Review by Sean Boelman
Some of the scariest movies are set in a confined space because this allows the viewer to feel trapped right alongside the characters, and that is the main appeal of Sean King O’Grady’s masterclass in tension, We Need to Do Something. The film creeps under the viewer’s skin before delivering absolute insanity, making it one of the most effective genre pictures of the year.
The movie follows a family who is trapped together in a bathroom after a devastating storm, only to find out that there may be something more sinister happening. O’Grady does an excellent job of starting small and getting progressively bigger and bigger as the film goes on, though he still maintains the heavily independent vibe that is what makes it so effective.
For the first thirty minutes or so, the movie is a slow burn thriller built around the tension between the family members. But after that, things begin to go down in a way that makes this turn into something much more complex and absolutely terrifying. Viewers will have their mouths agape in shock for almost the entirety of the last hour.
Admittedly, the film is pretty overt with its themes that come into play in the final act, but this isn’t a genre that is known for its subtlety. It’s hard to describe exactly how without spoiling some of the surprises that the movie has in store, but the emotional crux of the film that comes into play in the back half is surprisingly resonant.
Much of the movie revolves around the family dynamic, and it works quite well. There are definitely some cliches in play, but the script by Max Booth III does a good job of deconstructing them in a way that isn’t entirely predictable. The ways in which the film plays with their motivations is very compelling.
The small cast is very good, especially given the fact that the movie is largely on their backs. The highlight of the cast is Pat Healy whose performance is exaggerated, but terrifyingly creepy. It’s nice to see the character actor getting a starring role. The other main players — Sierra McCormick, Vinessa Shaw, and John James Cronin — are also all pretty good as well.
That said, the single most impressive part of this film is O’Grady’s skill in making tension. The movie creates an intense feeling of claustrophobia in the viewer, and it’s part of what makes it so disturbing. The sound design is also phenomenal, expanding the world beyond the confines of the bathroom.
We Need to Do Something is an absolutely horrifying film, hooking the audience in with a slow burn before catching them entirely off guard. Sean King O’Grady is absolutely someone to keep an eye on in genre cinema.
We Need to Do Something hits theaters and VOD on September 3.
Review by Sean Boelman
There may not have ever been a show with as wide of an appeal as Only Murders in the Building, a true crime-inspired comedy starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. Genuinely funny and featuring a surprisingly well-written mystery, this is sure to be the next series to set the internet ablaze.
The series follows three residents of a luxurious apartment building who start a podcast investigating the mysterious death of one of their neighbors. It’s definitely very of-the-moment in the way it pokes fun at the phenomenon that true crime podcasts have become, but the timelessness of the Martin/Short duo will allow it to outlive the trend upon which it is based.
Each thirty minute episode follows our amateur detectives as they go down a new path, be it a red herring or a shocking twist that pushes it in an entirely different direction. The result is an unpredictable ride that will keep the viewer guessing, pulling the rug out from under them as soon as they think they have it all figured out.
It does take a bit of time for the show to find its footing as the first few episodes must set up the mystery and all of the players before we get to watch the trio of bumbling investigators find their way around a murder scene. However, once the series stops trying to hook viewers and instead sticks to being itself, it’s a lot of fun to watch.
The characterization in the series works very well, especially as one gets into the later episodes of the season. Although everyone (including the three leads) comes off a tad on the archetypal side in the first few times we see them after they are introduced, the characters soon quickly come into their own and feel lived in.
Of course, the comedic duo of Steve Martin and Martin Short is absolutely iconic, and they deliver on the same charm they always have. They are both lovably goofy in their roles. Selena Gomez adds a nice bit of modern flair to the mix as well. In the supporting cast, there are some amazing cameos best left unspoiled, but one major player who gives a particularly notable turn is Nathan Lane.
The series also does some exceptional things on a technical level. The production design and score are some of the best of the year so far. And there is one really ambitious episode shot primarily from the perspective of a deaf character in which the story is told without spoken dialogue.
Only Murders in the Building is a delightful new comedy, but no one would expect any less from the people involved. It’s sure to be a hit among audiences young and old, as there is plenty to enjoy all-around.
Only Murders in the Building streams on Hulu beginning August 31 with new episodes releasing subsequent Tuesdays. Eight out of ten episodes reviewed.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Films about Shakespeare's plays have been around for generations. Everybody from Lawrence Olivier to Mel Gibson has done them in the past. Isabella is a character in the Shakespeare play Measure for Measure. This film might be the strangest use of or adaption of a Shakespeare play in a movie in recent memory.
Muriel (Maria Villar) is trying out for the role of Isabella in the play Measure For Measure. While waiting to audition, she meets a woman named Luciana (Augustine Munez) On a walk, they get to know each other and Luciana helps Muriel to remember her lines. The entire time Muriel doesn't know that Luciana is auditioning for the same role.
Years later, while doing a different production of her own Muriel encounters Luciana once again and they get to talking about their experiences. They both bring up the whole situation involving auditioning for the role of Isabella and how Miguel (Pablo Sigal), the director of the new play The 12 Stones was involved in the casting of the process of Measure For Measure. It's a small world in these acting circles in Brazil.
The director of Isabella is Matías Piñeiro. He used this time-lapse technique to tell the story of these two women and their auditions for this play. By having one of the characters pregnant and the other with longer hair and different clothes, the viewer can tell these are the same characters in different periods. Otherwise, this film would be quite confusing, and even this technique only goes so far.
The film has things to say about doing the things you want to do or should do and not regretting them. Not looking back on past mistakes and such. These two women have this in common. How they deal with things is very interesting, to say the least. That said, the result was not very clear in the film.
The director used color motives as well to describe various moments of emotions in the film. The colors are meant to represent the various moods the characters are in during the various stages of the film. All of the various techniques are a lot to take in for a viewer of this film.
Isabella was quite confusing and all over the place as far as a narrative film. It was hard to determine the timeline these characters were in. It took me a while to figure this aspect of the film out. The style of the film was okay, not great. The message was lost in all the artsy stuff Piniero was trying to accomplish. The subtitles were moving so fast it was hard to keep up with the dialogue at times. This film was a mess from the beginning. These actors deserved better!
Isabella is now in theaters.
Review by Sean Boelman
While it’s a bit unfortunate that the film is coming out as summer is coming to a close and everyone is already done with their vacations, the new comedy Vacation Friends is a treat. Predictable but full of laughs thanks to the chemistry between its stars, it’s the type of mindlessly fun studio comedy that has been missing from this year.
The movie follows a couple who, after going on a wild bender in Mexico with two strangers, later have their supposedly serene wedding crashed by their hard-partying new friends. From a narrative standpoint, the film is predictable and hits a lot of familiar beats, but there is enough solidly-written comedy for it to work.
The first act of the movie, which is basically an increasingly insane series of alcohol and drug-fueled antics, is funny enough for what it is, although there have been plenty of films to do this better. The remaining two-thirds are much more refreshing, essentially functioning as a reverse fish-out-of-water comedy in which the people who are out of their element are the ones that are comfortable.
There are definitely some jokes in the movie that lean on the sophomoric side. One recurring gag, in particular, is especially immature and ends up being used as a device to push the plot along. However, the best moments in the film are those which bank on the pairing of Lil Rel Howery and John Cena, who have a great contrast with each other.
The thing that is surprising about the movie is that it doesn’t feature much in the way of physical and slapstick comedy. One would think that with the size difference between the two male leads, this would have been a prominent element, but the focus here is on raunchy visual gags and quippy remarks.
Cena and Howery are both at the top of their game, giving performances that are charming and very funny. But often, their female counterparts threaten to steal the show. Although they aren’t given much of a substantial role within the narrative, Meredith Hagner and Yvonne Orji ground the film compared to the stars’ very showy turns.
Admittedly, the character development isn’t the movie’s strongest suit, as all four of the leads stick pretty close to their archetypes. The protagonist likes to play by the rules but needs to loosen up, his wife-to-be has a repressed desire to embrace her inner crazy, and their foils have already achieved self-actualization through their ability to enjoy life.
Vacation Friends isn’t especially original in the realm of comedy films, but it delivers on its promise for hilarious escapism. John Cena and Lil Rel Howery make for a great comedic duo, and hopefully we’ll get to see more of them together in the future.
Vacation Friends is now streaming on Hulu.
Review by Camden Ferrell
He’s All That is the most recent gender-swapped comedy, being a loose remake of the film She’s All That. This movie is from director Mark Waters, most known for his work on the teen comedy classic Mean Girls. This is a movie that at times feels tailor-made for the Tik Tok-era kids who will inevitably watch it, but it lacks any substance or redeemable qualities whatsoever.
Padgett is a beauty influencer who seemingly has her life figured out. However, after she has an embarrassing live fallout with her popstar boyfriend, her life gets shaken up. In order to redeem herself, she takes on a bet to take the most unpopular boy at school, Cameron, and turn him into a Prom King. This is a premise that is very similar to the movie on which this is based, so it’s nothing revolutionary, but it still has potential.
The original movie was mixed upon release but has found a comfortable niche since then. Even though this remake comes from the same writer, R. Lee Fleming Jr., it seems like this will not be met well by any audience. It lacks originality, and it is full of bland and static dialogue that ranges from dull to cringingly embarrassing. The characters have no development, and the script gives me no reason to be invested in the trials and tribulations of these high schoolers. It has so little to say, and it never justifies its existence.
The acting in this movie is forgettable at best. The movie is led by Tik Tok star Addison Rae in her first live-action film role. She is half-decent in some of the scenes based around her character’s actions as an influencer, probably because she is one herself. However, elsewhere, she is flat and isn’t able to demonstrate any kind of acting range. It’s a monotone performance that only has the slightest glimmers of chemistry with her co-star Tanner Buchanan. While he tries his best to play the mysterious and dreamy loner, it doesn’t work, and the rest of the cast follows suit in this mediocrity.
It’s a shame to see Waters make a movie as unoriginal as this one. Unlike Mean Girls, which has impressively remained a staple of pop culture, this is a movie that’s doomed to the depths of obscurity fairly soon. Rae’s following will probably keep it relevant for a short time, but I can’t imagine anything as shallow and unfunny as this movie persisting in the zeitgeist. The movie lacks any self-awareness and doesn’t elicit a single laugh or ounce of amusement.
He’s All That is a miserable teen-comedy that is equal parts cringe and monotony. It’s bland, unoriginal, and painfully devoid of laughs. Addison Rae’s leading performance is far from enjoyable, and the whole movie makes for a rather unpleasant 90 minutes.
He’s All That is available on Netflix August 27.
Review by Sean Boelman
Many filmmakers have risen to the supposed challenge of creating art in response to the challenges we have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have done so to varying degrees of success. Stephen Daldry’s Together is on the higher end of that spectrum, although it is borderline pretentious at many points.
The movie follows a couple whose relationship dissolves after they are forced to be stuck together during the lockdown. It’s something that many of us can relate to, since this isolation is something that we have all experienced for much of the past year and a half, but watching a relationship in shambles against the backdrop of tragedy does feel somewhat trite.
Dennis Kelly’s script takes the form of a series of moments from this couple’s relationship in a time period spanning from the beginning of the pandemic to more recently, as the distribution of vaccines began. It’s a bunch of monologues and dialogues sewn together, and some of them admittedly stretch on for a bit longer than they should.
And at a certain point, the film devolves into a mess of angry yelling about the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s cathartic, yes, as many of the frustrations voiced by the characters, especially in regards to the governmental response to the pandemic, will be shared by the viewer, but it also makes it distractingly obvious that we are watching a movie.
It’s also frustrating that the characters in the movie don’t feel fully fleshed-out. It clearly seems as if Kelly has written composites to stand-in for the average citizen, but in trying to make them into someone that everyone can connect with, it ends up feeling as if we are watching no one in particular.
That said, the two central performances are so good that it makes up for any deficiencies in the script. Both James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan are absolutely captivating, giving turns that are more reminiscent of stagework than screen acting. But given the extremely limited nature of the film, it is quite effective.
The thing about the movie that will most likely divide viewers will be the frequent breaking of the fourth wall. At first, there’s a dark humor to the way in which these two individuals are bitterly shooting indirect jabs at each other by talking to the audience, but the ingenuity of this wears off after about thirty minutes.
Together offers some solid insight on what it is like to live during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good were it not for strong performances from James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan. It’s a film carried on its actors’ backs, and McAvoy and Horgan step up to the plate.
Together hits theaters on August 27 and VOD on September 14.
Review by Sean Boelman
The iconic comic book writer Alan Moore notoriously hates many of the screen adaptations of his work, so fans will undoubtedly find it exciting to see an original film from his mind. However, despite expectedly strong world-building, a generic neo-noir plot keeps The Show from being as memorable as Moore’s other creations.
The film follows a private investigator on a search for a lost artifact in a world of masked vigilantes, vampires, femme fatales, and other wacky characters. It’s seemingly a world constructed out of the many tropes that Moore has worked with in the past, and while it feels very lived-in, it’s also overstuffed.
Moore’s style is extremely dense, and that doesn’t necessarily translate well to a stand-alone feature-length format. There are so many subplots and one-off elements introduced here that will pique viewers' interest, only for the film to move to the next weird thing. It’s as if Moore didn’t trust the audience enough to linger on details.
Director Mitch Jenkins does a great job of bringing Moore’s world to life. It’s a gorgeous-looking film, blending the dark and grimy style of neo-noir with the colorful and surreal superhero visuals. And the production design, along with the makeup and hairstyling, are about as strong as they come.
As for the central storyline, it’s nothing spectacular but it’s well-done for what it is. Moore certainly knows how to write a detective story having done his fair share of them, but it retreads a lot of ground that has already been covered before. The film is at its best when it really goes off the deep end and leans more into the surreal elements.
The development for the protagonist is a little thin, but it works given the nature of the film. He is supposed to be an ambiguous and mysterious character, and so the fact that we don’t get much information on him until the second half makes sense. And the crew of supporting players created for the film is interesting as well.
Tom Burke’s lead performance in the film is excellent, as he has a great leading man quality to him reminiscent of the classics of the noir genre. He’s really charming, and this is part of what makes the film so compelling. In the supporting cast, Darrell D’Silva gives a strong and chameleonic turn.
The Show doesn’t live up to the expectations that fans of Alan Moore will undoubtedly have for it, but it’s still entirely sufficient for what it is. Ultimately, it’s a lot of great moments and ideas that don’t come together as well as they could.
The Show screens in theaters for one night only on August 26.
Review by Sean Boelman
The original Candyman has received a critical reevaluation in the nearly thirty years since its release, becoming somewhat of a cult classic even if it isn’t deserving of that status. The sequel/reboot (a la 2018’s Halloween) of the same name rides off of that goodwill but has too overstuffed a script to be effective.
The film follows an artist in the now-gentrified neighborhood of Cabrini-Green who becomes obsessed with the urban legend that has spread among its residents for generations. For better or worse, it’s a movie that doubles down on everything that the original did. And while the script’s anger is certainly earned, sloppy writing means that it doesn’t amount to much.
From a thematic standpoint, the film makes a lot of very good and important points, but many of the ideas feel half-baked. There’s commentary on gentrification, police brutality, White people appropriating Black trauma, and how people of color use urban legends to cope with oppression, and while all of these are conversations that need to be had, ninety minutes isn’t enough to start all of them, much less explore them.
Narratively, the movie is nearly incoherent. The story goes on so many asides and red herrings that it feels like it was the victim of studio-mandated rewrites, recuts, or both. There are a few great scenes here that show the potential it had, but it takes getting through a lot of standard horror movie garbage to get there.
The character development in the film is also lacking. Setting a movie in the art world can be tricky because it is easy to go overboard with the personalities and make everyone in the film feel annoying. And when there is an art critic who is being ridiculed (for making points that are valid about the movie, no less) is the least exaggerated side character, there’s a problem.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a very talented actor, and he is able to elevate a role that feels shallow and cold into something genuinely effective. With a script that is so on-the-nose about everything, it is nice that Abdul-Mateen is able to add something resembling nuance to the mix. On the other end of the spectrum, Colman Domingo is hamming it up in his role, but is as captivating on-screen as always.
Part of what makes it so disappointing that the script is so mediocre, though, is that Nia DaCosta’s directorial style is so accomplished. The visuals are beyond amazing, some of the most creative work done in studio horror in years. Sequences involving shadow puppetry are absolutely mind-blowing. It would be awesome to see her get to do another film in the horror genre, but with better material to use.
Candyman is definitely going to have its share of fans thanks to the very ambitious things it tries to do, but it comes up short far more often than it is successful. Still, it’s more visually interesting than most mainstream horror movies, and it should get credit for that.
Candyman hits theaters on August 27.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Sean Penn has had quite the career for himself. He's won two Academy Awards for lead actor for Mystic River and Milk in the 2000s. In the last decade, he hasn't been doing much except Gangster Squad and The Professor and the Madman, neither of which were well received. He has mostly concentrated his efforts on his humanitarian work in Haiti lately. The opportunity to direct and star opposite his children must have enticed him to get back in the saddle again.
John Vogel (Sean Penn) is a con man who tries to get people to invest in his schemes. Most of the time they don't work. He gets arrested for robbing a bank because he's broke all the time. His wife, Patty Vogel (Katherine Winnick, Vikings) has had enough of his lying and scheming. She kicks him out and is left with the kids. The problem is she's not much better at raising them and providing for them than he was. Their father has one last of showing them he's worth a damn during summer vacation at a lake house.
The kids in the film, Jennifer Vogel and Nick Vogel, were played by Penn's real children, Dyan Frances Penn and Hopper Jack Penn. This made the film a family affair. The standout of the pair was Penn's daughter. She had the brunt of the dialogue and screen time between the two of them. The whole film keyed on her performance. She does a good job at being emotional, mad, happy, and quizzical at times. Her father puts her into all these different stages of emotions which can bring out her acting chops. The Apple doesn't fall far from the tree with her, the daughter of two well-renowned actors.
Penn makes some very interesting choices with the camera work in the film. He uses shallow depth of field quite a bit in this film as well as super 8 camera shots trying to capture a more gritty and lived-in feeling to the film. The super 8 shots are from various scenes of vacations and family outings. The muted colors and grain of the film have shown the period the film takes place in, mostly in the '70s and '80s. Penn is effective in capturing this era of film with his style this time out.
The story of this film is based on a book called The Flim-Flam Man: The Story of My Father's Life by Jennifer Vogel. The screenplay was written by Jez Butterworth. They pretty much got the gist of this story in the film. The thing is it's a very familiar trope. The child tries to save the wayward parent or vice versa. It's not an original story. That is the bad part about this film. No matter what Penn and company do, they can't shake that fact.
Penn is established both as a director and an actor. He makes this film a distinct vision mostly through cinematography and a strong soundtrack with songs from John Fogerty and various other artists that ring throughout the film cementing the feel Penn was going for. The acting by his daughter, Winnick, and himself are all solid as well. I just can't get my mind past the fact that this film feels so familiar to others I've seen in the past. It's too bad, this film had potential.
Flag Day is now in theaters.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
Everyone knows Bob Ross, but most people don’t know his story. They know about his painting, positives vibes, and general likeness. With interviews from his family and friends, this Netflix documentary tells all. The only important player in Bob’s life not seated at the table, the Kowalskis who own his entire company and likeness. That’s where the betrayal and greed in the title come from. Does this documentary stand for everything Bob Ross believed in?
For the laymen that only has a surface level of knowledge about Bob Ross, this documentary is delightful. Learning about his rise to the top of the painting world is as sweet as can be. There’s plenty of footage of him from his show where one can see and hear just how great he is firsthand. Not to mention, there are an obnoxious amount of pictures of Bob Ross, all of them with the exact same big smile that just makes you want to melt. His reputation of being certified for good vibes definitely checks out from what we see of him, even more so the things people said about him are even better.
One tool the filmmakers used to their advantage was paintings of events that weren’t filmed. Not only are the paintings beautiful themselves, but it’s a documentary about one of the most famous painters of modern times so using paintings as a storytelling device is pretty smart. These, in addition to all of the Bob Ross paintings, resulting in quite a visually pleasing experience. If the goal of the documentary is to inspire viewers to take up oil painting, these works of art are sure to do the job.
Just like the title, the story takes quite a dark turn. Documentaries are a good way to make a point and this one is clear. The Kowalski group is surely evil as they went out of their way to screw everybody that Bob Ross cared about to capitalize on his likeness. It’s a complicated situation for fans of Bob Ross because now it feels wrong to purchase any of his products or show in general, but he’s such an admirable human being that it is difficult not to. The resolution of this conflict being to experience the beauty of happiness through painting. The importance and value inherent in enjoying the experience of oil painting is certainly portrayed as a relaxing activity.
Documentaries are a good way to educate people and this one not only educates about Bob Ross, but is sure to inspire future painters. Ross’s reputation of being the most positive force of good energy is sure to be upheld here. Be sure to check this out if you have an interest in art or if you’re in for just having good vibes in general.
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed hits Netflix on August 25.