Review by Sean Boelman
Even though his lyrics would imply otherwise, rockstar Shannon Hoon lived a life that was anything but plain. But despite unprecedented access to Hoon’s personal perspective and a wealth of interesting life events to pull from, All I Can Say is a shockingly dull and uninspired music documentary.
Assembled from Hoon’s personal video diaries, the documentary takes a look at the life of the late Blind Melon frontman, exploring both his on-stage and off-stage antics. And though one would expect a film about someone who once got into massive trouble for peeing on a stage to be interesting, the movie gets too caught up in the mundanities of Hoon’s life to be entertaining.
It becomes pretty clear early on that the purpose here is to humanize Hoon and make him feel more approachable. As he says in “No Rain” (the song which inspired the title of the film), “All I can say is that my life is pretty plain.” And yet, since the audience will know this to not be the case, something is left to be desired.
The best moments of the movie are those which show Hoon as the charming and playful person that he was. These moments allow a greater personal connection with the character than anything involving his music (the repetition of rehearsal footage does become overwhelming at a certain point).
That said, there is also a giant elephant in the room here, and that is Hoon’s death from an accidental overdose. Fans will know that Hoon faced a lot of demons in his life, and while capturing his positive essence is important, it is arguably more essential that audiences learn from the mistakes he made.
Perhaps the single biggest issue here, though, is the lack of structure. The film presents a bunch of clips in a seemingly random order. There’s very little sense of time here apart from the occasional timestamp on the footage. Even a basic thematic connection would have been enough to make the movie feel more cohesive.
Still, the archive footage here is admittedly pretty phenomenal, and it is reason enough to make the film a worthy watch for fans of the singer. Hoon obviously liked to play around with the camera, and the result is an aesthetic experiment. The soundtrack is also very unorthodox, as it isn’t entirely rooted in the sounds of Blind Melon.
There are some really interesting things about All I Can Say, but sadly, much of it doesn’t work out in a satisfying way. More often than not, this is a movie made primarily for diehard Blind Melon fans.
All I Can Say is now screening online in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.
Review by Sean Boelman
Perhaps in an attempt to recapture the lighting in a bottle that was The Blair Witch Project, filmmaker Daniel Myrick (without the help of co-director Eduardo Sanchez) returns to mockumentary territory with the UFO picture Skyman. Unfortunately, lacking in any real conflict and emotion, this movie is mostly a bore.
The film follows a man who, after experiencing an alien encounter when he was ten years old, dedicates himself to proving the existence of extraterrestrial beings, hoping to reconnect with the same UFO at the same location. This isn’t the first time a found footage movie (or the like) has centered around aliens, nor will it be the last, but one almost wishes that filmmakers would give up on the dying gimmick.
Myrick structures the film as if it is a documentary following the protagonist as if he was a real person. But since so many movies have since tried to replicate the success of The Blair Witch Project, this device no longer lends as much authenticity to a story as it once would. And though Myrick was the person to popularize it, this film would have worked so much better without these conventions holding it back.
There are some really interesting character arcs here, but they are largely left underdeveloped. Instead, the imposed perspective of this faux filmmaker almost gives a tone of mocking disbelief. It always feels like we aren’t meant to take the protagonist seriously, sometimes even to the point where the movie almost seems to be making fun of him.
Michael Selle, in his feature debut, gives a solid performance, bringing a lot of humanity to a role that is otherwise a caricature. And unlike most other found footage movies, there aren’t any scares (or attempts thereof) to fall back on. It is completely reliant on Selle’s performance to ground the film, and even then, it barely works.
Fans of the genre will be used to the slow-burn pacing here, but this movie does too little to excite in the interim, and the ending is even more obvious than usual. Perhaps the biggest issue of all is that the film is lacking in bite. The movie seems so afraid of doing anything that would be even the least bit edgy or provocative.
Obviously, Myrick has an understanding of how to tell a story in this way, so everything about the film looks fine. That said, one expects a movie about the extraterrestrial to do something more. There should, at the least, be a sense of wonder. That feeling is largely missing here, which keeps it from having as much of an effect as it should.
Skyman is a very disappointing film in many ways, especially given the talent of its filmmaker. This seems destined to get lost in a genre full of mediocre movies all of which owe themselves to the work of its director.
Skyman opens in drive-in theaters on June 30 and hits VOD on July 7.
Review by Sean Boelman
Although now might seem like an ill-advised time to release a cop-centric action flick, Michael Polish’s new B-movie Force of Nature almost works in showing how inept the law enforcement is at actually protecting and serving the public. Yet with a story about as ridiculous they come, any merit it has is sadly lost on an overwritten mess.
The film follows a cop and his partner as they try to evacuate the residents of an apartment building during a severe hurricane, only to discover that the building is the site of a heist planned by a gang of thieves. And while heist movies are notoriously fun, even at their most mindless, Cory Miller’s script is too self-serious for it to be particularly enjoyable.
Major plot points in the film revolve around precious art and exotic pets, yet Miller and Polish aren’t able to make anything remotely interesting out of this absurdity. The idea of being trapped in a storm has been an anxiety-inducing premise of movies for years, but here, it’s used as little more than an excuse to get all of these characters in the same place.
Furthermore, the film is largely lacking in legitimate action. There are a couple of cool scenes, but for the most part, the tension rests on people carrying big guns and pulling the trigger every once in a while. The stakes aren’t high enough, and even when they are, the audience is given very little reason to care.
The character development here is pretty lackluster. The protagonist isn’t particularly heroic, and (as always) it takes an attractive female co-star to will him into action. There’s also a subplot about the protagonist’s partner trying to impress a retired cop to get a recommendation, offering the most emotional moments of the movie, if only they didn’t feel like an afterthought to get a once-reliable draw attached to the project.
Emile Hirsch carries much of the film, and while he’s clearly a very talented actor, it’s also obvious that his heart isn’t all here. Perhaps because the script is so bland, Hirsch doesn’t seem to connect with the character, and the result is a mildly charming version of any other cop movie protagonist with a dark side.
On a technical level, the film shows its low budget and B-movie stature. Everything about the movie feels extremely staged and choreographed, but not in an appealing way. Rather, the audience will almost certainly be drawn out of the film by the overwhelmingly artificial feel that it has.
Force of Nature takes what could be a fun premise and makes a generic B-movie dirge out of it. It’s a shame — there’s some really compelling talent on display here, but it simply doesn’t pay off in an entertaining way.
Force of Nature hits VOD on June 30.
Review by Sean Boelman
Dealing with a multitude of issues that affect modern society, Tom Shepard’s documentary Unsettled is emotional in more ways than one. Exploring an issue in the LGBTQ community that some may not have even recognized as being so urgent, this doc can serve as an eye-opening discussion-starter.
The film tells the story of a group of refugees from Africa and the Middle East who fled to America in search of political refuge, hoping to escape the persecution they face because of their sexual orientation. It’s not an easy watch, but a riveting one at that because of the heft and importance of the material.
There are three main storylines in the movie, and one of Shepard’s greatest successes here is that he is able to balance them surprisingly equally. By letting these people tell their own story rather than inundating the audience with facts and figures about refugees, Shepard has created an authentic and human portrait of the issue.
Much of the film takes the form of interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage featuring these four subjects (two individuals and a couple), and it’s an effective way of telling this story. It is important for the audience to hear the power and hurt of their stories from their own mouths, as it makes the movie feel all the more honest.
At under an hour and a half long, Shepard obviously isn’t able to talk about all of the implications that this crisis has on the global LGBTQ community, but by examining these case studies, he calls attention to what are some of the most pressing problems to which they are tied.
It’s disappointing to think that we live in a world where someone’s sexual orientation can be persecuted, much less criminalized, but that is the sad truth. In a month that is typically dedicated to celebrating the (relatively newfound) freedoms of the community in America, it is also important to discuss how others who don’t have that ability can achieve that themselves.
The message of the film here is one of compassion and empathy. This movie is aimed at a target audience of people who are not likely affected directly by these issues. And yet, by recognizing the problem, Americans have the potential to make a legitimate positive change in the world that has impact beyond that.
Unsettled offers a new perspective on pressing issues, promising to take the discussion in a new (and heartbreaking) direction. Hopefully more voices such as the ones showcased in the film will get a chance to speak up about their experiences.
Unsettled makes its broadcast debut on June 28 on WORLD Channel (via local PBS stations), with a streaming run to follow from June 28-July 12 on WORLD Channel and PBS.org.
Review by Sean Boelman
Not to be confused with the recently-released (but very different) Netflix documentary of the same name, Michael Bentham’s feature directorial debut Disclosure is a talky thriller with a lot on its mind. But thanks to some brilliant dialogue, the film manages to be impactful in a thought-provoking way.
The film follows two couples as they argue over an allegation made by one of their daughters against the other’s son. Although the script does go a bit off the rail at times, veering into melodramatic territory, more often than not, it is a grounded exploration of the ethical issues at its core.
This isn’t an easy movie to think about — many audience members, like an argument that is made in the film, would probably like for this issue to go away — but unfortunately, things like this do happen in the real world. And while Bentham doesn’t offer an easy solution here, the point seems to be that there is no good way to fix this issue.
One of the more interesting things that Bentham did with his script was to present these events entirely from the perspective of the children’s parents. This allows Bentham to go all-in on his themes of believing victims, as the audience is left to believe what they are told without witnessing it firsthand (as is so often the way that situations like this occur).
Perhaps the biggest thing working in the film’s favor is its razor-sharp dialogue. The script shares a lot more in common with a stage play than an average screenplay in that the pacing is largely dictated by the rhythm of the words rather than that of the camera, but the film is still entirely effective nevertheless.
Of course, credit also needs to be given to the actors whose performances go a long way in selling the authenticity of the film. Tom Wren and Geraldine Hakewill and Mark Leonard Winter and Matilda Ridgway are great as the two couples, respectively, especially in communicating the gradual escalation of tension.
Bentham does a good job of taking advantage of the limited setting in which the film takes place, with a sense of spatial geography that is quite welcome, but there are a few artistic choices that are somewhat ineffective. The chief of these is the use of unnecessary slow motion in the climax of the film.
There are some really good things happening in Disclosure, making it one of the most exciting debuts of the year thus far. By no means is this a particularly pleasant film, but it is an essential watch.
Disclosure premieres online on June 26 at 8pm ET here before releasing on VOD on June 30.
Review by Sean Boelman
Executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, Brian Welsh’s Beats is a wonderful exploration of the meaning of self-expression through music. Thanks to a compelling script and an idiosyncratic vision, Welsh’s film may be the counterculture anthem that the youth of today so desperately need.
The movie follows a teenage boy and his troublemaker best friend in Scotland in 1994 as they set out to attend an illegal rave, hoping to find themselves and experience some excitement in their otherwise boring lives. Every generation has their teen movie that encourages youth to let go and be themselves — Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dazed and Confused, Mean Girls — and now today’s group has Beats.
Even though the film is set in 1994, it feels surprisingly attuned to the issues and anxieties that are still faced today. It’s sad that a lot of these themes are still relevant — Welsh’s film shares a lot in common with Footloose in that it’s about a community getting together to have a secret party celebrating the music they love — but that also means that the story will be relatable and will likely even stand the test of time.
As is the case with most party movies, a majority of the time here is spent building up to the epic rave. The direction in which the film is heading is obvious, particularly if one is familiar with the aforementioned greats of the genre, but the emotional stakes that are established are sufficient enough for it to have an impact.
Admittedly, the characters are rather archetypal, but their arcs are quite compelling nevertheless. Thankfully, Welsh and co-writer Kieran Hurley don’t linger too much on the troublemaking friend angle, instead allowing the protagonist to come into his own independently. As such, the emotional beats of the movie feel much more natural.
Cristian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald have excellent chemistry together, and it is the audience’s ability to buy into this friendship that really sells the film. Macdonald in particular is extremely charming, bringing an added layer of humanity to the most problematically-written character in the script.
Welsh and cinematographer Benjamin Kracun shoot the film in beautiful black-and-white cinematography, and the visuals become even more ambitious when the characters actually get to the rave. And of course, since the movie is set in the world of electronic dance music, it has a very effective aural rhythm.
Beats is a brilliant coming-of-age tale, and if enough people get to see it, it may connect with audiences to become the next great cult classic. If there’s one indie movie that you take a risk on, let it be this.
Beats screens online in partnership with indie theaters beginning June 26. A list of participating locations can be found here.
Review by Sean Boelman
After making a splash on the festival circuit last year, Kim Bora’s quiet melodrama House of Hummingbird is finally making its way to American audiences as a new virtual cinema offering. And while there are certainly moments of brilliance here, they aren’t quite able to translate into a sense of overall greatness.
Set in Seoul in 1994, the film tells the story of a teenage girl who wanders the city searching for love, all the while dealing with troubles with her dysfunctional family. Kim brings an undeniably personal touch to the movie, loosely inspired by her own experiences, and this authenticity elevates the film above the straightforward drama of the conflict.
There are simply too many moving pieces in this story for them to be explored to their full depth, even at two hours and eighteen minutes long. Ultimately, the protagonist’s quest for acceptance is the least satisfying of what the movie has to offer. The portions of the film which explore the things that pushed her to that point (such as her relationship with her abusive brother) are far more compelling.
Other sections of the movie feel entirely conventional. A subplot involving the protagonist finding a mentor in an unorthodox new teacher, one of the few adults she can trust, has the potential to have a great emotional effect but rarely goes beyond typical “good teacher helping troubled student” territory.
Furthermore, the friendship between the protagonist and her inseparable best friend feels disappointingly underdeveloped. Kim seems to be trying to explore the tendency of youth to form their own de facto family when their biological family isn’t nurturing enough, but these ideas are largely left on the table.
That said, there is enough of a character foundation for the cast to take the emotional hints they are given and run with them, making the film truly heartbreaking in moments. Lead actress Park Ji-hu is absolutely phenomenal in her role, giving one of the most affecting turns in any young adult-oriented movie in recent memory. Kim Sae-byuk also gives a memorable performance in the supporting cast.
Kim obviously has a very fine control of her craft, presenting the film with a restrained beauty. The pacing of the movie is slow, and may even bore some viewers, but the long takes and soft cinematography will draw other viewers into the film’s emotion. The score by Matija Strnisa is also excellent.
House of Hummingbird is entirely fine, with very little about it that isn’t well-done to some extent. Still, despite a warm and honest tone, Kim’s film is just an exemplary entry into an overstuffed genre.
House of Hummingbird screens online in partnership with indie theaters beginning June 26. A list of participating locations can be found here.
Review by Sean Boelman
The new crime drama Run with the Hunted can’t be faulted for a lack of inspiration, as writer-director John Swab’s loose take on the Oliver Twist tale is undeniably ambitious. Yet despite a wealth of good ideas, Swab tries to cram too much into too short of a period of time, resulting in a film that is messy and disorganized.
The movie tells the story of a gang leader who, fifteen years after going on the run for committing a crime in the name of love, encounters the woman with whom he used to be infatuated, sending his life of crime into a spiral. It’s a story we’ve seen before, but Swab goes about differentiating it in the wrong way, leaning too hard into the grittiness to have a legitimately effective character-driven story.
The first half, which features the characters as children, is legitimately strong. There are some moments of pure brilliance sprinkled throughout this forty-five minutes, addressing some timely and interesting themes. On the other hand, the portion of the film with them as adults needed to be at least a half hour longer to hit all of its marks.
Swab has a lot on his mind with this movie, with the main theme exploring the ethics of death. He poses the question of whether or not death is a fair punishment for someone causing nothing but harm. And while this idea easily could have been mirrored into the second half as the protagonist began to make some of the same mistakes himself, this is largely abandoned.
Also frustrating is the fact that the second half mostly ignores the more interesting characters from the first half. Audiences will be left wanting more from the new “family” that the protagonist finds for himself, but the second half pivots to having a different character as the center of the story, leaving those threads unanswered.
The cast that was assembled for the film is pretty great. Young actor Mitchell Paulsen does an excellent job as the kid version of the protagonist, and Michael Pitt, while over-the-top at times, is able to capture much of the same emotion as his adult counterpart. In the supporting cast, Ron Perlman and Isiah Whitlock Jr. are both good, albeit a bit underused.
And while the movie doesn’t look bad, Swab is obviously trying a bit too hard to make it play seriously, preventing it from working as the pulpy action romp that it could have been. There are some excellent sequences, like one in which the characters hold up a supermarket, but these are disappointingly few in number.
Run with the Hunted shows quite a bit of potential, but more often than not, it falls flat. Still, there is enough here to make it worth a watch even if there are far better versions of this story to have been made.
Run with the Hunted hits VOD on June 26.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
When people think of spy movies, they think of Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, and others portraying Ian Fleming's iconic character, James Bond. However, the spy genre has many other films in its ranks. Quite a few of them are comedies, like Spy starring Melissa McCarthy, the Johnny English films, starring Rowan Atkinson, and the Pink Panther films starring Peter Sellers and later on Steve Martin. My Spy is another comedic spy film. The problem is all the funniest scenes are in the trailer.
JJ (Dave Bautista) is a CIA Agent. He likes to do things his way. He works alone and gets the job done. When he gets discovered surveying a nine-year-old girl named Sophie (Chloe Coleman) and her mother, he has to make a deal to train her to be a spy. This doesn't go so well because she is smarter than him. This film has an interesting spin on spy movies but the humor isn't that good apart from the scenes in the trailer. The chemistry is good between Sophie and JJ, but that's not the entire movie.
Peter Segal is known for a couple of other comedic spy movies: The Naked Gun 33 ⅓ and Get Smart. In the latter, he also worked with an ex-pro wrestler, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I guess he was trying to capture that magic he got in the previous films, this time with Dave Bautista. The problem is those other films were much funnier than My Spy was. The story was bland and not fascinating or interesting at all. The comedy was solid but not overwhelmingly funny since the trailer has the funniest scenes.
Dave Bautista has come a long way since his days as a WWE Superstar. He has even done some funny roles in the Guardians of the Galaxy films and Stuber last year, in which he co-starred in a similar role with Kumail Nanjiani. Those films have a lot better action and the comedic moments were more enjoyable than those in My Spy. The script is the problem with My Spy.
Many had big hopes for this film, especially after so many funny and entertaining outings in Dave Bautista's recent past and because the director has done some fun films in the past himself. The biggest mistake in a comedic film is when it's not that funny and all the best scenes are given away in the trailer. The chemistry between JJ and Sophie wasn't enough to save this film. Just like Dwayne Johnson, Dave Bautista has now got a dud in his filmography. If you're looking for a funny spy film, this isn't it.
My Spy hits Amazon Prime on June 26.
Review by Sean Boelman
The second film from comedian and former late night host Jon Stewart, Irresistible is a new political comedy lampooning American democracy. And while those hoping for the sharp-edged satire for which Stewart became known on The Daily Show will be disappointed, the message here is still something that needs to be heard, and it’s delivered in a mostly entertaining way.
The movie follows a Democratic strategist who, following the blow of the failure of the Clinton campaign, takes on the project of helping a veteran run for Mayor in a small-town conservative community in the American Heartland. Ultimately, this story is just a means for Stewart to discuss the themes at hand about which he is obviously very passionate.
Although there are plenty of witty one-liners, the real joke here, as made clear by Stewart’s sometimes heavy-handed dialogue, is the political system. Our government is in shambles, and Stewart makes it clear that it’s the fault of an election process that was built to be rigged and manipulated by outside forces. If this type of thing can happen in a small-town mayoral race, what’s to stop it from happening on a national level.
Admittedly, the pacing in the film is a bit off. The target audience of the movie will likely be more invested in the political tomfoolery than anything else the film has to offer, so the addition of further subplots wastes time that could have been better used. Perhaps the chief example of this is a love triangle storyline that is entirely underwhelming.
Furthermore, the movie initially orients itself as a character-driven story, and the characterization here isn’t particularly effective. The protagonist is a manipulative jerk, and it’s easy to see that, so viewers may not be rooting for his victory even if they agree with his candidate’s policies. Eventually Stewart embraces the character’s sleaziness, at which point the film becomes much more enjoyable.
Steve Carell does an excellent job in his role, showing yet again that he is arguably more effective when he’s more subtle with his humor. Rose Byrne and Chris Cooper are both very funny in their supporting roles, as are Topher Grace, Mackenzie Davis, and Natasha Lyone, although the latter three do feel underused.
On a technical level, the movie could have been a bit better. Thankfully, it’s not the low-grade comedy that the marketing materials would have it to be, but it still doesn’t try hard enough to be immersive. The simulated news footage is obviously fake-looking, and nearly everything feels disappointingly staged.
With the talent involved, Irresistible probably should have been a lot better than it is, but it’s still pretty enjoyable. There is a good enough balance between funny and thought-provoking moments to make it worth the initially steep rental fee.
Irresistible hits VOD on June 26.