Review by Adam Donato
Sidney Poitier is an absolute icon of cinema. He really is a trailblazer as he was doing things that weren’t normal for the time. Reginald Hudlin, television director whose most notable feature is House Party, takes the viewer on a journey back through the history of one of the greatest actors of all time, from his early life up until his decision to retire from acting. Along for the ride are some of the most influential Black artists of recent time, most notably Oprah and Denzel Washington. Does Sidney do justice to the likeness of an esteemed artist?
For the uninitiated, Sidney does a swell job of highlighting the life and career of Sidney Poitier. It helps that he was alive during the making of the movie to be interviewed. Seeing the man on screen in all his glory is pretty emotional. There’s a plethora of family members present throughout so the documentary does a great job of giving personal insight into not only the headlining events, but also first hand experience. Many of the interviewees involved get very emotional throughout which adds to the gravity of his impact on the people closest to him. The big stars that have significant roles go a long way to adding some gravitas to the presentation.
One of the filmmaking aspects that stand out in the documentary is in the editing. The story is framed almost in chapters separated by the big movies in his career. It’s clear throughout where in his life the story currently is, complete with key footage from the movie being discussed. Obviously, Poitier was a big player in the Civil Rights movement and the most interesting part of the story is his impact on the movement, especially since there was some nuance in the way that the Black community perceived Poitier. It’s as heartbreaking to see people misinterpret the intentions of Poitier as it is joyous to see the positive and lasting impression he had on other people.
Sidney Poitier is an icon in front of the camera, behind the camera, and even when there is no camera. Sidney does a splendid job of showcasing who the man was to the public and to the people closest to him. There’s a great deal of hardship present as the time he lived in was a contentious one to say the least, but overall this is a feel good story that celebrates his life. This is an important story about an important man everyone should look up to. Make sure to check Sidney out on Apple TV+ for an integral history lesson.
Sidney streams on Apple TV+ beginning September 23.
Review by Adam Donato
A24 released a horror film earlier this year titled X. During the production, they were forced to quarantine due to the pandemic. With this time, they conceived a prequel script around the poster character for the movie X. Since small horror movies are so easy and quick to produce, Pearl graces the big screen about a half year after X was released. Ti West is back to direct with Mia Goth starring as the elderly woman from the original. Set back in 1918, Pearl is stuck on her family farm and longs for stardom. Prequels are usually associated with big franchises like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Does this horror story have what it takes to carry momentum from the first movie?
The best idea hatched in the making of this movie was to let Mia Goth spread her wings. Not only does this movie provide her for a more meaty performance, but this time around she’s credited as a writer and executive producer. She’s moving up in this world and the movie is all the better for it. Her performance is one of the best female leads in a genre film this year. Here, we really get to get inside the mind of the villain from the first movie and see what motivated her to go the lengths she goes to in the first one. Goth is so vulnerable in this movie, spit and all. Especially since the first movie is so raunchy, it’s nice to see them not lean into her sex appeal. That aspect of the character is present, but this role was not designed to build up a new sex icon. There’s many moments in this movie where she is gross or creepy. Goth puts it all out there and that’s where this movie shines above the first one.
There’s much less of an emphasis on the slasher genre here. Don’t get it twisted, there’s still plenty of kills to go around, but that’s not the point of this one as opposed to X, which is more of a straight-up slasher. This story is more of a character piece. Her mental stability (or lack thereof) and striving to accomplish her dreams is what drives this picture. A standout moment is a monologue that lasts a good five minutes where Goth lets it all out. The kills are satisfying as well. Just like the first movie, there’s a specific kill that they keep teasing and it’s so over the top that it works. This world is so stylized with the attire and the saturation of the colors, especially in contrast with the first movie. This is probably done to show the contrast in world view of Pearl from this movie to X. There’s a lot of good stuff in here. In a year that has been so bountiful in horror hits, Pearl deserves to be recognized.
September is a riskier time of year for movies, where every weekend a few movies are thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Pearl stands above the field in this regard. Hopefully word of mouth and the announcement of a third movie in the series are enough to allow this horror flick to go toe to toe with the likes of last week’s hit, Barbarian. A ton of credit to Ti West for such an ambitious attempt at a horror trilogy, but in regards to this prequel installment, Pearl owes it all to Mia Goth. Jenna Ortega may have gotten all the roses for the first movie, but Goth’s performance here sets her apart. Make sure to check out X and Pearl this Halloween season as there is plenty of horror to go around.
Pearl is now playing in theaters.
Review by Adam Donato
The Cars franchise is widely regarded as the stain on Pixar’s near spotless record, partially because Mater is the Jar Jar Binks of Pixar. He's an annoying side character who’s always there to say or do something so stupid that it’s supposed to be funny. After a trilogy of Cars movies, Disney+ comes along with a void of content. Their bounty of pre-existing movies and shows are so great that they need two streaming services to handle everything. Nevertheless, every existing and relevant IP has been pillaged for unnecessary, but possible, continuations. Does the story deserve or need to be told? It doesn’t matter.
The Cars franchise is deserving of its reputation. The first movie is legitimately good and easily the best of the franchise. Cars 2 is arguably Pixar’s lowest point. Cars 3 goes back to the first movie’s roots and it’s all the better for it, despite putting the 3 in 3/5 stars. There’s a Cars area in California Adventure. Gotta keep the brand alive! How do we do that? Content. This new show follows Lightning McQueen as he accompanies Mater on a cross country road trip for Mater’s sister’s wedding. With nine episodes running at just under ten minutes each, what can go wrong?
Nothing. Mater is still an annoying character, but in these bite size portions, he’s much more easily digestible. Side characters thrive in bite size portions and since Lightning McQueen has already had two movies dedicated to developing his character, this format works perfectly. Just like with Dug Days and Baymax!, this show does a great job of having standalone episodes while also telling an overarching narrative that feels satisfying by the end. The cynic from the first paragraph would not be satisfied by this unnecessary continuation, but the optimist in this paragraph would applaud Cars on the Road for finding the capacity in which these characters work best. Not to be mean, but the short runtime is much more appropriate for the target demographic. Babies.
It’s unfair to dismiss this show outright as child fodder. There’s some pretty good stuff in here that is directed towards adults. A standout episode is certainly the one where they spoof a horror classic. There’s also an episode where Mater takes a glimpse at the other side and it's absurdly funny. Short little bit episodes like this allow for them to take some decent risks. Episodes like these make for a redeemable existence.
Watching the whole show in one setting is very doable and makes for an enjoyable experience. It's lowest common denominator type of stuff, but the Minions are also popular. The content machine rages on and audiences can do a lot worse than Cars on the Road. Disney+ day has asserted itself as an event. It’s worth giving this show a chance over rewatching Thor: Love and Thunder or ruining Pinocchio for yourself. Cars on the Road is better than it should be and at the very least, it’s passable.
Cars on the Road streams on Disney+ on September 8. All nine episodes reviewed.
Review by Adam Donato
Video game movies have had a troubled history in Hollywood. Recently, there has been sustained success in the form of franchises such as Sonic the Hedgehog. Most audiences might not recognize this from the poster, but Root Letter is an adaptation of a Kadokawa Game. The story follows a couple of teens who are assigned a random student from another school to write letters back and forth with. Carlos comes from a rough upbringing and after a year of not talking to his pen pal, she sends him a message for help and he is tasked with putting together the pieces to discover her whereabouts. Not often are video game movies specific to the drama genre, but this mystery story is. Does this video game have the narrative necessary to carry out a feature-length film?
This is certainly the most unorthodox video game movie of all time. Most audiences who stumble upon this movie will probably not even know that this is based on a video game. That being said, the story lends itself decently well to the feature format. While the time-jumping doesn’t work to the best of the story's ability, it’s interesting to have a movie like this where we’re solving the mystery along with the characters. Since this was meant to be a hands-on experience, Root Letter does accomplish its goal of putting the audience in the driver's seat, but without access to the wheel.
The title likens this story to Euphoria because it deals with a lot of the same subject matter. It’s about a collection of teens who struggle with interpersonal drama and substance abuse. The home lives of these characters are more often than not a toxic environment and it's pretty sad watching these teens attempt to overcome these setbacks. The performances are all very solid. At all times it feels as if we are watching real life teens go through these situations. In the end, the mystery is tied up in a satisfying way making for a decent experience.
The video game genre continues to live on and it’s good to see it expanding to new horizons. This teen genre works on its own and is sure to be satisfying to fans of the source material, while also not being exclusive to people who played the game. Hopefully people check this movie out on demand and bring some new players to the game.
Root Letter is now available on VOD.
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 Adam Donato
Coming to theaters at the end of this summer is one of the best documentaries of the year. With a litany of awards nominations and wins this year already, it will be exciting to see what kind of splash The Territory will make at the box office. Alex Pritz had co-directed a few documentary shorts, but this is his first feature length documentary solely directed by him. The film follows an Indigenous group of people living in the Amazon rainforest as they try to protect their land from an association of Brazilian farmers who seek deforestation. Will this important story make waves at the box office this weekend and through its expansion?
The first thing to mention about this documentary is the visuals. It amplifies the pro-environmental message immensely to see the beauty of the land they call home, especially when it shows the contrast to the land that had been burnt down and cleared out. It's no surprise here that National Geographic would have the technical aspects of their documentary all buttoned up.
Not only does this documentary invoke sympathy for the land, but for the Indigenous people as well. The Territory mostly follows an environmental activist who has dedicated her life to protecting the land and its people. There’s also a lot of time dedicated to the new leader of the group elected by the elders. Listening to the perspective of the youths is heartbreaking as it has been made clear this has been a longstanding issue. The elders speak about how in the past they pursued war with invaders, but now are different times. The ability to experience their struggle first hand justifies this story being brought to light. The more people that become aware of this problem, it will hopefully open some eyes.
Another person who is given the spotlight is the leader of the association of Brazilian farmers. The Territory does a good job of making its point and taking a side, but doesn’t shy away from showing the antagonist’s perspective. By the end of the story, it’s easy to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s selfish and destructive, but in a cruel world, they’re just trying to survive. That’s another example of how heart-wrenching this story is. So many people are being negatively impacted in the documentary, not to mention the worldwide consequences of deforestation.
The Territory is a story about empathy and values. This true story is overwhelmingly important and depressing. Don’t let that downer description dissuade you from checking this one out, as it showcases the power of the human spirit in a way that almost restores faith in humanity. Be sure to check this one out in theaters and expect to hear this movie continued to be in the awards season conversation.
The Territory hits theaters on August 19.
Review by Adam Donato
Summering was an official selection at Sundance Film Festival this year. It’s directed by James Ponsoldt, who is best known for the film adaptation of The Spectacular Now. The plot follows four young girls trying to enjoy the final days of summer before entering middle school and their teenage years. After finding a dead body in the woods, the girls make it their mission to solve the case and reflect upon their lives in the process. The most notable star in the movie is Lake Bell, who plays one of the girl’s mothers. While child actors are usually known for their poor acting, is Ponsoldt’s direction enough to ward off the August blues?
For any film fan who is paying attention, it’s obvious that the plot of Summering has too much in common with the Stephen King classic, Stand By Me. Four kids go on an adventure centered around a dead body. This time around, the four kids are girls, so it’s not unlike Ghostbusters (2016) or Ocean’s 8. The trend of rebooting male-dominated movies with women in the starring roles lives on. That being said, the kids being girls impacts the plot more so than the franchises previously referenced. Girls at that age are going through similar, but different experiences, which adds a new perspective to this story. Most of the downtime in this movie centers around their pontifications surrounding this end of an era in their lives. Therefore, this rehash feels more justified.
One stark contrast to Stand By Me in Summering is this paranormal element that comes into play. Some scenes feel like they’re straight out of a direct-to-DVD horror movie. This doesn’t not make sense in the context of the story, but it definitely stands out amongst the rest of the plot. There is a dead body, which would be a scary thing for anybody to deal with, let alone a group of little girls. Most of the movie has this indie trash vibe going on so splicing in horror sequences feels out of place. The indie trash is ripe with this one. It makes sense for the girls to be having deep conversations about life, not only because of their current station, but encountering a dead body would make anybody question their mortality.
Are child actors not good actors or are children annoying protagonists to follow in movies? One might say this movie doesn’t appeal to critics because they’re not in the demographic, which skews towards young women. If that was the case, then why would something like Eighth Grade be so critically beloved? Authenticity is one of the biggest issues when it comes to child actors. If somebody were to dismiss child performances due to the fact that kids are weird, then that’s acceptable. In Summering, the kids are weird and annoying, but that’s how kids are in real life. Obviously, don’t watch this if you can't tolerate youths.
Overall this movie isn’t egregiously bad, just so dismissable. The tone is muddled and the concept is derivative. It's definitely a step down for Ponsoldt. It would be interesting to know if this movie translates with little girls, but the horror sequences are probably enough to scare away the kind of girl who would relate to having helicopter parents. This movie is for nobody. View at your own caution.
Summering hits theaters on August 12.
Review by Adam Donato
As Marvel fanboys still find themselves inundated with the bevy of Comic-Con news regarding their favorite cinematic universe, I Am Groot arrives on Disney+ not long after. The content is a short series of bits starring everyone’s favorite vocabularist from the Guardians of the Galaxy. Including credits, the entirety of it lasts just over twenty minutes as there are about five episodes at four minutes a piece. With the Guardians franchise coming to an end with their third movie, it is quite opportune for Marvel to capitalize on their brand while they’re still around. The real question is, how will a show like this fit into the MCU?
I Am Groot seems to be going the same route as fellow Disney+ series, Dug Days and Baymax! Take a cute, funny and animated side character from one of your iconic films. Give them a short, standalone, and episodic series showcasing their independent shenanigans. While it’s easy to be critical and cynical about Disney’s conveyor belt of content to maintain the necessity for audiences to subscribe to their streaming service, this seems to be the least divisive direction to go with these intellectual properties. It’s cute, fun, and full of heart. You’re in and you’re out. The show is short enough to be binged in less time than it takes to watch a movie, but can be spread out into individual bits. Unlike Baymax and Dug Days, there is zero connective tissue tying the I Am Groot episodes together.
More so than the Disney+ shows, I Am Groot is quite like the Disney Animation or Pixar shorts that play before their feature films. Which begs the question, why not do this more frequently and put these shorts before MCU films. Marvel die hard fans will see every movie, but not everyone will go to the theater for a Black Widow or Eternals or Ant-Man standalone movie. That being said, everyone loves Baby Groot. Just look at the obscene amounts of Baby Yoda merch and say that a percentage of casual moviegoers would not go see a movie they normally wouldn’t see because there’s a Baby Groot short. Why limit it to just the one series? Regularly produce one shot shorts like Marvel used to do with their blu ray releases and show them before the feature. It would be a fun and low risk way to experiment with smaller characters and weird ideas.
The character being limited to three words and not having any English-speaking characters to fill the void presents an opportunity for visual storytelling to take priority. With the critical disappointment that was Thor: Love and Thunder largely being due to the cringe humor, having a show where the comedic focus isn’t cheesy one liners like “Eat this hammer!” helps make the MCU feel fresh. The level of animation and special effects doesn’t feel obnoxiously different. Many fans of Monsters, Inc. were disappointed with the show Monsters at Work because it looked like a downgrade, but here, it’s not a problem. They’re harmless and goofy shorts. Hopefully Marvel takes more opportunities like this since a problem Disney recently had with Obi-Wan Kenobi was that it felt stretched out. Groot doesn’t need a big epic series. Sometimes it’s nice to just hang out with these characters.
I Am Groot is the best MCU content since Avengers: Endgame. With all these other shows feeling like such an elongated commitment, it’s nice to have something that feels like a nice little appetizer. This show is exactly perfect for what it is. Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy are sure to be satiated. It’s not a must-see, but that’s what makes it work so well. Definitely check this one out exclusively on Disney+.
I Am Groot streams on Disney+ on August 10. All five episodes reviewed.
Review by Adam Donato
A Love Song is a romance film from writer/director Max Walker-Silverman. This is his first feature as his only other credits are shorts. The film stars Dale Dickey as an older woman who is camping out west as she awaits an old friend from her past. The man is played by Wes Studi and they finally reunite. Having made its debut an official selection at Sundance Film Festival, it’ll be interesting to see if A Love Song will get somewhat of a theatrical run during the wake of the summer movie season. If it does, is the film good enough to stray eyes away from the waning hours of the blockbuster’s run?
This is one of the sweetest and most genuine movies of the year. Dickey’s performance is one of the best of the year no matter what category. There’s very little dialogue in the film and a great deal of the scenes are just Dickey hanging out in the middle of nowhere. Seeing her reactions to things and how she carries herself in general speaks volumes. The dialogue in her scene opposite Studi is good, but the main message being conveyed is through their body language. These stars may not be notable enough to garner mainstream interest, but people may recognize them from some of their older roles. For newcomers, these performances sure are strong enough to peak their interest and maybe dive into some of their older work. This movie may get lost in the summer movie season shuffle, but it deserves to be in the conversation come the end of the year awards season.
The plot is very bare bones, which really allows the performances to breathe. If somebody watched this and said nothing happened, that would be fair. It’s a quick 82 minute movie. Most of it is just spent following Dickey do her everyday living and the people she encounters along the way. This movie is very reminiscent of Nomadland: an older woman living in the middle of nowhere in a lackluster situation dealing with baggage from the past and interacting with her neighbors. Not a bad template to base your movie on. It definitely allows the characters and the performance to take center stage, while also utilizing the setting for some beautiful landscape shots.
It may not have dinosaurs or Navy planes, but A Love Song might be the most human story told this summer. Definitely jump on the opportunity to see this movie if it gets a theatrical run near you. If it does not, this is the type of movie that can be enjoyed just as much on the small screen as well thanks to its wonderful performances and a great first entry from director Walker-Silverman.
A Love Song opens in theaters on July 29.
Review by Adam Donato
With Disney doing their darndest to monopolize the industry, the last month has shown plenty of meat on the bone for other studios to capitalize upon. Minions: The Rise of Gru made comparable box office returns in its opening weekend to that of Lightyear's entire run. One might wonder why a smaller studio would release Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank just two weeks after Minions mania. Not to mention Thor: Love and Thunder will undoubtedly dominate the box office in its second weekend, but critics complained about the humor being too focused on the younger crowd. Will Paws of Fury get the word of mouth necessary to make a box office dent in the waning hours of the summer movie season?
While Minions is one of the non-Disney franchises that has found a way to translate to mainstream audiences and not just children, Pixar was known to have a reputation for appealing to adults as well as children. On the other hand, Paws of Fury looked so exclusively for children that theaters would have to hand out neck pillows to adults so they could at least get a good nap in. Most would be surprised to hear that one of the leading creative forces behind the movie is comedy legend Mel Brooks himself. This became clear after watching as this movie reads as the children's version of Blazing Saddles. The few parents who make that connection might justify the experience of viewing it in theaters.
Surprisingly, this is not the worst movie of the year. It's actually quite enjoyable. Not to overhype the film, as it's decent at best, but for cinephiles who dread looking at the poster standee of the movie, it's not bad. The humor is the best aspect of the movie, as it almost feels fresh in a sea of Disney mediocrity and Minion babbling. A collection of self-aware jokes feels right out of a classic Mel Brooks comedy. With expectations as context, it wouldn't be surprising to hear some viewers find this movie funnier than the cringe-inducing Thor: Love and Thunder. Somehow, Paws of Fury is the funniest theatrically released animated movie of the year.
The animation probably drew most audiences away as it looks cheap and uninspired. There's nothing to be desired visually from this movie in any way. The voice performances, on the other hand, are surprisingly solid. Samuel L. Jackson is always a welcome sound to hear, but the standouts here are certainly Michael Cera and Ricky Gervais. Not that they did anything exceptionally well, they just haven't been on the big screen limelight in a while, and it was nice to get some of their personal comedic flavors.
Parents will be more attracted to the name-brand recognition of animated blockbusters like Lightyear, Minions, and DC League of Super Pets. Still, if their child drags them to Paws of Fury, they won't be too disappointed. To the cinephiles who watch everything that comes out in theaters, it's the last priority, but the creative team behind it makes it worth the watch. Mel Brooks fans specifically will have a hoot hearing his voice and seeing his comedic style still prevailing to this day.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank hits theaters on July 15.