Review by Sean Boelman
Executive produced by Cooper Raiff (the filmmaker behind this year’s Sundance sensation Cha Cha Real Smooth), Sophia Silver’s coming-of-age film Over/Under is an indie gem debuting on the festival circuit. Wholesome and warm-hearted, even if it isn’t too unconventional, this nonetheless heralds the arrival of an interesting new voice on the scene.
The movie follows two inseparable best friends who spend a series of several summers growing up, growing both together and apart in unexpected ways. It’s a pretty standard coming-of-age film, down to the very run-of-the-mill framing device that it uses, but it is the sincerity with which the script — co-written by Silver and Sianni Rosenstock — is written that makes it effective.
With a runtime of under an hour and a half and solid pacing, the movie breezes by. Still, there are some tonal inconsistencies in the film that are perhaps a bit troubling. Some of the segments are much more on the awkward, comedic side, whereas others are more somber and dramatic. It’s a balancing act, and while it’s clear that the movie is trying to capture the volatility of real life, it doesn’t quite succeed in doing so.
The conversations between the characters explore many of the common themes of growing up — identity, sexuality, responsibility, etc. — but it doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the discussion. Yet even though there have been other films to discuss these ideas frankly before, they are so universal that movies can continue to explore them in poignant ways.
The film’s success really hinges around the central friendship between the two characters, and Silver and Rosenstock do an exceptional job of building this dynamic. It’s a really complex friendship that they share, and one that is hard to capture in a way that feels authentic and not cheesy, but it’s been done exceptionally well here.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this movie is the fact that the two lead performances are both phenomenal. Emajean Bullock and Anastasia Veronica Lee are both very talented child actors, bringing their all to the roles and having exceptional chemistry together. Even more astounding is that they seem entirely comfortable in their characters’ skin, something that is exceedingly unusual for actors their age.
Stylistically, Silver’s direction is nice and warm, although it isn’t anything particularly original. You can tell that there is a sentimentality and nostalgia for the days of childhood in her approach, and it’s quite infectious. Silver’s voice behind the camera seemingly isn’t fully developed yet, but it is her debut after all.
Over/Under is a sweet little movie, and even if it doesn’t do anything particularly new within the genre, it’s a decently-made entry. Sophia Silver has made something charming and promising, and it will be exciting to see what she does next.
Over/Under debuted at the 2022 San Francisco Film Festival.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Based on Sergey Fetisov’s memoir, The Story of Roman, Firebird is a new romantic war drama. It is the feature directorial debut of Peeter Rebane and has played at numerous festivals around the world since it premiered in 2021. This is an honest and true story, but aside from a pretty great and cathartic ending, the rest of the movie doesn’t feel like it’s as compelling as it could have been.
Sergey is a young man in the early days of his military service. One day, he meets a fighter pilot named Roman. Together, they navigate the line between friendship and love. In addition to this, they form a love triangle with the secretary to the base commander, and they all face turmoil in their own lives due to this ordeal. This is a great story with lots of layers and unique characters each with their own set of woes. On paper, this is a great foundation for a movie to make a moving and emotional story out of.
The writing for this movie is a bit of a mixed bag. It handles the romance aspects of the characters very well, but when it comes to creating the backdrop of Communist-ruled Estonia, it feels flat. In addition to that, the characters don’t feel fully fleshed out at times, and this makes it hard to feel particularly invested in their relationships. The movie also feels slow and unevenly paced at times, and this can prevent the audience from getting invested early on.
The acting in the movie is above average. Tom Prior, Oleg Zagorodnii, and Diana Pozharskaya star as Sergey, Roman, and Luisa respectively. They all have good chemistry and none of them outperform the others, but it feels too reserved in the first half of the movie. By the final act, they each are able to perform very well with the catharsis and drama of those moments.
Overall, the movie has such a strong ending but is brought down from the start by an underwhelming set up. Rebane has proven that he knows how to achieve truly emotional moments, but his next goal should be to make something more consistent in quality and execution.
Despite its flaws, some may find themselves thoroughly engaged by this war era romance. Being based on a true story, there is some authenticity present, but the movie doesn’t know how to capitalize on it until it’s too late. Regardless, there are more good things happening than bad, but it’s still underwhelming considering its source material.
Firebird is in theaters April 29.
MEMORY -- Liam Neeson Doesn’t Stop
Review by Adam Donato
Liam Neeson is about a month away from being seventy years old. It’s the last weekend of April and he is going on his second action flick of the year. Blacklight came out around Valentine’s Day the same weekend as two other pretty decent entries. Unexpectedly (or perhaps not), it was a massive bomb. With a $43 million dollar budget, which is absolutely insane, the worldwide box office total of $15 million is just pathetic. Memory should fare much better for a few different reasons.
First of all, it has the weekend all to itself. That being said, this weekend is the calm before the storm in the form of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Not to mention, last weekend saw three movies release to much critical applause, which is not ideal for Memory at the box office. Maybe the saving grace of Memory is the director, Martin Campbell. Many will be quick to mention that Campbell directed Casino Royale almost two decades ago. Even though the director is more recently responsible for Green Lantern, the last few years have been kind of a resurgence with The Foreigner and The Protegé. Can Memory keep the ball rolling for Campbell?
The film is a remake of a Belgian film called The Memory of a Killer back in 2003. This may be the reason why this premise feels so tired. It doesn’t help that Liam Neeson once again suits up as an assassin who wants out of the game because he loves his family. At least this movie has his age play a factor into the plot besides the idea that he wants to retire. It’s hard to say that Liam Neeson does a bad job in this. He’s just doing the same crap that he does several times a year for at least the last decade. I can’t imagine anyone feeling passionate about this movie in particular in any way, shape or form.
The interesting aspects about this movie are the supporting players. Guy Pearce is always a delight. He carries the majority of the movie despite his character being such a standard detective. Monica Bellucci is an all-time babe, but she turns in the weakest performance of the big names. Campbell’s direction is definitely above average in comparison to the pantheon of stock Liam Neeson action flicks, but there’s still nothing special about Memory.
Memory is certainly not the worst of the Liam Neeson action flicks, but there’s little to make it stand out amongst the bunch. If you see this movie, expect to be in a theater with a few scattered elderly couples. This movie will bomb at the box office and while it may not be the most deserving, it does not deserve to be defended. It’s old people wish fulfillment and if Neeson is your cup of tea then this would be a fine trip to the theater. Hopefully a second box office flop will deter Neeson for making audiences sit through the same exact movie twice a year.
Memory hits theaters on April 29.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Apple TV+'s latest series, Shining Girls, is a lofty amalgamation of sci-fi, thriller, and mystery based on the 2013 novel by Lauren Beukes. The plot centers around Kirby Mazrachi, a research assistant in Chicago who was violently assaulted six years earlier. Through her connections at work and a recent murder that mirrors her own assault, she begins to piece together a series of murders that span decades and warp her understanding of time.
Kirby, who is played by TV drama veteran Elisabeth Moss, is a resilient character who overshadows the rest of the characters in the show. Her partner-in-crime, reporter Dan intends to be more than he ends up being, and his final moments in the series are lackluster as a result. While their dynamic is crucial to Kirby solving the mystery of her assaulter's identity, Dan is primarily just a device to Kirby instead of being his own developed character. Other characters in the series, such as Philippa Soo's Jin-Sook, don't appear important during their introduction, but their presence becomes imperative to the storyline as time shifts.
Shining Girls's multi-dimensional storyline is both its saving grace as well as its downfall. It bends the usual detective/thriller story and aids in characterizing Kirby's trauma response to her assault. As her health and career are derailed by injury, so is the rest of her life as she loses experiences with those she loves and turns into someone she doesn't know. While being a great vehicle for the story of Kirby's growth, time travel in the series is also captivating as she tries to catch Harper, the villain of the story, as he slips through time and away from her.
Compared to the novel by Beukes, Shining Girls harps more on the mystery aspect of the storyline, allowing the audience to get inside the head of Kirby. As she unravels Harper's actions, so does the audience. This is a beneficial derision from the book, but it takes up time and hinders the show's pacing. By episode six of the eight-episode season, the truth of the aspects of time travel is finally revealed, but they are done so in a singular episode. This episode is primarily a series of flashbacks focused on Harper that feels out of place with the rest of the series. While this episode goes into how time travel works, the show later fails to explain the multi-dimensional aspects or Harper's motives beyond his general hatred of women.
Shining Girls takes its time, with each episode spanning about an hour, yet it ends with much more to be desired. Since Apple TV+ presents it as an ongoing series, there is a chance for any unanswered details to be developed later, and perhaps a season two will improve upon some of the flaws of this season.
Shining Girls premiers on Apple TV+ on April 29th with new episodes released subsequent Fridays. All eight episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
International films on streaming services are severely hit-or-miss; for every auteur-driven passion project, there’s a movie that’s content being pumped out for its own country and getting a platform here. Lisa Azuelos’s romantic comedy I Love America is certainly the latter, a film that is the very definition of unimpressive.
The movie follows a single, middle-aged Parisian woman who experiences a midlife crisis when she enters the dating pool in Los Angeles. Although the film is never explicitly autobiographical, the fact that the protagonist is a movie director named Lisa probably means that there is some personal angle to this — even if the extremely cliched script wouldn’t imply that.
Thankfully, the film is mercifully short at only an hour and forty minutes. The pacing is mostly breezy, which allows it to be pleasant even when it isn’t all that funny. Many of the gags in the movie are obvious — aiming for the low-hanging fruit in an attempt to get an easy chuckle rather than go for genuine wit.
While the title implies that this might have something insightful to say about the immigrant experience and assimilating to American culture, this is just a largely inconsequential romantic comedy. It isn’t even all that insightful about the modern dating scene in America, with just a few quips about dating apps and nothing more.
The characters in the film are nearly insufferable. Many of these midlife crisis movies are about selfish people learning to grow out of their shell and care for other people, and although the protagonist here does that, the character is so annoying that it’s hard to get over. And weren’t we past the days of having a stereotypically gay sidekick?
The only thing that manages to barely keep this movie afloat is its cast. Sophie Marceau is a gifted actress who has had a pretty well-respected career, and why she ended up in something trite like this, the world will never know. But she elevates it to something that is more than movie of the week material. Colin Woodell (of The Flight Attendant fame) is charming enough to be the love interest, even if he’s nothing more than eye candy.
Azuelos’s film is also severely lacking from a stylistic standpoint. For a standard streaming romantic comedy, it’s passable (if only just), but it’s clear that Azuelos wanted this to be something more. A few moments have some inspired soundtrack choices, but apart from that, its style is just ditziness, which gets old quickly.
I Love America isn’t really odious in any way, but it does feel like a waste of time. It’s a romantic comedy the likes of which you have seen dozens of times before, and apart from a solid performance from Sophie Marceau, there’s nothing about it that’s special.
I Love America streams on Prime Video beginning April 29.
Review by Paris Jade
As we've reached the year 2022, it's finally time for more queer films to rise into the industry. The world's latest LGBTQ+ flick is Crush, presented by Hulu. Thank you, Hulu, for giving the queer community the representation it needs, from Love, Victor in 2020 to now with Crush. Crush is positively directed at Generation Z, which isn't always a bad thing if you can pull it off right, and this film does.
This is honestly a simple, cheesy teen romantic comedy. It's a very predictable film as the plot goes; it's like any other romantic comedy. There are a few awkward moments in the dialogue, but some of it makes you laugh anyways. It goes through all the clichés. The main character, Paige (Rowan Blanchard), has an overbearingly supportive mother, a cheeky best friend, and of course, a crush on the most popular girl in school. If that's not the plot of every teen rom-com, then what movies have you been watching? The only difference is that it's queer. However, this does not make it a bad film. If you are a queer teen and love a good cliché film, this could be the film for you. It's incredibly relatable as a queer teen. Half of the things that Paige says in the movie are things said by almost any queer teen, which makes it so great and feel real. A great example is a joke that any queer teen has made regarding "the straightest thing they could do," which the main character makes.
This type of representation should be presented in more queer films. It's real, and it feels normal. Yes, the main character is a lesbian, but that is not what the plot is about. The main story is about someone blaming Paige for spray painting the school and putting graffiti everywhere. She decides to investigate and find the actual perpetrator, called the King Pun. She just so happens to have a crush on the most popular girl in school, which is the film's B plot. It's one of the more casual representations in a movie where her sexuality isn't her entire personality — a tendency in Hollywood which is most definitely annoying.
This casting was great. Rowan Blanchard did a fantastic job of playing a socially anxious lesbian; of course, she does identify as queer herself. Paige is a very cute and funny character. Her quirky way of having conversations makes you laugh. Anytime she is in an awkward conversation, she makes a weird fun fact that makes the other person uncomfortable. It's honestly adorable, and you can't help but laugh. The rest of the cast has excellent chemistry. They work incredibly well together. If you need a good cheesy laugh, don't want to watch anything serious, and are a queer teen looking for some refreshing representation, then Crush is the film to see.
Crush releases on Hulu on April 29th
Review by Sean Boelman
In its first season, the HBO Max romantic comedy/sci-fi series Made for Love proved to be an intriguing if messy satire. But now that the show has been able to settle on the quirkiness of the source material, it’s finally getting the chance to shine, allowing it to be something genuinely special.
Picking up after the events of the first season, the series now follows the protagonist as she has returned with her lunatic tech mogul husband to “The Hub”, his isolated and futuristic virtual reality compound. There’s a lot more to this season than the last, as gags turn into legitimate subplots and unexpected depth is added to character arcs that make them much more compelling.
For this second season, the book’s author Alyssa Nutting steps up to the plate to be a showrunner, and that may have been the factor to bring the show to its A-game. The humor feels so much sharper here, the storylines so much more intricate, and the satire is so much more aggressive. The result is a much more enjoyable watch.
The show isn’t particularly subtle about exactly who it is poking fun at — the tyrannical mogul and his company are quite literally named Gogol, as if anyone wouldn’t immediately figure out the connotation of that — but these mega-corporations have enough money that they can take a little heat.
Interestingly, the series does not go the direction of adding new characters, but instead uses this additional time to build deeper into the existing characters, which was a very wise move. A lot of comedy shows tend to try to add even more high-profile comedians their second time around, but Nutting et al. realized that the thing that really makes their show work is its commentary and writing.
Cristin Milioti and Billy Magnussen again knock it out of the park in their roles, with a tension between the two of them that is palpable and constantly feels like it is about to explode. And thankfully, Ray Romano feels much more effectively utilized here, getting some genuinely funny moments of his own rather than just being the butt of the joke.
The fact that a majority of this season (at least in the first four episodes) occurs inside The Hub allows the series to dive even deeper into its sci-fi vibes. It’s a fascinating world that they are building, and while some of the effects look a bit wonky, it fits given the nature of what they are supposed to represent.
Made for Love had a first season that showed it had a lot of potential, and this second season delivers on it in a way that is much funnier and much sharper. Like a lot of other comedy television shows, this started out a bit uneven, but once it was able to find its rhythm and footing, it became so much more tightly-written.
Made for Love debuts on HBO Max on April 28 with new episodes debuting subsequent Thursdays. Four out of eight episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
Films about filmmaking are often delightful for those who have a love for the cinema, having led to some of the finest movies ever made (just see Sunset Boulevard or La La Land for some easy examples), but there has to be something else in the equation for it to stand out. Unfortunately, Pompo the Cinephile just doesn’t have a compelling enough story outside its meta elements to truly work.
As the title suggests, this is a film that is made for people who are deeply invested in the silver screen, meaning that casual moviegoers will likely be put off by the extent to which this is obsessed with filmmaking. It tells the story of a production assistant who gets his first chance to direct a movie when a famous producer entrusts him with her beloved script, and the result is as chaotic as one would expect.
However, for anyone hoping that this would be a satire in the style of The Producers that lampoons the excesses of the industry will be sorely disappointed, as it gets too caught up in being an ode to the movie-making process. It is possible to show admiration for an institution without going into outright adulation, and the film fails to do so.
There is some solid meta humor to be found in the movie, but for the most part, it’s just pretty flat. The film perhaps could have made up for its lack of humor with a strong emotionally resonant core, but it doesn’t have that either. All we get is a bunch of sentimental dribble about the magic of the movies.
Another one of the issues with the movie is the overwhelming amount of characters. The script tries to make us care about everyone involved in the production, but trying to do so in a mere ninety minutes is overwhelming. Had this been a series, they may have been able to do something interesting with these characters, but this feature feels overstuffed and should have been narrowed down.
The voice cast of the Japanese-language version of the film is very professional and efficient, but nothing particularly memorable. They do a decent job of bringing some of the quirks of the characters to life, but they’re also very clearly all playing to archetypes. Furthermore, unlike many imports, the voice cast does not feature any huge stars.
Visually, the movie is energetic, and the anime style is obviously created to pay homage to the manga on which the film is based, but one is left wishing that this could have done more. Compared to a lot of other anime movies, this one is pretty grounded, and it would have been nice to see them do something a bit more fanciful with the medium.
Pompo the Cinephile has a premise that should be absolute catnip to film-lovers everywhere but is missing that spark to truly make it stand out. It’s definitely not a movie that is lacking in energy, although it doesn’t have the narrative drive to be compelling.
Pompo the Cinephile opens in theaters on April 29 after special event screenings on April 27 and 28.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Hatching is a Finnish movie that is one part coming of age and one part body horror. It had its premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. It marks the narrative feature debuts of director Hanna Bergholm and writer Ilja Rautsi. The movie can feel undercooked in certain places, but this is a truly unique and enjoyable approach to universal topics and themes.
Tinja is a young girl and an aspiring gymnast. As she deals with her demanding mother and the trials and tribulations of growing up, she discovers a bizarre egg. Tinja decides to take in the egg and keep it warm, but what hatches is not at all what she was expecting. The metaphors rooted in this premise are super obvious and set up the prevalent themes of growing up that are explored throughout the movie.
Rautsi takes this premise and really dives headfirst into its absurdity. This is why the movie works more than anything. Its script and story are unafraid to take this ridiculous premise and take it to its extreme. I like how it blended the coming-of-age tropes with the body horror in a way that worked and didn’t undermine the story it was trying to tell. There are some individual moments that feel out of place, but it’s a forgivable flaw in the movie.
The leading performance from Siiri Solalinna is quite impressive for a young actor. As Tinja, she is able to take on this challenging role and convincingly get the audience invested in the character’s journey and growing pains. The supporting cast who plays her family is decent but doesn’t particularly stand out compared to her performance.
Without saying too much and spoiling anything, this movie’s defining trait has to be its fantastic practical effects. This is a movie that revels in the realism of its characters and premise, and this is achieved in no small part due to the work of the visual effects team. It’s very well done and doesn’t distract from the deeper themes in Tinja’s story.
Hatching is a great calling card for Bergholm as a director. The movie may deal with common themes and tropes, but it puts a fresh spin on its story that allows it to stand out from the rest of the pack. It has some problems with pacing and narrative beats, but it’s a bold movie that doesn’t shy away from the unconventional parts of its story. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny how oddly captivating many moments in this movie are.
Hatching is in theaters April 29 and is on VOD May 17.
Review by Paris Jade
Travel back to the 1950s, when Hollywood was a booming business that built legends and icons. One of the most glamorous stars of the day was none other than Marilyn Monroe: famous in life and death, especially her death. The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is a documentary centered around the life and death of the eponymous starlet. It is told through archive footage of unseen interviews and audiotapes with friends of Marilyn, which came from author Anthony Summer.
This documentary was perfectly presented — the use of archive footage is a great way of storytelling. The editors and director did a fantastic job. While the plot itself is an incredibly sad story when you learn of the things that Marilyn had faced in her life, the group of storytellers making this film made it a very emotional journey.
The recorded tapes of Marilyn herself are put to great use in the film. As you watch the documentary, it's almost as if Marilyn tells you her life story. Her voice sounds as clear as if she were sitting in the room, and when it's over, you can't help but feel a blanket of sadness on you as you think about what you just watched and everything you've learned about Monroe. What is even more interesting and real is that once they finally get to Monroe's death, you don't hear from her again, which leaves a very eerie feeling.
The only real problem with the film was when tapes were played of conversations between Anthony Summers and someone else over the phone. They had actors lip-sync the conversation as if they were that person. You could honestly say it feels a bit cheap when you watch it, and it could do fine without.
If you know almost nothing about Marilyn Monroe, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is a great place to start your education on all things Monroe. However, if you already know all about the iconic star, you might already know everything there is to be theorized in this film. Summers goes into talking about her childhood and how her past traumatized her to her death, and the conspiracy theories of the cause. Any run-of-the-mill Monroe fan would know these types of things. Still, if you are a Monroe fan and just want a refresher course, you should absolutely watch this film because it is thoroughly well-made.
See The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes on Netflix, out April 27.