Meyer Lansky is one of most notorious gangsters of all time, so one would think that a classic crime saga based on his life would make for some pretty compelling cinema. Unfortunately, despite this fascinating true story and good performances, straightforward screenwriting and bland direction keeps Lansky from being more than passable.
The film follows Lansky in his later years as he is investigated by the feds and tells his life story to a writer who is setting out to turn his story into a bestselling book. This framing device of an aging subject reflecting back on their life of crime through an interview is definitely overused, and this movie fails to add anything new to the equation.
Eytan Rockaway attempts to infuse some excitement into the story by cross-cutting between Lansky’s younger and older years, and while this is mostly effective in creating some artificial momentum, the film still wears out its welcome with a runtime nearing two hours. For a story so extraordinary, it’s severely lacking in intrigue.
There are also some missed opportunities with regards to the movie’s commentary. The film deals with all of the common themes of the crime genre like redemption and complicity, and it doesn’t say anything original about them. Moments that feel like they are going to skewer the government simply don’t land.
The movie also makes the questionable decision of increasing the prevalence of the author character who is interviewing Lansky. Rather than just serving as a framing device, he has an arc of his own, which simply distracts from the main storyline for which audiences will be coming to this film.
The two actors who play Lansky — Harvey Keitel and John Magaro — are both solid. Keitel is playing the character about like he has played every other mobster character in his very impressive career, but Magaro really steals the show with a very watchable performance as the younger version of Lansky.
Rockaway’s direction here is very unimpressive. Although the periodization is fine, it’s clearly not made with the biggest of budgets. However, instead of using creativity to imbue the movie with a more unique style, Rockaway settles for something that is very dull and muted, every shot looking entirely fine but lacking in anything that would make it particularly appealing in an aesthetic sense.
Lansky should have been a very strong crime drama, but for the most part, it’s very middling. Strong performances from its two leads aside, audiences have seen plenty of crime films exactly like this before.
Lansky is now in theaters and on VOD.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Bosch is in its seventh and final season on Amazon Prime. It is based on the LAPD Detective Harry Bosch from the series of novels by Michael Connelly. The series adapts Connelly's books into different seasons of the show. Taking two books at a time and making each season. Season seven adapts The Concrete Blonde, the third novel from 1994, and The Burning Room, the seventeenth novel from 2014. The series writers, Eric Overmeyer, and others have done a very nice job adapting Connelly's books into this gritty yet realistic detective drama.
Season seven consists of eight episodes instead of the usual ten. It doesn't lose any of the punch or drama though with two fewer episodes. If anything, season seven is a more tight compact season compared to the other six. It has to get into the main storyline pretty quickly. Once wherein it doesn't let us go. It builds on Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver), Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hector), and all the established characters in the series, especially Lt. Grace Billets (Amy Aquino) and Police Chief Irvin Irving (Lance Reddick).
Season seven starts with a man throwing a molotov cocktail onto a crowded building where people live. A woman, her mother, and her daughter are making tamales and handing them out to their neighbors. They are caught in the fire that ensues. Including them, two others die in the fire in the building. The little girl is found dead kneeling in front of the door to the roof. This is a tragic event that was gang-related. Bosch and Edgar are tasked with finding out why this tragedy happened and who was responsible for this senseless crime that claimed the lives of these five innocent people.
The thing that is so great about Bosch is that the writers give all the supporting characters their due. As I've mentioned already Billets and Irving have great character arcs throughout season seven, but Maddie Bosch (Madison Lintz), the daughter of Harry, comes into her own as an assistant to Honey Chandler (Mimi Rogers) affectionately called "Money" because she gets settlements for a lot of her clients in her cases. Maddie learns a lot from her and this helps develop her character very well. Jerry Edgar has a good arc as well dealing with his personal life, work, and a shooting from season six. Also, a lot of the subplots come together, in the end, to make for very satisfying conclusions to many of the character arcs.
Harry has gone through a lot in six seasons of this show, but this season he takes it to the next level. He is fed up with the bureaucracy of the system and how some criminals get away with murder, literally. He is a man that can't put up with the failures of the system and he finally does something about it. He's gotten on the nerve of his superiors before, but this time he takes his anger and puts it to good use. I think everybody watching can get behind him on this one. This failure has happened too much and he's the only one who can or will do anything about it. Titus Welliver is incredible this season as Bosch!
There have been a lot of good police dramas in the past, but Bosch is one of the best police shows ever. It's on par with Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and The Wire. Connelly understands this world perfectly and in turn, Overmeyer understands the material he's adapting. This world is one of the unflinching real sides of the LAPD. Amazon let him do what was necessary to make this show and season seven a success. With the great cast including Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch, they captured lightning in a bottle. This is the best last season to season of any show on television or streaming services.
Bosch is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Review by Sean Boelman
Although it isn’t a religious-themed film, The God Committee is just about as didactic as one with its ethical deliberations. However, even though it is certainly heavy-handed, Austin Stark’s medical drama is a solid entry into the genre, posing some thought-provoking questions in an intelligent manner.
The movie follows a committee who is given one hour to decide which of three candidates will get the opportunity to receive a life-saving heart transplant. Based on a play by Mark St. Germain, this is a pretty straightforward chamber piece, lacking in nuance but getting its message across in a way that is genuinely effective.
Stark does a great job of creating tension out of the situation even though the eventual outcome is obvious. There is a second timeline occurring seven years after the main events of the film, and it isn’t entirely necessary, only serving to reinforce the emotional beats and ultimately making everything a tad predictable.
It would have been nice to see the movie do a bit more with its commentary on the hypocrisy of the medical system, in addition to the systemic racism that is embedded deep within institutions like these, but these are abandoned in favor of the more basic exploration of right versus wrong as it applies to medical ethics.
The character development in the film is a bit uneven. The protagonist’s arc as a seemingly stolid old guard doctor with secrets of his own is really conventional, but in the secondary storyline, he has a more compelling redemption arc. And as for all of the supporting characters, they are underdeveloped to varying extents.
All of the actors do a very good job in their roles. Kelsey Grammer is at his best in a long time, giving a performance that is reminiscent of his earlier dramatic work rather than the action schlock he has appeared in lately. Julia Stiles and Janeane Garofalo do a good job providing a foil to him. And Colman Domingo is great as always in his small but pivotal supporting role.
In terms of the movie’s execution, it is very limited in scope because of the fact that it is very much a chamber piece. For a film that is set on a ticking clock, the shooting style is surprisingly static. There are some flourishes of style here and there that show what it could have been, but the script is strong enough to keep the viewer invested.
Despite its imperfections, The God Committee manages to be pretty riveting thanks to strong performances all around and a tense script. The medical drama is a genre that is often full of subpar melodrama, and this is a standout among its peers.
The God Committee hits theaters and VOD on July 2.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The depiction of LGBTQ culture in films is a little bit hit and miss. There have been some great films dealing with this part of America and the world. Getting the gay and lesbian community right in movies is the key to whether or not the movie is good or bad. Films such as Brokeback Mountain, Blue is the Warmest Color, Boys Don't Cry, and Moonlight got this culture correct and it showed in the end product. I Carry You With Me is another film dealing with the gay and lesbian culture. It's also one of the best films of the year so far.
Ivan (Armando Espitia) is a young man who works in a kitchen as a handyman/dishwasher in Puebla, Mexico in 1994. He has a son he helps take care of as well. At night, he lives a secret life as a gay man. His friend Sandra (Michelle Rodríguez) is the only one who knows. While out drinking one night, he meets another gay man, Gerardo (Christian Vazquez). They strike up a relationship with one another, but Ivan has a bigger dream than just having a relationship and working in a low-level position in a kitchen in Mexico. He wants to own his own restaurant.
At the heart of this film is the love story of two people who can't live without one another. As children and as teens, they went through a lot to become who they would be as adults. Growing up in Mexico wasn't easy on them. All of the time people want to leave Mexico to come to America for a better life, even though America isn't necessarily a good place for undocumented Mexicans. It's tough at first for them to get a footing in America, but when do they genuinely find their experience in this country rewarding and fulfilling?
Heidi Ewing, the director, and Alan Page, her writing partner on the script, create a beautiful film of love yet struggle as well. The two main characters go through a lot to be together at the end of the film. The struggle in the middle is what this film stands on. The flashbacks are very solid as well. There is a twist to this film that was very interesting though. This film had a documentary feel to it that I didn't see coming. Ewing and Page made the documentary angle one of fact and not fiction. This film is based on these men's real life. That was a very good part of an almost perfect film.
The acting by both the teen actors was very good in the film. The stand-out was Armando Espitia though. He brought an emotional take on his character that helped the audience including me care about his journey and where he ended up after everything he went through. He had to do a lot of soul searching to find this character that's for sure. The other performances in the film were all solid as well. The father figure couldn't have been easy to play. He came across as very effective in the film.
One of the things that makes this film grounded in reality is the cinematography by Juan Pablo Ramirez. It has a gritty yet lively feeling to it. The scenes of Mexico are very bright and in contrast to the darker colder scenes in New York. Some great shots of snow falling while looking up a bridge were just gorgeous shots. The documentary-style was a little bit better shot than the other stuff, though that shouldn't take away from the scenes in Mexico.
I Carry You With Me has a beautiful story of these two teens who try to keep their love for one another over many years. It's two distinctly different films in a way but seamlessly put together by the director Ewing. The cinematography helps in that regard. It melds scenes together. The acting by all is very good, but the stand out is Espitia in the leading role. In the end, this film has a lot to say about the gay and lesbian culture while being a very effective story about family and the Mexican culture as well. Fighting for what you want in life can be hard, but rewarding and uplifting in the end.
I Carry You With Me hits theaters on June 25.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Rebel Hearts is the newest movie directed by Emmy-winner Pedro Kos. This is his sophomore feature length film, and it had its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Despite its great subjects and rich history, the film squanders the potential of its story and creates something fairly dull and conventional.
The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were a group of trailblazing nuns in the 1960’s. In Los Angeles, the were activists in the community, fighting for equality, fighting against patriarchal oppression, and fighting for their own personal freedom. Through acts of defiance and bravery, they shook the foundations of the Catholic Church and challenged the idea of what a nun and woman were supposed to be. This is an interesting premise for the documentary especially due to its social relevance and the fact these women are still taking a stand today for modern issues.
The movie has some creativity and interesting visual choices at a handful of moments throughout the film, but it also comes off as far too safe in its approach to the story. It excels in superficially telling their story, but it doesn’t too much to dynamically immerse you in their history of activism. It does little more than reading about the events would, and it feels like a missed opportunity considering how rich this subject is.
The nuns themselves are interesting figures. They include Anita Caspary, Helen Kelley, Pat Reif, and Corita Kent. It was interesting to see their sisterhood and how it has developed over the years, and they provide some engaging insight into their lives, and this is where the movie thrives the most. They are each unique and play and individual role in their activism and fight for justice and equality, and they don’t show any signs of stopping soon. They are empowering women who fight for change and did a lot to try and bring the church into the modern age.
The movie isn’t necessarily bad, but it is underwhelming. It takes such an inspiring and radical story with tons of social relevance, and it doesn’t capitalize on those traits. It’s content to refrain from examining the intricacies and nuances of their story. While this probably makes it more palatable for viewers, it also feels like we’re missing some pieces of the story that are pertinent for a more profound experience.
Rebel Hearts has a great story behind it with a lot of interesting nuns, and it works in telling their story. However, for those looking for an in-depth dive into these sisters’ activism and fight for equality, you may be slightly underwhelmed.
Rebel Hearts is in select theaters June 25 and streaming on Discovery+ on June 27.
SUMMER OF SOUL (...OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) -- A Decent Musical Doc With Amazing Footage
Review by Camden Ferrell
The summer of 1969 has become something of legend. Most associate it with the iconic festival that was Woodstock. However, fewer know of another festival that happened about 100 miles away in that same summer. The directorial debut of famous musician Questlove, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) explores the event that was known to some as Black Woodstock. It premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize. This is a documentary that features some really interesting archival footage even if it isn’t fully comprehensive.
The Harlem Cultural Festival was a series of concerts that celebrated African American culture while also serving as a platform for their politics. This documentary unearths previously unseen footage and intercuts it with retrospective interviews about the festival and its influence on the community. It’s an interesting event that hasn’t been explored nearly enough, and it’s an engaging and enjoyable basis for this film.
It is clear that Questlove has a lot of personal investment in the film, and it feels like a labor of love. However, there are some pacing inconsistencies throughout that aren’t distracting but are somewhat noticeable. Certain sections have great energy and momentum, and then there are other moments that don’t flow nearly as well for the film’s sake. Despite its flaws, it shows that he has a lot of talent as a director and his experienced musical perspective is evident in the way he presents the events in the film.
The best part of this film is easily the archival footage which is quite ethereal and captivating. It features some truly amazing performances from legends like B.B. King, Nina Simone, and Sly and the Family Stone. It’s no surprise that these performances are great, but it to see them in that setting surrounded by their people and their culture makes for an unforgettable performance from them.
For the most part, the interviews are entertaining and add some insight and perspective into the event. There are some interviewees that aren’t the most ideal for this documentary, but the movie does a great job of really examining the implications of this event. It highlights the significance of this event in the context of late 1960’s U.S. and the turmoil of the time. While it doesn’t dive too deep into the politics, it does give the viewer a working understanding of the political climate for Black Americans and how this festival played a part in history.
It has its flaws, and it’s not as polished as it could have been, but Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) features some phenomenal footage and pairs it with a history lesson that is entertaining more than anything. It’s a fun musical documentary that will be of interest to those invested in history and the lesser-known events of Black Woodstock.
Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is in theaters June 25 and on Hulu July 2.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Fast and the Furious franchise is known for two things: cars and family. They have stretched the term family to its limits. Some of the villains they have faced are actual family members. Deckard and Owen Shaw have caused quite the problem for Dom and his "family" in previous installments in the franchise. Family is there throughout these films, but not once has there ever been a mention of Dom having a brother despite the family being a mainstay in the series of films.
Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living an idyllic life on a secluded farm in an undisclosed location until they are visited by friends — or "family", if you will — of theirs who have information about Mr. Nobody's (Kurt Russell) plane crashed in a nondescript foreign country with not so friendly members of an army. This leads to a sinister plot involving Cypher (Charlize Theron) and Dom's estranged brother, Jacob (John Cena). Revenge is in their hearts. Dom and his family must save the world once again.
Along the way, the family runs into a few familiar faces that play a role in this ridiculous revenge plot by Cena, Theron, and their benefactor. The money man if you will. The Shaws' mother (Helen Mirren) gets involved with Diesel when they go to the UK. Her thieving ways are still on her mind. The duo from Tokyo Drift is back as well. Lucas Black and Bow Wow help in getting the crew some cars while in Europe. A suped-up Fiero plays a major part in the film as well. The biggest return in the film, in a head-scratching move, is Han (Sung Kang), who died at the end of Furious 7...
This franchise has been known for some amazing set pieces in its history and this film doesn't let viewers down on that account. The first action scene in that nondescript foreign country was quite breathtaking, to say the least. It involved racing through a minefield and ended with Cena's character racing off the side of a cliff only to be magnetized to the bottom of an oncoming stealthy plain and Diesel's car hooking itself to a wire, similar to a scene in Hobbs and Shaw, and pulling his car across a ravine with a bridge that was destroyed. This is the tip of the iceberg on action scenes in this film.
Sometimes the plot and stories in these films can leave a little bit to be desired. A lot of the time, they are revenge plots involved with saving the world. This film is no different than the others. It's a paint-by-numbers version of many of the previous plots of films in this franchise and action films in general. These films have gotten away from racing cars and turned into saving the world from men and women who are bent on world domination. When did this franchise become a superhero franchise? Needless to say, the story in this film is ridiculous and goes way beyond anything that is in an intelligent thought process. It's incomprehensible!
Justin Lin is no stranger to the Fast and the Furious franchise. He directed four other installments in this series, including some of the most successful films in the franchise. That being said, this film is a step backward from Fast & Furious 6, but it's not as bad as Tokyo Drift. It's somewhere in the middle of the rankings of this series of films. It has some action scenes that are comparable with the other films in the franchise, but it lacks the originality of other action films. Lin goes to the well too many times on this so-called family angle. I'm just fed up with these story beats.
The Fast Saga has worn itself thin. It has used so many tropes over and over again to the point of being ridiculously overused. The action scenes are good, but except for the opening scene, are nothing special. The dialogue in the film is so dull and infantile that a child could do better with it than Diesel, Cena, and other returning characters. This film contradicted itself from previous films in the franchise and that, to me, is the ultimate sin for Lin and company. Universal has been going to the well one too many times and it shows by how old and stale this film is. It's one of the worst in the franchise!
F9 hits theaters on June 25.
Review by Sean Boelman
Comedian Iliza Shlesinger gets her first big screen starring role in the unorthodox romantic comedy Good on Paper, which she also wrote herself. Darkly funny and not entirely predictable, Shlesinger offers a refreshingly unique spin on a genre that benefits greatly from her comedic voice.
The film follows a stand-up comedian who begins to suspect that the seemingly perfect guy she met may actually be too good to be true. Ironically, the premise doesn’t sound very good on paper but is much better in execution, as it sets up the tropes in the first act only to demolish them in the remainder of the movie.
For much of the first half of the film, it’s a slightly cutesy romantic comedy, although it clearly feels as if there is something awry. Although the movie never goes as far off the rails as one would hope, it’s also a lot more ambitious and daring than a majority of films in the genre, and it will catch viewers off guard more than once.
The framing device of the movie, a comedian telling this story as a part of a stand-up routine, is effective but underutilized. The film easily could have thrown in an unreliable narrator element, which would have allowed the movie to stand out even more within the genre. But thankfully the film still has plenty of laughs to offer.
Shelsinger finds a good balance between embracing and subverting archetypes in her script. Although the supporting characters do seem a bit conventional at times, there are plenty of moments in which she plays with the audience’s expectations to create an emotional beat that is unexpectedly very genuine.
The acting in the movie is also very strong. Shlesinger is a charming leading lady, and obviously she connects with the material well because she wrote it herself (and it was partially inspired by some of her own experiences). Ryan Hansen is great in his role as the love interest, absolutely nailing the different sides of the character.
From a technical standpoint, the film is about as one would expect of a mid-budget romantic comedy. It’s generally oversaturated and artificial, but not in a way that is exaggerated enough to be tongue-in-cheek. But there’s no surprise that the movie’s style is attractive people doing attractive things attractively.
Good on Paper is a genuinely good romantic comedy, keeping viewers on their toes even when it does play it a bit on the safe side. For her first real step up to the plate, Iliza Shlesinger was able to go to bat pretty well.
Good on Paper streams on Netflix beginning June 23.
Review by Sean Boelman
It’s always interesting to see when filmmakers take two genres that are seemingly at odds with each other and attempt to combine them, as it can either result in something intriguingly creative or a colossal misfire. Wyatt Rockefeller’s sci-fi Western Settlers may not be the pinnacle of originality, but it’s an entertaining and ambitious flick nonetheless.
The film follows a family of refugees living on Earth whose attempts at a peaceful life are disturbed when a stranger threatens to invade their lives. It’s a story we’ve seen in plenty of times in the Western genre before — the mysterious outlaw getting involved in the lives of the innocent townsfolk with unknown intentions — and it translates well into a sci-fi setting.
What Rockefeller struggles to do in his script is find the balance between concise and fully-developed storytelling. It’s clear that his priority here was to write a movie that was entertaining from start-to-finish, but the final product has very little room to breathe. Lots of time jumps with little explanation will leave viewers a tad confused.
Rockefeller’s script also lacks a clear deeper meaning. Some of the ideas that he is playing around with in the script are obvious, but are presented in a way that is too subtle to be insightful. Ultimately, the action and family drama ends up taking center stage, relegating any commentary that Rockefeller had to the background.
The film also could have done more in terms of character development. The final act hits that sweet spot that the movie was trying to find of ambiguity in terms of the characters, but the first two-thirds feel a bit disconnected. The mother-daughter relationship that should have served as the emotional connection isn’t fully explored.
That said, the cast does an absolutely exceptional job of making the most out of their characters. Young actress Brooklynn Prince has finally gotten another opportunity to showcase her range after her breakout in The Florida Project. Ismael Cruz Cordova is sinisterly alluring in his role. And Sofia Boutella and Jonny Lee Miller round out the supporting cast quite well.
It is on a visual level that Rockefeller is perhaps most successful. This is an independent production, but Rockefeller makes the most of what he had at his disposal to make a film that is immersively claustrophobic. The audience will feel this future and otherworldly setting come to life, but feel like they are absolutely trapped in it at the same time.
Many of the imperfections of Settlers are in its script, but there are enough great elements in Wyatt Rockefeller’s debut to make it worthy of recommendation. It’s an enjoyable movie that elevates itself beyond its constraints quite well.
Settlers hits theaters and VOD on July 23.
Review by Sean Boelman
Lots of films try to tackle issues that are timely and relevant, but few manage to pull it off in a way that doesn’t feel disconnected to some extent. Magnus von Horn’s confident character study Sweat is a mostly captivating film, exploring its themes in a way that both creates a compelling atmosphere and poses some interesting questions.
The film follows a fitness influencer with a massive social media following who, despite the adoration of her fans and employees, struggles to find true intimacy in her life. It’s a rather one-note character study, but the thing that allows it to stand out is how it feels like it is fundamentally a film made for the moment we are going through now.
There’s a lot to be said about the way in which interaction has changed since social media has become dominant, but the thing that holds most satires back is that they tend to be overly paranoid cautionary tales. Magnus von Horn’s script explores both the good and the bad of the social media generation in a way that makes it feel much more representative of reality.
The protagonist of the film has a satisfying amount of nuance. When it comes to a character that is on such a completely different wavelength, it would be very easy for them to come across as annoying. Yet von Horn presents the character in a way that is empathetic and peels back the curtain early enough on her showy personality for the audience to connect with the story.
Magdalena Kolesnik gives an absolutely breathtaking performance in her leading role. Her ability to switch from a bright and cheery online persona to a more muted and down-to-earth one is thoroughly impressive. She absolutely sells every moment she is in, no matter how exaggerated it might be.
In the director’s chair, von Horn brings a very accomplished style to the film. Starting with the very kinetic opening scene, it’s clear that what van Horn is doing here will be something interesting. And as layer upon layer is peeled back and darker things are revealed, the style of the film goes along with itto great effect.
The film’s substantial flaw is that it ends up being somewhat one-note. The first thirty minutes or so are intriguing as we are drawn into the protagonist’s spiraling world, and it definitely sticks the landing, but there is a middle section that drags quite a bit. While this portion is adequately distressing, it doesn’t hold the viewer’s attention as much as the rest of the film.
Sweat succeeds where a lot of other social media satires have failed, and while there are some moments that lose their momentum, it’s still a very impressive film. It’s a fascinating European art film that cinephiles will eat up.
Sweat is now in theaters and hits Mubi on July 23.