THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER -- A Gorgeous but Otherwise Underwhelming Return to Middle Earth
Review by Sean Boelman
There is no question that The Lord of the Rings is one of the most beloved fantasy franchises of all time, and fantasy television is hot right now thanks to the popularity of the Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon. Yet despite having the beast of an IP behind it, the exuberantly expensive The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a dud, a largely dull — albeit gorgeous return to Middle Earth that does not know what to do without Tolkein’s source materials.
Set years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the series follows a group of heroes as they set out on a quest to defeat the forces of evil. The series takes characters and parts of the world that was crafted so intricately by Tolkein and builds upon them in a way that lacks the magic of his extraordinary craftsmanship as a writer.
Like the properties actually based on source material actually written by Tolkien, there isn’t a whole lot of story in these first two episodes. It’s essentially setting up the quest to come in a way that will hopefully pay off in later episodes (the show is starting off with a two-season greenlight, after all) but is quite frankly boring to watch, even if you are invested in the world thanks to the previous films.
However, perhaps the single biggest mistake the series makes is turning this into an ensemble series from the start. The Fellowship of the Ring gives the audience the opportunity to get acquainted with the group dynamic from the start before splitting them up to have their own arcs in The Two Towers. The Rings of Power attempts to juggle multiple storylines from the get go, and as a result, it lacks that all-important connection.
The series features a combination of returning characters and new additions to the on-screen lore. Headlining the cast is Morfydd Clark as Galadriel, and she is no Cate Blanchett. Granted, it is entirely possible that she just wasn’t given enough to work with in these first two episodes, and the rest of the season will fare much better for her.
Indeed, there is a pretty shocking lack of A-list stars in the ensemble cast given that this is quite possibly one of the biggest intellectual properties on Earth. While the casts of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies might not have been household names prior to the films coming out, they at least had a few established legends and promising up-and-comers. The only notable actor in The Rings of Power is Ismael Cruz Cordova, who truly deserves a big breakout like this.
While it’s hard to base off the first two episodes alone, and it is entirely possible that it will improve over the course of the season, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a massive disappointment so far. In terms of fantasy in general, it’s not terrible, but given the budget and IP that went it to this, it should have been fantastic and it simply isn’t.
The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power streams on Prime Video beginning September 1 with subsequent episodes airing Fridays. Two out of ten episodes reviewed.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
George MacKay had a good year when 1917 came out. He was riding the wave of all the awards coverage and potential nominations for himself and the film. He hasn't been in many of the most notable film and television projects since then. I Came By is the latest film he's in, but he's not the only established star in the movie, or even the main star, for that matter. Sadly, they are all wasted in this muddled mess of a film.
MacKay's character and his friend (Percelle Ascott) are petty thieves who like to tag their jobs with the moniker "I Came By." While working for a man named Hector Blake (Hugh Bonneville), doing yard work, they notice he's pretty well off, and they set up another score. The problem is Ascott's character wants out because he and his girlfriend are having a child together. He doesn't want this life anymore. He wants to go straight. The MacKay character decides to do the job on his own and finds something disturbing at the man's estate in the cellar.
MacKay's character's mother, played by Kelly MacDonald, notices something is bothering him. He doesn't key her into his situation, instead getting in a fight with her and storming out. What he saw still bothers him, so he goes back to investigate the situation a little more. This wasn't a good decision because the Bonneville character was waiting for him and ambushed him in the cellar. His mother and friend start to get concerned about him after that night he disappeared.
This film has a vibe of Rear Window mixed with Disturbia. These shady characters have the authorities looking at them, and then they get out of whatever accusations are thrown against them. That's a trope in suspense thrillers like this. The problem is the other two films I mentioned are much better than this one. This film doesn't know what it wants to be, so it's all over the place.
The Bonneville character is set up as a judge who has some sexual proclivities. He's hiding some things from the authorities, and all these people are trying to get him. The filmmaker, Babak Anvari, and writer Namsi Khan didn't set up the story properly. It doesn't justify why people care so much about this man and his secrets. They are the ones in the wrong from my point of view. If they had never tried to rob him, none of the extra activities in the film would have happened.
This film is based on contrivances to justify why all these characters do what they do, which isn't good from the start. The film doesn't look bad from a cinematography point of view. It's shot very well and has some nice camera angles. The performances are fine even though they are wasted in a ridiculous story from beginning to end. The concept of graffiti taggers robbing houses and using "I Came By" as their moniker was an interesting premise, but it went totally wrong in the end.
I Came By streams on Netfix beginning August 31.
Review by Camden Ferrell
As the summer movie season comes to a close, a light-hearted family film will fill the void this coming weekend. Gigi & Nate is a comedy-drama film from director Nick Hamm and writer David Hudgins. Despite being a predictable and by-the-books movie for all audiences, this movie is harmless and decent, proving itself to be more competent than expected.
Nate is a young, active boy, but he soon finds his life changed. After meningitis leaves him hospitalized, he becomes quadriplegic. After this event, his life changes for the worst as he finds himself falling into depression. However, everything changes when he receives an unlikely service animal. Gigi is an intelligent capuchin monkey that gives Nate the companionship and hope he desperately needed. This is a unique and inspiring story that is simple, accessible, and easy to consume for all ages and audiences.
Hudgins has experience writing a lot of network television, and this screenplay feels on par with the quality of writing he has typically done on television. It’s not bad by any means, but it also isn’t particularly compelling or fresh. It is sufficient in telling its story, but it does seem to gloss over Nate’s initial struggles more than one would hope, but it also was fairly bloated as is at almost two hours.
The acting is decent from everyone involved, but it’s nothing that stands out as moving more so than the average drama. Charlie Rowe leads the film as Nate, and he’s a charming enough lead to carry the movie. He’s not perfect, but like everything else in this movie, he’s good enough. He has enjoyable chemistry with his co-stars like Josephine Langford, Marcia Gay Harden, and Jim Belushi, but none of them give memorable performances despite their competence.
This is standard family-friendly fare that aims to tug on the heartstrings with mixed results. It’s extremely undemanding of the viewer and can be some low effort viewing that could prove entertaining to many. Once you can look past the weak visual effects to bring Gigi to life, there’s more to like in this movie than dislike.
Gigi & Nate is a comedy drama with no shortage of cheesiness, and this can be a pro or con depending on who you are. It will definitely find many fans due to its inspiring story even if it is content to be unambitious. Overall, this is a harmless and not bad way to spend two hours.
Gigi & Nate is in theaters September 2.
Review by Adam Donato
August is certainly in the bottom third when it comes to movie months. It’s as if the month is in complete denial about the end of the summer movie season. Week one features the last big blockbuster. Week two features an array of genres thrown at the wall. Then school starts and the quality of movies drops drastically. The movie that is most emblematic of this trend is The Invitation. A working class girl seeks out her family tree and gets roped into attending a wedding at a fancy mansion in London, only to find something more sinister may be afoot. But just how bad is this trashy horror flick?
Pretty bad. This movie acts as a tepid love story for an hour and takes a sharp left turn into a ridiculous horror romp. If one is wondering whether saying that is a spoiler or not, the trailer basically gives the entire story away. Also, it seemed to be an open secret that this is a vampire movie. It’s clear from the commercial that there is some sort of cult gathering going on, but the specific type of horror movie did not seem clear to all.
That being said, with the whole sexy vampire thing going on, this feels like a movie that would've come out a decade ago. That would mean the target demographic for this type of movie would be teens, which would explain the PG-13 rating. This story definitely would have benefited from an R rating, especially with all the sex and blood inherent to the appeal of the movie. Sexy celebrities and cheap horror kills are all this movie has and it half assed both of those things.
The whole conceit of the movie is inherently ridiculous. Most horror movies these days are self-aware enough to call out stupid decisions like this. Scream didn’t even come out in the same century. Scream came out so long ago, there was a requel that came out earlier this year. Having a story that begins with a woman making such an obviously poor decision is laughable. Maybe if the movie maintained the zany tone of the last act, then this sort of thing would fly. The whole vibe of the movie is entirely uncomfortable as not only is it a poor decision to accept the invitation, but every interaction is so awkward. Themes of classism and racism are attempted, but not tackled with grace like Get Out or Ready or Not.
Unless you’re a high school freshman looking for a movie to go on a first date to where you can spend the whole movie debating on the right time to lean in for the kiss, then this is not the movie for you. 2022 has been quite the year for horror movies. Even in theaters now, there are much more appealing options in the form of Bodies Bodies Bodies and Nope. Please spend your hard earned money and time on one of those if you’re looking for a sexy scare, instead of this wannabe Twilight disaster.
The Invitation is now playing in theaters.
Review by Paris Jade
Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg bring you Netflix’s latest comedy film: Me Time. Sonny (Kevin Hart) is a stay-at-home father whose life revolves around his children. After years of spending time with them, he finally gets time alone while his wife, Maya (Regina Hall), goes on a trip with their kids. He reconnects with his childhood friend Huck (Mark Wahlberg) for a crazy and unforgettable weekend birthday bash.
A comedy starring Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg just seems right. Nothing could go wrong with it, and nothing did. It was absolutely entertaining the whole way through. It was hilarious, and the antics continued to grow as the movie went along. The plot itself is very simple. It’s not hard to grasp at all. The setup felt like it took just a little too long, as a good portion of the movie felt like you were watching Sonny be a good father. However, the fun begins when Maya and the kids go on their trip. There are several jaw-dropping, hilarious moments in the film that you will never see coming, which make it all even better.
One specific actress absolutely stole the show in the mere 20 minutes that she was in. Ilia Isorelýs Paulino’s character Thelma was incredibly hilarious, and the actress herself stole my attention anytime she was in a scene. She had the best lines and reactions to Sonny and Huck. She deserves praise for her performance, and everyone should be on the lookout for this up-and-coming actress. An honest shame she isn’t in the film for longer. Other than that, the performances given by our main stars were great, as if anyone would ever doubt their deliveries. Hart and Wahlberg are talented at what they do, and I expect nothing less than greatness from them. They will have you laughing for several minutes of the movie.
Me Time is your classic, simple, semi-raunchy comedy. If you like these types of films, you’ll find yourself enjoying it. However, it’s not something for the family, so maybe don’t sit your kids down for movie night with this one. It’s not my first choice when choosing a good comedy movie, but if you are looking for something new and are a casual Netflix user, go ahead and watch this. I guarantee you’ll laugh a few times with Me Time.
Watch Me Time only on Netflix, out August 26.
Review by Camden Ferrell
The Good Boss premiered at festivals in 2021 and was the official selection of Spain for Best International Feature at the 2022 Academy Awards. This movie is directed by Fernando León de Aranoa, a veteran filmmaker who is no stranger to big actors and big stories. This film can both revel and suffer in its small-scale story, but it serves as a decent showcase for the always talented Javier Bardem.
Blanco is a successful man who is the boss of a factory that produces scales. The movie follows each day in a week for him as he awaits the inspection of a local committee for an award. With a possible award on the line, he does what he can to deal with professional and personal turmoil to ensure his goals are met. This is a nice and simple story that isn’t ambitious in its narrative and has the potential for great character exploration.
The writing is decent yet forgettable throughout. It does enough to maintain one’s attention through its story, but it also doesn’t really have anything original to bring to the table. The dialogue isn’t compelling but is still far from weak. It does what it needs to do without attempting to elevate the film as a whole.
By far and away, the best part of this movie is its leading performance. Javier Bardem is one of the best actors working today, and he leads this film wonderfully from start to finish. He brings a lot of emotion and complexity to a seemingly simple character, and if this movie stands the test of time, it will be due entirely to his turn as Blanco.
While Bardem is the standout, there are other aspects of the movie that shine. The direction and pacing are consistent and fairly strong throughout. It’s nearly two hours, but it never feels dull or slow, and this is commendable due to how simple its story and script are.
The Good Boss is a nice story that is propelled by Bardem’s fantastic leading performance. This, along with some confident direction, help elevate an average script. Not particularly ambitious, this is a movie that might speak to a wide range of audiences with its character moments and relevant themes and drama.
The Good Boss is in theaters August 26.
Review by Sean Boelman
The latest victim… er… repurposed film of the MGM/Amazon merger that was originally set to go to theaters but now heads straight to Prime Video is Samaritan, a big-budget starring vehicle for the iconic action hero Sylvester Stallone. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t seem to know who it’s for — be it younger audiences into the superhero craze or older audiences who were fans of Stallone in his prime — resulting in an end product that will please no one.
The film follows a young boy who discovers the secret identity of a superhero who was thought to have disappeared decades earlier, forcing him to save the world one last time. There have been plenty of movies that have attempted to take this “grounded” superhero approach, but few have been as outright lifeless as this.
For an action movie starring Sylvester Stallone, this film is miraculously and dreadfully boring. The action sequences are few and far between, and while the ones that allow Stallone to go full badass are at least mildly entertaining, that’s only around five minutes of the hour and forty-minute runtime.
Like… literally almost every other superhero story to ever be told, the central theme of this movie is that with great power comes great responsibility. Yet despite the extremely basic nature of the film’s themes, it manages to feel like it isn’t saying much at all. Simply showing Stallone’s character refusing to use his powers before embracing them for the greater good is very shallow.
The movie attempts to use the bond that forms between the young protagonist and Stallone’s character as a means of characterization for both of them, but it’s very generic and ineffective. Thankfully, the kid isn’t annoying like most young protagonists of movies like this can be, but he’s still not interesting.
For the more action-oriented parts of the movie, Stallone seems like he is actually having fun again, which is not always the case with his newer films. However, in the dialogue-driven portions, he’s phoning it in. Considering that the character is meant to be gruff and distant, it almost works, but there are several moments that are just too clunky to forgive.
The CGI is definitely not of the highest quality, but this could have been excusable were it not for the horrendously dull action choreography. There are two or three decent hammer-based action scenes, but given that Stallone is such a legend of the genre, it’s frustrating to see a movie treat him as geriatrically as this.
Samaritan wasn’t ever going to be a masterpiece, but it manages to fall short delivering on even the most basic expectations of a film like this. This movie is obviously meant to pay homage to Stallone’s legacy as an actor, but all it does is attempt to capitalize on his image to no avail.
Samaritan hits Prime Video on August 26.
Review by Cole Groth
At 27 years of age, Madelaine Petsch is still stuck in high school. Since her rise to fame in 2017 as Riverdale's Cheryl Blossom, she's performed as the same rich, white, prissy girl — a role that makes her perfectly suited as Olivia in Sabrina Jaglom's Jane. This film follows Petsch as a high school senior whose only goal is to get into her dream school, Stanford. While reeling from the death of one of her close friends, Jane (Chloe Yu), Olivia decides to abuse her social media presence to gain a sense of control, eventually leading to devastating results. Like many modern psychological thrillers, this one doesn't work because of the hopelessly unlikeable leads and a weak ending. On all accounts, Jane is the worst high school experience imaginable.
Just coming out of high school myself, it's frustrating to see films that fail to replicate something even similar to the typical high school experience. In this sense, Jane succeeds. Even though I'm not a fan of the story whatsoever, the dialogue is decent and sometimes feels relatable. Most of the characters fit within the world that Olivia occupies in a realistic way, making the story feel much more grounded, which it seriously needs. The best scene in the film is a party scene which feels very accurate to parties that I attended when I was in high school, a remarkably hard feat given that Hollywood now feels so disconnected from teenagers. This element of the film falls flat after a plethora of unrealistic encounters and frustrating decisions from the lead characters. The first shot is Jane's suicide, marking her as the catalyst for every event in the film. However, the script can't decide whether she has any influence on the world after her death or if she's merely a moment in the past of Olivia and her best friend, Izzy (Chloe Bailey). After her suicide, the two use Jane's social media account to shame girls around campus in a Pretty Little Liars way. At certain points throughout, both characters claim that they weren't the ones to make a particular post, and it's never explained if it's supposed to be the ghost of Jane doing it or if somebody else has hacked the account. It's little things like these that are incredibly frustrating because the ending doesn't give any of it away.
Director Sabrina Jaglom and writer Rishi Rajani have managed to create a script with pretty great dialogue and an unreasonably terrible plot. Each beat feels generic, and the film's overall structure is obnoxious and repetitive. Olivia is a horrible person, and one of the best elements of the film is that she is treated as such. However, this doesn't change the fact that films with bad leading characters suffer greatly. Viewers will find themselves rolling their eyes at how little they like the main character, so there's no payoff for any actions. This is a fundamental problem that films like this have, and Jaglom doesn't do a good job justifying any of these scenes other than to generate a bitter ending for Olivia's story. Without going into much detail, the third act is by far one of the weakest I've seen in months. The pacing is one of the best elements of the film, but this ending is so weak that it still feels like the movie was overlong. An 83-minute runtime should be easy to justify, but when the first two acts play out in a tight yet generically interesting way, it's all up to the third act to bring them together. The fate of both Olivia and Izzy should have been the first things planned out in the script outline, but it feels rushed and mind-numbingly idiotic.
These criticisms of the story are driven mainly by my dislike for dour thrillers such as this one, so viewers might find something entertaining about bad girls losing their minds for the previously mentioned brief runtime. From a production standpoint, this film works. The use of social media, one of the primary elements of the film, was well-executed and looked fairly nice, the cinematography and editing were well done, and the performances from the cast were decent. Petsch and Bailey are an interesting not-so-dynamic duo; Ian Owens and Nina Bloomgarden's supporting performances as Mr. Richardson and Camille, respectively, were well done; and the Oscar-winning Melissa Leo is pretty good as Principal Rhodes. It's a shame that the filmmakers didn't use Leo more because her role could've been so much more interesting if she had been given more to do.
Overall, Jane is a messy and generic thriller that works until it tries something new. As a commentary on modern high school politics, it has a hard time finding its footing, and as a character study on an overly ambitious young woman, it's cartoonishly stupid. While the film is slick at times and supported by strong performances, this one doesn't stand out enough in its crowd to be the choice for any fans of the already crowded genre.
Jane opens in theaters on August 26th, and on VOD starting September 16th.
Review by Cole Groth
After the moderately successful release of 2016's Nerve, social media-based thrillers seem to be here to stay, and films like Joe Keery's Spree or this year's Low Life serve to boost this sub-genre with continually decent films. Low Life isn't amazing, but it's slick enough to stand out as a more competent thriller. With a unique premise, strong pacing, and good music, the only thing stopping this film from rising to the top is a weak climax and an overall lame payoff.
Tackling the recent craze of internet vigilantes who hunt down pedophiles, like low-budget Chris Hansen clones, Low Life follows Benny Jansen, a small-scale YouTuber who uses his charm to entrap would-be predators. Played by Wes Dunlap, Benny is a good example of a cocky high schooler written correctly. His arrogance gets the best of him, and the jocky energy infused with the obnoxious YouTuber vibe he gives off makes him an extraordinarily interesting character. After tracking down one of his most aggressive predators yet, Benny finds himself way over his head, leading everything awry in one insane night with deadly consequences. This premise works very well until things get out of hand. From there, it seems like writers Hunter Milano and Noah Rotter couldn't agree on anything, leaving an already confusing story to spiral out of control.
The first hour of this film is very different from its last 46 minutes. While the first act serves as a good commentary on vigilante justice and the current state of social media, the last two are sloppy, poorly-written, and aggressively paced. After a twenty-minute dialogue sequence in the middle, the film goes from simply tense to over-the-top and ridiculous. Violent twists and turns are too ambitious to keep this grounded in reality, and that's where the film works the most. As the tensions grow, Benny becomes a cartoonish villain and a complete shell of who he first represented, which will surely leave audiences struggling to find out where it all went wrong. People just do not act like this in real life. It's frustrating to watch people go crazy for internet fame, especially when it isn't well-written enough to justify it. Movies like these run into these sorts of problems. Young writers want to create slick thrillers to represent their generation's problems, but it just doesn't work when they turn to violence to solve their problems. This film, in particular, struggles with cringeworthy dialogue, and it only gets worse over time.
One of the definite highlights of this film is how it presents itself in terms of social media. In a sea of bad YouTube clones and lame parodies, this one does a solid job of recreating what actual internet content looks like. Benny is a believable protagonist at first, and how he looks at the world comes from a genuine place of delusion. Flawed protagonists make for satisfying endings, so it's only more baffling when the last ten minutes throw all character development out the window in an attempt to one-up itself constantly. Without going into particular plot details, it's hard to describe what's wrong with this movie because most of its flaws come from the story. The acting is mostly sub-par, but beyond that, it's competent from a production standpoint. Just like Spree, you can expect a fatally flawed journey in Low Life, but if you're a fan of neo-thrillers, you might find a new perspective.
Low Life will premiere on VOD starting August 25th.
Review by Sean Boelman
Many indie movies have their profile boosted thanks to a high-profile star in the leading role, and that is the case with M. Cahill’s family comedy Adopting Audrey. Elevated beyond standard indie film material thanks to a strong performance from Jena Malone, the movie doesn’t live up to the potential of its intriguing premise.
The film follows an adult woman who, feeling a void in her life, decides to put herself up for adoption and forms an unorthodox bond with the irritable patriarch of her adoptive family. Inspired by a true story, the movie is nonetheless overly melodramatic to the point of losing authenticity.
With a premise as bizarre as this, one would expect it to take a darkly comedic approach. But unfortunately, Cahill settles for a straightforward family drama approach. There are certainly some heartwarming moments throughout, but it generally can’t escape the feeling of being contrived and trite.
There are some compelling themes about acceptance and compassion, but its resonance is hindered by a script that largely feels like it is more suited to a movie of the week than a high-quality feature film. The script also hardly explores the idea of a family unit, which should have been central to this story.
The character development is largely lacking. Malone’s character is given a backstory to justify her somewhat bizarre actions, but it’s rather bland and shallow. The dynamic she has with her adoptive family is a very standard arc of a young person teaching an older person the error of their ways.
Malone’s performance is the main draw of the movie. She brings a lot of empathy to a character that is ultimately a bit on the absurd side. Robert Hunger-Bühler gives a turn that is very generic and perhaps too exaggerated, but his chemistry with Malone is strong enough to make things work.
The film is shot in a way that is very straightforward but competent. Everything about the movie is done in a way that feels saccharine and trite. Given that the film did not opt to go for the satirical angle, it makes sense that everything feels rather muted, but it also ends up being largely unmemorable and unspectacular.
Adopting Audrey does exactly what it sets out to do, but it never exceeds its modest ambitions. Jena Malone turns in yet another astounding performance, but apart from her contributions, the film is largely underwhelming.
Adopting Audrey hits theaters and VOD on August 26.