Review by Adam Donato
A Love Song is a romance film from writer/director Max Walker-Silverman. This is his first feature as his only other credits are shorts. The film stars Dale Dickey as an older woman who is camping out west as she awaits an old friend from her past. The man is played by Wes Studi and they finally reunite. Having made its debut an official selection at Sundance Film Festival, it’ll be interesting to see if A Love Song will get somewhat of a theatrical run during the wake of the summer movie season. If it does, is the film good enough to stray eyes away from the waning hours of the blockbuster’s run?
This is one of the sweetest and most genuine movies of the year. Dickey’s performance is one of the best of the year no matter what category. There’s very little dialogue in the film and a great deal of the scenes are just Dickey hanging out in the middle of nowhere. Seeing her reactions to things and how she carries herself in general speaks volumes. The dialogue in her scene opposite Studi is good, but the main message being conveyed is through their body language. These stars may not be notable enough to garner mainstream interest, but people may recognize them from some of their older roles. For newcomers, these performances sure are strong enough to peak their interest and maybe dive into some of their older work. This movie may get lost in the summer movie season shuffle, but it deserves to be in the conversation come the end of the year awards season.
The plot is very bare bones, which really allows the performances to breathe. If somebody watched this and said nothing happened, that would be fair. It’s a quick 82 minute movie. Most of it is just spent following Dickey do her everyday living and the people she encounters along the way. This movie is very reminiscent of Nomadland: an older woman living in the middle of nowhere in a lackluster situation dealing with baggage from the past and interacting with her neighbors. Not a bad template to base your movie on. It definitely allows the characters and the performance to take center stage, while also utilizing the setting for some beautiful landscape shots.
It may not have dinosaurs or Navy planes, but A Love Song might be the most human story told this summer. Definitely jump on the opportunity to see this movie if it gets a theatrical run near you. If it does not, this is the type of movie that can be enjoyed just as much on the small screen as well thanks to its wonderful performances and a great first entry from director Walker-Silverman.
A Love Song opens in theaters on July 29.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Rebecca Hall had been a successful actress in films such as The Night House, The Town, and Christine, and more recently, a director for Passing on Netflix. Her career has spanned a decade and a half, but I don't think her latest film, Resurrection, is like anything she's done before. She had to go to crazy lengths to make this character seem unhinged.
Margaret (Rebecca Hall) is a successful businesswoman, mother, and all-around capable person. Her life is in pretty good order until someone from her past comes back into her life, turning it on end. Everything she thought she knew about her life changes in a blink of an eye. Her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman), her lover Peter (Michael Esper), and a co-worker who she's mentoring, Gwyn (Angela Carbone), are all concerned about this recent change in her demeanor and way of being.
This film premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival to a lukewarm response. With Hall's previous films under her belt, it's pretty clear she was going for the touchdown with this performance. She was beside herself, unable to convince her family and friends she wasn't insane or crazy. Other actors have done similar types of roles, so Hall wasn't doing anything new with this character. The thing is, she did do something that kept the audience engaged because there is a twist in the plot which I will not reveal. She gives it her all, but I don't think it entirely works in the context of the film.
Writer/Director Andrew Semans is a relatively new filmmaker with only three films under his belt. This film and script felt like he lost his focus and didn't know where to go, and it ended up going in a crazy direction. He does get the cast to buy into his idea of what he's going for, and like Rebecca Hall, the rest of the cast, including Tim Roth, give it their best. Roth is good at being a little wild and crazy, and what the script gives him helps him do just that. It seemed he was in a different film altogether than Hall, which was odd to me.
A psychological thriller can do a lot to get the audience involved, or it sometimes can turn an audience off. In this film, the odd script decisions and acting performances completely turned me off. This story was weird and all over the place, and the direction seemed to follow it. Yes, I know this was meant to be a woman who sees things that weren't there, but it didn't work as well as The Sixth Sense or other films that were trying a similar type of thing.
Resurrection tried to do something different with the psychological thriller genre, but it didn't work for me. Hall, Roth, and the rest of the cast try their best to make their performances engaging and interesting, but they come off as odd in the end. I'm sure a more seasoned writer/director than Semans could have done more with this story and film. It's sad to see Hall, Roth, and others wasted this way. There is always a next time for everybody involved. Let's hope whatever they do next is better than this film.
Resurrection hits theaters on July 29 and VOD on August 5.
Review by Paris Jade
The HBO Max hit TV show Harley Quinn is back with a new season. Last we left off, Harley and Ivy were runaway brides, in love and ready to take on all of Gotham. This third season takes place two weeks after the events of the season two finale as the couple is on their honeymoon.
The best way to describe Harley Quinn as a whole is a big sapphic fanfiction. Sometimes that backfires, but when it comes to a show like this, it is pure entertainment. Each season seems to get gorier, more intense, and more erotic. This season is not for the faint of heart. If you could barely handle the other two seasons for their gory erotic scenes, be warned that it just worsens as the show continues.
For the show being named Harley Quinn, this season was not very focused on our famous anti-hero. There were a lot of different plots going on at one time, and many of them felt unnecessary, especially since the first two seasons didn't feel that way. This season had more to do with its supporting characters and their arcs as Harley focuses on her relationship with Ivy and tries to keep her girlfriend happy. No more vengeance against the Legion of Doom or Joker. Harley's plans from the start of the show were basically complete by the end of season two, so here she is just along for the ride and figuring out what she wants to do next.
This season felt a lot more like filler than actual story until you get to the last three episodes, which is where it really picks up. Episode 8 was the best episode by far. Before episode 8, you only get small things in each episode that build up to the bigger scheme of things for the end of the season, which is why it feels so much like filler. The great thing about these B-plot stories was getting to know the Bat Family more. You get a lot of them this season, along with getting to know Catwoman. One of this show's best features is its humor, and they do not lower the amount of comedy in this season. It's constantly funny, and you'll laugh almost every few minutes, especially with anything that has to do with the Joker's B-plots.
If you're in the mood for action, sex, and antics, watch season three of Harley Quinn on HBO Max July 28. All ten episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
The original Pretty Little Liars was a teen hit when it aired on ABC Family/Freeform for its run from 2010-2017, and now that its core audience is grown up, apparently it is time that the property is brought back from the dead. Enter the edgier reboot Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin on HBO Max, which sometimes tries a bit too hard but is often downright entertaining in a trashy way.
Supposedly set within the same universe as the original series but not directly connected to it, Original Sin follows a group of high schoolers who are tormented by a masked killer whose motive might be tied to events that happened in their town twenty years ago. It’s a twisty, convoluted mystery, but what else would someone expect from this show?
The series definitely goes all in on the retro horror vibe, and that is a lot of what makes it so much fun. Although it is set in the modern day, it very much feels like an old-school slasher, and that is a perfect vibe for what this is going for. It’s definitely campy, but it also takes itself seriously enough that we won’t be ridiculing it.
Of course, the series does suffer a lot from having the execution of a teen soap. Even the sequences that are designed to pay homage to horror movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s feel like they are done so through an aggressively digital lens. The HBO Max streaming platform means it likely has a lot more money to work with than its predecessor did on network television, but it’s still limited by the genre.
The one thing that is quite annoying about the show is the constant attempts at incorporating meta commentary. It’s clear that this wants to be Scream, so it is constantly referencing horror movies in a way it thinks is smart. But when the most “obscure” films that are being mentioned are Dressed to Kill and Deep Red, maybe it isn’t as insightful as it thinks.
Still, the series does an excellent job of getting the audience absorbed into the dynamic of the central characters. All of the leads are likable and charming, and while the setting that they find themselves in isn’t exactly believable, the friendship between them is and is the driving force of the show.
Bailee Madison is the biggest name in the cast, and she is the highlight. She gives the performance that is the most grounded and brings most of the emotion into the series. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mallory Bechtel, who is extremely over-the-top in a wonderfully soapy way.
Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin is, somewhat surprisingly, a genuinely fun show. While it has its fair share of issues and certainly isn’t as intelligent as it seems to think it is, it delivers on the thrills and melodrama that is expected of it.
Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin debuts on HBO Max on July 28 with new episodes streaming subsequent Thursdays. Five out of ten episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
One of the more obscure DC properties to be adapted to the big screen yet, DC League of Super-Pets attempts to recapture the family-friendly meta humor of movies like The LEGO Batman Movie to no avail. Kids will love the film, and it’s passable enough for their parents, but its largely forgettable nature will keep it from breaking out beyond the core younger audience.
The movie follows Superman’s pet canine, Krypto the Superdog, as he must set out on a mission to rescue Superman with the help of some superpowered pet friends. It’s clear that the writers really wanted this to be smart, but they struggle with finding the balance of understandable for younger audiences but upscale enough to hold older viewers’ interest.
The film’s story isn’t helped by the fact that The Bad Guys came out earlier this year and had a similar villain. Beyond the fact that adults will already find the story to be generic, many kids will realize that they just saw something similar three months ago and could end up feeling bored as a result.
However, the movie should certainly be praised for its message. Plenty of kids’ movies discuss the meaning and importance of friendship, but this film goes so far as to present kids with strategies and tools to aid with socialization. For kids who have a hard time making friends for whatever reason, this movie could inspire them to get out there and try to form connections.
It is surprising just how much the film rides off goodwill for the IP given how young the primary target audience is. It’s a movie that’s probably best for elementary school-aged kids, and while they probably know who Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are, the chances of them knowing the Terrific Whatzit or the Jessica Cruz iteration of Green Lantern are much more slim.
The film’s massive voice cast also feels like a gigantic waste of money considering that very few kids will know who these actors are. They will recognize Dwayne Johsnon and Kevin Hart from their other family outings, but the rest of the cast is primarily for the benefit of their parents. Adults will undeniably geek out about Keanu Reeves playing Batman and love Natasha Lyonne as Merton the Turtle, but in kids’ eyes, these roles just could have easily been filled by anyone else.
The animation exists in a weird limbo where it’s much better than your average straight-to-DVD animated movie but not quite as good as you’re used to from a theatrical release. In fact, it’s less impressive than some of the higher-quality DC Universe Animated Movies that are sent directly to the home video market.
DC League of Super-Pets is entertaining enough for young kids, but for most audiences, it’s simply going to be rather boring. The most frustrating thing about the movie is that it’s a waste of talent — even the people who are put to good use — because it’s unlikely that the people who see the film will appreciate its best aspects.
DC League of Super-Pets hits theaters on July 29.
Review by Sean Boelman
Renaud Gauthier has gained a bit of a cult following for his unhinged genre cinema throwbacks, and while they certainly cater to an extremely niche audience, there is an undeniable charm to them. His third feature, Punta Sinistra is no different, an exercise in micro-budget filmmaking that is a wondrous recreation of a particular era of film.
The movie tells the story of a journalist who sets out on a quest to find the lost cargo of a ship that mysteriously crashed on the coast of Mexico years before. Like the ‘70s movies to which the film pays homage, the storyline doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s easy enough to get absorbed and go along for the ride.
With a runtime of only sixty-three minutes, it’s a bit odd that the movie manages to feel both slow and hurried at the same time. Like a lot of Gauthier’s movies, it almost feels as if he had a few awesome sequences in mind and built the film around them. And as a result, there is a lot of dead weight here.
That said, those sequences that were clearly Gauthier’s focus absolutely rule and were worth the price of admission alone. Unfortunately, those all come in the last twenty minutes or so. It’s an adventure movie that isn’t all that adventurous, as nearly all of the excitement is confined to the final act.
The film is also lacking a compelling protagonist to really drive the story along. That isn’t to say that the character isn’t likable, but he doesn’t have the heroic quality to him that would have made the movie tick. However, what it lacks in a protagonist, it makes up for with a wild cast of supporting characters.
It’s hard to fault (or credit) the actors for any of the film’s success or lack thereof, because all of the dialogue has been dubbed. This is obviously a very intentional decision on the part of Gauthier to replicate the Italian style of genre filmmaking that is such a pivotal inspiration for this and his other movies, but it does feel a tad gimmicky.
Regardless, Gauthier’s homage works extremely well in a visual sense. It’s obvious that his budget was limited, but given the type of film that this is meant to replicate, it’s fitting. Everything that looks cheap looks cheap for a reason, and it gives the whole affair a welcome feeling of campiness.
Punta Sinistra likely won’t win any new fans for Renaud Gauthier, but for those who are already a fan of his style, it’s another fun outing. He clearly made exactly the movie he wanted to make, and the right audience will find it and love it.
Punta Sinistra screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs July 13 through August 3.
Review by Sean Boelman
When They/Them (pronounced “They Slash Them”) was announced, the response was one of mixed emotions. While it was exciting to be getting a mainstream queer horror film, the questionable approach had some wondering if it was going to be problematic. While the results aren’t as bad as they could have been, it’s pretty underwhelming.
The movie follows a group of teens at a gay conversion camp as the counselors’ teachings and methods become increasingly disturbing and unhinged and they discover that a masked killer is on the loose. It certainly isn’t the dumpster fire that this premise had the potential to become, but it’s also rather lacking as a whole.
Without a doubt, the biggest issue with the film is its pacing. Those hoping that this is going to be a slasher movie will be sorely disappointed, as there is one kill early on and then it isn’t until the third act that the film starts to gravitate more heavily towards horror again. The rest is more of a drama with occasionally disturbing elements.
The movie was obviously made with the best of intentions, but it does feel like the messaging got confused at a certain point. Especially with regards to the ending, the film is nowhere close to being as progressive as it thinks it is. Compared to a lot of other queer horror flicks, this one is much less interested in actually engaging with the themes.
It definitely would have helped if the characters had more personality, but many of them are written very plainly to stereotypes. The movie does a good job of making the teens likable and the counselors deplorable, but there’s not much more to them than that. And the film’s attempts to make the audience care more about the characters can come across as downright tone-deaf.
Kevin Bacon almost single-handedly carries the movie on his back. His performance is hammy in all the right ways and is the only genuinely fun thing about a film that unfortunately takes itself way too seriously. The ensemble that they got to play the group of teens is not great, many of them suffering from their inexperience.
There are a few scenes in the movie that are grisly and disturbing, but it’s not the slasher kills — it’s the conversion camp torture sequences. Arguably, the slasher aspect seems tacked on like an afterthought, with kills that are largely generic and uninspired and a killer costume that is about as bland as they come.
They/Them has a few memorable moments, but for the most part, not enough is happening to make it particularly effective as a horror film. Without Kevin Bacon’s solid leading performance, it probably would have been an entirely bad outing, not just a disappointing one.
They/Them streams on Peacock beginning August 5.
Review by Sean Boelman
Katie Holmes’s sophomore feature as a director recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival where it was met with a largely negative reception. And while Alone Together certainly has some elements that don’t work as well as they should, it’s really just a mostly passable and quaint romantic drama.
The movie follows two strangers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic who accidentally book the same AirBnB. It’s a setup that could have lent itself to either a horror movie or a romance, and even though Holmes went with the latter, it’s almost surprising that no one has tried to make a double-booked AirBnB horror movie (or at least not a mainstream one).
However, after the meet cute occurs, it soon becomes clear that the film is going to drag its feet a bit. It’s a series of interactions over which the characters quickly (or slowly — their perception of time is as skewed as ours was during the height of the pandemic) fall in love. It’s something we have seen dozens of times before.
Holmes obviously has a positive message here about self-care and putting one’s own needs first, but everything about the movie feels so inauthentic that it doesn’t really resonate. Beyond the suspension of disbelief it takes to believe that two New Yorkers would randomly be nice to each other, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to flare up, the love story here just seems unlikely.
The characters also feel extremely shallow. They are written in a way that feels like they were clearly made with the intention of showing human kindness is possible and nothing else. It’s the grumpy guy who has to learn to love and the city girl who has to learn to loosen up tropes, and those are so worn out at this point.
Nevertheless, Holmes and her co-star Jim Sturgess manage to infuse the film with a surprising amount of charm. The chemistry between them is solid and without a doubt the most believable thing about the movie. There are a couple of brief supporting parts from people like Derek Luke, Melissa Leo, and Zosia Mamet, but none are particularly memorable.
For a COVID-19 movie, the film is also surprisingly polished, for better or worse. It doesn’t feel like a DIY project, but that also means that it doesn’t get as much of a pass for some of its imperfections. For example, there are some parts in which the movie feels overly saturated, and that can be frustrating.
Alone Together is mostly just an average romantic drama. It certainly could have done without the COVID-19 element, and it’s a tad on the conceited side, but it’s not the insensitive travesty some would have you believe it is.
Alone Together is now in theaters and hits VOD on July 29.
Review by Cole Groth
Opening up with quotes from famous greek tragedies, The Daphne Project promises a film about one young woman looking to shine a new light on the traditionally white male-led plays. Co-written, directed by, and starring Zora Iman Crews and co-written and directed by Alec Tibaldi, this film does an incredible job of satirizing modern political culture. Running at an incredibly tiny budget, this film's writing takes substantial heavy lifting. Full of zany characters and some serious heart, this ultra-low indie project is an uncommonly interesting film that isn't afraid to touch on the modern state of social justice, the common criticisms — as well as its praises. Daphne Wilco is an affable leading character, and her journey to "improving" her local theatre's rendition of Euripedes's The Bacchae leads to a series of hilarious interactions worthy of a watch.
One of the things that I like most about this movie is how it's written. There's a solid mix of realistic-sounding dialogue and hilarious satire similar to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or The Office. Sure, there are some points where the extremely low-budget nature of the film leads to constraints in the delivery of the lines, but I found that the jokes landed more often than they didn't. Crews and Tibaldi's script shows the character of Daphne Wilco in many different lights. At times she's likable because of her rather ridiculous and hilarious misconceptions about how theater should work. Still, she's able to effortlessly become a genuinely lovable character because of the way that she bonds with the other ridiculous people in the theater world.
The biggest weapon of Crews and Tibaldi's script is her use of satire. Without sounding preachy, Crews and Tibaldi tiptoes the line between praise for and criticism of modern social justice. As a self-proclaimed social justice warrior, Daphne shines a light on how over-the-top allies of the social justice movement are willing to go to avoid getting canceled. At one point, one of Daphne's fellow actresses states that since Daphne doesn't have a penis, she shouldn't take on the role of a man. She is immediately rebuked by another actress who informs her that "Daphne could have a penis, who are we to tell?" to which she profusely apologizes for being transphobic. Of course, this interaction is meant to highlight some of the absurdities of getting attacked over simple statements, but Crews and Tibaldi carefully balances the criticism of social justice with a look at how it can be used for good. Daphne has a dream of performing in an important role, demonstrated through her passion for acting. Her goal of playing a traditionally masculine role seems a bit ridiculous at first, but she's eventually able to convince her peers, as well as the audience, that she can achieve whatever she puts her mind to. It's an empowering tale, and even though Daphne's deluded vision of her success is hilariously strange at times, she grew on me as a character more than most indie characters do.
From a production standpoint, it's clear the budget was limited. Crews and Tibaldi opts for a cheaper look, with weak lighting and a simple handheld style. However, these can be seen as stylistic choices meant to enhance the mockumentary style of the film. I can't help but wish that a bit more time was spent in post to highlight some of the actual play at the end. Films are rarely able to capture both the magic and realism of seeing a play put together live, and Crews and Tibaldi barely miss the mark on this element. However, as I said earlier, the writing is what's important here, and because that's pretty solid, I can excuse the low production value.
Overall, The Daphne Project is a breezy indie comedy about the magic of local theater and the common problems that up-and-coming actors face. With a heavy dose of insightful satire from a talented first-time director, Daphne's adventure for success on this off-off broadway production is worth a watch. It's much more interesting to see films like this on micro budgets than many mid-sized films today because so much heart went into making this project. I can't help but appreciate the work that Crews and Tibaldi put into their movie, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
The Daphne Project is now playing in theaters.
Review by Sean Boelman
Some of the best indie horror movies are those that are obviously low-budget, but don’t really show it, instead doing a great job of feeling confined yet expansive. Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious is a perfect example of that type of film, telling a story that feels epic despite taking place almost entirely in a bathroom, and it’s a ton of fun as a result.
The movie follows a man who gets trapped in a remote rest area bathroom in the stall next to a mysterious figure whose true nature may not be what it seems. The film plays out almost exactly as one would expect — and its premise is very reminiscent of other movies — but it’s executed well enough to work nevertheless.
It’s a nice little horror movie with a bit of a biting sense of humor. With a runtime of only seventy-nine minutes, it breezes by. There’s a lot of expositional dialogue, but it’s written wittily enough that it doesn’t feel particularly burdensome. All in all, it’s just a fun midnight movie, and it’s at its best when it’s just silly and gory.
The film tries to say some profound things, but it alternates between being annoyingly overt and frustratingly ambiguous. When it comes down to it, the movie simply isn’t as smart as it wants to think it is. However, if you’re willing to accept it for what it actually is — a lean, sub-eighty-minute horror flick, it’s more than entertaining enough to work.
Both of the characters have rather shallow motivations, and that is the only thing that really threatens to derail the film. The protagonist is ultimately just pretty plain — approachable but not entirely distinctive. Although his foil is pretty underdeveloped too, that character at least has more of a personality.
Ryan Kwanten carries the movie pretty well, but the true highlight is J.K. Simmons’s voice performance. Time and time again, Simmons continues to prove to audiences that he is one of the most talented actors working today. Here, he pulls off a role that literally emanates power while still being strangely charming.
McKendry makes the most out of the confined location, creating a real sense of griminess and claustrophobia within the bathroom set in which a majority of the movie takes place. The CGI and gore are minimal but effective when used, and the use of color does a lot of heavy lifting with the atmosphere.
Glorious is a pretty perfect match for what Fantasia is — a campy, fun genre film that isn’t particularly taxing. It’s definitely not perfect, but for what it is, it’s an enjoyable time and horror cinephiles are going to love it when it drops on Shudder next month.
Glorious screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs July 13 through August 3.