Review by Camden Ferrell
Summer Days, Summer Nights is a teen comedy-drama that had its premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. This movie is by actor, writer, and director Edward Burns. The movie isn’t without its strengths, but as a whole, the movie does little to develop its characters while drawing from better movies of the same genre.
It is the summer of 1982 in Long Island, and in this movie, a community of teenagers fall in and out of love as they all prepare for the next chapter of their lives. JJ is a high school grad, working for his dad and finding new love after a breakup. Meanwhile, Frankie is trying to reconnect with an old love of his from high school. This is a simple premise that reminds me of other teen movies, and the summer setting is a nice setting that is familiar but has potential for interesting character development.
Written by Burns, the script somewhat succeeds in creating realistic conversational dialogue, but it’s inconsistent to say the least. It’ll sporadically jump from interesting dialogue to unrealistic lines that interrupt the tone and momentum of the scenes. The movie also does very little to develop its characters beyond the superficial aspects of their relationships. It’s not bad, but the movie gives me very little reason to care for the characters in any capacity, and it feels like certain aspects of the movie could have been fleshed out more.
The acting is a bit all over the place as well. While its an ensemble, the most prominent character is JJ, played by Pico Alexander. He’s decent in his role, but it also suffers from a lack of personality afforded to the character himself. Even Anthony Ramos isn’t quite compelling as Frankie, and the rest of the cast doesn’t seem to fare much better. There isn’t much chemistry between the actors, and this also contributes to the problem of not being able to care of the characters of this movie.
Despite its flaws, there are a few things this movie does well. I was quite surprised with how strong the cinematography and camerawork are. William Rexer does a great job of creating dynamic camerawork that is strong and engaging throughout. The composition is strong, and the camera is very kinetic and elevates many of the film’s lackluster scenes.
Summer Days, Summer Nights is a rehashing of better movies, and it doesn’t have the most compelling script to frame its story. The acting is decent at best, but it does have great cinematography that heighten the overall quality. It’s not great, but it’s barely sufficient for those looking for a teen comedy-drama.
Summer Days, Summer Nights is available on VOD August 24.
Review by Sean Boelman
It finally feels like the movies are back now that we are getting our second of three MCU films in 2021, this one being a theatrical exclusive (after Black Widow got a simultaneous Disney+ Premier Access release). And it’s just in time, because Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is exactly what a blockbuster should be: a fun, epic, and genuinely artful action movie.
The film follows a Kung Fu master who is forced to confront his past when the Ten Rings, a powerful shadow organization, comes knocking. Like most superhero movies, it has the obligatory “saving the world” stakes, but it feels a lot more self-contained than most Marvel projects have recently, and that’s a welcome change.
This is an absolutely action-packed movie for the entirety of its two-hour-plus runtime. What stands out about this film is that it has so many great action sequences which have a distinct flavor to them. From the elegant and dance-like style of wuxia fights to the wackier approach of Hong Kong action-comedies, the movie is clearly inspired by classic Asian action films.
And yet, despite the fact that there are so many different styles coming together into the movie, it still feels like a cohesive vision. This is one of the few Marvel projects that legitimately feels like more than a product because it isn’t just a result of comic fandom. It’s an homage to a cinematic legacy of Asian film, complete with exquisite cinematography, and it’s truly beautiful to look at.
Ideas of family aren’t anything particularly new for comic book movies, but the writers approach this theme in a way that feels earned. All of the emotional beats throughout the movie are sincere and pay off in the final act in a way that is satisfying and moving, which is more than can be said about a lot of the MCU.
There are obviously a lot of things done in the film that are for the sake of linking it to the greater context of these interconnected projects, some of which are more effective than others. But in a fundamental sense, this is a character-driven story of a dysfunctional family, and the perspectives are surprisingly balanced between brother, sister, and father.
Lead actor Simu Liu is great in his role, bringing a really charming quality to the character. Something interesting about this movie compared to a lot of superhero debuts is that it is not an origin story, so Liu has the enormous challenge of making the character feel lived in even though it is his first appearance on-screen, and it works. The big standout, though, is Tony Leung, whose performance as the antagonist is one of the best ever in the MCU.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is not only one of the most enjoyable films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s also one of the most distinctive. It’s exciting to see Kevin Feige and co. investing in unique new directions like this now that the Infinity Saga is complete, and this will allow it to maintain its grip on popular movie.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits theaters on September 3.
Review by Sean Boelman
Stephen King is the rare author whose short stories are not only good enough to get a long-form series based off of them, but are dense enough to warrant one. The gothic horror Chapelwaite, based on King’s story “Jerusalem’s Lot”, might not be as distinctive as some of the other adaptations of his work, but it’s an effective horror series nonetheless.
The series follows a ship captain who, after inheriting his ancestral home in small-town Maine, finds himself haunted by his family’s dark past. Whether this story demanded a full ten-episode season is up for debate — the back half of the season easily could have been compressed from four episodes into two, making this more fit for a six or seven episode limited series format.
The series essentially has two halves to it, one a mystery trying to understand the curse that has plagued the protagonist’s bloodline, and the other a more straightforward supernatural horror. Both have their strengths and shortcomings, but series writers Jason and Peter Filardi manage to blend them together relatively well.
There are some really interesting ideas explored in the show, particularly in the first five episodes. An element of racial commentary that is introduced for a supporting character is largely abandoned as the story becomes more action-oriented, which is disappointing. That said, the exploration of small-town paranoia is as great as usual for something based on King’s writing.
Our hero Charles Boone is definitely a very compelling character. The first episode introduces us to him in a way that will immediately draw us to him. He’s perhaps a bit more perfect and selfless than the average horror hero, but it works. The antagonists are a bit more on the generic side but still serve as a great foil for Boone.
Adrien Brody gives one of his best performances in years in his leading role. The thing that elevates this above most other horror series is that Brody acts like he is in a serious drama, even in the action-horror final few episodes, adding a feeling of legitimacy to the story and its emotion.
The series also looks very good. Television horror isn’t known for the highest production qualities, but there is an immersive level of detail put into the periodization of the series. The make-up for the monsters is also exceptional and the gore, though sparse, is very well-done when used.
Chapelwaite isn’t as original of a show as one would expect from a Stephen King adaptation, but it’s very solid for what it is. Strong production values and good performances allow the viewer to stay invested despite occasionally dragged out pacing.
Chapelwaite debuts on Epix on August 22 and 10pm ET/PT with new episodes airing subsequent Sundays. All ten episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
South Korea has provided some of the best in genre cinema in recent years, and so it’s understandable why Seobok was one of the most buzzed-about titles playing at this year’s Fantasia. Enjoyable and thoughtful, even if it is a bit generic, Lee Yong-ju’s film will satisfy viewers looking for thrills that will also challenge them intellectually.
The movie follows a retired and terminally ill intelligence agent who is given the task of transporting and protecting the first-ever human clone who has unexpected and extraordinary gifts. It’s a pretty standard government conspiracy sci-fi movie on its surface, but it is the character-driven portion of the film that works better.
Admittedly, after the initial intrigue wears off and the movie starts to recycle plot points that we have seen done over and over again in the genre, it starts to feel like it is dragging. However, an action sequence or powerful emotional beat will come along to draw the viewer back into the film, powering it towards a surprisingly fulfilling finale.
The things that the movie has to say about mortality aren’t necessarily anything new, but the nuance and empathy with which Lee’s script explores these ideas is refreshing. It takes care not to beat the viewer over their head with its moral superiority, although its strongly anti-capitalist stance isn’t particularly subtle.
The protagonist’s arc as a terminally-ill, morally-conflicted man struggling to choose between self-interest, duty to his country, and the greater good is very straightforward and by-the-book. That said, the script makes up for that by building an interesting and unique dynamic between the protagonist and his genetically-engineered companion, giving the film a much stronger emotional core.
Gong Yoo, of Train to Busan fame, gives a performance that is absolutely phenomenal and packed with emotion. His chemistry with Park Bo-Gum, who plays the younger character, is also great and adds another layer to the movie. The supporting cast isn’t very noteworthy, with performances that are predictably exaggerated.
From a technical standpoint, there are a lot of areas in which the film could be improved, but these clearly weren’t the focus. Many of the effects-driven sequences are less than impressive, but the action sequences largely feel like an afterthought compared to the more emotion-based moments.
Seobok may not be the most ambitious, but it does what it sets out to accomplish plenty well enough to be worth watching. Fans of Korean genre cinema will certainly want to check this one out.
Seobok is screening at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 5-25.
Review by Sean Boelman
Claustrophobic thrillers can sometimes be among the most effective and suspenseful of films thanks to the way in which they dial into some of our most common fears. However, they often struggle with minimalism, and that is the case with Seth A. Smith’s experimental sci-fi flick Tin Can.
The movie follows a parasitologist investigating a deadly plague who is kidnapped and wakes up in a life-suspension chamber, forcing her to figure out how she got there and how to get out. It’s an intriguingly simple concept, at its best when it isn’t trying to be something greater than it is, but Smith couldn’t settle for a basic survival thriller.
Despite what the title would imply, the film is not confined to a single location. The portion of the movie in which the protagonist is actually stuck in the eponymous prison is thrilling and intense. But when the mystery starts to unravel, it becomes obvious that the greater context of what’s going on just isn’t that interesting, and it causes it to drop off after the first hour.
It’s especially frustrating when films have one specific moment that can be pointed to as where it loses its steam, and that is the case here. Smith opts to push the plot of the movie forward and take the film in a different direction rather than doubling down on what works, and it’s a risk that did not pay off.
The character development in a survival thriller is always thin, as the answer to why the viewer should care is already obvious. A few flashbacks add additional context as to the situation in which the protagonist finds herself, but there needed to be much more in terms of an emotional connection to the story.
As is the case with a lot of films like this, the success of the movie largely hinges on the lead performance and Anna Hopkins does a great job in that regard. It’s a turn that is wonderfully vulnerable, especially in the first half of the film in which she is largely acting by herself in a confined space.
It is on a technical level that the movie is most effective. The production design is obviously very sparse, but the detail in it is still noteworthy. The cinematography, especially the use of color in the film, is very strong. And the sound design is perhaps the best part of the movie, creating a highly immersive environment.
Tin Can is very strong on a technical level, but it struggles from a sense of overambition that drags it down in the second half. Had the whole movie been as consistent as the first hour, it would have been an instant classic.
Tin Can screened at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 5-25.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Fantasia Film Festival has always had a strong focus on Canadian genre cinema, and while this results in plenty of exciting discoveries that cinephiles may not have otherwise had the chance to see, it also gives certain movies an unearned advantage. Although the message of the Quebecois zombie comedy Brain Freeze is certainly strong, it’s an otherwise uninspired entry into a worn genre.
The film follows a teenager and his baby sister as they attempt to escape their quarantined hometown when a fertilizer used on a golf course results in people infected by it being mutated into zombies. Julien Knafo’s script desperately wants to be edgy and cool, but it hits so many familiar plot beats that it quickly starts to feel generic.
Even the comedy in the movie falls significantly flat. There are too many one-note jokes that think they are saying something interesting (joking about a teenager who only drinks soda) but really have the intelligence of a middle schooler. It’s a film seemingly written to meet the lowest common denominator of comedy.
Knafo uses the movie to lampoon the selfishness of the upper class, but does so in a way that isn’t especially groundbreaking. We all know that a majority of the rich are selfish assholes who care more about golf than the greater good of the world, and the commentary of the film doesn’t bother to go much deeper than that.
The protagonist having his little sister to look after is enough for us to root for his survival, but it’s not a movie that is strong on emotion. The rest of the characters are equally underwhelming. An older survivalist who partners up with the protagonist should be charming but feels like a mere archetype. Even the assassin antagonists are dull.
Young actor Iani Bédard does a good enough job in his leading role, but he is unable to carry the entire film on his shoulders. So many of the actors are lacking in comedic timing, which implies less-than-stellar directing moreso than a lack of talent in the cast, giving performances that feel more fit for a straight-faced B-horror flick.
The movie is mostly fine on a technical level. There are a few scenes with gore effects that are solidly impressive, although nothing on display is especially memorable. A couple of strongly-crafted moments don’t make up for a script that is largely lacking in anything satisfying for horror or comedy.
Brain Freeze is definitely a disappointment. Although it shows a lot of potential, the film’s lack of horror or comedy makes it struggle to entertain in a way that will prevent it from joining the canon of the genre as it had hoped.
Brain Freeze screened at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 5-25.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
I've been watching movies for quite a long time and I've seen a lot of films come out. Usually, you hear about great films because of word of mouth, but sometimes they slip under the radar. Ma Belle, My Beauty is one such film.
Lane (Hannah Pepper) comes to the South of France after two years away where her friend Bertie (Idella Johnson) lives with her husband Fred (Lucien Guignard). He has a band where Bertie is the lead singer. They were all in a polyamorous relationship before she left. Her coming back flares up old thoughts of the past where they had steamy relationships with each other. Some jealousies percolate to the surface between Bertie and Lane since she's been back.
They say France is famous for two things: wine and torrid romances between men and women. In the case of this film, it's woman and woman, and men and women are an afterthought. Every scene permeates love and passion. Even when a song is being sung by Johnson's character. These women are thinking of nothing but sultry lovemaking in the South of France. This kind of relationship is different, but not in France. These European countries can be quite romantic. The beaches, sunsets, and beautiful locals are perfect for love.
Marion Hill wrote and directed this indie film. She did a great job choosing the locations and setting of the film, as well as the actors who are relative newcomers. The lack of stars might make the film cheaper to produce in the end, but they were chosen very well for this steamy film. A lot of eye movements and body language go a long way to see how these women are thinking throughout various tense scenes. The sexual tensions are overflowing during them as well.
The music, notwithstanding the lead actors and their band, is very inviting as well. French songs add flavor to the story Hill and company are going for. They have a jazzy blues flavor to them. The title song, for example, is a prime example of this. It couldn't be more perfect for the film. They are perfect for this type of film. More modern popular songs probably wouldn't work in this setting.
Hill demonstrates her ability to ramp up the tension throughout the film through various conversations of what the motivations between the women truly are. Why did certain people come back? To make up for previous mistakes or get into new relationships that tear down the previous ones? The dialogue works so well among all the cast. That makes for a very good script. The actors can believe what they are saying. The passion that stems from it is incredible.
This is one of the most realistic films about love and its many variations I've seen in years. Everybody involved, from Hill to the actors Johnson, Lane, and Guignard all do their best to make this torrid steamy film as amazing as it can be. This is how you tell a story of love and romance in the South of France. Bravo to all!
Ma Belle, My Beauty is now playing in theaters.
Review by Sean Boelman
There is no denying that it is important to hear about the stories of ordinary people who are making an extraordinary impact on the world through their courage and actions. Ashley O’Shay’s Unapologetic is a powerful and important look at today's issues from an honest perspective.
The film tells the story of two activists in Chicago who lead the Movement for Black Lives in the aftermath of two police killings. Although the movie focuses on events that took place from 2012 to 2019, this story is even more relevant now given the tragedies that happened in 2020 and brought so much attention to the issue.
Admittedly, this is a big movement to be able to cover in a single ninety-minute film. One of the many events, like the campaign of mayor Lori Lightfoot, which the movie explores could have made for a compelling documentary in its own right, but O’Shay combines them all into a surprisingly cohesive portrait of the movement.
It does feel at times as if the film isn’t doing enough. There are points at which it plays out more like a human interest story than a movie about political issues. That said, it still manages to provoke thought, particularly in regards to the government oppression of minority voices such as the ones we see being depicted here.
Arguably more interesting is the commentary the film has on identity. The movie is just as much about the subjects’ place in the world as Black women as it is about the Movement for Black Lives. The title itself refers to how the subjects are unflinching in their identity and support of the cause, and this is the most moving portion of the story.
O’Shay’s choice to focus on two specific activists was wise, as it gives the audience a much easier point of connection to the story. The two main subjects of the film are both very approachable, and the movie makes a point of showing them in their everyday lives as well as their activism as to allow the viewer to sympathize with them more easily.
The film is very competent from a technical standpoint, even if it doesn’t do a whole lot that is distinctive from a stylistic standpoint. O’Shay’s primary focus here is on telling the story in a way that gets its message across in as efficient of a way as possible, which ends up being mostly through standard fly-on-the-wall footage.
Unapologetic is a very solid documentary all-around, even if it isn’t as groundbreaking as it could have been. Still, it’s an effective and worthwhile addition to the conversation going on right now about these issues.
Unapologetic is now playing in theaters.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
Foreground: Chase (voiced by Iain Armitage) and Ryder (voiced by Will Brisbin). Background L-R: Skye (voiced by Lilly Bartlam), Rocky (voiced by Callum Shoniker), Rubble (voiced by Keegan Hedley), Zuma (voiced by Shayle Simons), and Marshall (voiced by Kingsley Marshall) in PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Spin Master. © 2021 Paramount Pictures.
Children’s movies are somewhat of a contentious subject in the film criticism community. There are those who will defend these movies as they are clearly made for a target demographic. The common retort is that of Pixar and Disney, whose movies become accessible to families as a whole due to their genuine effort to reach beyond their target demographic. Most adults can enjoy a Disney/Pixar movie, less can endure a Dreamworks movie, and only the brave can stomach an Illumination movie. The studio in question today is Nickelodeon.
With hits like The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius far in their own rearview window, the studio is not a model for success in recent history. Sponge on the Run movie became irrelevant due to the pandemic and their last animated movie before that was Wonder Park (oof). The comeback is real as PAW Patrol is one of the most successful pieces of children’s television today. The film has a simultaneous release between theaters and Paramount+, making it accessible to families everywhere. Will PAW Patrol: The Movie be another victim of the dual release box office bomb, or will its innocence shine through? Only time will tell, but one of the biggest deciding factors is whether it transcends its target audience.
Will children enjoy this movie? Probably, sure. There’s a bunch of dogs running around making silly jokes surrounded by pretty colors. The real question is whether adults will like it. Probably not, but it is definitely not a bad movie. Some of the humor is the cringe type with jokes about selfies, social media, and poop, but there are enough cute jokes that will make one exhale out their nostrils. The innocent one-liners and silly characters are sufficient.
The characters are solid. Honestly wish there was more development of the characters on the team. Chase, Rubble, and Liberty have ample screentime to show off their personalities and develop their characters. That being said, if one didn’t remember Zuma’s name after watching this, nobody would blame them. The characters they do show off are vaguely developed. Chase has a clear arc and the rise of Liberty is cute. All the members of the PAW Patrol have a different shtick complete with their own type of vehicle and abilities. The villain is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the movie as he is so cartoonishly evil.
If you have a kid, this is a solid and safe bet at the movies. Besides that, this flick isn’t really worth your time. Nobody will absolutely hate this movie, but it’s certainly nothing to write home about. Maybe the good vibes soundtrack is enough to make this movie feel worth it or for the memes trying to make this kid’s movie into some kind of political commentary. Obviously, this movie is not smart enough to actually say something. That being said, it is smart, you know, for a dog.
PAW Patrol: The Movie is now in theaters and on Paramount+.
Review by Sean Boelman
It seems that the natural progression of an actor’s career these days is to go from being a superhero to being an action star in big-budget Netflix movies. Jason Momoa’s contribution to that canon, Sweet Girl, is mostly forgettable but plenty sufficient to satisfy viewers checking it out as a part of their monthly subscription.
The film follows a man who sets out on a mission to punish those who were involved in the death of his wife to cancer, all the while protecting his daughter from a dangerous conspiracy. It’s interesting to see that the film attempts to position itself as something more than a basic revenge thriller when it is so clearly satisfied with the lowest common denominator.
For the first twenty or so minutes of the film, it seems as if this is going to be a searing indictment of Big Pharma and how corruption in capitalism has more harmful effects than it initially appears. But once the action gets off the ground, it becomes evident that these bigger ideas were coincidental, not purposeful.
The pacing of the film is also less than satisfying. Although the first act does a great job of making us care about the story, a time jump (and accompanying tonal shift) effectively undoes any connection that viewers will have. Even the action-packed portion of the film peaks early, with the last twenty minutes feeling especially stagnant after a laughable, albeit unexpected, reveal.
One of the biggest flaws in Gregg Hurwitz and Philip Eisner’s script is that there isn’t enough of an investment in the central father-daughter relationship. That easily could have stood out as a strong emotional core for the film, but everything we see in that regard is painfully generic and sometimes even cold.
Momoa’s performance in the leading role is mostly strong, but what is surprising is that he does better in the quieter, more emotional moments in the first act than he does delivering his lines during the action. Isabela Merced gives a solid turn as well, although there isn’t anything that really stands out from her.
For what it is, the film is shot well enough, but viewers will undoubtedly be left wishing that there had been a bit more creativity to the action. The most exciting sequence in the film comes early, and the rest is downhill from there. The film never looks bad, but it’s pretty much the same thing we have seen over and over again.
Sweet Girl is another entirely watchable piece of content to be discovered and soon forgotten in the sea of titles available on Netflix. There are a lot of elements here that work, but it is never able to exceed expectations.
Sweet Girl is now streaming on Netflix.