Review by Sean Boelman
Danielle Macdonald’s career has (perhaps ironically) come full-circle as she broke out with her starring role in Patti Cake$, an underdog story about an underground musician, and now her newest turn sees her on the opposite end of the musical spectrum. Falling for Figaro is a charming little film, even if its contentment to settle for the tropes can be a bit annoying at times.
The movie follows a successful business woman who decides to drop everything in her life and move to Scotland to compete in a singing competition to become a professional opera singer. It does feel as if this is the type of film that would have been a hit a decade ago, as this type of singing competition was all the rage back then and has since subsided in its popularity.
Still, for a movie about a type of performance that is generally considered to be for a niche, upscale audience, the film is surprisingly accessible. The brief hour and forty-five minute runtime flies by, in large part due to the fact that the movie hits only the major beats. The film covers an extensive training process and only shows the viewer minimal details, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As one would expect, the message here is the same old “follow your dreams” inspiration that has been done hundreds of times before. This wouldn’t be a problem if everything wasn’t developed to the bare minimum. It’s still a heartwarming and crowd-pleasing movie, but it pulls all of its punches.
Additionally, the character development in the film is frustrating. Although the protagonist has a compelling and fully fleshed-out arc, a lot of the other characters are disappointingly shallow. Everything is set up for her mentor to have some strong growth, but this storyline goes nowhere (perhaps to keep the runtime short). And the “nemesis” turns into a predictable love triangle storyline.
That said, the strength of the movie is in its performances. Macdonald is great in her role, showing that she is able to be really powerful on screen even when the material she is working with is pretty standard. Her chemistry with Joanna Lumley is brilliant, and the moments in which they are together are absolutely the highlights of the film.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is rather by-the-book. It would have been nice to see more done in terms of artistry. Even the final competition towards which the entire film is building is rather plain. It’s a bunch of people standing on stage singing (the most well-known opera songs, for that matter), with the camera pointing at them statically. The execution is sorely lacking in energy, but the actors are thankfully able to save it.
Falling for Figaro is a very pleasant movie all-around. While it doesn’t break any new cinematic ground, and there are plenty of more memorable films to have done the same thing, strong performances make this worth a go nevertheless.
Falling for Figaro hits theaters and VOD on October 1.
OLD HENRY -- A Traditional Western with a Stellar Performance by Tim Blake Nelson
Review by Dan Skip Allen
To say that the Western genre is full of classics would be an understatement. High Noon, Once Upon a Time in the West, and various Clint Eastwood films including Unforgiven are all among some of the best films ever made. That said, Westerns have been a little hit and miss in the last two decades. Old Henry is a hit by anybody's standards.
Tim Blake Nelson plays the lead character. He's a farmer in the midwest with a teenage son who, like most teenagers, thinks he knows everything. While out riding on his land, he finds an injured man lying in a creek bed and a bag of cash. The father and son take the man back to their house to help nurse him back to health. They eventually get him healthy and ask him about who he is. The thing is he's not that trustworthy because men come looking for him.
Nelson has had a very fascinating career. He's actually been in a few Westerns before this one. Mostly he plays villains though. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the film that was his breakout role. He was hilarious in that Coen Brothers film. Recently he was in Just Mercy and he did great in a small role in that film. He has even been in a couple of comic book movies. Maybe his character will come back from The Incredible Hulk. Henry, though, is the best character he ever played.
Old Henry has that Lone Wolf and Cub feeling to it. It reminds me of a few Clint Eastwood films as well as the Christian Bale/Russell Crowe version of 3:10 to Yuma. This old grizzled man mentors a young man. We've seen this before in films. The thing is it's so spot on once again. Nelson is perfect in this role. He even has some secrets that come out by the end of the film. Secrets that even I didn't see coming. I usually snuff out movie secrets because I see so many movies.
With all heroes must also come a villain. And Stephen Dorff plays that baddie in this film. He's a bit subdued but violent when he needs to be. We've seen better villains in westerns in the past. This film isn't about the bad guys, though. It's about Henry and his relationship with his son and the man they saved. The bad guys are a necessary evil of the film. They are there for the violence to take its shape for lack of a better word.
Old Henry treads similar ground to a lot of Westerns in the past. The thing that sets this film apart from the others is the performance by Tim Blake Nelson. He gave the performance of his career in the role. The setting and backdrop were pretty cool as well. The director did a very good job fleshing out the characters and their secrets. That helped keep the story flowing nicely even though it was a pretty short film. It flew by in a good way.
Old Henry hits theaters and VOD on October 1.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
Nothing is more subjective than comedy. That being said, if someone was opposed to the concept of a comedy film where the plot is centered around the COVID-19 pandemic, then that would be fair. Bo Burnham basically made a movie about his time spent during the pandemic and how mentally damaging the experience was. Is it in poor taste or is it timely and relevant? It could go either way, but that’s not the question at hand. The question is: Is Stop and Go good?
The film is written by its two main stars Whitney Call and Mallory Everton. It’s also directed by Everton who shared directorial duties with Stephen Meek. Call and Everton are most known for their various roles in the sketch comedy show called Studio C. The two ladies play sisters who go on a road trip during the pandemic to save their at-risk grandmother from getting COVID at her nursing home. Along the way, they goof around with each other and text some guy one of them hooked up with right before the pandemic started.
It goes without saying that the two leads have chemistry. They've been working together for about a decade, so they better have chemistry. That’s not the problem. The problem is that they are not funny. Making funny faces is good if you’re Jim Carrey or if your audience is just small children, but here it was just annoying. It’s interesting that the two leads wrote the script because it would not be surprising to find out that there was no script. They probably just wrote a loose outline of the plot and thought they would be funny enough to improvise the whole movie in the car. The nicest way to say that the movie is not funny is by looking at the genres on IMDb. It’s listed as a drama and nothing else. That’s fair.
The plot is also terrible. There’s little to none character or plot resolution that could be considered satisfying. Remember the movie Locke starring Tom Hardy? The movie where a man is in a car on the phone for 90 minutes. This movie is very reminiscent of that as so much of it is just them sitting in the car. It's the easiest type of movie to film: just them goofing off with each other in the car. Nothing happens. There’s a kid taking care of their mice and some guy is accidentally sending pictures of his junk to one of the girls. That is the entire second act of the movie. None of it is funny. The only interesting part about the story is how it portrays the fear and confusion associated with living through the beginning of the pandemic. Disinfecting the groceries? That one hit home. Relatives who think it's all a hoax? That one might be too soon.
Overall, it’s harmless. There’s nothing really offensive in regards to the story being about the pandemic. It’s a thing that happened and changed everything forever. Of course there are going to be movies about it. To answer the question, it’s not a good movie. The humor is annoying, the plot barely exists, and the setting will just remind you how everything sucks. If you’re going to watch this movie, wear a mask so you can use it to cover your eyes and take a nap.
Stop and Go hits theaters and VOD on October 1.
Review by Sean Boelman
The newest James Bond film was one of the first to be delayed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is finally making its way to theaters after a year and a half of being delayed. The question that most viewers will be asking is whether No Time to Die was worth the wait, and the answer is mostly a no.
The movie follows James Bond who, having retired from service, is pulled back into action when an old friend comes knocking asking him to thwart a conspiracy involving a dangerous new weapon and unexpected connections to his past. In terms of story, it’s an old-school 007 thriller, the legendary superspy fighting against a villain with big ideas but questionable methods.
Perhaps the thing working the most against this film is its massive runtime. It clocks in at two hours and forty-three minutes, a full fifteen minutes longer than the previous longest entry, Spectre, which was criticized for having too much dead space. Although the story here is a lot more refined and deliberate, it still has some weak portions.
It’s interesting to see the franchise take a more character-driven route in this entry. This is undoubtedly the most vulnerable we have seen Bond yet, and it’s a good look for the character. Of course, we get to see the normal swagger and strength, but the script peels that back, which combined with Craig’s best performance ever in the role, makes it all the more compelling.
On the other hand, the villain in the movie is highly disappointing. Having a recent Academy Award winner in Rami Malek seemed like a good idea on paper, but his performance here just comes across as unnatural. Javier Bardem and Cristoph Waltz were highlights of their respective films as villains, but Malek’s turn will simply be forgettable.
As always, the movie has a message to go along with its villain, and it’s very obvious what it is from the beginning. However, this isn’t very distinctive in the Bond franchise or the espionage genre as a whole. The part that is more interesting is Bond’s personal arc, coming to terms with his past. It’s not always fully developed, but it poses some interesting questions.
From a technical level, the film isn’t as gorgeous as the Mendes entries, as director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings a much grittier style. The action is pretty straightforward, and while it is still exciting enough to be fun, it lacks that creative energy that would have made it stand out. And of course, Billie Eilish’s title sequence song is great.
No Time to Die is definitely a very interesting and different entry into a long-running franchise, but its attempts to blend old and new don’t always pay off. Still, it’s a mostly satisfying conclusion to Daniel Craig’s run in the lead role, and it should definitely be praised for its ambition.
No Time to Die hits theaters on October 8.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
HBO hit the jackpot when David Chase came to them with the idea of a gang boss who has everyday problems and family issues. The show won many, many awards for its cast, and the producers, directors, and writers. It ushered in a new era in television watching. It may have coined the phrase appointment TV, where everybody tunes in each week without fail to see the next episode and talk about it at work the next day at the water cooler.
When Chase came back to them with the idea of a prequel movie to show how all these characters became who they were in The Sopranos, of course, they jumped on the idea. It was a no-brainer to greenlight a movie based on these widely popular characters that have been gone from the public consciousness for about a decade or so. Chase's career after The Sopranos is a bit spotty, but he knows this world and those within it very vividly.
The Many Saints of Newark takes place in the tumultuous times of the late '60s and early '70s when the country was at a turning point. This era was a powder keg. The film focuses on a character not seen in the show Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola, The Art of Self Defense), the uncle of young Anthony "Tony" Soprano (Michael Gandolfini and William Ludwig). Other prominent actors playing roles in the film are Ray Liotta, Leslie Odom Jr., Cory Stoll, Vera Farmiga, and Jon Bernthal. They play various family members and acquaintances as well as enemies in the film. Besides being a coming-of-age story for young Tony, it's also a true-to-life gangster picture.
Chase set the stage for the show perfectly, introducing many of the characters we already know from the show as well as ones we hadn't been introduced to yet but heard about on the show. It was the perfect way to bring older viewers who were already familiar with the characters back into the fold. The problem is if you weren't familiar with the show, it would be a little confusing. That's where the actual gangster plot comes in. The film stands on its own in that aspect. It's a very engaging gangster film and Dickie is a worthwhile lead character.
(L-r) COREY STOLL as Junior Soprano, unnamed extra, VERA FARMIGA as Livia Soprano, JON BERNTHAL as Johnny Soprano, MICHAEL GANDOLFINI as Teenage Tony Soprano, GABRIELLA PIAZZA as Joanne Moltisanti and ALESSANDRO NIVOLA as Dickie Moltisanti in New Line Cinema and Home Box Office’s mob drama “THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher.
The film has a narrator to bring the viewers into the world once again or for the first time. A crane shot moves the camera over a graveyard and various characters speak as it passes their tombstones. It finally settles on the gravestone of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli). From this point on, he narrates the film. This is an effective method of explaining what's going on for the viewers who aren't familiar with this world or its characters.
Chase weaved in subplots for those long-time fans of the show. Those were moments that made me happy because I liked how these characters were left so we then can see them picked up on the show. Especially young Tony and Junior Soprano. Their arcs in the film were very satisfying indeed. Seeing where Chase left them off almost made me want to go home and start watching the show from the very beginning once again. This was a very satisfying ending to the film.
The production value of the film was great. I felt like I was back in that period with the clothes, cars, and hairstyles the women wore. The storefronts were right out of the period as well. It reminded me of other classic gangster films such as Goodfellas.
I always worry when my hype for a film outweighs the actual product that comes out. The anticipation of this film was worth the wait, though. For me, it brought me back into the world of these characters and created a new enthusiasm for these new characters. This movie comes full circle and I can't be happier. That being said, it's a little too niche for casual viewers. They should be able to follow it through, even if they probably won't know all the stuff big fans will know.
The Many Saints of Newark hits theaters and HBO Max on October 1.
Review by Sean Boelman
After becoming an under-the-radar hit last year, Amazon and Blumhouse’s anthology Welcome to the Blumhouse returns with four new films from underrepresented creators. Bingo Hell, co-written and directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, is a fun and nasty horror-comedy that will definitely satisfy fans of the horror company.
The movie follows a tight-knit community whose beloved bingo hall is purchased by an outsider whose intentions are less than pure. And although the idea of a community fighting back against a malicious external force is nothing new, it’s refreshing to see this story done with an older protagonist as the lead.
What really makes this film stand out as more than a schlocky B-movie is the level of investment there is in the characters. The main group of older heroes are all very endearing and go beyond the common archetypes of the genre when it comes to the elderly. And the movie’s antagonist is enjoyably exaggerated and wacky.
Academy Award-nominated actress Adriana Barraza brings a lot of energy to her role. It’s not a film that is meant to be taken seriously, and she approaches her performance that way, which allows the movie to work as well as it does. And the iconic character actor Richard Brake brings another memorable villain to the screen.
Like a lot of Blumhouse horror flicks, there’s some clear social commentary to be found here. In this case, the film is tackling the ideas of gentrification and greed. The things that the movie has to say aren’t particularly profound, nor are they very original, but they are delivered in a way that feels earned, even if it is direct.
If there is one thing missing from the film, it is consistent pacing. There are only two or three really horrifying scenes, and while they are extremely disturbing, they are also quite brief. It has a very low body count, perhaps a constraint of the budget of the movie, and it ultimately leaves a little bit to be desired on the carnage front.
That said, Guerrero brings an interesting enough visual style to the film that it almost makes up for the lack of excitement in the story. The bingo hall setting for much of the movie obviously lends itself to a lot of color, and that works well. Even more interesting, though, is how Guerrero blends elements of fantasy and nightmare, especially during the death scenes.
Bingo Hell is an enjoyable little horror-comedy, and while it’s not quite as glorious as it could have been, its gruesome moments are enough to make it worth the watch. Gigi Saul Guerrero is clearly a talented filmmaker, and it’s nice to see opportunities like this given to voices like hers.
Bingo Hell streams on Amazon beginning October 1.
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD -- A View Into the Life of a Not-So Beautiful Man
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Documentaries about various subject matter need to give a lot of information and show the viewer a side of the subject that is interesting and or fascinating. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World does just that. It focuses on a gentleman by the name of Björn Andresen, a celebrity in his own time
Director Luchino Visconti is looking for a very specific boy, not a girl, to star in his latest feature film back in the late '60s early '70s called Death in Venice. It eventually came out in 1971 in theaters. A Swedish boy, Björn Andresen, who's the narrator of the film, catches the eye of Visconti. He was dubbed the most beautiful boy in the world by the press and media at the time. He was just what Visconti was looking for. So Visconti started work on Death in Venice based on the Thomas Mann story of the same name.,
Visconti filmed most of the scenes at the Lido Hotel Des Bains. Dirk Bogarde played the crippled composer who admired Tadzio, Andresen's character in the film. Andresen also had a governess on set, Miriam Sambol. Born didn't get a lot of direction from Visconti except go, stop, turn around and smile. Visconti finished the film relatively quickly and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival that summer. This was the beginning of the craziness for Andresen in his career.
Andresen and his girlfriend Jessica travel around and visit various people from his past: a manga artist from Japan, a musician, an old friend of his mother's, and his daughter. The talking heads bring a lot of context to the story, along with archival footage of old childhood videos inner spliced throughout the film. This all helped delve deeper into his life. These interviews and super 8 videos explained a lot about his life which help break up the story of the film from earlier.
This doc had a lot going for it. From the aspect of Andresen being discovered and put into a movie which helped him develop acting and singing careers to the talking heads that provided context on his life past and present, this man was a very complex individual. As a result of his stardom and tragedies in his life, he would never be that innocent young teenager again. I am going to watch Death in Venice as a result of seeing this film. That's for sure.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World hits theaters on September 24.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Surge is a British film that had its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It marks the feature debut of short film and television director Aneil Karia. The film is led by British actor and Emmy-winner Ben Whishaw. While the film has a great leading performance and some great stylistic choices, it’s weighed down by a meandering first half that is too stripped back for its own good.
Joseph is an adult who lives a meaningless life. He works in airport security, passing his days patting down flyers and manning the same station. However, over the course of 24 hours, he goes on a journey of self-liberation. After an impulsive act, he is set on a reckless path that tries to put some excitement and meaning into his bland life. This idea isn’t too complex, so there’s a lot of room for exploration of these familiar themes and premises.
The script was written by Karia, Rupert Jones, and Rita Kalnejais. The writing isn’t anything outstanding, and it’s intentional minimal. There is very little dialogue from start to finish, and this both works and doesn’t. Their approach doesn’t make for the most compelling story, but it does allow a lot of wiggle room for Whishaw to act and make his own creative decisions. It feels like the script could have done more the flesh out eithers its lead character or their themes.
The best part of this movie is the leading performance from Whishaw. Even when the movie is lacking, Whishaw is reliable and quite often captivating. He saves a lot of the weaker moments of the film, and he plays into the sporadic chaos of the film very well. He does a great job of entering this role of a man trying to escape mundanity, and he gives a performance that is manic and quite uncomfortable to watch at times.
The outstanding problem with this movie is how much it meanders in its first half. While it’s intentionally executed this way to make the audience experience the protagonist’s own mundanity, it doesn’t help create a compelling narrative. It dooms the movie before it can even begin. Luckily, once the movie raises the stakes, it becomes more interesting and erratic with its camerawork and acting. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make up for the disappointment of what comes before it.
Surge features an impressive leading performance from Ben Whishaw, but its slow opening half prevent it from being transcendent in its narrative and themes. It shows promise for Karia as a director, and there are a couple of great moments throughout.
Surge is in theaters and on demand September 24.
Review by Sean Boelman
Greg Nicotero’s Creepshow series has been a hit among horror fans, so it will be to the delight of Shudder subscribers that the new season is debuting in the heart of their spooky season celebration. Offering more of the same campy, morbid stories for which the property is known, viewers that know what they are getting into will certainly have a great deal of fun with this new batch of episodes.
For those unaware of what Creepshow is, it’s an anthology horror series with episodes consisting of two independent shorts. Yet even though each segment is pretty self-contained, this third season probably isn’t the best starting point for novices, as this isn’t the most accessible batch of episodes for non-fans.
The first episode features two stories which feel more like classic Creepshow tales. The first, “Mums”, features a sinister garden in a segment that recalls the original film’s “Father’s Day”. However, perhaps the most frustrating thing about this bit is that the message is lost in an attempt to emphasize thrills.
The other half of the episode, “Queen Bee”, is much more fun but even more ridiculous. Here, the message is clear and timely, and the effects work is astounding. The set piece that makes up most of this segment is one of the best in all the series, and features one shot in particular that audiences won’t soon forget.
On the other hand, the second episode of the season is much more consistent in quality. “Skeletons in the Closet”, much like season two’s “Public Television of the Dead”, is made with horror fans in mind. Cinephiles will have a smile on their face the whole time and may even shout in glee at a few of the visual references that are made.
The second story, “Familiar”, is the first one of the season that feels like it should be expanded into a longer form. A twenty-minute runtime doesn’t really give the story enough time to breathe or really dive into its world, but the implications that this segment has are truly haunting, as is the lead performance by Andrew Bachelor.
Something else that stands out about this new season is that it also feels more stylistically distinctive. Although the episodes are still made by Nicotero and his usual band of collaborators, and the horror comic influence is still obvious, there’s a bit more visual flair to each of these four bits. And this only works in the series’s favor.
Creepshow is back, and those worried that it would be experiencing a slump for its third season will be proven wrong. These new episodes are a ton of fun, and one of the many highlights of Shudder’s always impressive September/October slate.
Creepshow streams on Shudder beginning September 23, with new episodes streaming subsequent Thursdays. Two out of six episodes reviewed.
THE VILLAGE DETECTIVE: A SONG CYCLE -- A Cinephiles-Only Glimpse Into Film History
Review by Sean Boelman
Bill Morrison has made some interesting films exploring the relationship between cinema and the past, and his newest movie, The Village Detective: A Song Cycle, is a strong addition to his filmography. Although the appeal of the film is largely going to be reserved for cinephiles, it’s an interesting experimental documentary.
The film is about a lost Soviet movie from 1969 that was found in an Icelandic fisherman’s net, causing Morrison to set out on an exploration of its lead actor’s legacy. While a more traditional filmmaker would have used talking heads extensively, a majority of the runtime consists of restored footage from the lost film, with subtitles overlaid to tell the story.
Without a doubt, the most impressive thing about this movie is that it features so much of this exceptionally restored footage. A few brief clips show the poor condition of the print and the extensive process that had to be done to restore it really put into context what it means to see this film even with its imperfections.
That said, the use of subtitles isn’t always the most effective. The font that is used to deliver information to the audience and the font used to communicate the dialogue from the film are the same, and it can sometimes become a bit confusing to distinguish what is what. And furthermore, the font itself isn’t aesthetically pleasing.
There’s a monotonous feeling to the movie in that much of it feels the same. Obviously, since the film had been lost for so long and was in such a neglected condition, the restoration was far from complete. There are multiple portions of the footage that are so damaged that one can’t even make out the image in it, and while showing this is an interesting exercise in aestheticism, it isn’t the most captivating.
Morrison uses this footage to explore the idea of legacy. The connection between watching this unearthed film and the preservation of the past is obvious, but Morrison doesn’t really say anything about it. Instead, the movie offers a lot of ideas without the commentary to go along with it.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming with the documentary is that it does not go into much depth regarding the greater implications of finding this lost film. There is a lot that isn’t known about Soviet film history because of political and historical reasons that have posed an obvious challenge, and this discovery fills an interesting gap that Morrison should have explored.
The Village Detective: A Song Cycle is an interesting watch, even if it is nowhere near as profound as it could have been. For cinephiles looking for a brief glimpse into an obscure bit of film history, this is definitely worth a watch.
The Village Detective: A Song Cycle is now in theaters.