Review by Paris Jade
The Bubble tells the story of a cast and crew trying to make a sequel to a blockbuster franchise amid the global pandemic of COVID-19. The cast and crew quarantine inside a luxurious hotel, slowly driving themselves insane. This film is your cliché pandemic movie. You enter and immediately are immersed back into good ol' 2020, everyone's favorite year. Whoever thought it was a good idea to make films set in one of the worst years of all of our lives, congratulations, you've created a new movie genre for people to hate.
The film begins by introducing the movie's main character Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan) being offered the sequel to a franchise. This is a fine setup. You're intrigued, and it pulls you. Who doesn't love a film about making a film? Unless, of course, you aren't into the meta-ness of it all. However, as the film drags on, it gets worse and worse. By the end of the movie, you don't know what just happened. It is a rollercoaster ride of a film, and you will most definitely be in shock the whole way through. As you keep watching, you forget that it's all one movie because the plot changes and gets wilder every 10 minutes.
The most entertaining aspect was the movie they were making in the film. It looked absolutely ridiculous, but you kind of want to watch it. This movie is so bad that you just have to hate-watch it. Other than that, the film is quite comedic. It's a bad movie with bad comedy, but you somehow end up enjoying it. Certain scenes are so bad you just have to laugh because what else are you supposed to do? The special effects look pretty low-budget, but it's on purpose for comedic effect, so you could say they are good. Director Apatow only has his comedy to rely on, with films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin under his belt.
If you need a quick, cheap laugh and want a bad film to watch, The Bubble is that movie. However, if you're not in the mood to hate-watch something because you'd rather love the world and not be reminded of the horror that was 2020, please skip out on watching this film. It's not the worst movie out there, and it will be a guilty pleasure to watch when you are feeling low, but remember that there are other films.
The Bubble streams on Netflix beginning April 1.
Review by Adam Donato
The Contractor is about the story of an ex-military man, James Harper, who finds himself in a tight spot when the family bills start piling up and he is out of a job. In a moment of desperation, Harper takes a gig as a private contractor in an effort to save his family from financial ruin. Chris Pine stars as Harper, with Gillian Jacobs from Community playing his wife. Ben Foster and Kiefer Sutherland round out the rest of the stars as they are the men who work with Pine on his mission. Can Chris Pine complete his mission and get back to his life with his family?
Every single year, Liam Neeson makes a movie or two exactly like this, but this one is much better. First of all, Pine is of the appropriate age to pull off an action role like this. Not to mention it’s nice to see Pine leading a movie again as he has mostly been reserved for supporting roles as of late. He does a very good job in this role as his character is really put through the wringer here. His character is relatable and brutal at times, but when he shines is when he is emotionally freaking out due to his circumstance. It’s a very sad movie and his character is ultimately sympathetic.
Ben Foster acted opposite Pine in Hell or High Water, where they were electric together. Here, their chemistry remains the same. His character finds himself in a similar situation as Pine and their scenes together are the best in the movie. Sutherland plays their commanding officer in this mission and his worldview is interesting enough to justify his reason for sending these men on this mission. Jacobs is the standard wife who is concerned about her husband going off to war.
Running at just over 100 minutes, the brief runtime of the movie is one of its strengths. The mission, despite taking place over a couple days, feels like a non-stop rollercoaster. The quick pace of the movie compliments the action well. It would be very easy for a movie like this to have an extra thirty minutes of filler, but this generic action flick gets straight to the point. This makes for a solid viewing experience.
There’s nothing new here at all. The Contractor is a very standard action flick every step of the way. Chris Pine works well enough as the lead that viewers should be invested in his character. Slap Tom Clancy’s name on the poster and would be the perfect movie to throw on cable for your dad. It's nothing special, but not bad at all.
The Contractor hits theaters and VOD on April 1.
Review by Sean Boelman
British espionage thrillers are traditionally one of the most stoic and refined genres, and so it is nice to see one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The Apple TV+ series Slow Horses doesn’t have the most unpredictable plot, but a great cast and a novel approach make this an entertaining watch.
The series follows a group of MI5 agents who were rejected from the main ranks of the service and relegated to the sidelines in the hopes that they would just quit as they get wrapped up in a conspiracy that is bigger than anything they have ever worked before. Mick Herron’s novel, upon which the show is based, was released back in 2010, when this would have been a timelier spoof of a genre that was still at its peak.
However, in its lean six-episode run, writer Will Smith (who worked with satirist filmmaker Armando Iannucci on The Thick of It) has managed to spin a web that explores more about bureaucracy than anything in recent memory. And there is plenty of potential for this to be explored even further in future entries.
The comedy of the series is very subtle, and unlike some of Smith’s other work, probably won’t leave you rolling. But it has an acerbic wit to it that makes the satire even punchier. The tone, combined with the action that is surprisingly good for a project that crosses genres, makes up for the genericism in the plot itself.
Granted, the series does peak early with its action. The first scene of the first episode is the most memorable of the season, setting the bar so unreasonably high that the rest of the show doesn’t quite reach it. But the climactic action sequence does pay off quite well, bringing everything about the show’s mood together quite well.
Although the band of misfits that makes up the eponymous group is a bit on the archetypal side, they are certainly very endearing and lovable. It’s a group dynamic that is developed quickly and easy to buy into, especially if you’ve ever found comfort with other people who have been just as rejected as you.
Jack Lowden finally gets to be a leading man, and he shows here that he has the chops to be the next big action hero. Hopefully he will continue to get substantial roles like this and not be relegated to B-movie hell like so many are after they first show their worth. Gary Oldman is also great here, doing something very different than usual, even if his role isn’t as hefty as one would like.
Slow Horses is going to be a sleeper hit for Apple TV+. It’s an intelligent, well-acted, and perhaps most importantly, entertaining entry into a genre that all too often feels inaccessible in its approach.
Slow Horses streams on Apple TV+ beginning April 1, with new episodes streaming subsequent Fridays. All six episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
Genre fans often look to IFC Midnight to put out some of the most daring horror flicks of the year, but every once in a while, they put out something that seems like they acquired it more due to its marketability and to meet a release quota. Barbarians isn’t a bad film — just an overwhelmingly dull one that doesn’t do anything with its potentially intriguing themes.
The movie takes place over a heated night in which two couples come together for a dinner party only for things to begin to escalate out of control. Dirty laundry is aired, secrets are revealed, and tensions arise between supposed friends, but everything feels so overwhelmingly telegraphed that you won’t care about any of it.
If one good thing can be said about the film, it is that it is mercifully short. At a mere ninety minutes, it’s not a lot to sit through even if what you have to sit through isn’t all that interesting. This has been billed as a dark comedy, but there’s really not anything that funny about it; calling it a comedy just seems to be an excuse for all the people in the movie to be absolutely detestable.
It’s clearly very intentional that all four of the main characters are unlikable to some extent, but they exaggerate it to such an extent that it is simply unapproachable. And perhaps even worse, the dynamic between the four characters isn’t compelling or believable, and this is meant to be the crux of the film.
The cast of the movie is likely going to be its main draw. Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones), Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey), and Connor Swindells (Sex Education) all have roles, and may draw the fanbases of their respective shows to this film, but the roles that they are given don’t take advantage of their talents.
This had the potential to be a satire of social class, and yet it’s virtually toothless in its themes. The script is more interested in revealing the secrets that the characters have that will push the plot along than it is in the reasons that this plot is even happening in the first place. And for a movie that’s basically two-thirds just people talking, they need to have something to talk about.
The blocking and camerawork of the film is fine enough, but there’s nothing that really makes this stand out from other close-quarters chamber pieces. Movies like this really need to emphasize the claustrophobia of the situation, but the film doesn’t believably create any tension whatsoever.
Barbarians is a forgettable thriller that is disappointingly lacking in substance. It’s a movie that is undeniably competent in its execution yet is so insignificant that you will forget it by the time the credits roll.
Barbarians hits theaters and VOD on April 1.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Charles Murray is a writer-director known for projects such as Luke Cage, Things Never Said, and A Cold Hard Truth, all television shows and movies focusing on the urban family and crime experience. His latest film, The Devil You Know, is another urban crime drama. He seems to know this world pretty well, but he has more invested in this story.
Marquis Cowans (Omar Epps) is a recovering alcoholic who is part of a big African-American family. He starts to get his life right when he meets a new girl (Erica Tazel, Justified) and gets a job as a bus driver. While at a family gathering, his brother Drew Cowans (William Catlett) gets drunk, and he helps him home. While there, he shows him a book full of baseball cards he got from a friend. When he watches the news, he sees the cards were involved in a murder/burglary. This puts him in a difficult situation.
This film has a very dramatic storyline involving a family dynamic. This family has dealt with a lot of trauma over the years. This situation is just another in a long line of difficulties they have had to deal with. Like most families, the drama follows them around. Murray leans in on his work experience with this genre to create a world of hardships for this family. He also used his own family experiences to help tell this story. It's a pretty typical storyline for this genre of film.
The cast is full of actors and actresses that have been in these types of films before. Michael Ealy (The Intruder, Fatale) plays a police detective trying to figure out what's going on with the case. He's caught in the middle between Epps and Catlett's characters and another case he's working on. Ealy has proven that he's a capable actor in these types of roles over the decades. Glynn Turman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) plays Epos and Catlett's character's father. He's involved in the drama of the situation, and it doesn't do his health any good. Theo Rossi (Army of the Dead, Luke Cage) is one of Catlett's character's friends. He may have to do with everything Ealy's detective is investigating. The entire cast does an adequate job in this film.
As far as crime stories go, this is a pretty rudimentary story. Once you get past the family dynamic, it's pretty straightforward. How the writer/director Murray gets from point a to point z is interesting but not too hard to figure out if you are watching along with the film pretty closely. The baseball cards are a MacGuffin that ties everything together. The family drama is just a means to an end for the filmmaker. When you boil it down to the brass tax, it's not a complex story. This is just an excuse to make this film when it comes down to it. Murray puts a lot of himself and his life into this film.
The film had a good look to it. The cinematography and score were both excellent. The major problem I had with the film was its length. Once I figured out what was going on with the characters and the story, it wasn't too long before I felt bored in this world. Various family gatherings and meetings at a hospital for different family emergencies stretched this film's running time to about two hours. That was too long because the mystery of the case was solved in my eyes. The filmmaker kept having these conversations between characters to lengthen the story for some unknown reason. It wasn't necessary. This film should have been a half-hour shorter.
The Devil You Know is a film that tries to turn brother against brother like in the Bible. It suggests that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't but then doesn't use that theory to help tell the story better. It gets bogged down in too many interpersonal conversations about needless things instead of getting to the story's heart. The acting and look of the film are all pretty good, but the lengths are what drag the movie to a crawl at times. This film would have been better if it were about a half-hour shorter, and it needed editing to help tell a tighter story in the end.
The Devil You Know hits theaters on April 1.
Review by Sean Boelman
Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel takes stories that are well-known and peels beneath their surface to reveal something deeper about his own society. His newest film, Nitram, treads a fine line, exploring the lead-up to one of the most devastating tragedies in the history of Australia, and it does so in a way that is quite tormenting.
The movie follows an isolated man whose crumbling psyche, combined with his increasing loneliness and anger, push him down a path of darkness culminating in the Port Arthur mass shooting. It’s a tough film to watch, and questions will certainly be posed about whether or not this is a necessary and appropriate approach to this story, and the truth is there is no easy answer.
Kurzel and co. have taken special care to make sure that the movie is as respectful to the victims of this tragedy as possible. The perpetrator’s real name is never mentioned in the film as to not allow him to gain fame for committing such atrocities. Yet the idea of a movie that could easily be misconstrued as humanizing someone who did such heinous acts will rub some people the wrong way.
There’s no doubt that the film is not trying to make the character sympathetic, much less some sort of hero. However, it is a critique of a broken system which caused him to spiral down such a dark rabbit hole. The scene in the movie that will likely stick with viewers for a long time discusses the problems with lack of gun control in Australia.
Caleb Landry Jones gives a performance that is impressively deranged. It’s a turn that isn’t easy to stomach, but that is clearly the point — he is supposed to be making us feel uncomfortable. You can tell that the combination of Kurzel’s skill in directing actors and Jones’s in bringing these characters to life is what made this film tick.
In fact, the entire atmosphere here is one of general unease. Even when things are “going right” for the character, the viewer can’t escape that feeling that something is amiss. Granted, a big part of this is the feeling of dread, knowing exactly where this story is taking us and what is going to happen (albeit off-camera).
But Kurzel’s visual style in the movie also lends itself to this discomfort. It’s a look that feels dilapidated and worn, which both periodizes the film well and creates something that almost resembles disorientation. As the character loses his grip on reality, everything starts to become more hectic and explosive.
Nitram isn’t an easy movie to dissect, but it is one that lends itself to discussion. There will certainly be a fair share of people who are not a fan of what it does, and understandably so, but its message is important and delivered in a way that is mostly effective.
Nitram hits theaters, VOD, and AMC+ on March 30.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Bull had its premiere at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival and played multiple festivals since then. This movie comes from writer/director Paul Andrew Williams, who has directed some critically acclaimed British television (Broadchurch) among other projects.
The titular character, Bull, is a former mob worker. After being absent for 10 years, he suddenly returns to his hometown on a quest of revenge against those who double-crossed him. In addition to seeking revenge against this gang of people, he is also trying to find his son. This premise is resonant of many other revenge thrillers we have seen in recent years like John Wick, Nobody, and most recently, Clean. While it’s a set up that is overused, it’s one that can always still be interesting if it is executed properly.
Despite having such an accomplished writer working on the film, the script is one of the biggest weaknesses of the movie. It does little beyond setting up the main story and motivation and letting the action and blood do the rest. It doesn’t do much to develop its lead character beyond surface level exposition, and this prevents the audience from feeling fully invested in the journey of the protagonist.
The film is led by Neil Maskell who is decent more than anything else. As the titular character, he is able to interact well with his co-stars, and while he’s no superstar in the action department, it’s hard to deny that he is enjoyable to watch in the more intense moments of the film. The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable and stays in the shadows of Maskell’s character.
While most of the movie feels bland, it is saved by its action. The only thing that prevents this film from being completely forgettable is its unrelenting violence. Bull’s path of revenge isn’t clean or pretty, and the movie does a great job of not straying away from the gruesome violence that makes this such an enjoyable genre. The lack of substance and originality is most definitely compensated by the film’s willingness to show the limits of human violence and cruelty.
Bull is a mostly enjoyable revenge thriller that is still plagued by many problems. Fans of the revenge thriller genre might enjoy the blood and gore of this film. However, those looking for a revenge drama with deep themes and development might find themselves underwhelmed.
Bull is in theaters April 1 and on VOD April 5.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Night’s End is a new movie from horror director Jennifer Reeder and writer Brett Neveu. Some might know Reeder from her film Knives and Skin or her segment in the film V/H/S/94. This film had its premiere a few weeks ago at FrightFest Glasgow before its premiere on Shudder. Unfortunately, this film lacks originality and is void of thrills or a sense of fear.
Ken is a reclusive man who moves into an apartment. However, strange occurrences lead him to believe his apartment is haunted which causes him to seek out an exorcism. Haunted abodes and subsequent exorcisms are overused tropes in horror, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t viable. This movie does try and modernize the concept in its own way, but it falls flat and just feels like its treading the same water as better movies that came before it.
Since the protagonist is a shut-in, a lot of the movie is told in the context of online video calls. This is a storytelling device that has been seen a lot in recent years, even more so because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the only way in which the film tries to significantly carve its own path for exorcism-based horror movies, but it doesn’t work very well. The online video call doesn’t blend will with the premise of the movie, and it mostly leads to the film feeling less scary as a whole.
The entire cast of the movie is painfully forgettable. Geno Walker leads the film as Ken, but he isn’t given great material to work with, and his interpretation of the character never feels believable. The only significant cast member is Michael Shannon who is uncharacteristically bland in this movie among an equally bland cast of supporting characters.
The movie is plagued with problems throughout. Its pace is sluggish despite being a very short movie, and none of the execution feels particularly motivated. It tries to blend the mundanity of a recluse with the intensity of a haunting, but it never mixes well, and it creates a muddled tonal mess. As mentioned before, the video call angle subverts the earnestness of its premise and ultimately robs the film of its potential to scare audiences.
Night’s End is a bland horror film that is more forgettable than anything. They try and put their own spin on the haunting and exorcism tropes, but it consistently falls flat. The cast is bland, and the execution is sloppy and doesn’t properly blend the different elements of the movie.
Night’s End is streaming on Shudder March 31.
Review by Camden Ferrell
It has been over a year since the first MCU show premiered on Disney+, and their universe is still expanding with their most recent effort. Moon Knight is their newest series and the first attempt at a live-action adaptation of the iconic character. Even if the series isn’t as subversive or fresh as intended, this is still an enjoyable series with great performances, exciting action, and an overall strong introduction to the MCU for this character.
Steven Grant is a mostly average museum gift shop employee. However, he has found himself blacking out and having memories of a different life. As he learns more about the atypical encounters he’s been experiencing, he finds himself thrust into a perilous global adventure. On this journey, he learns more about his own perplexing identities and greater forces at play in Egypt. This is a premise that incorporates a lot of the main defining traits of the character while also giving him a story that is bigger in scope than his comic book outings.
Jeremy Slater is the head writer for the show, and he does a mostly strong job crafting this story and its characters. It can often find itself hitting the same narrative beats as other MCU properties, but every episode has the occasional surprising moment that will keep audiences on their toes. In the promotion of the show, those involved have insisted that the show leans heavily into the dissociative identity disorder of the protagonist, and this is handled very well. The show is built heavily around the character’s DID, and it allows the story to set itself apart from other Marvel properties.
In addition to the mental illness aspects of the show, it was also promised to be brutal and unrelenting in its violence. I found that this was only partly true. While it is one of the more violent entries in the MCU thus far, it isn’t nearly as gruesome or shocking as it seems to think it is. A lot of the violence feels implied or limited by the show’s rating. However, one of the most interesting parts of the show is how it combines the DID elements with violence to create a unique method of storytelling that hasn’t been seen in the MCU so far.
While there are a lot of moving parts in this production, it is undeniable that the show’s acting is its strongest asset. The series is led by Oscar Isaac who puts all of his energy into his interpretation of Moon Knight. He is great for the most part, really dedicating himself to the DID aspects of the show as well as the costumed action. His co-star, May Calamawy, is a pleasant surprise in the show. She has great chemistry with Isaac and is an unexpected delight. However, even though the show has multiple great performances, everybody is outacted by Ethan Hawke. As the show’s antagonist, Hawke delivers one of Marvel’s best performances ever. He is haunting, calculated, and sinister in his role as Arthur Carrow, and he is by far and away the most memorable part of the show.
Indie directing duo, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, as well as director Mohamed Diab helm this new series. The overall tone of the series feels uniquely grim most of the time, but it can’t always free itself from the MCU’s trademark humor and style. While it makes an honest attempt at feeling distinct and subversive for a Marvel property, it only partially succeeds at that. There are a handful of truly stunning shots and sequences, as a whole, the execution of the series only feels slightly above average more times than not.
Even if its far from perfect, this show is a step in the right direction for the MCU’s brand. It shows that they are not afraid of taking risks and trusting their directors with rich characters like Moon Knight. Moon Knight’s unique history since his comic debut in 1975 has consistently proven there’s more than one way to use and develop this character, and this show is no different. It retains some key traits of the character while also trying to forge a new path for a new audience.
Moon Knight may take a little while to hit its stride, but by its fourth episode, it has set up some really exciting things that will captivate fans. I think many will enjoy how it incorporates the character’s mental illness into the series and keeps you guessing. This may not be Marvel’s strongest project, but it is one of their most unique, and it’s one that will hopefully win over new fans for the character.
Moon Knight premieres on Disney+ March 30. New episodes debut on Wednesdays. Four out of six episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
Tim Federle is best-known as the creator of the wildly popular High School Musical: The Musical — The Series, and his directorial debut Better Nate Than Ever is going to tap into much of the same audience. And while it does take a bit of time for the film to find its groove, once it does, it’s one of the most charming family movie to grace the screen (big or small) in a while.
The film tells the story of a boy who lives in a small Midwestern town but dreams of becoming a Broadway star as he sneaks out for an impromptu trip to New York City to audition for the role of his dreams. Like a theater-lover’s version of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, it’s a movie that will win over a lot of hearts.
The first twenty or so minutes of the film are absolutely cringe-worthy, as the way in which it presents the protagonist’s rejection in his hometown is ridiculously cheesy. But once he actually makes it to the Big Apple, he’ll win over the love of the audience, much like he wins over the hearts of everyone he meets along the way.
There are also some other things about the movie that are a bit on the distracting side. The fact that the film revolves around a Broadway musical adaptation of Lilo and Stitch is corporate synergy at its worst, and there are more than a few moments in the movie which are heightened for dramatic effect.
Rueby Wood gives his first-ever performance in the leading role, and the kid’s a natural. He does an exceptional job of bringing all of the qualities of the character to life, from the annoying to the charming, and the result is wonderfully endearing. And Lisa Kudrow gives a touching, if somewhat generic performance as the supportive aunt.
One of the best things about this film is its wonderful message about pursuing one’s dreams despite the odds. Granted, going on an unsupervised trip to New York City might not make Nate one of the greatest role models in the world, but the core story here is one about finding one’s calling and sticking with it no matter what discouragement you may face.
The musical bits of the movie are charming, even if they aren’t entirely memorable. The scene that will seal the deal for audiences if they aren’t already convinced by that point is an infectiously energetic rendition of George Benson’s “On Broadway”. And the first big musical fantasy sequence is fun to watch.
Better Nate Than Ever is the type of film that gives you several reasons that you probably shouldn’t like it, and yet, it’s so wholesome and charming that you will be won over by the end. Disney+ is the perfect platform for this, because it will become the family sensation of this spring.
Better Nate Than Ever streams on Disney+ beginning April 1.