtime is made up of concert recordings that fans will certainly want to see, some of the other material begins to feel a bit repetitive after a certain point. It feels like this could have been cut down to less than two hours.
That said, Cyler does impress in the way he uses Eilish’s music. Unlike a lot of music documentary subjects, Eilish doesn’t have an extensive catalog of songs to pull from since she is so new to the scene. Yet despite this (and the relatively bloated length of the film), Cyler manages to create an effective enough rhythm with the variety.
He also brings a really infectious energy to the movie through the cinematography and editing. Eilish’s performances are naturally very enthusiastic, but the way in which Cyler shoots them makes them even more entertaining. Many of them are presented in the way a thriller would be, simulating the experience of Eilish’s nerves.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry tries to take an interesting approach to its subject, but it doesn’t always pay off. Maybe one day down the line after Eilish’s career has progressed a little further, we will get the in-depth portrait of her life she deserves.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry hits Apple TV+ on February 26.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Brothers Joe and Anthony Russo could have chosen to direct any film project after their huge successes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They chose to direct a film based on the best-selling book by Nico Walker about his life growing up in Cleveland and going off to fight in the Iraq war and what happened when he got back from the Middle East.
Niko Walker (Tom Holland) is a kid from Cleveland who is struggling with life. When he meets a young girl named Emily (Ciara Bravo), he starts feeling better. Eventually, he decides to go into the Army and ends up in the Middle East fighting a pointless war. He sees a lot of horrors over there and comes back and ends up with PTSD. This causes him and Emily to become drug addicts. Their whole life starts spiraling down around them.
The Russo Brothers chose to tell this story in chapters with title cards and all. It helps with the passing of time and the different phases of his and her life. They also use a different style of filmmaking to tell this story. It's more of a visceral style of storytelling. The camera work is shaded and shadowy. It has a faded look to it which mirrors the world that these characters live in. They are definitely on a downward turn that they may not come back from.
This story is an ugly one. A lot of people in the country have gotten caught up in the opioid crisis in our country and this is the typical result of what happens when people are addicted to drugs. They ruin their lives and those around them. Until either they get help or they die. It's a tragic tale that happens to thousands of Americans every day and year. It's a sad state of affairs what these people are going through.
Tom Holland is a young actor who has had quite a good stretch of success in his young career. Playing Spider-Man in the MCU has garnered him great praise from the film community and critics alike. The role of Niko Walker is quite a different turn for him, though. This character has multiple layers to him and facets of emotion. He goes through many different states. His life has taken a lot of twists and turns. This is a character any actor would want to play because of all layers he has in him. Holland just doesn't take him to the places he needed to go to be completely effective in getting the story of this character across.
The Russos and Holland try to do their best with this material. It's not an easy story to put on the screen. The decisions they take with the story, acting, and filmmaking styles should be applauded. They all just don't work at times. They just come across as desperate and inconsistent. Maybe a more seasoned actor could have done more with the character.
Cherry hits theaters on February 26 and Apple TV+ on March 12.
Review by Sean Boelman
Religious themes are nothing new in the horror genre, as there is often no better source of scares than a seemingly unstoppable supernatural evil. Yet despite having a lot of promise, Keith Thomas’s The Vigil often feels like it doesn’t know how to expand upon these good ideas in a way that is satisfyingly suspenseful.
The film follows a man who is paid to keep watch over a dead body in an Orthodox Jewish tradition, soon finding that there is also a malevolent entity present. Although the uniquely Jewish angle gives the movie a somewhat fresh spin, the otherwise very familiar storyline is paint-by-numbers in a way that quickly becomes boring.
Perhaps the most effective aspect of Thomas’s film is the mystery element. Had Thomas went all-in on the psychological aspects as opposed to the more comfortable supernatural chills, this would have been a lot more compelling. The contrast between the ambiguity of the mystery and the obviousness of the movie otherwise is frustrating.
Even the atmosphere of the film is pretty inconsistent. There are some interesting shots, but other portions of the movie are poorly-lit in a way that makes it hard to watch. And while there is some very cool visual symbolism, particularly related to the use of religious iconography, it’s not used effectively enough to be as impactful as it should have been.
Additionally, the film doesn’t really go into the protagonist’s arc with particular substance. There are some very clear messages here about doubting one’s faith, but Thomas’s movie feels very much like a feature debut in that it asks a lot of questions and answers almost none of them, resulting in the film feeling rather scattered.
This is particularly troubling when the movie is predominantly a one-man show. Although the protagonist does interact with some side characters at different points throughout the film, there are significant portions where his isolation is the driving force of the conflict. Sadly, he just isn’t developed enough to carry the movie on his own.
Dave Davis’s performance is strong enough for what it is, but he isn’t able to take the character to a deeper level. The subtext is there for Davis to bring out the emotion in his turn, but for some reason, be it bad direction or a failure to translate the script, he settles for being a basic horror leading man. Recognizable actors like Fred Melamed and Lynn Cohen show up in the supporting cast but offer glorified cameos.
On paper, Keith Thomas’s The Vigil should have been the next big thing in the genre, but in execution, it’s disappointingly generic. Thomas’s interesting ideas and voice fail to shine through in a film that feels too content with settling for the lowest common denominator.
The Vigil hits theaters and VOD on February 26.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The thing I like about documentaries is they focus on a lot of different topics. It's especially interesting to learn about places and people that I might not have known about before. In the case of My Darling Supermarket, the filmmakers focus on a grocery store chain called Veran Supermarcados, a Brazilian company not too dissimilar to grocery stores in the United States.
The film deals with some of the employees of Veran, including an Asset Control worker (nicknamed "The Eye in the Sky"), two bakery workers named Rodrigo & Kelly who may or may not have feelings for each other, a baker/dishwasher who likes manga & anime and does cosplay in their spare time, a cashier with anxiety issues, and a warehouse worker and manager who has thoughts about the great hereafter. All of these people do regular jobs in a grocery store just like any other store.
Employees walking around doing their jobs is a regular occurrence in the film. One sequence follows a guy who is zoning, bringing all the merchandise to the front of the shelves. This is a familiar trick in American grocery stores as well. It's neat to see stores in different countries do similar things. This store will be very familiar to viewers despite the language barrier that separates them.
The film is a nice look at these regular people who work at a grocery store. It also has some nice camera tricks up its sleeve. The filmmaker uses some creative techniques to put the camera in interesting places like a bread grinder and looking out at the screens viewing the store from the eye in the sky. The score is really nice as well. It has a melancholy feeling to it. It's very mellow and soothing. It is placed best over the quieter moments of the film.
My Darling Supermarket is a nice little film. It offers a look into grocery stores in another country, but the point is in seeing how it's very similar to our own in the United States. The characters were interesting but their stories were not that exceptional. They were just normal people who worked at this store featured in the film. A few different camera tricks and a warily soothing and melancholy score added to the overall feel of the film. This may not be a great or revolutionary film, but for what it is, it works.
My Darling Supermarket streams in virtual cinemas beginning February 24. A list of participating locations can be found here.
Review by Sean Boelman
Nicholas Jarecki’s opioid epidemic thriller Crisis straddles the line between being an above average B-movie and a below average ensemble drama. Consistently entertaining but never really fulfilling the full potential of the premise, this is better than anyone would have expected even if it isn’t particularly memorable.
The film tells the interconnected stories of a drug smuggler trying to arrange an operation between the U.S. and Canada, a recovering addict mother investigating the mysterious disappearance of her son, and a research professor challenging Big Pharma. Jarecki’s script definitely has a lot of compelling elements in play, but it isn’t evenly developed.
Both the drug smuggler and missing son storylines are very conventional and don’t deviate much from the formula. Forced emotional beats and melodrama abound, and the result doesn’t have a true impact. The Big Pharma storyline is much more unique and has a lot more to say, but Jarecki doesn’t seem to trust the audience to get invested in the less action-packed storyline.
The character development in the movie is also somewhat lacking. Although this is a very common sin of films that have this many moving parts, it feels like a lot of the characterization is accomplished through exposition rather than other, more cinematic means. And in the case of the missing son storyline, we aren’t given enough time to form a connection before we are expected to care.
Jarecki was able to assemble a really strong ensemble for his movie, but more often than not, they aren’t given much to do. The highlights are Gary Oldman, who gives an unexpectedly nuanced turn as the ethically-conflicted professor, and Guy Nadon, whose sinisterly charming kingpin doesn’t get enough screen time. Others, like Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez, Kid Cudi, Lily-Rose Depp, and Luke Evans are underused.
Perhaps most disappointing is that the film doesn’t seem to care very much about the opioid epidemic at all. Random statistics spouted by characters in dialogue and title cards right before the credits roll aren’t enough to make a statement much more nuanced than “drugs are bad”. Instead, addiction serves as a backdrop for a popcorn movie, which isn’t what needs to be done.
On a technical level, Jarecki’s film is more than competent. The action sequences are shot in a way that is legitimately suspenseful, and this keeps the story moving along despite its nearly two-hour runtime. Jarecki also does a good job of immersing the viewer in this world that both feels real and distanced from that in which we live.
Crisis isn’t a great movie, ultimately weighed down by its lack of thematic and character development. Still, it’s far more entertaining and well-made than a majority of other generic crime thrillers that come out these days.
Crisis hits theaters on February 26 and VOD on March 5.
MADE YOU LOOK: A TRUE STORY ABOUT FAKE ART -- An Educational Doc About the Biggest Art Fraud in American History
Review by Camden Ferrell
The events of Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art, may not be familiar to outsiders of the art community at the time of these events. Regardless, the newest film from writer/director Barry Avrich is a very informative and comprehensive description of events. Even though it loses steam by its final act, this documentary is equal parts surprising and interesting.
This documentary details the largest art fraud in American history. In the rich and obsessed art world of New York, a couple brings numerous forged paintings that are then sold to collectors at the reputable Knoedler Gallery. This is an interesting story that isn’t talked about enough in film, and it’s a great basis for the documentary.
One of the most commendable aspects of this documentary is how the director is able to frame the exposition of its subjects into an engaging and effective storytelling device. Especially in the first hour of the film, it is fast paced and doesn’t suffer from any of the lulls associated with heavy exposition.
The aforementioned steady pace of the film can be contributed significantly to the charisma of its interviewees. Featuring many members of the art community and the legal teams associated with this case, this documentary utilizes them as storytellers, and it works very well in the film’s favor.
The movie also does a great job of informing laymen of the jargon of the community without talking down to the audience. It’s truly informative in that regard. For someone like myself, with little knowledge of the inner workings of this industry, I found myself consistently educated throughout this film.
Despite a lot of the film’s virtues, it ultimately flies too close to the sun in its final 30 minutes. It spends its first hour astutely building up the story to its climax and ultimately fumbles it. Rather than maintaining the momentum of the beginning, the final act doubles down on certain aspects that ultimately feel disappointing. It drags significantly in comparison to the rest of the film.
Even though it severely runs out of steam in the end, it’s still a very thorough exploration into a truly surprising story that is full of twists. It should be appeal to both fans and novices to this world that is more interesting than it initially seems.
Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art is an above average documentary from Avrich. There’s a lot to enjoy from its elements of storytelling and its informative nature.
Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art is available on Netflix February 23.
Review by Sean Boelman
The unexpectedly decade-long franchise based on the 2003 horror flick Wrong Turn isn’t known for particularly high quality, hence the surprise of most when it turned out that the 2021 reboot is a legitimately entertaining addition to the genre. Sharing the title and Appalachian setting but not much else with the series, this is the type of brutal but not overly cheap film that horror fans didn’t know they wanted.
Alan McElroy, who also wrote the original movie, penned this new script that also has a “characters by” credit for himself. Following a group of friends who get lost hiking on the Appalachian Trail and find themselves at odds with a ritualistic community, the film eliminates the cannibal threat that defined the other six entries.
Instead, the movie takes an approach that is much more reminiscent of something like Saw — a series of gruesome and creative traps resulting in some truly inspired death scenes. It may not be much more original than what the premise that kickstarted the series had to offer, but it’s executed much more effectively.
It’s also interesting to see this film have a lot more substance than one would expect from a B-movie horror flick. There is obviously the clear didactic message, but what really stands out is the way in which it explores the idea of barbarism and how society has arguably become less evolved despite its development.
Perhaps the best thing that this film has to offer is its world-building. This takes the series in a very different direction and while this does work well as a one-off, it would be interesting to see some of the mythology of The Foundation explored and expanded upon. However, the potential is also there for this to turn into yet another derivative franchise.
The acting in the movie is also surprisingly strong. Bill Sage gives an enjoyably unhinged performance as the antagonistic cult leader. It’s a big performance in many ways, but it’s never so over the top as to go into caricature territory. Charlotte Vega is also very good, giving a strong turn as the final girl.
There are also some really interesting technical aspects in play here. Although the gore shots don’t last very long, they are disturbing despite their brevity. Some of the deaths happen so quickly and unexpectedly that they have an undeniable visceral impact that a lot of shock factor horror films have failed to achieve recently.
This new take on Wrong Turn shouldn’t be underestimated just because of the series’s bad reputation. This is an unexpectedly well-crafted horror movie with some genuinely great moments that will be etched into viewers’ memory for quite a while.
Wrong Turn hits VOD and DVD on February 23.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
As a genre, biopics can make for some of the greatest movies ever or they can be pieces of trash. Musical biopics are a way to show the ups and downs of musicians' lives. A lot of musicians have had a rough upbringing or struggles in their lives. As per the title of the film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday deals with Billie Holiday fighting for her rights as a songwriter and entertainer.
Billie Holiday (Andra Day) is a jazz/pop singer in the early 19th century. She is widely considered one of the best ever in her genre of music. She is famous for singing the controversial song "Strange Fruit" which talks about the oppression of African-American people in this country in the past and present. The FBI has it out for her and won't let her sing that song at any concert without repercussions. The lead agent in charge is Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund). He will stop at nothing to prevent Holiday from singing that song.
Day gives an incredible performance as this woman dealing with personal struggles with her relationships, drug addiction, and the government having it out on her. This is one of the most gritty biopics I have ever seen. These films can be preachy or sappy and this one is neither. It gives an eye-opening look at a woman and her life that has rarely been seen before. Lady Sings the Blues was a previous film about Billie Holiday starring Diana Ross. It's nowhere near as good as this film is. It's not hard to compare.
Lee Daniels has had a rough go of it lately. His early films Precious and The Butler garnered a lot of critical and financial success. The Paperboy not so much. He ended up getting into the television game with Empire and Star as series creator and writer. His return to big Hollywood films is quite an achievement. He captured this world that Holiday lives in very nicely. It looked like it's lived in and was real. That's very effective in getting this hard-hitting story across. Daniels has a winner on his hands this time.
I am a fan of a great musical biopic. The best of the genre can capture the ups and downs in these artists' histories. They get to the crux of these performers. The United States vs. Billie Holiday is no different. This film doesn't shy away from the physical abuse she goes through at the hands of her multiple husbands or the intravenous drug use/addiction and eventual death of Holiday. It's painful to watch at times throughout the film.
This film has a vast cast of actors playing various people in Holiday's life and she penetrates as well as the FBI. Another standout is Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) as Jimmy Fletcher, an FBI agent who has feelings for Holiday. He was torn between his duty for his government and his love for Holiday. Leslie Jordan plays a radio show host that interviews Holiday and Daniels use this interview as a framing device. His character doesn't shy away from asking the hard questions.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday is one of the best biopics I've seen in recent memory. It gets to the hard-hitting topics and tackles them very adeptly. This film isn't for the lighthearted. Andra Day deserves all the critical praise she's getting because this performance is one of the best of the year. Daniels has assembled all the pieces for a very good look at the tragic life of this amazing singer Billie Holiday.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday streams on Hulu beginning February 26.