Review by Dan Skip Allen
Scott Cooper is an established director, having directed some amazing films in the past such as Black Mass, Hostiles, Out of the Furnace, and Crazy Heart. But to this point, he's mostly worked in drama, not horror. Antlers is produced by a great filmmaker in his own right, Guillermo del Toro. He picked Cooper for this project so it must have been a good fit. It sure had me thinking, "Don't go in there!"
This story takes place in a small sleepy town in Oregon. A teacher (Kerri Russell) and her brother, the sheriff (Jesse Plemons), encounter a little boy and the gruesome secret he's harboring. This little boy is scary looking, making drawings and coming to school all dirty and smelly with scratches on his body. He's also very malnourished. This raises eyebrows for the teacher, sheriff, principal, and doctors.
This film has a lot of atmosphere to it. The cold, damp, and dark setting of Oregon plays a huge role in the film. The opening and closing scenes are straight out of a Bob Ross painting. They are magnificent to behold. That's it, though. the story and film get dark, gruesome, and bloody from there. Horror films need to set a mood and Antlers does that. Cooper is a perfect director for this project because he knows how to set the mood and tone of a film, no matter what genre it is in.
Del Toro is no stranger to the horror genre, but he transitional into more of a fantasy filmmaker with such films as Pan's Labyrinth and The Shape of Water. Antlers has a fantasy vibe to it as well as horror. The mixing of these multiple genres lends itself to the scary and moody nature of this film. Cooper had the right mentorship to shepherd this horrific film.
All good horror films have to have either great creature work or great makeup and visual effects. This film has both. The makeup and creature shop work are both first-rate in this film. Having realistic creatures or monsters makes it easier to share with the audience. The audience will be scared at various scenes in the film. These moments are few, but very effective when they transpire.
Antlers had me from the opening scene of a great Oregon vista overlooking a lake and mountains. The very next scene was scary and bloody. This film kept the story moving very quickly yet let itself breathe as well. It wasn't trying to get over quickly. These characters got to stretch themselves within the script and that was very effective for the overall story.
Jeremy T. Thomas is a revelation in this film. His performance plays into the mood of the film brilliantly. He is moody and dark in his character arc. That was amazing! This kid is going to be the next Haley Joel Osment or Jacob Trembley regarding how people are going to remember him after this film is released in theaters. It will be well deserved in that regard.
Antlers has a style and vision all its own in the horror/fantasy genres. Being shepherded by Guillermo del Toro as the producer helped Scott Cooper create a new moody and dark vision of horror. The creature shop and makeup departments all do a stellar job. They bring the audience right into this horrific story. Jeremy T. Thomas is going to make people watching this film have a vibe from other great young actors. This film will be added to the renaissance of horror the last decade has brought forward.
Antlers hits theaters on October 29.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Revisionist Western can be an extremely fun genre, taking familiar tropes and doing something exaggeratedly stylish with them. Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall may not have a lot of substance to it, but it more than makes up for that fact with an abundance of style and some great performances by its A-list cast.
The film tells the story of an outlaw who discovers that his archenemy has been released from prison, causing him to form a posse to take him down. It’s a pretty simple revenge storyline — the protagonist has one of the most basic motivations there is to have — but there are so many layers of added convolution to it that it seems more complex than it is.
Admittedly, there is a portion of the movie that is basically pointless. The second act serves as little more than a bridge to connect the exposition of the first third with the action-packed finale. That said, the heist is so much fun to watch, and by that point the audience will be invested enough in the story and characters, that even this seemingly unnecessary portion flies by.
It is the action sequences that are undoubtedly the most impressive part of the film. The entirety of the movie builds up to the brutal and exhilarating conclusion, and it delivers. However, the shorter action sequences that come early in the film are also great and will have viewers enjoying themselves even with the smaller scale.
If nothing else, Samuel’s movie is stylistically consistent. It’s a very over-the-top film in almost every sense of the word, with bursts of brutality and bright colors galore. Additionally, the soundtrack (much of which is anachronous) can be very overbearing at times. However, since the movie knows exactly what it is, this doesn’t keep it from working.
Something that makes Samuel’s approach unique is that it is a historical fiction with real historical figures as some of the characters. The film goes into the myths and legends that have grown around some of these people and their stories and expands upon them in a refreshing way. Even if the arcs don’t have that much depth, the audience can still buy into the characters.
The acting in the movie is also very strong. Jonathan Majors kicks total ass in his role as the Western hero. Idris Elba radiates coolness as the antagonist. And in supporting roles, Lakeith Stanfield, Regina King, and Delroy Lindo are all clearly having the time of their lives, which translates extremely well.
The Harder They Fall might not be the most nuanced or complex film, nor does it have much of a reason to exist beyond pure entertainment. But it’s a ton of fun to watch, and that is more than can be said about a lot of movies these days.
The Harder They Fall is now in theaters and hits Netflix on November 3.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
It remains to be a standard in Hollywood and abroad that if a story exists of a man, woman, or child that can be turned into a film or tv show, somebody will produce it and make it. Some stories are more strange than others. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is one of those. It is a true-life story that is based on an extraordinary man, though a very complicated and strange one who is well known despite his trying not to be.
Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the only man in a family of seven: six sisters and himself. He is set as the sole provider of his family. He has to find a bride in good standing and keep the family going because his sisters aren't doing well on that front. A meeting with Sir William Ingram (Tobey Jones) would change his life irrevocably and forever. His suggestion to Wain would be to become a painter of cats.
He would eventually find a beautiful wife though, Emily (Claire Foy). Wain's life isn't easy though despite his fame as a painter and his beautiful bride. The fortune he and his sisters hoped for him to gain from his paintings was fleeting at best. Illnesses struck his family and this caused more difficulty for him. His standing in society became very difficult for him to maintain. He held on to one thing though: his belief in static electricity, his other passion.
The film is narrated by Academy Award winner Olivia Colman. Her dulcet voice lends itself to this fascinating story perfectly. The thing is that's one of the only redeeming qualities of this film. Director Will Sharpe chose to film this movie in a more muted style. The cinematography wasn't very good at all. The camera work was shady and shadowy, the colors were bland and uninspiring. This film had a depressing look to it and that made the story seem depressing as well.
The title of this film is a little odd and that kind of reminds me of how odd this film really is. Despite Cumberbatch and company's best efforts, this story and acting are lackluster at best. He has played many characters throughout history in his career. This isn't one of the best, unfortunately. This story isn't that interesting either. It's better off that it's on streaming because I highly doubt anybody would pay to go see this in a theater. I will see Cumberbatch in the next project and hopefully it's better than this.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is now in theaters and hits Prime on November 5.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The world is full of fascinating people. So many that it's hard to know about all of them. That's why books, tv shows, and movies depicting or chronicling these people's lives become so important. Documentaries are a very good way to learn about interesting and groundbreaking people such as Jacques Cousteau. Becoming Cousteau is a film about a man who revolutionized diving and underwater exploration as well as became an activist trying to save the world's oceans and the wildlife that lives within them.
Cousteau was originally trying to become a pilot before injuring himself in a plane crash. He broke a few bones and this accident led him to discover underwater diving and the beauty of the oceans. His curiosity also led him to create better and more innovative ways to travel underwater. This was his life's work from this point on in his life. He wouldn't let anyone or anything get in his way.
Financing his career wasn't always easy though. It's not the most obvious thing for people to invest in. And the real danger of what he is trying to do was very evident. Cousteau had to sell himself and his beliefs to get investors to believe in him and his mission. Eventually, he would find people who believed in him and his mission of discovery and exploration. This would change the world as we knew it. From this point on the world would be his oyster. He would go anywhere he wanted to.
As per his mission in life, Cousteau would chronicle his journeys and his life with cameras. Underwater cameras and above-ground cameras were everywhere. They even depicted some mistakes and tragic events in his quest of learning about underwater life. He created new ways to explore this world. That would be an important part of his legacy moving forward.
This film has a lot of French language that is put to screen as subtitles. It's a good way to translate his words from the many archival films he created on his many journeys. Louis Malle was one of the many cameramen who worked with Cousteau on his adventures of discovery. Many people wanted to see what Cousteau was doing and this was the perfect way to share in the adventure for the world.
Talking heads and voiceovers also helped explain what transpired in the life of Cousteau. A lot of his work barred fruit as in a full-length movie. That film, The Silent World won him the Palme D'Or and Academy Award for Best Documentary. This was the tip of the iceberg for him though. He even tried to create a world where people could live underwater in a contained habitat. Like out of a movie!
Cousteau's life led to a different discovery for him. He wasn't a good husband or father. His work was the most important thing to him and he didn't have time for a family. Cousteau's boat Calypso wasn't necessarily a place to build on that family dynamic even though the kids came on the boat during vacations. Despite this lifestyle Philippe, one of Cousteau's sons still managed to take after his father as hard as that was to believe based on how he was as a family man.
All of Cousteau's life works led to a tv show called The Undersea World which would star himself. It wasn't easy to reach this decision though, but it was the obvious way to do the show. Cousteau was a natural on camera. The world around would come to learn about this legendary explorer and innovator. Showing the world an underwater world they would never get a chance to see otherwise without this show.
This documentary was quite interesting and helped me see this man through a different lens. All the voiceover and archival footage worked perfectly to show this man's life work. His struggles and successes were all there in the film. I got a whole new appreciation for this great explorer, inventor, filmmaker, and activist. He is definitely one of the world's most important people. And his life's work will always be important and advanced by new and upcoming scientists and explorers. He is a hero for a generation!
Becoming Cousteau is now in theaters.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
One of the most controversial topics in American politics is what to do with immigrants and securing the border. Maisie Crow tackles this topic in an indirect manner that gives a poignant perspective on how these issues affect real Americans. At an El Paso high school, students aspire to have a career in border patrol. The story follows these children who are torn with an inner conflict. Do they pursue one of the only viable careers that make close to the national average or do they become morally compromised?
Towards the beginning of the documentary, the impression is that this takes place during the Obama administration, but is immediately taken over by Trump and his new policies when it comes to border patrol. This political impact on their field is one of the more interesting aspects of the movie. It gives the story more of a sense of urgency. There are scenes where the children in school debate over policies. This is all well and good, but the impending election seems to add more stake to the situation. Many prominent members of the doc voice their opinions and internal struggles with their vote. Regardless of party, it is interesting to hear what really matters when it comes to the vote of real Americans.
This political impact is coupled with the personal problems of the children. The leader of the group of children is a young girl who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. Seeing her try to articulate how this fact impacts her relationships with her friends and family. Crow really does a good job of getting you to root for these kids. Go make your money and be successful, but also be happy. That’s one of the sadder aspects of the doc. The overwhelming majority of people in the program are Hispanic. They speak about their trials and tribulations with their field. Hearing them spin the situation into something positive is almost enduring. The doc does a great job of showing these kids off as real people with clearly defined personal problems that will have a major impact on their lives.
Experiencing the life of the children is great, but it’s so much less interesting to watch what their classes are like. There’s parts of the movie that feel like you're watching a virtual lecture. No disrespect to the teachers, but these scenes drag. There’s no music or anything. That being said, that does sound like what it’s like to be in a high school classroom.
The job of a documentary is to show a new perspective on an interesting situation. Showing how the border crisis impacts future generations and seeing how their opinions are being formed is compelling. Politics are boring, but this documentary makes the situation understandable and relatable from both sides. There’s plenty of good food for thought here and At The Ready is certainly worth a watch.
At the Ready hits theaters and VOD on October 22.
Review by Camden Ferrell
The French Dispatch is the new movie from the iconic director Wes Anderson, whose most recent films include Isle of Dogs and The Grand Budapest Hotel. His newest film had its premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. In this movie, Anderson once again strikes gold visually, delivering a beautifully shot and designed film even if it lacks some of the substance of his best works.
In this film, we learn of the inner workings of the titular magazine, located in a fictitious 20th century French city. Anderson presents to us an anthology of stories that are featured in the magazine. This includes an artistically inclined convicted murderer, a group of student revolutionaries, and a food journalist. This anthology structure is new for Anderson, but it also gives him more narrative freedom within each individual story.
Like most of his previous films, Anderson’s script is full of colorful, engaging, and unrealistically speedy dialogue. It’s a script that only could work in an Anderson film, and it fits snugly amongst his other screenplays. However, it does feel like this movie does lack some of the constant wit and humor that made his writing so unique. Thankfully, there’s enough personality in his script to give this movie a unique voice that is fully invested in the lives of its characters.
The acting throughout this film is mostly superb. Since the movie is divided into separate stories, many actors have ample time to shine in the spotlight. While this cast is giant, some of the biggest standouts were Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, and Lyna Khoudri. The entire cast has great chemistry together, and most of the individual actors have unique and entertaining takes on the quirky cast of characters.
One of the most impressive aspects of this movie is how visually distinct and refined it is even by Anderson’s standards. Each of his film’s have been raising the bar in terms of its set design, world building, and overall aesthetic. This film is no different, and it feels entirely different from anything he has done while also having his signature touch in every shot.
Anderson has also refined his ability to execute scenes. This movie has a handful of hilarious moments of physical comedy and timing that he has perfected over his last three movies. This, accompanied with yet another memorable score from Alexandre Desplat, make this a one-of-a-kind experience that fans of Anderson’s work are sure to love. It’s also worth mentioning that this might be the finest film of cinematographer Robert Yeoman’s career.
While the movie is overflowing with merit in all departments, my main complaint is from the occasional lack of substance that the stories have. Even though they are entertaining, it sometimes feels thematically hollow which doesn’t allow the film to always have a strong emotional core. Also, the final chapter of the film does have an inconsistent pace that can throw off the otherwise perfect momentum of the film.
The French Dispatch may not be Anderson’s best film, but it’s exactly the kind of fun, energetic, colorful, and quirky movie one can expect from him. It is undeniably one of the most visually gorgeous movies this year, and it features a wide array of talent on and off screen. Needless to say, this is a film that Anderson’s fans will adore, and it may even win some new converts.
The French Dispatch is in theaters October 22.
Review by Sean Boelman
It’s October, and of course that means it is time for the obligatory deluge of horror and horror-adjacent content on streaming services. However, Night Teeth filmmaker Adam Randall has managed to deliver a movie that is mindlessly entertaining in a way that makes it a worthwhile addition to vampire movie canon.
The film follows a college student who takes a gig as a chauffeur to two young women one night, only to find himself unwittingly wrapped up in a conspiracy to take down the vampire underworld. As an action-horror flick, it’s mostly diverting — not particularly scary, but with action just creative enough to keep the viewer’s attention.
Ultimately, one of the biggest issues with the movie is that it doesn’t seem to understand who it wants its audience to be. For the most part, it appears to be a teen-ready blend of horror with action and romance genres, but then it shows the potential to be something much more gnarly if it would just go a bit more with the blood.
Also, like a lot of vampire horror movies, there is a very complicated mythology here. It brings to mind the Underworld series in that it presents an ages-long war between opposing factions which we are just supposed to buy into. However, in doing so, the film keeps itself from feeling like a satisfying, self-contained whole.
The character development in the movie is extremely straightforward and every beat of the arcs is predictable. It’s definitely a bit frustrating that the film tries to treat the romance subplot as something that is unexpected, rather than an obligation out of having two roles made for hot young stars.
Jorge Lendenborg Jr. is charming enough in his leading role, although his performance is nearly indistinguishable from any lovably awkward hero in a teen horror movie. Debby Ryan and Lucy Fry are alluring as the femme fatales, but also don’t give very distinctive turns. The standouts in the cast are Raúl Castillo and Alfie Allen, who ham it up in their supporting roles.
On a technical level, the movie has a bit more style to it than most mainstream releases put out by Netflix, but not in the expected way. There are some interesting things going on here with the action sequences, but the film does peak early, with the finale being somewhat underwhelming given the success of the earlier scenes.
Night Teeth is a fun time all-around, and while it definitely isn’t as effective as some of the movies it calls to mind, it pulls off what it sets out to do. It’s a lot better than it has any right to be given its generic premise.
Night Teeth hits Netflix on October 20.
Review by Sean Boelman
There have been plenty of documentaries about highly specific stories, but filmmakers tend to make them compelling by emphasizing the parts that make them universal. Amanda Liptiz’s Found is one such film, and while it’s an emotional watch, it’s too standard in its presentation to be memorably impactful.
The movie follows three teenage girls who, each adopted from China, participate in a search to discover their roots and find out that they are all cousins. With the increasing prominence of genetic testing services like this, it’s understandable why this story got the feature-length documentary treatment even if it probably could have been a short.
There are some really interesting things going on in the film in regards to the political undertones of the story, but they aren’t fully developed. Lipitz addresses how these events are fundamentally tied to China’s former one-child policy and how oppressive that was to families, but she ignores the greater implications in favor of the more basic human interest angle.
The movie balances all of the different subjects pretty well. The audience gets a glimpse into the personal lives of each of the three girls and how they have come to terms with the various aspects of their identities. It’s pretty standard as far as finding one’s identity goes, but it resonates nevertheless.
It’s also compelling to watch these girls form a connection with one another. The things that the film has to say about family — by birth, chosen, and (of course) found — are really refreshing and poignant. As humans, it’s important for us to connect with one another, and this is an ode to that.
That said, the emotional beats of the movie definitely feel somewhat contrived at times. There are points at which it seems that the film is exploiting these girl’s misfortune for the sake of entertaining the audience. That said, this is mostly an uplifting and happy story, which means that it’s never horribly manipulative.
Lipitz’s directorial style here is straightforward and competent. It’s a bit sad that there isn’t more style here given that her previous documentary Step was so exceptional, but it also could have been much worse off. The story and subjects are compelling enough to speak for themselves, and that’s what makes this work.
Found isn’t the most extraordinary documentary, but it tells its story in an effective enough way. Strong direction and a keen understanding of what makes this story work are what makes this a mostly effective watch.
Found hits Netflix on October 20.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The world has become so dependent on technology in the last couple of decades with smart devices popping up everywhere you look. Smart washing machines, garage door openers, and alarm systems are all the rage these days. That being said, middle school kids shouldn't have robots that do everything for them and are their best friends included in that. It just shows how shallow of a society we live in that we can't develop friends without social media and YouTube channels. Ron's Gone Wrong is an indication of our devolving society.
Barney is an awkward middle schooler who doesn't relate to other kids because he doesn't have the hottest new device every other kid in his school has. It's dubbed your "best friend out of the box". When they realize Barney wants what all the other kids have, his father finally caves and buys him a do it all robot. Barney calls him Ron, but Ron isn't everything he thought he would be. This causes more problems than he can imagine, socially and otherwise. Technology isn't everything it's cracked up to be.
This film is giving the wrong message to parents and kids when it suggests that society should be dependent on technology such as smartphones and smart devices in general. Kids, especially middle schoolers, don't need to have smart devices to take them away from a more in-person social existence. They should be interacting with their classmates and family members at that delicate age, not having their lives dictated by a do-it-all robot. Sure, kids can be shy and not so outgoing at that age. It's more imperative that they learn skills they need to talk, interact with, at or in work surroundings, and go to school with people of all walks of life, creeds, and religions in the future.
The voice acting work from Jack Dylan Grazer, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Olivia Colman, and many others are the first-rate. The animation is a bit nondescript, though. It doesn't really stand out like Pixar or even Illumination does. Or even earlier this year, The Mitchells vs the Machines was a more vibrant beautiful style. As a whole, it wasn't bad, just unmemorable. The story and where the thought process involving that is what failed this film in the end.
Animation movies involving robots are nothing new. It's how the robot in question is used in this particular film. Big Hero 6 and other films have used them much better. Ron's Gone Wrong gets the whole idea of a robot relationship with a human so very wrong. I think people forget a robot should be like a dog or family pet. It should interact with the family member but not overtake the family dynamic. And obviously, the whole socially economic aspect of this is all wrong as well. This is not a good film based on its idea of what it's trying to say and how it goes about it. In the end, kids should just go and talk to other kids and their family members and not rely on technology to be their friend and confidant.
Ron's Gone Wrong hits theaters on October 22.
Review by Sean Boelman
Winner of a Special Jury Award for acting in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Maltese film Luzzu is minimalistic in its approach, for better or worse. Telling a simple story very simply, there are some strong moments throughout the movie, but not enough to allow it to have the intended impact.
The film follows a fisherman who risks everything to provide for his wife and newborn son by getting involved in the black-market illegal fishing industry. There’s a lot here that shows the potential to be really interesting, but for the most part, it ends up being just another tale of a man who the world seemingly has it out for.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the movie is that it doesn’t make much of anything with its themes. On one hand, this is a film about the social class system in Malta, following a member of the working class who toils every day only to be exploited by those in more favorable conditions. Then there is also the part of the movie about the environmental regulations and the black market. Unfortunately, neither of these are explored with much substance.
Instead, what we get is a dramatic thriller pretty much divided into two halves. The first part shows the character’s entire world falling down around him, before he starts to rebuild it in the second part only for it to collapse again. It’s a series of beats that we have seen done again and again without much in the way of variation.
Unfortunately, the film does not have the depth in its character work to justify redoing these beats. Although we sympathize with the protagonist for his plight as the sole provider for a young family, there isn’t much more to the character than that. There’s a thread about the protagonist’s relationship with his legacy coming from a long line of fishermen, but this isn’t all that interesting.
That said, the acting in the movie certainly does impress. Non-professional actor (and actual fisherman) Jesmark Scicluna does an excellent job in his leading role. Of course, his expertise in the area makes all of the physical fishing scenes feel authentic, but he also does an exceptional job pulling off the dramatic, dialogue-oriented moments.
The film is also strong on a technical level. The use of color in the movie is great, which is fitting since the title comes from the name of the colorful fishing boats used by fishermen such as the protagonist. And the sense of claustrophobia created in the market scenes goes a long way in creating a sense of tension.
Luzzu is a film with a lot of good ideas and plenty of strong moments, but they don’t boil down into anything especially noteworthy. It works best as an acting showcase for its non-professional star, although that may not be enough to make it worth going out of your way to see.
Luzzu is now in theaters and virtual cinemas.