Review by Sean Boelman
Some thrillers hit the ground running, and others quietly creep under your skin in a way that makes it all the more impactful when it finally sinks its teeth in. The latter is the case with Alexandru Belc’s Metronom, a taut and powerful Romanian film that premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Set in Romania in 1972, the movie follows a young couple who spend their last days together before one of them leaves the country permanently. And while this may sound like just another Romeo & Juliet-type story about two star-crossed lovers, there is far more to Belc’s story than it initially lets on.
While the first half of the film plays like a hangout movie — and one with great vibes, at that — the second half is among the most excruciatingly intense you will experience in any movie this year. The film will easily have you on the edge of your seat with anxiety, wondering if the characters are going to make it out of this situation or not, because no one is safe.
Part of what makes the movie so effective is that it gives you this sense of security early on. It’s a bunch of people having fun and dancing, and it gives you the time necessary to get attached to these characters and their personalities and get wrapped up in everything that they care about, no matter how trivial.
But all along there is this threat in the background looming — the one that will tear apart our lover protagonists — and for anyone aware of the social context of the setting (or the title), it will be clear what is to come. And once it does finally hit, it is absolutely devastating, shaking you to your core.
The acting all-around is stellar, but it is Mara Bugarin and Vlad Ivanov who stand out the most. Bugarin is fantastic as the heroine, not quite as politically extreme as some of the other characters who are here to give the film its message but still in firm opposition to what is wrong. On the other hand, Ivanov is menacing as the duplicitous oppressor.
What Belc has to say here about freedom of speech is fascinating, especially in the context of what is going on in Europe (and the world as a whole) right now. It’s terrifying to think that there are still places where this is happening half a century later, but Belc issues an urgent call-to-action about the importance of this freedom.
Alexandru Belc’s Metronom is one of the most impactful movies of the year so far — starting as a charming hangout film before evolving into something much more complex and harrowing. As it continues to tour the festival circuit, make sure to seek this one out, because it is not a movie you will soon forget.
Metronom debuted at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section.
Review by Sean Boelman
Jumping from the small screen to the big screen is something that many television shows have attempted to do in the past to inconsistent results. The Bob’s Burgers Movie makes the most out of the more cinematic feature-length medium while maintaining the spirit of what makes the show so great, making this one of the best animated movies of the decade so far.
The film follows the Belchers as they attempt to solve a mystery that will save their restaurant after a sinkhole opens up right in front of it. Like the best episodes of the show, this features a larger-than-life story (and at an even bigger scale) while still emphasizing the familial aspects that fans have come to love.
The laughs in this movie come very frequently, especially for fans of the series. There are several callbacks here that are going to have those who regularly watch the show rolling in laughter. Still, that doesn’t mean that the film is a fans-only affair — there’s plenty of goofy humor here that is sure to have anyone chuckling, and it is clearly a labor of love for the filmmakers who put a great deal into making this excellent for both regulars and newcomers.
Of course, one thing that this feature-length format allowed the movie to do was go wild with the musical aspect. Some of the fan-favorite episodes of the show are the two-part musical season finales, and this film takes it even further. There are four songs in the movie that, beyond being hilarious comedy songs, are also just great songs in general.
(L-R): Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), and Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz) in 20th Century Studios' THE BOB'S BURGERS MOVIE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Perhaps surprisingly, Bob’s arc in this film isn’t the focus. He’s really the comedic side character in this one, who is doing the wacky antics. Tina and Gene also have some amusing subplots that mirror a lot of what they have been going through in the past few seasons, only with a bit of a bigger scale since the budget allows it.
Louise really takes the driver’s seat here, being both the main character of the plot and the emotional core of the movie. She has a lot more growth in this film than she has in most of the recent episodes — perhaps because the creators knew this was coming and would shift her character so significantly — but it’s a fantastic treat for fans.
Having a feature-length movie’s budget rather than that of a single television episode really allows the film to go much bigger with its animation style. The contrast is much deeper and the backgrounds are much richer and more detailed. The filmmakers really made the most of their budget instead of just making a longer episode of the show.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie both fits wonderfully within the context of the show and stands out as an excellent animated movie in its own right. It’s basically Stand by Me if it were made by a bunch of musical theater kids, which is something that was perfect for this fan of the series.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie hits theaters on May 27.
Review by Sean Boelman
There aren’t very many queer films that come out of the studio filmmaking system, so the fact that Fire Island exists in the first place is a miracle in and of itself. But even beyond its cultural significance in the filmmaking world, this romantic comedy is fantastic in its own right, one of the funniest, most poignant LGBTQ movies in quite a while.
The film follows a group of friends who take a vacation at the legendary gay destination the Fire Island Pines, getting entangled in various romantic trappings along the way. Inspired by Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice, Joel Kim Booster’s script takes familiar tropes of romantic comedies and puts an even more intelligent, earnest spin on them.
One of the best things about Kim Booster’s script is the way in which it blends widely accessible sex comedy with very specific queer humor. There are bits in this movie that are designed specifically to make the LGBTQ community laugh, and it’s great that this type of representation and jokes are being made on a massive platform such as this.
However, this isn’t just some frilly comedy. Like Austen’s iconic romance, this film has its finger on exactly what is happening in the world of modern romance. The movie addresses a lot of the issues that the LGBTQ community is facing right now in a way that is extremely honest and insightful.
Much of the film’s success is owed to the dynamic that exists between the main group of friends, and it is absolutely fantastic. With an ensemble movie like this, one normally expects there to be at least one person who is left in the dust, but we really get to admire and love all of these characters equally.
Kim Booster takes the lead in the script he wrote, and SNL’s Bowen Yang gets the other main role. Both are fantastic and each have the commanding screen presence it takes to lead a romantic comedy like this. Matt Rogers, Tomas Matos, and Torian Miller round out the group charmingly well. Everyone who watches this film is going to have a favorite character — and all of them will have their share of fans.
However, perhaps the single biggest standout in the cast is Conrad Ricamora, who plays this story’s Mr. Darcy. It’s one of the most fascinating characters in all of literary history, and he does an exceptional job of bringing his own spin to it. His chemistry with Kim Booster is pitch-perfect too, capturing the unique dynamic between the two.
Fire Island is a fantastic reimagining of a literary classic for the modern age. Joel Kim Booster’s script is one of the smartest in any romantic comedy in recent years, much less a queer romantic comedy, making this a movie not to miss.
Fire Island streams on Hulu beginning June 3.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Stranger Things finally returns three years later with its fourth season, split into two parts. Season four begins six months after the events of season three, with the leading characters now split up between Lenora Hills, California, and the familiar Hawkins, Indiana. The new setting comes with new characters and trials for those who reside there, but the main danger comes from Hawkins, as it often does.
Unlike its past seasons, season four of Stranger Things explores a horror genre separate from its sci-fi roots. The new season hones in on popular supernatural horror of the time, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street. Gruesome character deaths are reminiscent of Freddy Krueger's torment, and there's even a spooky boiler room scene. This new nightmarish style of horror is very different compared to the sci-fi feeling that Stranger Things fans are familiar with. While it still has elements of sci-fi, the presence of haunted houses and possible demonic possessions move the show into a new era of frights.
The new changes to Stranger Things don't stop at the genre-bending, but it also continues to develop with the presence of new characters. One new character, Eddie Munson, is one of the most notable new faces. A clever representation of the weird kid trope and alternative subcultures of the eighties, Eddie is the Dungeon Master of Mike, Dustin, and Lucas's Dungeons & Dragons group. While his personality closely resembles Steve's goofy but tough older brother vibe, it's clear that he is not the story's hero but instead just a pawn to keep it going. Although that's not to say his scenes with Steve, Robin, and Nancy aren't extremely enjoyable to watch.
Even more so than in the last seasons, the jumble of locations and storylines tends to get confusing and messy as the episodes go on. Where season three managed to get the hang of balancing out all the different groups, season four spreads itself thin, which makes sense why it is ultimately divided into two parts. Season four also marks the return of the same Russia plotline from season three, which takes up more of the season than it should as it is easily one of the most uninteresting parts of the entire series.
Volume one of season four of Stranger Things does as much as it can in its six episodes. Beyond bringing old friends and lovers together, it also establishes new bonds and growth for certain fan-favorite characters. For example, El's story goes beyond just her struggles in her new home in California since she also starts to come to terms with her past and what it's like to live without her powers. Max also particularly steals the show as she deals with losing her brother, Billy. This season's high school-centered subplots are utilized well by putting the characters in new predicaments outside of the supernatural, which makes the show's character-building even better than it already is.
Volume one of Stranger Things season four begins streaming on Netflix on May 27th. All six episodes of volume one reviewed.
Review by Adam Donato
Nolan Ryan is one of the greatest pitchers in Major League Baseball history and is known for playing the most seasons ever. With such a long career, making a documentary about his life must be a daunting task. This Bradley Jackson documentary runs at an hour and forty two minutes. It covers everything from his relationship with his wife, which began when they were only children, to his life post retirement. Does this documentary have the arm to do this baseball icon justice?
One of the more down to earth aspects about Facing Nolan is its focus on his personal life. Fortunately, Nolan Ryan is still kicking today so he’s able to give some insight into how he felt during defining moments in his career. His wife, children, and grandchildren get plenty of time to shine and show who Nolan Ryan was outside of the game of baseball. This goes a long way to humanize a character that is known for being a tough-as-nails cowboy type. Speaking of cowboy type, the story makes sure to focus on Ryan’s aspirations outside of baseball as he is a Texan through and through. After watching this, audiences are sure to know who Nolan Ryan the man is as well as the baseball player.
It’s surprising to see the amount of all-stars collected for this documentary. Standouts include Pete Rose, the all time hits leader, and Randy Johnson, the second most strikeouts all time. Getting players like Rose to speak about Ryan is especially interesting because Ryan was a very brutal player. One of his tenets as a player was that he threw hard and sometimes threw wild. The documentary seems proud of his ability to scare hitters by throwing inside and in too many cases, hitting them. This aspect feels distasteful as hitting other players as a fear tactic is a cheap shot. That being said, hearing from players who hated playing him is a perfect way to showcase what it was actually like to face Nolan.
One of the more impressive aspects of the movie is that it makes fans of the teams he played on have closure. Anytime an all time great player leaves a franchise, he is usually maligned by said franchise’s fan base. Mets fans got a World Series championship out of him, but trading him away feels right as Ryan never quite fit in in New York. The California Angels got his physical prime and only lost him over poor ownership. Houston got his most postseason success outside of New York. Texas got his twilight years which were his most efficient and certainly his most iconic moments. Ryan’s whole career is pretty well covered and will leave the viewer shocked to know that he never won a Cy Young award.
Baseball fans are sure to enjoy Facing Nolan as it certainly does justice to the longest career in Major League Baseball history. This documentary perfectly encapsulates his entire career, all his achievements, and still has time to show off who he was as a person. Be sure to check this one out!
Facing Nolan screens in theaters for one night only on May 24.
Review by Sean Boelman
It is well-known that it is hard to make films starring and about kids, and Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret’s The Worst Ones explores that process. In doing so, it definitely probes deeply and poses some interesting questions, but one has to wonder if the film is part of the problem, even if its heart is in the right place.
The film is about a group of teenagers who are street cast in a feature film as the lines between their lives and the film begin to blur. It’s an attempt at meta filmmaking that is certainly quite ambitious and earnest, but its observations are seldom as insightful as the filmmakers clearly hope it to be.
There are some interesting ideas here about the manipulation that can result from using non-actors — especially young non-actors — in a film production. However, in using nonprofessionals in this production itself, Akoka and Gueret weaken their argument to merely asking theoretical questions.
Johan Heldenbergh plays the director of the film-within-a-film and he does a good job of bringing a lot of approachability to a complex role. The character has two sides: is he the savior trying to give these troubled youth an opportunity, or the manipulator inserting himself into the lives of these children and young adults and pushing them in the wrong direction?
The film’s approach to the children is much less gray. It’s clear that we are meant to pity these children, not just for the situation that they are in, but also the fact that their plight is being milked for someone else’s advantage. Then again, watching a film that is in its own way also exploits these children feels rather… gross.
It is clear that Akoka and Gueret don’t intend for this to be all sunshine and roses. They want the audience to think about some of the more challenging aspects of this film and the film-within-a-film. But at a certain point, the film starts to fall victim to many of the issues that it is commenting on, and the result is hardly effective.
Akoka and Gueret do a great job of directing the film, creating these layers of reality that separate the film based on what is happening. It’s the type of narrative that could easily become difficult to follow because of all that is going on in it, but the directorial approach goes a long way in making everything more understandable.
The Worst Ones has a lot of intriguing elements that make it something to be recommended, but in trying to explore this gray area, it ends up in a gray area itself. Perhaps this is the type of challenging film that is necessary to start this conversation, even if it falls victim to those issues itself.
The Worst Ones debuted at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Tunisian film Under the Fig Trees debuted in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s the type of international discovery that the section was designed to find. Wowing in its simplicity and humanity, this may not be the flashiest of movies, but it leaves a lasting impact nonetheless.
The film follows a group of young fieldworkers as they converse about life, love, and the other things that are important to them in the world. Sehiri’s background is in documentary filmmaking — this being her narrative debut — and her work in nonfiction gave her the experience to do wonders here, creating something intimate and insightful.
Sehiri does an excellent job of balancing the themes in the movie so it never feels like it is preaching a message to the audience. Yes, the film does address weighty subject matter like sexism and the patriarchy, but it does so in a way that feels natural and flows perfectly with their concerns about other, more trite aspects of their lives.
What makes Sehiri’s movie so effective is that it feels equally weightless and impactful. It’s entirely airy and lovely, but never feels insignificant. It’s clear that Sehiri has a profound love for this culture that she is depicting, and she wants to show it in all of its beauty and flaws so that the rest of the world can see it.
It is impressive the level of intimacy Sehiri is able to make the audience feel with all of these characters. Through their conversations about the mundanities of their daily lives, we get to feel for and care about these characters in a way that one wouldn’t expect without ever feeling like it is being condescending towards them.
The fact that these are all unprofessional actors definitely adds to the feel of realism that the film aims for, but it’s quite effective. Fide Fdhili leads the cast — and ultimately the movie was built around her — and has a fantastic, compelling screen presence to her that one wouldn’t expect from a young girl.
The film is also gorgeous to look at. The use of natural light is just astounding and creates an atmosphere that is unique — almost even idyllic. It’s an interesting effect that, by eliminating artificial sources of lighting, the movie feels askew in a way that contrasts nicely with the heightened sense of realism in the script.
Under the Fig Trees is an impressive narrative debut for Erige Sehiri, taking the sensibilities of nonfiction filmmaking and creating a compellingly grounded film. It’s subtle in a way that is thoroughly powerful.
Under the Fig Trees screened at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
When the poster for the new Adrian Shergold film Cordelia dropped, many speculated it to be a sexy period piece starring Johnny Flynn and Antonia Campbell-Hughes. While the film does star Flynn and Campbell-Hughes, the image used for the poster is misleading as Cordelia is a psychological thriller, not a steamy story taking place in a historical setting. Yet the movie's misleading advertisement is the least of its faults. In its attempt to be a groundbreaking psychological thriller, Cordelia loses any tension or scare factor and instead turns into an awkward mess of wasted potential.
The film follows the character Cordelia's (Campbell-Hughes) unraveling psyche as she grows close to her seemingly attractive neighbor Frank (Flynn). The first half of the movie teases an incident that happened twelve years prior, leading to Cordelia's intense PTSD and social anxiety. This contrasts the false sense of security she feels when she's with Frank. Cordelia's trauma-filled passivity makes her a boring titular character who continuously makes the worst imaginable decisions. Meanwhile, Frank has the potential to be a charming, helpful neighbor turned lover who has secrets of his own, but his character development is rushed through and, therefore, lackluster.
When Cordelia finally reveals what happened to her twelve years ago, the reveal is underwhelming and overshadowed by the chaos of everything else happening in the movie, which is surprising since so much of the beginning of the film focused on teasing the cause of her PTSD. Several other reveals meant to be shocking are given screen time for the characters to digest. Although it almost gives them too much screen time as the audience is forced to watch Cordelia pointlessly sob over multiple revelations throughout the movie.
While Flynn and Campbell-Hughes have interesting chemistry together that makes the reveal of their respective motives exciting to watch, it is due to their acting skills and not the film's writing from Adrian Shergold and Antonia Campbell-Hughes. The dialogue is often pointless and runs in circles repeating the same concepts. For example, there are only so many times someone can understandably bring up the fact that they suffered a mysterious traumatic incident twelve years earlier. The time spent on pointless dialogue takes away from the time Cordelia could've spent creating trust in certain characters, making later reveals much more shocking.
Sometimes the genre of psychological thrillers gets mixed with the goal of creating a nonsensical movie that leaves one feeling uneasy, and it's clear that's what Cordelia intended to do with open-ended storylines and plot holes. Instead of leaving the audience uneasy and questioning what really happened, it just leaves you confused and aggravated. While Cordelia certainly has some intrigue, namely its poster, it is ultimately a movie worth missing out on.
Cordelia begins playing in theaters and on demand on May 20th.
Review by Sean Boelman
There are a lot of shocking things about Stefan Forbes’s documentary Hold Your Fire, but perhaps the single most stunning thing is that it did not receive an Oscar-qualifying run. Timely and powerful despite having a smattering of flaws, this documentary presents a fascinating and powerful look at criminal justice reform despite its flaws.
The film tells the story of events that happened in Brooklyn in 1973, when a group of four men attempted to steal guns for self-defense, setting off the longest siege in NYPD history and defining the process of hostage negotiation as we know it. It’s one of those stories that is pivotal but often left out of history books, and Forbes’s documentary brings it to the spotlight.
Forbes’s style of filmmaking is certainly very flashy, for better or worse. The movie plays out in an almost pulpy way, allowing the viewer to get wrapped up and absorbed in this situation as it unfolds. Some could argue that using such tragic circumstances for entertainment is ethically questionable, but it’s clear that this film’s heart is in the right place.
It’s interesting, because even though the movie is clearly interested in communicating the nuances of the situation — showing that there is more to this type of standoff than the media and pop culture would let on — it falls victim to many of those same trappings of heightening the tension in the wrong places.
Often, this comes at the expense of the deeper themes that this film explores. There is a lot to be said in this situation about racism and gun violence, but it’s not quite as impactful as it could have been. Granted, given that the runtime is a mere ninety-three minutes, the movie should be praised for even trying to juggle all of these ideas.
Part of the film’s issue is its slightly scattered nature. The movie jumps between different perspectives a lot, and while this is understandable given that this is meant to be from the standpoint of a mediator, it causes the arguments to lose some of their strength rather than fortifying them in a devil’s advocate sort of way.
Still, there is an undeniable kineticism to Forbes’s film that makes it absolutely irresistible. There are a lot of archive materials with talking heads woven in, but this never feels too interview-heavy even though that is the primary method of storytelling. He manages to make the talking heads feel almost invisible, which is an impressive feat.
Hold Your Fire is certainly an impressive feat of documentary filmmaking, and while the stylized execution works against it at times, it’s mostly very effective. It’s a compelling, largely unknown story that audiences should pay attention to.
Hold Your Fire is now in theaters and on VOD.
LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS (Season 3) -- Another Set of Wonderfully Animated Shorts with Some Execution Problems
Review by Camden Ferrell
Love, Death & Robots is an anthology show for adults that premiere on Netflix in 2019. It had its second season in 2021 and is about the release their third season. While David Fincher has been a producer from the start, this season sees him sitting in the director’s chair for the first time on the series among other creators. This season features another batch of enjoyable shorts of differing quality, and it’s clear that there are some episodes that are significantly better than the others this season.
In this season, there are 9 episodes, and I was able to watch four of them: Three Robots: Exit Strategies, Bad Traveling, Night of the Mini Dead, and Jibaro. Fans of the show will recognize the first title, which is a continuation of those same robots we met in season 1. The rest of them are about radically different things like the open sea, zombies, and a reimagining of a folktale. Like previous seasons, these ideas are really unique, diverse, and interesting on paper, but the show has also had some problems with developing and properly executing their exciting and original premises.
The writing in the four episodes I watched are decent. The writing has never been the strong suit of the show, and these episodes let other aspects take the reins. I will say that Bad Traveling was particularly well written more so than the other episodes and tackled some really interesting themes and ideas as well. I will say that while this season isn’t perfect in this regard, there is a noticeably reduction in the amount of casual and subtle misogyny that was so prevalent throughout the first two seasons.
As always, the actors they cast are above average, but the real star of the show is the innovative animation. This is a show that experiments with different styles and types of animations more than anything else streaming today. I particularly liked the animation of Bad Traveling and Jibaro as they both aimed for realism in their animation and achieved it with great results.
As mentioned before, Fincher made his animation directorial debut with his short Bad Traveling, and it’s easily one of the best episodes the series has put out thus far even if it still has some minor flaws. I also enjoyed some of the execution in Night of the Mini Dead and Jibaro even if they weren’t as memorable as Fincher’s episode. While I enjoyed all of the episodes so far to some extent, it doesn’t seem like a big step up in quality for the series, and it remains a show full of beautifully animated and average to great anthology shorts.
Love, Death & Robots will please its fans in its third season but for those who had a hard time getting into the show previously, this one will still probably not satisfy you. It’s worth watching for Fincher’s episode alone, but as always there’s always at least one thing to enjoy in each episode.
Love, Death & Robots season 3 will be available on Netflix May 20.