Review by Sean Boelman
The ultimate underdog in horror franchises, the Purge movies have taken what started as a home invasion thriller with a creative premise and turned it into something much bigger. The Forever Purge, perhaps the series’s most expansive entry since The Purge: Anarchy, offers more of the same thrills, albeit with nothing even resembling subtlety.
The film follows a group of people who try to survive as a movement of rebels continues on a rampage of terror after the period for the Purge ends. There’s always been an element of slightly dystopian sci-fi to this franchise, but making the lawlessness into something unsanctioned brings it closer to reality than it has ever been before, especially after having seen the display of violence at the Capitol earlier this year.
In the last three movies, we have seen the subtext turn into outright text, and James DeMonaco’s script for this fifth entry is the most aggressive yet. These films exist to call out the classism and racism that exists within American society, and here, DeMonaco sets his eyes on xenophobia regarding the immigration crisis as his target.
This is also the most action-packed movie in the franchise since Anarchy. Unlike Election Year and The First Purge, which set out to do something a bit more elevated (and failed, in the latter case), The Forever Purge returns to the series’s popcorn entertainment roots without abandoning its message. And some of the action set pieces are absolutely great.
As always, the characters here are stock characters that aren’t all that interesting. There’s the stuck-up white guy who has to learn a bit of compassion, and the (not-so) secretly badass immigrant who proves all of the racists wrong. There isn’t much substance to their arcs, but ultimately, the substance in the film lies in the very obvious dialogue.
Following in the trend of the series, we have a couple notable actors in the movie (Josh Lucas, Will Patton), and the rest of the cast is composed of up-and-comers. Between this and Army of the Dead, Ana de la Reguera seems most poised for a breakout as she shows a lot of talent in pulling off action, but Tenoch Huerta is great here too.
The visuals are absolutely chaotic, but it works given the nature of the film. One of the other things that allows this to stand out from the rest of the franchise is that there is a substantial portion of the action which takes place during the day, allowing the filmmakers to do some interesting things in a genre that is often shrouded in darkness.
The Forever Purge is by no means a great movie, but it delivers exactly what audiences have come to expect from this franchise. It’s getting to a point where this franchise seems like it’s running out of ideas, but for now, it’s still entertaining.
The Forever Purge hits theaters on July 2.
THE BOSS BABY: FAMILY BUSINESS -- A Less Obnoxious and Surprisingly Funny Sequel
Review by Sean Boelman
The 2017 film The Boss Baby was a hyperactive and often obnoxious animated movie that somehow negotiated its way into financial success and an Academy Award nomination despite a largely mixed reception. Its sequel, The Boss Baby: Family Business, is much more conventional, and ultimately more enjoyable, although it is still clear that this is not among DreamWorks’s best properties.
Set years after the first film, this follows the Templeton brothers from the first movie as adults as another Boss Baby is welcomed into the family and they all find themselves on a mission to save childhood. It’s a premise that is absolutely ridiculous, but whereas the first film left viewers wondering what hallucinogens the writers were on, this one will mostly leave people wondering if actual children wrote it.
That said, the pacing of the movie is surprisingly good. Thankfully, the jokes here aren’t as repetitive or annoying as those in the first, with some genuinely witty one-liners aimed at the parents of the younger target audience. And there are some interesting action scenes, even if the film could have done much more with them.
Ultimately, the biggest issue with this movie is that it is largely a continuation of the themes from the first one. The message about brotherhood and how the love for one’s family should be unconditional was already fleshed out, giving this film a somewhat worn quality. Other themes, like fatherhood, are introduced, but are largely underdeveloped.
Additionally, the movie seems so concerned with the dynamic between the two brothers that it ignores almost every other relationship in the film. The most heartfelt moments come not from the antics between Tim and Ted, but those portions of the movie about Tim and his elder daughter, who is the most interesting but also most underutilized character.
The thing that really allows this film to shine, though, is the addition of Jeff Goldblum to the cast as the villain. Goldblum is just as perfect as the quirky antagonist as Alec Baldwin is as the distinctive eponymous character. Amy Sedaris is also a welcome new addition to the cast. James Mardsen replaces Tobey Maguire in this movie, and it’s a change that is noticeable but has no real impact.
There is still a lot of colorful animation in the film, and while it is nowhere near as exaggerated as the previous entry, there is still some inspired wacky imagery. Made for a cheaper (but still quite large) budget, the movie really falls victim to the trend of diminishing returns that plagues the visuals of animated sequels.
The Boss Baby: Family Business manages to be an improvement over the nearly insufferable first film, but that wasn’t a high bar to pass. This is very average family entertainment, which has been a lot of what DreamWorks has been putting out as of late.
The Boss Baby: Family Business hits theaters and Peacock on July 2.
FEAR STREET PART ONE: 1994 -- A Fun and Bloody Horror Movie Based On the R. L. Stine Series
Review by Camden Ferrell
R. L. Stine is one of the most prolific authors today, writing over a hundred horror books for kids and young adults, including the Fear Street books. Fear Street Part One: 1994 is a new movie based on his series, and it’s the first in a trilogy of movies releasing in subsequent weeks in July. While it doesn’t reinvent the horror genre, this movie embodies all of the genre’s best tropes while including some shocking R-rated elements to the story.
After a brutal murder in their small town of Shadyside, a group of teenagers learn more about how this connects to the town’s long history of murder. Together, they encounter this evil and search for a way to destroy it. It’s a simple premise about small town murder and possession, and it’s that simplicity that allows the film to breathe and be a fun teenage-driven horror film.
Taking place in the titular year of 1994, the movie does a great job of recreating that aesthetic without exploiting the nostalgia of that era. It doesn’t throw the period-appropriate props or elements in your face to make you bask in its nostalgia, but it rather uses it as environmental garnishes that elevate the ambiance and create a more immersive setting.
This movie has a strong cast of young actors at its disposal. Kiana Madeira does a great job of leading this film as Deena. It isn’t anything mind-blowing, but she plays into the genre and setting very well and is a compelling actress that’s fun to watch. The supporting cast also features some strong performances from actors like Julia Rehwald and Olivia Scott Welch who both show a lot of promise as young actors.
Leigh Janiak directs this film with confidence, and even if it hits a few snags at times, it’s clear she has a strong creative vision that is evident in the final product. This is her second feature film, and she demonstrates a mature ability to execute thrills and balance it with more character driven moments. The screenplay, written by Phil Graziadei and Janiak, is sufficient enough to provide a foundation to the movie. The dialogue isn’t especially fresh or compelling, but it has its moments.
One of the best things working in this movie’s favor is its R-rating. The movie doesn’t hold back, and it features many bloody moments throughout. They’re spaced evenly throughout, but the final half of the movie has some genuinely gruesome and shocking moments that elevate this past its contemporaries. It’s dedicated to adapting this story for an older audience who’s ready for more adult content.
There is also something quite refreshing in the representation in this movie. It features an LGBT lead character, and it is actually committed to telling such a unique story without exploiting it or virtue signaling. It balances these heartfelt and thoughtful moments with the blood and guts throughout to prove that this is a thematically progressive movie while still being aesthetically traditional.
Fear Street Part One: 1994 is a fun and refreshing new horror movie from Janiak, who is also directing the next two movies in the series. It doesn’t say anything too revolutionary, but it’s an enjoyable movie full of classic thrills and scares. It showcases some young talent while also getting you excited for the following week’s installment.
Fear Street Part One: 1994 is streaming on Netflix July 2.
AMERICA: THE MOTION PICTURE -- A Riff on U.S. History That Tries Too Hard to Be Funny
America: The Motion Picture is a new adult-animated comedy from veteran television director Matt Thompson. It features a large cast of famous comedians and an absurd premise that has potential. Despite all of the resources at its disposal, this is a comedy that tries far too hard to be outrageous and satirical, but it falls flat as a dull attempt at historical comedy.
After the betrayal of Benedict Arnold (although a far different version than we were taught), George Washington assembles a team of historical figures to take down the British. Washington wields dual chainsaws, and an anachronistic Thomas Edison has gloves that can electrocute people. It combines many different eras of America to tell its riff on the revolution, and while this sounds ripe for comedy, the movie misses the mark completely and creates another bland animated comedy.
Dave Callaham, who most recently penned the scripts for Mortal Kombat and Wonder Woman 1984, creates a comedy where most of the jokes don’t land. It tries to combine history with modern humor, and it all feels cheap and lazy, and it doesn’t elicit any laughs. It tries to be tongue-in-cheek about later historical events, but this type of irony is inherently lazy. There are a handful of clever moments, but for the most part, the jokes are either misguided or rely on their own shock value.
The movie features a famous cast, including people like Channing Tatum, Jason Mantzoukas, Olivia Munn, and Andy Samberg, but they don’t much with the material their given. Their voice performances aren’t bad, but they leave a lot to be desired at times. There is also an attempt by the movie to deliver social commentary about modern-day America, and while the attempt is appreciated, it feels wholly unoriginal in what it has to say.
A violent and raunchy retelling of American history had the promise to be a great work of satire, but this film grossly mishandles all of its potential. It tries too hard to be outrageous and adult that it forgets to be compelling and tell an interesting narrative. While there needs to be more adult-animated films and shows, this movie does not make a strong case for them.
America: The Motion Picture is bland and not as funny as it seems to be. It has its moments, but this is mostly overshadowed by the laziness of its writing throughout. It may appeal to fans of this director’s previous work, but most will be offput by its execution.
America: The Motion Picture is available on Netflix June 30.
Review by Sean Boelman
The idea of making a movie out of an absolutely wild Twitter thread sounds like a bad idea on paper, and in execution… well… it’s not that good of one either. Despite an interesting visual style and some wholly committed performances, it is hard to overcome the annoying and sometimes even obnoxious nature of Zola.
The film follows a stripper who goes on a wild road trip to Florida with someone she recently met. However, unlike a lot of road movies, this isn’t as much about the journey as it is about the destination and the crazy things that happen there. But ultimately, those things that happen aren’t all that crazy or even all that interesting.
A majority of the movie is building to a finale that is really anticlimactic. We are waiting to see something insane happen in the last act because of the feeling of discomfort that the first hour is sowing, yet the place where the movie ends is rather unsatisfying. It ultimately shares more in common with a slice-of-life film than a road movie.
The movie absolutely captures the griminess of the underground of the Tampa area quite well, but that doesn’t make it a particularly pleasant place to watch a movie. The commentary that the film has on the sex work industry is very interesting, and the comedy-tinged approach that the movie takes is unique, but it doesn’t amount to a great experience.
It is definitely hard to tread the line between voyeurism and otherism, and the film fails to do so effectively. Although it falls short of objectification, it still feels as if the audience is supposed to feel distant from these characters, and that is not where this movie with these themes should be coming from.
The actors do a good job of capturing the culture which they are obviously hoping to depict, for better or worse. Taylour Paige and Riley Keough can be distractingly annoying at times, but given that this is exactly what they were aiming to do, it works. Colman Domingo and Nicholas Braun are good but underused in the supporting cast.
There is a very distinctive visual style to the film as well, although that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Apparently there can be too much energy in a single product, as is perfectly demonstrated by this film. In its attempts to stand out and be stylish, the film becomes altogether overwhelming, even if it does succeed in catching the viewer’s eye.
Zola is a film with a level of energy and enthusiasm that will appeal to a particular crowd but put off a majority of viewers. It’s the very definition of an acquired taste of a film, and unfortunately, it can be quite hard to swallow if you don’t enjoy what it’s putting down.
Zola hits theaters on June 30.
After a delay of more than a year, audiences are finally going to get to see the newest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow, and the question that everyone has to be asking right now is whether or not it was worth the wait. A forgettable but watchable thriller lacking in inspired action, there are some strong moments here but it isn’t to the quality of the recent output of the MCU.
Set between the events of Civil War and Infinity War, the film follows superspy Natasha Romanoff as she unearths a conspiracy with ties to her mysterious past. It’s a relatively bland espionage thriller storyline, and the only thing that really distinguishes it from a generic Russian spy flick is its ties to the Marvel lore.
For the most part, the movie is relatively predictable as it is building to a big reveal and final battle at the end. However, both of these things are quite anticlimactic. It’s nice to see a Marvel film like this have much lower stakes in which the fate of the world doesn’t lie on the hero’s shoulders, but they needed to build excitement some other way.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the movie is that the action is horribly generic. This film takes on a new genre that is much darker and more serious than a lot of what the MCU has done to date, but in terms of fight sequences, it’s relatively plain hand-to-hand combat and gunplay. And the movie’s attempts to infuse humor are quite atrocious.
It’s nice to see that director Cate Shortland was able to give the film a visual style that feels distinctive from the rest of the MCU, with some great use of the sterilized environments, but the script doesn’t give her a whole lot of room to do her thing. For better or worse, it’s a very formal and self-serious movie.
Spin-off solo films typically exist to take existing characters deeper or in new directions, but this movie does not do anything particularly interesting with the Black Widow character. It’s simply an opportunity for the character to go on a solo mission, and her arc is pretty much the same as it has been in other entries. Additionally, the new characters, especially villain Taskmaster, feel entirely wasted.
The ensemble for this film is really great, although they don’t do anything particularly stellar. Scarlett Johannson is doing the same thing that she has always done in the franchise. Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh are both really talented, but their performances feel very half-baked. The only person who is firing on all cylinders here is David Harbour, who is fun to watch but seemingly out-of-place.
If it weren’t a Marvel movie, Black Widow would have come and gone rather quickly. It’s a competently-shot but frustratingly dull movie that could have represented a new direction for the MCU but is really just a self-contained and unimpressive one-off.
Black Widow hits theaters and Disney+ via Premier Access on July 9.
THE LEGEND OF THE UNDERGROUND -- An Important Documentary That Is Equal Parts Shocking and Poetic
Review by Sean Boelman
The new HBO documentary The Legend of the Underground is one of those movies that is enormously hard to review if only because it is so dangerous for the people involved to talk about it. However, Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah have made an essential film to contribute to a necessary conversation.
The movie shines a light on the rampant discrimination in Nigeria by following a group of non-conformist men who are faced with the choice between oppression or fleeing their home country. It’s heartbreaking to see that this still happens anywhere in the world, especially since these issues haven’t received much in the way of public attention.
There is a significant shift around the halfway mark in which the film begins to focus less on the discrimination and Nigeria and more on how the non-conformist community has come together in an attempt to survive, both metaphorically and literally. The first half is shocking and eye-opening, and the latter half is poetically beautiful.
This is a movie about resilience in the face of adversity, and it is absolutely moving as such. The fact that these people are able to put up with so much and yet still find a way to achieve joy in their life is astounding. Bailey and Onuorah don’t shy away from the horrors of the discrimination, but also beautifully depict the things that make the community so amazing.
Perhaps due to fear of their safety, the film doesn’t go into much detail on the individual subjects’ lives. However, it does a great job of making a compelling subject out of the movement as a whole. There are plenty of moments in the movie that give the audience enough of an emotional connection to latch onto.
It would have been nice to see the film go a bit more into detail on the way in which these non-conformist men use dance to express themselves, something which is explored in the second half of the movie, but again, the filmmakers don’t want to go too deep with any one person in order to protect them. Still, this culture makes for the most fascinating part of the film.
The movie has a wonderful visual style inspired by the scene that is depicted in the back half. It’s frequently gorgeous to look at, particularly during the dance sequences. But Bailey and Onuorah also integrate other footage, like recordings of violence against the non-conformists, in a way that is extremely effective.
The Legend of the Underground is a very important documentary bringing attention to an issue that needs to be discussed on a global scale. Hopefully audiences will see this and leave inspired, both to make a difference and to live life to the fullest.
The Legend of the Underground hits HBO and HBO Max on June 29.
TILL DEATH — Megan Fox? Say Less
Reviewed by Adam Donato
Director S.K. Dale debuts his first feature film known as Till Death, a story about an unfaithful wife in a failing marriage who finds herself handcuffed to her dead husband while at a reclusive lake house on their anniversary. Megan Fox herself headlines the movie as Emma, the cheating wife. She is joined by other morally questionable men played by Eoin Macken, Aml Ameen, Jack Roth, and Callan Mulvey. Does Megan Fox carry this movie as well as Emma carries her dead husband?
Did you know that Megan Fox doesn’t only make movies about giant fighting robots and turtles? She’s had herself a nice little acting run since 2019. Nothing worth mentioning, but she even led a movie or two. Despite the fact that Jennifer’s Body came out over a decade ago, it still proves that Fox can lead a good horror movie. In this movie, she doesn’t have very much to do at all. For the first twenty minutes, she’s just kind of over everything and for the rest of the movie she is both literally and metaphorically being weighed down. She’s definitely a notable enough movie star to interest audiences to see this movie and some people will just see this because she’s a famous celebrity crush. Other than that, not much going on here.
So if your lead isn’t doing much, then what else is left here? The title is clever. Weirdly enough there’s another movie called Till Death coming out this year with Evangeline Lilly and Jason Sudeikis. It’s just cute because the whole movie is about how she is tethered to her dead husband and the whole “till death do us part” thing is funny. They can’t part because he is dead.
There is a large chunk of this movie that is just Emma dragging her dead husband around the lake house looking for clues. It is beyond slow and frustrating watching this carry out. The plan of revenge upon Emma is so convoluted anyways. The finishing act of the plot to get back at her is so over the top. Without going into spoilers, the movie delves into a very generic bad guy going after the final girl situation.
Overall, the movie was just under passable. Megan Fox is a character unto herself and even she was underwhelming. I can’t wait to see this movie in the free section on VUDU. Until then, theatrically released horror movies are overachieving this summer and are much more likely to quench that horror thirst. That being said, it will be nice to see Megan Fox in more movies. It’s worth a second glance just for that.
Till Death hits theaters and VOD on July 2.
Review by Sean Boelman
Some of the most interesting stories are those of the storytellers themselves, and romance novelist Jackie Collins proves that trend. The new documentary Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story is fascinating thanks to how interesting its subject is, even if the execution is somewhat conventional.
The film tells the story of Jackie Collins, whose subversive writing led her to become an icon of feminism. The thing that is so crazy about Collins’s story is that it is almost as interesting, if not more so, than her work which created her fame. There are a lot of unexpectedly exciting moments in her life that make for a cinematic documentary.
As a portrait of a woman making her way up the ranks in a traditionally male-dominated field, the movie does a great job. The feminist aspects of this story are definitely those which are the most powerful, and as such, director Laura Fairrie chooses to focus on these elements over anything else.
However, this does come at the expense of some of the more subtle (and perhaps more profound) themes that the film could have explored. Collins’s work poses some interesting questions about sexual politics in the era in which she was most active, but that did not seem to be Fairrie’s priority.
Admittedly, the movie does stick with many of the conventions of the biographical documentary, but like so many of these profiles that are set to air on CNN, much of the film’s success hinges on how interested the viewer is in the subject. Thankfully, Collins’s story is interesting enough to carry a ninety-six minute runtime.
One of the things that the movie does lack is a deep exploration of Collins’s work. Interviewees talk about how subversive her work was, and give a phenomenal explanation of its impact, but perhaps in an attempt to keep everything in a cable-friendly TV-14 rating, there isn’t a whole lot of specificity to the content itself.
Fairrie tells the story mostly through interviews and archive footage. It’s a pretty straightforward way of presenting the information to the audience, putting this firmly in the biographical fluff piece portion of CNN Films’s output rather than the in-depth exposés that have been their bigger breakouts.
Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story isn’t an essential documentary by any means, but for what it is, it’s mostly entertaining. Perhaps without the restraints of a TV-14 rating, this could have been the fascinating exploration of the relationship between society and sex that it had the potential to be.
Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story airs on CNN at 9pm ET/PT on June 27.
Review by Sean Boelman
Enormously angry but in the best way possible, the Macedonian film God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is one of the most underappreciated international movies of the year so far. Teona Strugar Mitevska’s film is a hard-to-watch but rewarding drama, with a not-too-subtle but captivating exploration of important issues.
The movie follows a woman who stirs up her community when she participates in the traditionally male-only ceremony of the Epiphany, causing her to find herself in social and legal trouble. The thing that makes this film so infuriatingly powerful is the fact that it is inspired by a true story, making its seemingly melodramatic leanings feel much more grounded.
For the first thirty minutes or so, we are watching as the protagonist grows increasingly frustrated with her life before she reaches that breaking point. After that, the remaining hour begins to resemble a procedural drama that takes us through the ways in which the patriarchal systems of the Macedonian government and the church oppress women.
As one would expect, the main themes of this movie are largely critical of the patriarchy and organized religion. Sometimes, it does feel as if the film is biting off a bit more than it can chew in terms of themes, but more often than not, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking take on these ideas from a unique perspective.
Admittedly, the character development in the movie is somewhat shallow. The protagonist is a likable character, although her arc exists entirely in service of the themes. As for all of the supporting characters, they are near caricatures with how they pose an obstacle to the protagonist.
Lead actress Zorica Nusheva does an exceptional job in her role. She completely inhabits the role in a way that draws us into Petrunya’s world. A majority of the film is carried on Nusheva’s back, and she steps up in a way that is consistently impressive. The supporting cast is also really solid, although their performances are largely meant to complement Nusheva.
Stylistically, the movie is very gritty and grounded, which works very well for the end product. One of the most impressive things about Mitevska’s style is how she creates a feeling of claustrophobia within the back half of the film, as the protagonist’s world comes crashing down around them.
God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is one of those movies that succeeds largely thanks to its ambition. Even though it doesn’t hit all of its lofty goals, the fact that it set out to reach them in the first place is admirable in and of itself.
God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is now in theaters and virtual cinemas.