Review by Adam Donato
Apple has always distinguished itself from other brands by asserting itself as the gold standard. Apple TV+ is well on its way to demanding audiences attention. Ted Lasso is a perennial awards winner and CODA even earned a Best Picture win at this past year's Oscars. With this year’s awards season creeping up on audiences, Apple TV+ releases Raymond & Ray, a dramedy about step brothers who endure their abusive father’s funeral together. Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, produced by Alfonso Cuarón, and starring Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor, this movie certainly isn’t short of reliable talent. With the newfound respect for this middling streaming service, can they make Oscar nominees a regular thing with Raymond & Ray?
All the credit in the world goes to the duo of lead performances from Hawke and McGregor. Both actors impressed with more genre film roles earlier this year with The Black Phone, Moon Knight, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, but their performances in Raymond & Ray are much more the Academy’s speed. Dual protagonists may get in each other’s way, but if there had to be a front runner of the two, McGregor is given more to work with in the story. The supporting performances are all very good as well, but all eyes are sure to be on one of these two at all times. They bring heart and humor into just about every moment in this movie.
The runtime clocks in at 106 minutes, which makes the movie fly by. The story picks up right away as we’re immediately thrust into the situation at hand. There’s a little more closure at the end than necessary as the plot peaks over thirty minutes before the end of the movie. It’s a simple plot setup, but the contrasting leads and the performances that bring them to life truly set this movie above the field. Of course, the tone is usually on the dark end as the story focuses on an impactful death of an immediate family member, but there’s a dark sense of humor that persists throughout the movie. Despite hitting the ground running, the conflict meanders during the second act, but it’s so relatable somber that it's welcoming to sit in.
Apple is a big enough brand that it has the potential to compete with the juggernauts of the streaming wars. Consistent high quality content like Raymond & Ray is the right way to go. Associate your brand with good talent and the fans will come because the output is rewarding enough to keep them coming back. Since Apple TV+ is so new to the awards game, it’s hard to predict the kind of exposure this movie will receive, but it’s likable enough to be considered.
Raymond & Ray is now streaming on Apple TV+.
Review by Sean Boelman
A true story starring Oscar winners Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain should be immediate awards fodder on paper, but when one watches The Good Nurse, they will be left to wonder what went wrong. It’s a cold, distant drama that doesn’t make anything of its premise whatsoever, resulting in a film that is entirely unpleasant to watch.
The film tells the story of one of America’s most prolific serial killers, a caregiver who was implicated in the mysterious deaths of hundreds of hospital patients. In the true crime phenomenon that has swept the nation in recent years, this story is certainly intriguing, but Krysty Wilson-Cairns’s screenplay is so bland that it can’t hold the audience's interest.
The film’s biggest issue is that it cannot seem to decide what angle it wants to take on this story. Is it the story of a sick mother who is trying to work her hardest to make ends meet, only for things to be thrown off by a maniacal killer? Or is it a tale of a good man who’s gone mad and the woman who is trying to save him? Either would have worked, but pivoting between the two so drastically is off-putting.
Perhaps most frustratingly, the film fails to engage on any deeper level with its potential themes. This story suggests some questions about the ethics of the healthcare system, but the film doesn’t really explore them. Instead, it’s too interested in the deceit of the character and shocking the audience with its bafflingly obvious twist.
The more impressive of the two performances comes from Eddie Redmayne, although his turn is still one of the weakest of his career. Granted, he can only do as much as the role is written, and the character shifts very suddenly and inexplicably. However, what can be blamed on Redmayne is his accent, which is absolutely distracting throughout the film.
Jessica Chastain’s performance, like usual, is not particularly nuanced, but as much can be blamed on the writing as on her acting. She’s doing her regular schtick that she has gotten so much acclaim for in the past, but it doesn’t really fit for this role. It feels like she was cast more to lend the project prestige than for her fit with the character, as it makes the character feel unduly cold.
Tobias Lindholm’s direction is extraordinarily gray and cold, which makes sense to an extent — it is a film that is meant to be highly clinical after all. But with the film being this uninteresting in a visual sense, it leaves a lot of suspense on the table. It feels like a melodrama, not the suspenseful thriller that it should have been.
Although it’s sure to get a lot of streaming play thanks to its unbelievable true crime story, The Good Nurse might be one of the most uninspired films in recent memory. The actors and director try the best with what they are given, but the script is so underwhelming that nothing could have been made of it.
The Good Nurse streams on Netflix beginning October 26.
Review by Camden Ferrell
So far, 2022 has only had one DC film release this year (The Batman) and no movies in the DCEU. That all changes with Black Adam releasing in theaters this weekend. Dwayne Johnson has been interested in playing this character on the big screen for over a decade, and this highly anticipated movie has finally come. Even though it can be slow at times and have some poor visual effects, this is an ultimately fun and action-packed movie with a unique cast of comic book characters.
Teth-Adam lived as a slave before receiving powerful abilities from Gods. 5,000 years later, he is awakened and ready to unleash rampage and deadly justice on the world he woke up to. This grabs the attention of the Justice Society of America who aim to subdue him and the harm his almighty powers could cause. This is a fun origin story that brings in multiple fan-favorite characters for a simple and self-contained story.
Like many movies from DC, the writing isn’t its strong suit. From the start, the writing feels like every other action blockbuster, and it doesn’t really do much to distinguish itself. This problem is especially prevalent in the first half of the movie. By the second half, there are some great moments of dialogue and character interaction, but it’s still quite average otherwise.
The performances are a little all over the place in this one. Dwayne Johnson is perfectly fine as the titular character. He isn’t great by any means, but he certainly is not bad. His stoic and brutal performance works for what it is, and it gets the job done. The true standouts of this movie are Aldis Hodge and Pierce Brosnan who play Hawkman and Doctor Fate respectively. These two actors are great in their roles and may easily earn themselves many new fans upon release.
Another shortcoming of many comic book movies are its visual effects, and this movie unfortunately is no exception. Even though there are some really amazing moments of CGI, it is almost overshadowed by some jarringly awful and videogame esque special effects especially in the film’s final act. However, this is all forgiven thanks to some absolutely entertaining action sequences that you never want to end. It can be a little cheesy at times, but the choreography and camera work is creative and will dazzle audiences.
Black Adam may suffer from the same problem as other comic book movies, but this movie is certainly not boring. It seamlessly introduces characters like Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Atom Smasher, and Cyclone and will be a great time at the movies for fans and novices alike. Dwayne Johnson may not blow audiences away, but he certainly knows how to make a full-fledged blockbuster.
Black Adam is in theaters October 21.
Review by Camden Ferrell
All That Breathes is an international documentary whose significance can’t be denied, but whose mileage will vary by viewer. This movie had its premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and later played at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. It won the Grand Jury Prize and Golden Eye award for best documentary at the respective festivals, the first film to ever achieve such a feat. Despite having an important and urgent topic and a great eye for cinematic composition, the movie unfortunately stumbles as it struggles with creating a cohesive and accessible narrative for its viewers.
New Delhi is one of the most populated cities in the world, and it is also home to increasingly toxic and polluted air. In addition to environmental problems, the area also experiences social unrest. Due to these factors, essential birds called the black kite have been falling dead from the sky. Two brothers along with their makeshift hospital aim to protect this animal from the calamity that surrounds it.
From the start, the movie is able to establish its importance and urgency, and this allows the viewer to invest themselves in the story being told. However, this investment falters as the story quickly loses cohesion. The vision is ambitious, but it feels convoluted and muddles the narrative and ultimately its message and ability to speak to the viewers.
The way it constructs its narrative feels almost abstract at times, but its execution leaves something to be desired. There are some interesting themes present in this story that don’t get fully fleshed out due to its ambitious nature. It has profound things to say about triumph in tragedy and the complicated effects of timely issues on people and their ecosystem. However, there are times where the movie doesn’t feel nearly as concerned with expounding on this as it is with trying to weave its convoluted retelling together.
Despite its shortcomings, there are still some great things happening. For one, even if I don’t agree with the execution, it’s undeniable that this director has a strong vision for his film, and he follows his gut. Even if it’s not for me, there are undoubtedly going to be plenty of people who admire it for it’s worth. In addition to this, the movie is beautifully shot and does a great job at framing and juxtaposing the beauty of nature and its destruction.
All That Breathes falls flat for me due to its incoherence throughout, but it still boasts a relevant and timely message at its heart. There is a distinct directorial vision with mileage that will vary by viewer. For those looking for a unique and unconventional narrative, this documentary might entertain you while informing you of a very important issue affecting India.
All That Breathes is in theaters October 21.
THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL -- A Movie That Is Just Plain Good, No Evil Necessary
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Based on the book of the same name, The School for Good and Evil is perhaps Netflix's most anticipated YA movie of the year, and for good reason. With the source material's cult-like following similar to that of Harry Potter or A Series of Unfortunate Events, an adaption has been a long time coming since film rights were bought in 2013. Now, nine years later, the beloved book series characters finally make their live-action film debut. The film features rising stars Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso as the two leads, with a more established cast including Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Laurence Fishburne, and Michelle Yeoh alongside them.
Like many fantastical young adult stories, friendship is at the heart of The School for Good and Evil. The main characters, Sophie (played by Caruso) and Agatha (played by Wylie), are two best friends who could not be more unalike. Agatha is rumored to be a witch, often taking the sidekick role to Sophie, who longs to leave their hometown of Gavaldon and become a princess. Sophie's wish leads the pair to the School for Good and Evil, a mythical school that prepares heroes and villains for the next generation of fairy tales. Upon their arrival at the school, the two girls are separated and forced to come to terms with their true good and evil natures.
Recent media, such as Disney's Descendants and Mattel's Ever After High, have toyed with the idea of a high school filled with the children of fairy tale characters. While Sophie and Agatha are not descendants of fairy tale characters, most of their classmates are. This is especially true of the main love interest, Tedros, who is the son of King Arthur. Because this means many similarities between all three popular iterations of this concept, The School for Good and Evil is by far the most well-developed of them all.
Best compared to Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series, the School for Good and Evil has its own determination of character, with those attending the School for Evil called "Nevers," and their counterparts at the School for Good are called "Evers," in reference to their likely "happily ever after." Even characters such as Sophie and Agatha, who have non-fairy tale parentage, have their unique designation of "Readers," which is held with contempt similar to that of Harry Potter's derogatory "Mudblood."
It's not just the language and worldbuilding that helps The School for Good and Evil stand apart, but also the costumes, creatures, and set design. Distinguishing themselves from one another, the School for Good's candy-colored and ornate detailing is the counter to the School for Evil's dark and nature-based decor. With such a fantastical setting filled with magic and unusual creatures, such as fairies and anthropomorphic wolves, the CGI and costuming help immerse the story and will likely make viewers wish they could attend the school themselves.
Although the film has its fair share of cheesy moments, in particular, Sophie's villainous entry to Billie Eilish's "You Should See Me in a Crown," The School for Good and Evil is a captivating and entertaining watch that is reminiscent of popular YA novel adaptations, and will hopefully, receive the same acclaim and franchise capabilities.
The School for Good and Evil begins streaming on Netflix on October 19th.
TICKET TO PARADISE -- Clooney and Roberts are a Great Pair in an Otherwise Average Comedy
Review by Camden Ferrell
The golden age of acting powerhouses starring in lighthearted romcoms may have passed, but every once in a while, there is a movie that keeps the trend alive. Ticket to Paradise is a new romantic comedy that stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, two of the biggest actors of this generation. From writer and director Ol Parker, this is a standard and predictable comedy that only succeeds due to the charisma and chemistry of its leads.
David and Georgia are a divorced couple whose relationship is anything but amicable. Their daughter is about to graduate college and is on the cusp of beginning her life as a lawyer. However, after a vacation to Bali, she finds herself ready to start a new life in the foreign land. Now, David and Georgia must band together on a trip to stop their daughter from making the same mistakes they did years ago.
This set up has all of the makings for a cheesy and lighthearted romantic comedy, and it plays out about exactly as expected. Written by Parker and Daniel Pipski, this movie is content to fit nicely within the confines of the genre. It has no ambition to subvert genre expectations, and it may be for the best. It’s wildly predictable, but breaking genre rules could have possibly spoiled the parts of this movie that work well.
It is without a doubt that the saving grace of this movie is its performances. Actors like Kaitlyn Dever and Billie Lourd are better more times than not, but this movie lives and dies with its leads. Clooney and Roberts are tried and true movie stars, and their charisma is on full display in this movie. Their charisma and chemistry come so naturally, and it’s hard not to like several of the scenes they’re in.
As mentioned before, this movie is overly conventional, and that its biggest shortcoming and its biggest virtue. Everything from its writing to direction to cinematography and music is about as standard and outright basic as it gets. Not to say it’s not a fun movie, but it is undeniably unoriginal in almost every way.
Ticket to Paradise makes for an easygoing and crowd-pleasing time at the movies this weekend. Fans of romantic comedies are definitely going to love seeing these two great actors having fun, but this might only offer mild enjoyment to those who are not fans of the genre.
Ticket to Paradise is in theaters October 21.
MATRIARCH -- Gross!
Review by Adam Donato
Hulu is getting in the horror game this spooky season with an original horror movie called Matriarch. Ben Steiner gets his first feature film to write and direct after having success in the short film horror scene. The story follows a woman named Laura, played by Jemima Rooper, who finds her life in shambles after an overdose and retreats to her mother’s house for mental refuge. This break from her everyday life has the opposite outcome than was intended. Is she the one that’s crazy or is it her mother that’s crazy? Does this original horror movie have what it takes to assert itself this October?
Matriarch is wildly chaotic and downright disgusting. As a horror movie, it takes some time to embrace the genre as the first half plays more like a drama, but this is a service to the development of Laura and her relationship with her mother. This first half is no slog to get through as the film only runs at about 85 minutes. Even though the first half is devoid of obvious scares, it’s fraught with paranoia and uneasiness as we experience the decline of her mental state. Once the plot veers straight into gross-out horror, it’s a ride until the end. Whatever direction one feels Matriarch is going in, they’re sure to be in for a surprise come the movie’s conclusion.
The performances are good all around. Rooper carries the movie throughout and is well supported by Katie Dickie, who science fiction fans may recognize as that one lady from Prometheus. The effects here are a standout as well. There’s an entity towards the end that is sure to induce nightmares. It's definitely an experience reserved for ones with stronger stomachs. It’s a personal journey, but allows itself to widen its scope as the movie goes on. It’s short, but doesn’t waste any time getting where it wants to go. The experience of watching the movie is grueling, but there’s so much to chew on after it's over. It’s a one-watch movie, but it deserves the one watch.
Matriarch premieres on Hulu this week, just in time for Halloween season. It’s a good thing this is a straight to streaming movie as it doesn’t have the cache or mainstream appeal to succeed at the box office. Audiences mentally equipped for such a disgusting experience will find this to be a rewarding feature. It will be interesting to see what writer/director Steiner has in store next. Until then, Happy Halloween!
Matriarch streams on Hulu beginning October 21.
Review by Cole Groth
V/H/S/99 might be the worst film of the year. If it’s not the worst, it’s certainly the most bothersome experience to date. It’s disgusting, annoying, ugly, and totally nonsensical. Instead of feeling like a mediocre batch of boring short films like the original V/H/S, every segment in this entry takes lazy writing and combines it with an aggressively mean premise to make an unbearable watch. Throw in a dash of nostalgia, enough shaky cam to make you nauseous, and the laziest writing of the year, and you've got yourself a recipe for the grossest, most utterly reprehensible entry into this mediocre film franchise. Any person who respects themselves should stay far away from this health hazard of a horror film.
Unlike the previous entries, none of the segments have a link to each other. Instead, whenever one painful ends, the next one is bridged with an interlude of some toy soldiers running around. It’s supposed to be a funny palette cleanser, but each segment feels so rotten that it’s hard to clear the foul taste from the mouth of the viewer without turning off the film entirely. Since there’s no overarching narrative, it makes more sense to review each segment.
V/H/S/99 opens up with “Shredding,” the least interesting, and least offensive short of the bunch. Written and directed by Maggie Levin, this short follows a punk rock group and its annoying members. The members continually harass the only normal person in their group, which appears to be a reoccurring theme throughout the other shorts. There’s not much to say about this one. The grunge aesthetic that Levin’s script leans into is fairly entertaining but is too clichéd to be anything new. It’s just loud and rather annoying.
The second segment, “Suicide Bid,” is the most frustrating watch of the film. Written and directed by Johannes Roberts, who consistently creates the worst horror films, this one presents us with a group of horrible sorority girls who bury a desperate freshman alive. With clunky dialogue and lazy acting, this one is inane. We’re forced to watch a girl struggle to her death for 20 minutes, which made me wonder, who likes this stuff? It’s entertainment for people who enjoy watching snuff films. It’s not interesting from any plot perspective, and the only entertainment you could get out of this is from the moderately interesting twist at the end.
“Ozzy’s Dungeon” is the most conceptually interesting short to be found, but overall the most unbearable of the group. Flying Lotus’s direction starts as a rather interesting parody of a Nickelodeon-like show, with a well-replicated obnoxious host and some casual racism. After an assuredly disgusting beginning, this one devolves quickly into mind-numbing torture scenes. This is the most disturbing out of the whole film, and not for good measure. It initially seems like it could be fun and campy, but it gets so needlessly gross by the second act, and it’s not even well done. No spoilers here, but the ending to this segment is the most bizarre.
“The Gawkers” has the weakest writing of the year. Chris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre’s script is straight garbage, and while the other segments feature a bearable amount of '90s references, this one is pretty much a group of douchey teenagers vomiting out phrases from the late '90s. There’s hardly a second that goes by without one of the annoying boys insulting somebody or saying some sort of cliché. It’s endlessly annoying to listen to and feels like it goes on for ages. This segment is 90% filler with 10% excitement at the end. It’s far too similar to one of the segments in the first film and I’m not sure how this one was even made.
Finally, “To Hell And Back” amps up the campiness to 11 to middling results. Vanessa & Joseph Winter’s story follows two videographers who are hired to film a ritual on the eve of Y2K. After getting sent to Hell, they whine back and forth to each other while they try to get back to Earth. This one is way too goofy to be like the other segments. It’s a bit of fun, but it all adds up to no substance. The acting is especially weak, the pacing is confusing, but at least it’s not offensive (until the ending), like the other segments are. This one just sucks.
Even though the V/H/S franchise is full of mediocre entries, this one feels especially barren. There’s no clever framing narrative to bind everything together, which makes the inclusion of each segment seem less interesting than they could’ve been. If everything had been about Y2K and the insane events that could’ve happened around then, this would’ve had a head start. At best, it’s incredibly annoying, but at worst, this is the film equivalent to nails scraping on a chalk board. It’s offensive, disgusting, and utterly pointless.
Every director who contributed a film to V/H/S/99 should be embarrassed. It’s a montage of horrible segments back to back, and not one of them can stand out in the end. My biggest gripe with the found footage genre as a whole is that it gives filmmakers an excuse to make an ugly, poorly shot, horribly written film and market it as some elevated horror. There isn’t even a single shot in any segment that looked good. It’s baffling how every single director seemed to forget to include a real point in any of their projects, but maybe that’s why they are all put together for this colossal misfire of a horror film. It’s a flaming pile of trash that stinks until the very end. It’s never scary, it’s never fun. Save yourself from the Hell that is V/H/S/99.
V/H/S/99 premieres on Shudder on October 20th.
Review by Sean Boelman
With the financial revolution leading to a rise in the popularity of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it was only a matter of time before we got a Bitcoin-centric heist movie. Unfortunately, Bitcon is not the exciting crypto heist some may have been hoping for, as its derivative storyline and underdeveloped characters prevent it from doing anything interesting.
The film follows a group of people who go on a search for a hard drive containing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency. Although the crypto angle might scare some away, no one in the film seems to really understand what cryptocurrency is anyway, so it won’t make a difference if you don’t get it either.
For a heist movie, you’d think that there would be a killer heist sequence in the film, but that isn’t the case. What had the potential to be a metaverse Ocean’s Eleven turns into yet another movie about a bunch of people running around looking for a hard drive. It makes one wonder if the only reason they used Bitcoin as a MacGuffin was to get extra clicks.
There is also no character development to be found in this film. The characters aren’t even developed as archetypes — they are left as pure stereotypes. No one has a motivation that is strong enough to be a compelling emotional core for the film, and it’s really hard to create any stakes in the story as a result.
Because of these two things combined, the film comes across as extraordinarily dull and boring. Not only will the viewer be bored by the generic storyline, but they will also find themselves not caring about anyone in the central story or the subplots. Perhaps what the film could have used is a team/group dynamic to drive it forward.
Like many B-movies, the cast is full of no-names with a few recognizable faces in the supporting cast. The biggest star is probably Tom Cavanagh, whose role is negligible both in terms of length and memorability. In fact, the only actor who seems to know the type of movie he’s in is Jeremy Davies, who gives an admirably unhinged and moderately entertaining performance.
Surprisingly enough, the film isn’t poorly made. The production value of the film isn’t outstanding or particularly creative, but it’s professional enough that it could pass as a legitimate film if it had the screenplay to go along with it. The only noticeable exception is the soundtrack, which feels like it’s full of stock music.
Bitcon isn’t as bad as it could have been, but it also doesn’t take advantage of its potential to have been an interesting spin on familiar tropes. As it stands, it’s not a terrible film by any means, but there also isn’t much of a reason to recommend it.
Bitcon hits VOD on August 18.
TILL -- The Best Movie of the Year
Review by Sean Boelman
We’ve seen plenty of biopics about important stories in the Civil Rights era, but it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a high-profile movie about the death of Emmett Till until this point. While some have cast doubt on it, wondering if it’s just “Oscar bait,” Till is simply an extraordinary film, exceeding any expectations one could have of it.
The movie tells the story of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who sought to bring the perpetrators of her son’s brutal lynching to justice in a system that wanted to turn a blind eye. Although this may seem like just another Black trauma movie, Chinonye Chukwu’s direction is extraordinarily sensitive in a way that allows it to move beyond convention.
The film starts soon before Emmett leaves for Alabama and goes through the trial of the people who admitted to his lynching. Ultimately, this is a very well-documented story, and one that many people have learned about — whether in school or through the media. However, regardless of how familiar one is with this story, it maintains its power today.
One thing this movie nails, perhaps surprisingly, is the importance of this story. Mamie Till-Mobley never wanted her son to be painted as a martyr. His death was a tragedy, and while it was representative of the systemic issues that plagued our society then (and to an extent, still do today), his story is not for the sake of a cause. The writers did an extraordinary job of capturing both the humanity and intimacy of this tragedy without making it feel like it is trying to make some grand point.
Danielle Deadwyler is absolutely astounding as Mamie Till-Mobley, in what has to be the best performance of the year. Her performance has an extraordinary amount of restraint and yet you still feel every single drop of emotion she brings to each and every scene she has. It’s unreal how much she is able to make the viewer emote without ever feeling like she is over-acting.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Whoopi Goldberg is probably the biggest name in the ensemble, and while she only has a few scenes, she is great in all of them — nearly disappearing into the role. However, young Jalyn Hall, who plays Emmett Till, is absolutely heartbreaking to watch in all the right ways.
Additionally, the crafts of this film are pretty brilliant all-around. Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography is gorgeous but very low-key, allowing the performances to be the center of attention. Abel Korzeniowski also gives the movie a score that does an exceptional job of accentuating the emotion in the story.
Far more than a standard biopic, Chinonye Chukwu’s Till does an extraordinary job of telling this story in a way that is both intimate and thoroughly moving. It’s a strong film all-around, but Danielle Deadwyler’s performance is what takes it to the next level and cements it as perhaps the best movie of the year.
Till is now playing in theaters.