Review by Dan Skip Allen
Amazon Studios has done it again. They have found another book to adapt to the screen. This time it's Jack Carr's The Terminal List, adapted into a series produced and starring Chris Pratt and written by David DiGilio. It's a pretty dense story and series. This might be one of Prime Video's best book adaptations yet.
James Reece (Chris Pratt) is a Navy Seal on a covert mission in the middle east when he realizes that his team has been ambushed, and they struggle just to survive. After he gets home, he starts to recover from a form of PTSD. His friends, including Ben Edwards Jean (Taylor Kitsch), help him understand his condition. When a plucky young reporter, Katie Beranek (Constance Wu), starts snooping around about the ambush, this sets her and Reece on a spiral of corruption and shady businessmen and government officials.
Jeanne Tripplehorn plays the Secretary of Defense, who gets embroiled in this man's hunt to discover what's going on in his head and who else is responsible. Along with her is a shady businessman played by Jai Courtney. Together these two and others have conspired to create a drug that makes PTSD impossible for soldiers, making them perfect soldiers. Except something went wrong on that mission, and Reece aims to find out what.
Chris Pratt is primarily known for being a comedic actor with the sitcom Parks and Recreation and the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise to his credit, but he can also show a more serious side to him with Moneyball, The Tomorrow War, and the Jurassic World franchise under his belt. He has even been in a war film before as well — Zero Dark Thirty — which prepared him for the role he plays in The Terminal List. He plays a Navy Seal in both projects. They are very similar, with this series being a more extensive look at men who fought in the Middle East and the cost it pays once you return from the war on terrorism. His career has come a long way.
Pratt shows in this series how dedicated he is to it. After all, he's an executive producer on it. The series shows the ins and outs of the war on terror with a twist, which makes this series so good. The various places it goes were surprising to me yet still very rewarding. The gunplay and action sequences were first-rate and completely sucked me into the series. I felt like I was along for the ride with this man on his mission of revenge. The writer and directors of the series show their dedication to the material with the level of authenticity they go to show the world and everything it entails. This show is a great example of what you can do when you put a lot of thought and effort into every aspect of it.
The Terminal List streams on Prime Video beginning July 1.
Review by Camden Ferrell
In 2010, Despicable Me was released in theaters and Minions became a global phenomenon. One can see them in all successive movies as well as on merchandise and in theme parks. They had their first solo outing in 2015’s Minions and are about to embark on their second solo movie Minions: The Rise of Gru. You should know what to expect going into this movie, and for those who are willing to sit back and go along for the ride, you will be treated with a silly, adorable, and quite hilarious family film that surpasses its predecessor.
At the end of their first movie, the Minions meet their future boss Gru. This movie, as one can interpret from its title, follows the ascension of Gru to villainous prominence, but this is still a Minions movie more than anything. I think the introduction of Gru to the narrative helps things feel more grounded, but it’s great that the Minions still command the spotlight in their own movie.
While on the surface, the writing appears to be on par with other entries in this franchise, it seems that they’ve finally cracked the code to writing a movie starring characters who speak their own language. Since Minionese is their primary form of communication, the movie relies heavily on physical comedy and interaction, and this sequel does a great job of balancing this out with its own narrative and human characters. This prevents it from feeling tired or repetitive as the original could often fall victim to such a flaw.
This movie features familiar actors and new ones as well who are great additions to the series. Pierre Coffin lends his voice to the army of Minions and is just as good as ever. Steve Carell returns as Gru and is able to add a lot of comedy to the movie as well. New cast members that I really enjoyed consists of acclaimed actors like Michelle Yeoh, Alan Arkin, and Taraji P. Henson. The ensemble isn’t amazing, but they are fun and energetic additions to this movie.
While it doesn’t have Pixar levels of maturity, this is a movie that kids will definitely love due to its nonstop antics, but adults will also probably find much to enjoy in this harmless and hilarious film. Its message isn’t original or unique, but this movie never fails to make you smile thanks to a hefty dose of Minions in nearly every scene.
Minions: The Rise of Gru might be the best movie in this franchise so far, and it has plenty to enjoy from its great comedy, cute leading characters, and some fun cameos and easter eggs for fans of the series. As it gets hotter outside and schools are let out for the summer, this is definitely a good way to entertain yourselves in theaters this coming week.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is in theaters July 1.
Review by Sean Boelman
In the battle of the Hollywood Chrises, the one that reigns supreme is often shifting depending on what projects each is putting out. Well, Chris Pine is making his first foray into producing with Cheryl Nichols’s Doula, which somewhat ineffectively straddles the line between mainstream and indie comedy.
The film follows a Los Angelino couple who hires the son of their suddenly-deceased midwife to be their live-in doula, soon resulting in them butting heads with the unorthodox hipster. It’s a fun odd couple comedy premise, even if the film falls back on the same old tropes despite its desperate attempts to stand out.
Arron Shiver’s script has some moments that will elicit a chuckle, but nothing is ever as hilarious as it feels like it should be. A few quips about the myths that the patriarchy has created about a woman’s role in pregnancy are memorable, but other than that, it’s mostly the usual gags that we have seen in any film of the genre.
The film attempts to explore the same themes that pretty much any pregnancy comedy has done before, and not in a way that feels very sincere. Admittedly, a big part of the issue is likely the fact that the film is written by men whose perspective is that of an outsider, leading to some of the dialogue being a bit stilted.
However, even though the film doesn’t explore its themes of motherhood in any particularly innovative way, it stands out by taking an interesting approach to its characters. The film almost structures the dynamic as if it were a love triangle even though it is something different altogether.
Still, it feels like there are a lot of missed opportunities in the film to make things even richer. A subplot about the protagonist’s basketball career being threatened by motherhood is intriguing but feels like it is only there to set up one visual gag. And the whole blended family element of the film is absolutely wasted.
The biggest strength of the film is certainly its cast. Troian Bellisario gives an unexpectedly nuanced performance in a role that easily could have fallen back on physical comedy. Will Greenberg is an excellent complement in his very deadpan role. And Pine himself gives a very funny cameo.
Doula is enjoyable enough, but for most audiences, it will leave something to be desired. Likable characters and strong performances make up for the script’s shortcomings in delivering laughs or anything of substance to say.
Doula is now available on VOD.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Sports films can be a bit hit and miss as a genre. Sure there is a good chunk of them that are excellent, but there are a lot of bad films in this genre as well. Basketball films are a little far and in between. For every basketball film, there are two or three baseball and football films. That being said, there are two basketball films out right now: (the fictional) Hustle on Netflix and Rise on Disney+, which is the true story of Giannis Antetokounmpo. One is definitely better than the other.
The Antetokounmpos are from Lagos, Nigeria. In 1990, they were struggling to make ends meet, and there was civil unrest in the country. So the father decides it's best to move the family to Greece, where there is less trouble for his wife and kids. He notices his boys are pretty tall, so he tries to get them to learn how to play basketball at the local courts around where they live. At first, they struggle with the game but eventually learn to perfect it.
The two brothers, Giannis and Thanasis Antetokoumpo (Uche Agada, Ral Agada), are at first like fish out of water at the sport of basketball. Traveling and bowling a lot, they pick up the nuance of the sport relatively quickly — so quickly that they start to have scouts notice them. These scouts can help them get an attractive deal with NBA franchises or get drafted through the NBA draft lottery. There is a little problem, though. They have visa issues that can hamper their progression into the NBA.
Even though this is a true story, it has dramatic moments that make for a good story. The family issues and visa issues create moments that the viewers can be upset about, especially since most sports fans know the outcome of these brothers' stories. The parents' backstory was where the true story was for me and also the agent that helped the brothers out. I don't know how much creative license was taken with these characters, but they were the real heart of the story for me.
A major problem I had with the film was the acting across the board. I just couldn't get into the performances by the cast, especially the two brothers. It just felt like everybody was wooden in their performances, but maybe that was the dialogue and or direction they were given.
In sports movies, how the actual sport is portrayed on screen is a major part of whether the film is good or bad. This film seemed to me to get the basketball wrong. It just seemed too staged, whereas the other basketball film out right now got the basketball scenes perfect. It could have been the budget or insufficient time to prepare, but they didn't look good to me.
Rise had good intentions, but it fell apart in two major categories for me: The acting and staging and execution of the game of basketball. Disney has done more than its share of inspirational sports films, but this one won't be considered among its good ones. There may be underlying problems I don't know about, but I can only go off of the end result, and this film just isn't that good from a few major standpoints.
Rise is now streaming on Disney+.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Sea Beast has a legacy filmmaker attached to it, making it a film people should pay attention to: Chris Williams, who has been involved with pretty big Disney films like Moana, Big Hero 6, and others. His pedigree as an animator, a writer, and a director is pretty extensive. He may not be one of the biggest names in the industry, but his latest movie shows he's a very good filmmaker. It's one of the best animated films of the year so far.
In an undisclosed kingdom in a time and place not really said (but it looks like the colonial age or Victorian age), so-called monsters roamed the open seas, and so monster hunters were born. The Inevitable is captained by Captain Crow (Jared Harris) and is the number one monster hunter ship in the fleet. He rescued a young boy, Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), who's now all grown up. He is his trusty captain's mate. When a young girl Maise (Zaris-Angel Hator), shows away on the ship, everything he thought he knew about hunting monsters is turned on its head.
The voice cast in this film is fantastic, but the real champion of this film is the animation. The computer animation is absolutely breathtaking to behold. It is no surprise considering Chris Williams's pedigree. The monsters have an animated look to them, but everything else looks real. There are islands, town settings, kingdom castles, and many scenes of the ocean that look amazing. The detail involved with the ships is so intricate and detailed, and so is the clothing characters wear in the film.
Like many animated films, this film has some great messages about nature and understanding the wilderness and its creatures. History plays a big part in why we do what we do regarding how we treat animals. How people treat something that they don't understand is a big part of the progress of society. The Sea Beast handles these topics very well.
Netflix has been hit-and-miss with its animated films, but I can honestly say this is a fantastic film. Netflix invested in good people who have a great track record with animation. Chris Williams got good screenwriters with a good story to tell and used his expertise to implement their ideas into a beautiful, fun, action-packed animated film. All great animated films have great messages in them, and this one also does, but younger audiences will enjoy this film as well. The cast is terrific, and I was instantly sucked into these characters' stories from the beginning.
The Sea Beast is now in theaters and hits Netflix on July 8.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Man From Toronto had some behind-the-scenes drama before it even started filming. Jason Statham was set to star in his action vehicle opposite Kevin Hart before abruptly leaving the project due to the dreaded creative differences. In stepped Woody Harrelson to fill the void Statham left. From what I have seen in the film, Harrelson filled in admirably, resulting in a movie that was a lot of fun.
Teddy Nilson (Kevin Hart) is an average guy with a YouTube channel that nobody watches. He has one thing going for him: a beautiful wife who stands by him through thick and thin. He plans a nice romantic getaway at an AirBnB by a lake in a secluded area so he and her can spend some alone time together on her birthday. When he arrives at the cottage, he is mistaken for the titular title character "The Man From Toronto" until the actual Man from Toronto (Woody Harrelson), an assassin for hire, arrives, and all hell breaks loose.
Surprisingly Woody Harrelson and Kevin Hart have very good chemistry together. They have a lot of banter that brings laughs: Hart as the comedic pulse and Harrelson as the stoic serious tough guy. Various sequences involve a lot of action and some visual effects that might not be very believable, but we go with it because of the investment we've made in the odd couple. One, in particular, is a very good plane action scene; other action films could learn from the people who did this one.
There is a side story here that is basically the heart and soul of the film. This story anchors an action-heavy movie that needs a little more substance, and this subplot does the job. Once we, as the viewers, get to know these characters, their backstories and lives away from the main plot become even more important. By the end of the film, we are fully invested in the outcome of the two main protagonists and their lives. This film does a great job of setting all of this up and paying for it off.
Besides the two main characters, the film introduces us to a few supporting characters that are pretty superfluous to the plot — like Kaley Cuoco's character — except for one, in particular, played by Ellen Barkin. She is pretty sinister and greedy and has underlying ideas of how things should be going. They don't end up the way she wants in the end. The running gag of various other assassins named after their cities is pretty cool as well.
Kevin Hart has been getting these types of roles ever since he teamed up with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in films like Central Intelligence and the Jumanji reboot films. He plays this type of neurotic oddball pretty well. It's become his forte in Hollywood now. Cast Kevin Hart in an actioner opposite a perceived tough guy and let him go to work being funny. Wash, rinse, repeat, and it's a pretty good formula for him. Usually, these films are successful, and after watching The Man From Toronto, he has another hit on his hands.
Even though this film had some behind-the-scenes drama, it didn't affect the outcome. This film turned out fine. The chemistry between Hart and Harrelson was pretty good. Not Hart and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson good, but pretty good. The action sequences were very good, especially the plane sequence. The supporting cast was fine, and the film was pretty funny all-around. This might actually be a big hit for Netflix, which desperately needs it.
The Man From Toronto streams on Netflix beginning June 24.
Review by Sean Boelman
A24 has become known for a lot of things, but children’s films is not one of them… yet. And still, the expansion of the viral YouTube short from over a decade ago, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, is one of the most tender movies that the studio has ever gotten its hands on, and the level of pure joy in it is infectious.
The film is a mockumentary about a mollusk living in a garden with his grandmother as he sets out on a quest to find the rest of their family from which they were tragically separated. It seems like a silly premise — who’s going to care about a shell with a googly eye? But the amount of humanity that the writers get out of such a silly concept is astounding.
Admittedly, the youngest of kids might have a hard time getting into the movie because it is a bit on the slow side. The chuckles are there, and pretty frequent, but a lot of the jokes aren’t going to be the type that is funny to elementary school-age viewers. And the stakes in the film aren’t because of tension, but from an emotion that kids of that age usually haven’t felt yet.
The themes that the movie explores are much deeper than one would expect. It might just be the most mature kids’ movie ever made — not that it’s inappropriate or too complex for younger audiences to understand, but it deals with these topics in such a gentle, compelling way that we aren’t used to seeing in movies aimed at this age range.
Kids’ movies have a tendency to easily get the audience to connect with their anthropomorphic characters, but the characterization here is some of the most phenomenal you will ever see in the genre. Marcel’s personality shines through of course — that’s what made the short go viral in the first place — but the part that will really make the film resonate with audiences is the relationship between him and his grandma.
And really, as far as (partially) animated movies go, this has a pretty minimalist voice cast, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. Jenny Slate disappears into her role as the titular mollusk, and is quite funny, but the real scene-stealer is Isabella Rossellini. The amount of emotion that she brings to her role is equally awe-inspiring and soul-crushing.
The way in which Dean Fleischer-Camp blends the stop-motion animation with the live-action backgrounds is beautiful, largely thanks to great cinematography by Eric Adkins and Bianca Cline. But the animation work in and of itself is masterful, getting so much in terms of storytelling out of such simplistic designs.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is a true accomplishment in children’s filmmaking: one of the most wholesome, lovely films that you can see with the entire family this year. It’s adorable, poignant, and funny, which is all that audiences can ask for at the movies.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On opens in theaters on June 24 and expands July 15.
Review by Paris Jade
A Western murder mystery set in the late 1800s is a captivating tale if done right. Murder at Yellowstone City has great tones of mystery that set itself up perfectly for its plot. A local prospector strikes gold and is found murdered after a mysterious man enters the town. The sheriff arrests the man, but certain townsfolk think he may be innocent; it’s up to them to find the evidence.
This film is decently entertaining if you love a simple murder mystery. Certain key plot moments might feel a bit obvious, and the plot twists are definitely predictable, but it doesn’t make it a terrible movie. The characters are compelling enough to keep you entertained. You want to root for them and hope for the best, but you don’t need anymore or want more from them. Sometimes when you really like a character, you want more of them, but here, it’s all just enough. There are some characters that you could have less of or are just a bit boring but important to drive the plot further. Specifically, one little girl just runs around most scenes carrying a gun like she runs the world.
Cinematically, the best scenes are the shoot-out and murder scenes. Every scene is choreographed well and is seamlessly transferred onto the screen. The action sequences are really the only reason to watch this film. Everything else is just average. It’s all very simple. There is nothing that screams special about this movie. It follows simple rules and themes, and the filmmakers tried to go for a regular old “don’t judge a book by its cover” message. As quick as the movie is and as entertaining as those action sequences can be, it is a bit boring that there’s nothing more.
For the film being two hours long, it goes by very quickly. No scene is unimportant, and everything fits together perfectly. Murder at Yellowstone City has all of the simple elements that make a murder mystery. The only thing that differentiates this film from the others is that it’s set and made like a Western movie, which still doesn’t make it that different from others. If you are a person who, for some reason, has to watch every murder mystery movie ever made, go ahead and knock this one out. If you are just a casual movie watcher and want something good and entertaining, maybe skip out on watching this one — it’s not really worth it.
See Murder at Yellowstone City in theaters and on VOD June 24.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
For modern indie music fans, Press Play promises an exceptional soundtrack filled with Father John Misty and Japanese Breakfast that plays an important role in the plot of the film. Yet, its fun soundtrack and time-traveling concept can’t save the many faults of Greg Björkman’s directorial debut.
A love story centered around the loss of music fanatic Harrison, the magic of mix-tapes comes into play as his girlfriend Laura learns she can revisit the past through a mix-tape they made. Rushing to save Harrison from his untimely death, Laura shifts important moments in their relationship in an attempt to deal with her grief.
The concept of Press Play will intrigue any music fan with its elements of High Fidelity and the sci-fi aspect, similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But unlike those films, Press Play is devoid of any real emotion or musical nuance. The movie opens in medias res with Laura time-traveling via cassette tape before cutting to Laura and Harrison’s first introduction. From there, we get glimpses of their relationship through key moments that are backdropped by songs that will later be on their mix-tape.
The fast-paced depiction of their relationship does little to direct the audience’s emotion when Harrison is killed by a drunk driver, so Laura’s crazed attempt to bring him back feels unwarranted and uncharacteristic. Moments of conflict in their relationship also feel unimportant as they are quickly and efficiently solved between the two, making Laura’s later regret all the more confusing.
Beyond the depiction of their relationship, Laura and Harrison also individually fall flat. Laura is an artist who meets Harrison through her friend Chloe, Harrison’s step-sister. After Harrison’s death, Laura becomes distant and unresponsive to what seems to be her good friend Chloe; granted, their relationship has always revolved around Harrison, so it’s unclear what their average friendship dynamic is actually like.
Meanwhile, Harrison is a supposed music enthusiast who works at a local record shop while he’s not studying to be a doctor. Harrison’s music expertise is only exhibited by him working at the shop and the fact that he initially tells Laura he doesn’t like Japanese Breakfast. Besides that, along with some quips about the unique aspects of records, his music expertise doesn’t go any further. His plan to become a doctor is also cut short when he decides to stay with Laura instead of continuing his studies.
Both Laura and Harrison appear more like caricatures of artists and pretentious music nerds than accurate or even at least interesting depictions of the two. This, in combination with the weak premise of their relationship, makes any interesting piece of the time-traveling aspect feel unrewarding. The final scene, where Laura gets her wish, disregarding anything she had learned earlier, puts the nail in the coffin for any sort of likability in Press Play.
Press Play premieres in theaters and on-demand on June 24th.
Review by Sean Boelman
Peter Strickland is one of the most fascinating genre directors working today, making films that are bizarre and unorthodox yet still comfortably familiar in how they pay homage to the genre. However, Flux Gourmet is arguably his most out-there movie yet — a pitch-black comedy that swings for the fences — and while it might not be a home run, it's certainly an impressive turn at bat.
The film follows a collective of unorthodox performance artists who make music through culinary means as they get entangled in scandalous affairs while in residence at a bizarre culinary institute. Imagine something akin to a boarding school melodrama, but with a bit of a horror-comedy tinge, and that is the essence of what Strickland’s script has to offer.
And yet, even by Strickland’s standards, the movie does go a bit off the deep end. At first, the film seems like a two-hour fart joke. And while that’s certainly absurd, fans of Strickland will know there is more going on here. He lampoons high society in a way that only he would (and perhaps, only he could) — by juxtaposing it against lowbrow humor.
But that is the point here, after all. Strickland wants us to laugh at the absurdity and the ridiculousness of high society, but in a way that makes us feel really uncomfortable and introspective. And as always, he really reinforces this unnerving feeling in the final act, culminating in a last image that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
Strickland does a great job of giving the audience very mixed feelings about these characters. On one hand, they are really pompous and ridiculous, but then their humanity shines through and we can’t really hate them. It’s this moral ambiguity that radiates throughout the film and really allows it to thrive.
Asa Butterfield is the highest-profile actor in the movie, but he is playing a really restrained role here. It’s still a character that is very awkward like his usual type, but not in the same way. The surprising standout here is Makis Papadimitriou, who is both hilarious and endearing as the film’s narrator and observational protagonist.
It is on a technical level that Strickland’s movie is such a marvel, but that is always the case with his work. The film is very experimental with sound, which is fitting for a movie about a group of experimental sound musicians. But even visually, the film is downright fantastic, with a use of color that is at once aesthetically appealing and tremendously unsettling.
Flux Gourmet is a very funny dark comedy, but only if you are attuned to Peter Strickland’s unique sense of humor. Some are going to be quick to dismiss this as weird and random, whereas its target audience will latch onto those things and love the movie for it.
Flux Gourmet hits theaters and VOD on June 24.