Reviewed by Adam Donato
Director Ben Wheatley, most notable for his films Kill List and Free Fire, makes a limited theatrical release in the form of In The Earth. This newest entry in Wheatley’s film catalogue stars Joel Fry as a scientist who is chaperoned by a park scout, played by Ellora Torchia, as they venture off into the forest. Rounding out the supporting cast is Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires who are later found in the woods. This wannabe A24 horror film may surprise you based on the marketing as it is very different from the traditional horror dart.
The pandemic that arose from the COVID-19 disease just might have changed movies forever (says an article that is being written just over 12 months since the pandemic started). Movies stopped going to theaters as people were locked into their homes. Ben Wheatley is not included in people, for he went out in the woods and made a movie. This movie seems to be heavily inspired by real-world occurrences. There’s a deadly virus going around and people are wearing masks. That being said, this movie is relevant, but is it good?
Just like the pandemic, the movie is uncomfortable and people are annoying. The trailer makes it out to be this big supernatural romp through the woods, but the majority of the conflict arises from the crazy people they find in the woods. Major injuries will have the weak stomached audience members feeling queasy. The strobe lighting and intentionally unbearable noises that are made succeed in being displeasing to watch. Is it scary? Not really, more thrilling than anything else. It’s less wanting the main characters to succeed and more wanting the bad guys to fail.
Talking about the editing in a horror movie is odd because sometimes it’s off putting, but to give the benefit of the doubt to the filmmaker seems like a stretch. This movie has so many cuts that feel rough. It’s noticeably awkward throughout the movie where there’s a cut that feels like it doesn’t belong. This is usually during the more calm moments in the film, whereas the horror scenes are much more effective. There’s so many times where things are flashing on the scream and one feels like there’s hidden images that leave the viewer feeling overwhelmed.
The performances are enjoyable. Fry and Torchia are more reactionary, in contrast to Shearsmith and Squires who get a lot more opportunity to shine. As stated previously, the scares come much less from the supernatural elements involved and more so from the human forces. There are cruel acts performed and some decision making that is down right baffling. It really is a mystery whether or not anyone involved will survive in this scenario. The tension is brought out by the characters, which is a nice change of pace from standard horror fodder that would rather jump scare its audience.
Overall, In The Earth is hard to peg when it comes to rating. It really feels like personal preference when it’s something so niche like this. For example, it would not be good to recommend for non-horror fans, but also unwise to give a blanket recommendation to horror fans. It’s upscale horror, but if one sees this as pretentious then that’s totally applicable. Regardless, there’s clear effort and craftsmanship present and anyone familiar with the filmmaker should have an enjoyable time. To the horror fan that loves something like Hereditary, this is the lite version of that, which is certainly no insult.
In the Earth hits theaters on April 16.
Review by Adam Donato
Attempting to ride in the wake of Godzilla Vs. Kong, Voyagers is set to endeavor through the pandemic landscape at the box office. Notable stars Colin Farrell and Tye Sheridan lead the way in this science fiction piece. Neil Burger, director of The Illusionist, Limitless, The Upside, and… Divergent. Yes, Voyagers blends very well in the teenage, post-apocalyptic genre built by book franchises like Divergent and The Hunger Games. A couple of dozen teens discovering their human urges in space. It’s like Nerve, especially with all the neon marketing. This movie is not based on a book, but it was described as “Lord of the Flies in space.”
The best and worst part about the movie is the concept. What a rich science fiction concept to dive into. The problem is that this movie is made for general audiences and the target audience is teens. Of course, the teens would spend the majority of their newfound humanity wrestling and dry humping each other, but playing with the philosophical ideas at hand would be so much more interesting. To put it in simpler words, there’s too much fat and not enough meat on the bones. It’s conflicting to analyze since it makes sense why the plot delves into base human instincts, but the story and dialogue suffer because of it.
Furthermore, the concept of the movie gets in the way of the characters during the first act. The trailer shows that the blue drink they consume has medication that suppresses their human urges. This makes everybody a robot for almost half the movie. It isn’t until shit hits the fan that things get more interesting. The problem with that is that everybody is so stupid. This isn’t wrong, that is because of course, everyone would make poor decisions in the state the crew becomes when they cease taking the medication. The dialogue becomes infantile, to say the least. Therefore, it’s frustrating for the movie not to focus on the ideas being presented, but it makes sense why there’s more ruckus than a philosophical debate.
Weirdly enough, this movie should’ve been crazier. The most intriguing moments are when the audience is forced to just watch their order delve into chaos. With all the flawed logic and lack of self-awareness, it’s quite a riot. It feels almost unfair to criticize for not capitalizing on an already interesting movie. This will leave the audience wanting more from what happened in the story, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. Bumping up the runtime another thirty minutes wouldn’t be the answer for the type of movie that’s being presented here. Speaking of wanting more, the ending is so rushed that one would almost wish there was a sequel. The implications of everything that’s happening are so ripe with potential. Then again, not every movie can be 12 Angry Men, where all the characters just sit and talk for two hours.
Voyagers is not as smart as it thinks that it is and it isn’t as smart as the hungry science fiction fan would want it to be. Just imagine if Interstellar had a vampire baby with Twilight and that’s Voyagers. There are so many ideas presented that are probably more well developed in other movies, but for what it is, it’s a good time. Some middle school child is gonna go on a first date to this movie and wonder how they’re gonna lean in to kiss their date if their date is wearing a mask. It’s not as bad as Chaos Walking and with limited theatrical selections at play, this is really all you got if you don’t like giant monster fights.
Voyagers hits theaters on April 9.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
Shan Serafin directed The Forest in 2011. The director reteams with Aidan Bristow, for his new film, The Believer, which also stars Sophie Kargman and (for some reason) Billy Zane. This is a story about a man who is skeptical of the reality his wife is living in before questioning his own.
Remember watching Inception and seeing the characters try to figure out whether or not they were in a dream? Well, that was interesting because it had interesting characters that the audience cares about. The main character, Lucas, is obnoxiously unlikable and it hurts. He’s so pretentious and rude throughout the entire movie. The one good thing about him is he does act like a real human being, which is a lot more than one can say about Kargman’s character of Violet. Whatever they were trying to accomplish with her character, they failed. Her attempt at being creepy just comes across as annoying. Zane is unrecognizable and he might not even be real so who cares.
The movie starts off flirting with political ideas but completely ditches that idea a third of the way through in favor of a more religious topic. Violet insists that there is a demon of sorts that is haunting Lucas, which is rich because she is the craziest person on the planet in this movie. It’s weird because Violet is sympathetic at the start due to Lucas’s douchey behavior but slowly descends into psycho ex territory. The most interesting thing about their relationship is the concept that it exists. It’s like sitting next to a couple in a restaurant who is fighting and not in the fun eavesdropping way, more like “if she throws her drink, I’m in the splash zone.” It’s not enjoyable in any way, shape, or form.
Horror movies are supposed to be scary. The paragraph could honestly end there. So the characters are annoying and the plot makes no sense, but there have to be some spooky moments. No. The best emotion that can relate to horror is the feeling of uncomfortability. Imagine if Hereditary was bad and made no sense. That’s The Believer.
The genre with the lowest lows is usually the horror genre and The Believer is proof of that. It’s not offensively bad, just annoyingly bad. It will leave zero marks on anyone who watches it, which would be surprising if anyone watches because this movie barely exists on IMDb. Don’t watch it. Bad movie.
The Believer is now available on VOD.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
This is a documentary about the life of a famous singer, Tina Turner. The film follows her from her early days singing in a church choir to her marriage to Ike Turner and follows her the rest of her career. Interviewing for the documentary along with Tina Turner are some big names such as Angela Bassett and Oprah Winfrey. The rest of the interviews come from people who were close with Tina during her life, like her family, manager, and husband. Directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, Tina takes the audience on a journey through the life of one of the great women in all of rock.
Like Turner herself, the documentary is electric. It really is amazing to see all the old footage of her performing. The film features lots of commentary about Turner during her heyday like when they talk about how vivacious she is, but the thing that drives it home is just seeing her letting loose on stage. She is singing at the top of her lungs, she is dripping with sweat, and somehow her hair still looks good. Certainly, the high points in her life are very fun and are obviously filled with a lot of great music.
All that being said, it’s a sad watch. The life of Tina Turner was very tragic as she was an unwanted child and an abused wife. The film largely focuses on her relationship with her former husband, Ike Turner. There is one clip of an interview from him, which is interesting to watch because this perceived monster tries to provide an explanation for why his ex-wife tried to take her own life. All the while, the audience is looking at him with fear as literally everybody else is describing the horrific acts he committed. The worst part is that she repeatedly expresses her displeasure with the story of her life being centered around this man. Yes, he is a large part of a chapter in her life and how she got her start but seeing multiple videos of old interviews where they ask her questions about her former husband and the abuse is disheartening. Turner talks about how she wrote a book and made a movie decades ago so that she didn’t have to talk about it anymore and this only made the topic more of a prevalent focus in her life. It’s just sad and it’s hard to imagine she allowed this doc to happen if it was all going to be about her ex-husband and the abuse.
The silver lining to this is that Turner certainly is an inspiring character. It really does a great job of painting her as a good person, being nice to people that are close to her despite them not deserving it. Seeing her impact, not just on women like Angela Bassett, who got to play her in the movie, but on all women. I’m sure Turner doesn’t mind shedding light on the abuse if it means inspiring other women to stand up for themselves.
As far as biographical documentaries go, Tina does a good job of showcasing who she was, why she was, and why she is important. It only helps that the rest of the movie is filled with snippets of her singing. With plenty to say and a good time along the way, Tina is an informative piece that will satisfy hardcore fans and inspire new ones.
Tina airs on HBO March 27 at 8pm ET/PT.
Review by Adam Donato
Phobias is directed by a group of people including several first time directors. Camille Belle, Maritte Lee Go, Joe Sill, Jess Varley, and Chris von Hoffmann come together to make one film about a group of individuals who have their fears tested in a government facility. Just like how there are several directors, there are also several stars in the movie including Alexis Knapp, Lauren Miller Rogen, Hannah Mae Lee, Martina Garcia, Macy Gray, and Leonardo Nam. The story follows Nam’s character of Johnny who has his fear chase him to the brink as he ends up in a government facility and learns of the other patient’s fears. A crazy doctor revels in them and tries to harness their fear into some kind of weapon.
Almost like The ABCs of Death and other horror anthologies, Phobias is an excellent opportunity to see new filmmakers get a shot to direct a short that would contribute to a larger picture. One of the more interesting parts of a movie like this is choosing a favorite of the set of short stories. The directors worked together to make the script feel cohesive, but each of the stories have their own feel, which helps to keep the movie feeling fresh. It’s easy for something like this to feel very rinse and repeat. Despite this, the movie as a whole doesn’t work as well as the shorts do on their own.
The purpose of a scary movie is to be scary. Phobias is scary enough... barely. The short stories are more interesting than actually scary. One thing that does not help with the tone is the scenes at the government facility. Ross Partridge plays Dr. Wright in an over the top kind of way. It’s also clear that, while the individual stories are fleshed out, the overarching plot is silly. The government is secretly kidnapping people and trying to weaponize their fear? That doesn’t fit well with the story of the mom who has ptsd from being a cop. Also, some of the stories are more high concept, while others are extremely grounded in reality.
Overall, there’s enough here to satisfy the hunger for horror here. It’s nothing great, but it’s certainly enjoyable enough. It will be interesting to see where certain directors go after this movie, which is hopefully a jumping off point. Once again, movie by committee is a great opportunity to do some weird individual stuff, but as an overall picture it lacks a compelling through line.
Phobias hits VOD on March 19.
Review by Adam Donato
Edward Drake writes and directs Cosmic Sin, a film starring some pretty notable names in the form of Frank Grillo and Bruce Willis. In the far distant future, humans have the first contact with an alien life form and things get hostile. The government known as The Alliance brings in former war hero, James Ford (played by Bruce Willis), to lead a team to commit genocide upon the alien species before they have the chance to do it to mankind. Just look at the poster and see the straight-to-DVD quality movie that this is.
One of the best parts of science fiction is being able to tackle heady themes and high concepts in a way that is relatable to the viewer. Cosmic Sin presents the main crew with the philosophical debate of whether they should commit genocide with a world-ending bomb called a Q bomb or do nothing. The latter option is so understated because it really isn’t a debate in the film. Ford had previously used the Q bomb to destroy 17 million people, so obviously that is his first option when faced with the threat of a hostile alien species. The rest of the group consists of non-military members such as engineers and government officials, but that doesn’t stop them from giving much of any resistance to the concept. The aliens don’t do anything to make this conflict more interesting as the one time they choose to have a conversation, they outright say that there is no coexistence possible. Maybe if there was some kind of doubt whether this was a kill or be killed situation, then the plot might be somewhat interesting, but it’s clearly a human good and alien bad kind of movie.
When athletes get older, analysts suggest they retire. Now acting isn't always as physically demanding like sports are, but there’s still a point when the professional is clearly showing signs of deteriorating in effectiveness. That being said, Bruce Willis should retire. Of course, he can do whatever he wants and if there’s money to be made, then by all means go secure that bag. If looking like an actor cares about the role in a movie is like getting a hit in baseball, then Willis would be hitting below .100 with many errors in the field. Even in great movies like 2012’s Looper, there are only brief moments when he shows an emotion other than indifference. Watching him in an action scene is just depressing at this point. Everyone remembers how great Die Hard is, and years down the road when his career is all said and done, audiences will remember that and not Cosmic Sin. Surely, the producers needed a name like Willis’s to bring some legitimacy to this sci-fi snoozefest, but he’s absolutely the worst part. As for the rest of the cast, Grillo is barely in the movie so why is he even on the poster? Honestly, the best character with the most personality in the movie was Costas Mandylor, most famous for his role in the bad Saw sequels.
Does it go without saying that the special effects are atrocious? As previously stated, look at the poster. The green screen is definitely a green screen. The filmmakers get away with creature design by having the aliens take over the bodies. Oh, how cringey it is hearing the voices of the aliens through the humans. Just drop the bass and make it sound electronic. When the aliens are just aliens on screen, they are hooded figures with giant claws. Nothing can be directly seen and watching them in combat is laughable. The human squad wears armor on their mission and it looks kind of cool. Just trying to find something redeemable.
It goes without saying this movie does not deserve to be seen in a theater. Renting it at home would be almost worse because home popcorn doesn’t compare to movie theater popcorn. Even streaming service movies are usually higher quality than this. Expect to find this movie in the free section of Vudu. It wouldn’t even be right to recommend this to fans of Bruce Willis as this is yet another stain on what was once a great career. There is nothing of value here except for the fact that the sci-fi channel needs movies like this to play at three in the morning.
Cosmic Sin hits theaters and VOD on March 12.
Review by Adam Donato
Amy Poehler returns to Netflix, after Wine Country, with her follow-up directorial feature, Moxie. Up-and-coming actress Hadley Robinson stars as a shy teen that starts a feminist revolution at her high school. Jennifer Matheui’s book of the same name is brought to life in this teen drama that is loud and proud, including many big themes about women and the fight for equality as our main character comes of age. Does this Netflix movie compare to Saoirse Ronan yelling “Women!” in Little Women?
Moxie has a lot to say and decreases in shyness progressively as the main character, Vivian does. Everybody has been to high school and has been exposed to gender inequalities. This movie addresses most of the big-ticket issues: everything from dress code to the toxicity of the “boys will be boys” granting immunity mindset. So while the main story successfully achieves the transformation of this fly on the wall to the leader of the pack, they’re also tackling relatable themes. It’s a girl boss kind of movie and thanks to Amy Poehler, we now know what would’ve happened if The Plastics from Mean Girls were replaced with douchebags.
Seeing as Amy Poehler is one of the best women in comedy, Moxie has plenty of laughs. Poehler’s character as Vivian’s mother shares a genuine relationship with her daughter. This is also why the movie is reminiscent of Mean Girls, despite her character being much more grounded. The rest of the supporting cast is very solid. The love interest is corny but honest. Vivian’s friends are arguably more interesting on their journey to feminism than she is. Lauren Tsai plays Claudia, Vivian’s best friend who struggles with the feeling of losing her best friend to the cause. Their dynamic is authentic and contrasts well with what Vivian’s new friends are like. Also, Patrick Schwarzenegger, the son of some famous actor, successfully plays a scumbag that is easy to hate from the get.
The movie has a lot of personality and not always in a good way. At one point in the movie, the love interest takes Vivian to a funeral home so they can break in and lay in one of the caskets together. That’s not cute, that’s weird. Vivian starting this feminist identity known as Moxie changes her whole life and changes all of the relationships in her life. She stops communicating with her mother, which results in one of the most cringe worthy double dates scenes where Vivian shouts her discontent with the patriarchy. It’s understandable why she is feeling the way she feels, but it’s confusing to see why she wouldn’t have communicated this newfound passion with her mother, who by all accounts was similarly passionate in her youth. Just some minor weird parts of the movie that don’t make sense.
Overall, Moxie has a lot of, well, moxie. It clearly communicates it’s themes and explores the topic from several different perspectives to show a clear view of the problem. It’s all just high school drama, but there are certain points being made. Still, the target audience would be young women. The kind that felt something the first time they heard Ariel say, “Bright young women, sick of swimming. Ready to stand.” That being said, plenty of young men would be doing themselves a favor by educating themselves on the subject, and they could definitely do worse than this Amy Poehler comedy.
Moxie streams on Netflix beginning March 3.
Review by Adam Donato
Nicolas Cage is one of the most iconic actors of this generation. A man who can go toe to toe with Jim Carrey or Sam Elliot in their prime. Now that is range. Despite being such a prolific personality in Hollywood, Cage’s good movies are few and far between. That being said, the “so bad that it’s good” community probably has Cage on their Mount Rushmore next to Tommy Wiseau and Michael Jordan. The newest entry in the collection of insane Nic Cage movies is Willy’s Wonderland, a movie about a man burdened with the task of staying the night in a run-down children’s entertainment establishment.
Willy’s Wonderland is directed by Kevin Lewis and written by first-time writer G.O. Parsons. What a goofy idea that was just executed so well. It’s a whole lot of fun and even has some legitimately scary things in it. The question is whether the viewer is into animatronics, just like how someone who is afraid of clowns is inclined to believe It is the scariest horror movie. Most of the creature designs are inspired, going for that post-apocalyptic Chuck E. Cheese vibe. Just seeing them on screen and maybe even move a little, one can’t help but to wonder what the robot looks like without the costume. It’s creepy imagery and it succeeds on the horror front.
Imagine how different Drive would be if Keanu Reeves played the lead instead of Ryan Gosling. That’s what it’s like watching Nic Cage in this movie. A softspoken badass that isn’t even given a name. They have him listed in the credits as “the janitor”, which to be fair, is an absolutely correct statement. There is so much cleaning in the movie. It’s somewhat satisfying seeing the turnaround of the place. For some reason, Cage frequently plays pinball in a degree of passion that is unprecedented. It’s not art, it’s more like Johnny Blaze eating a jelly bean martini in Ghost Rider. To be fair, that’s where the movie really shines.
There’s a group of teens that are somehow involved in the action. They basically act of the horror movie fodder destined to die at the hands of the killer. Classic stereotypes like the lustful couple sneaking off and the resilient final girl. To be honest, they play well off of Cage, which makes Cage look even better. The side characters add so much backstory to everything that is going on, which makes it an actual movie, as opposed to an elongated set of action scenes, cleaning, and pinball.
For what it is, Willy’s Wonderland delivers. It’s a classic movie to watch with a big group of friends and play along with it. It’s a B-movie, but it’s a really good one at that. There’s impressionably scary imagery, both legitimate and ironic laughs, and a crazy concept that lets it get away with being such a ridiculous movie. Their hook is pretty undeniable. It’s Nicolas Cage fighting a bunch of animatronic children’s characters.
Willy's Wonderland is now in theaters and on VOD.
By Adam Donato
Some topics are hard to make a movie about. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be made. Due to the world’s necessity for content, there’s so much opportunity for a movie about anything to get made. Almost certainly, there is a movie that represents every aspect of human life throughout the modern age. The new is a scary place to explore, but it is the responsibility of filmmakers to trailblaze. No matter what your movie is about, as long as it is part of the human experience, there is an audience that will be able to relate.
PVT Chat is a film about a young man and his obsession with a girl whose profession is to produce interactive pornography over the internet. Small-time actor, Peter Vack, stars along with Julia Fox, who recently made an impression with her role in the hit film Uncut Gems. Ben Hozie basically did everything as he wrote, directed, and edited this film. The subject matter is bold and for that, this movie is to be admired, to a certain extent. The camera is handheld for the majority of the film, which adds to the personal tone and makes the audience feel like they’re seeing something they shouldn’t. Borderline found footage means that the story primarily follows Vack as we see his day to day in a more than intimate fashion.
The movie this most resembles is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon: a story about a man who was addicted to pornography. The big difference between these two films would be that pornography has evolved over the years. Cam girls are much more frequent and accessible these days. Audience members are likely to know someone who either uses these sites or works with these sites (no judgement). Before, there was a relationship with the computer, but now, pornography is a relationship with a real-life human being. PVT Chat explores the complications and intricacies inherent to the situation.
The best part of the movie is deciding whether or not the film condones or condemns the main character for his obsession and the medium altogether. An activity that is known as shameful is shown openly for all to see. For that, it’s a very uncomfortable experience. If an uncomfortable experience makes a movie bad, then nobody should watch Requiem for a Dream, a notoriously great and disturbing movie. That being said, PVT Chat is not high art. Points for going for it and definitely some food for thought for anyone familiar with the subject.
It is certainly interesting to see movies that explore the uncharted and outrageous territory. Certainly, character-driven and plenty to say, PVT Chat makes for an interesting watch. Explore this subculture of pornography with Ben Hozie at the helm. It will be of note to see where he along with cast members, Vack and Fox, go after this seeing as this picture is so out there. If watching, the best recommendation would be to watch it alone.
PVT Chat hits VOD on February 9.
Review by Adam Donato
Do you like sheep? Then this is the movie for you! Rams is about an old man, played by Sam Neill of Jurassic Park fame, who owns a sheep farm right next to his brother that hasn’t spoken to him in decades. Michael Caton, who plays the brother, reteams with Jeremy Sims (director) after their last film together, Last Cab to Darwin. The film is set in Western Australia and is a remake of Grimur Hakonarson’s 2015 film of the same name. Is Rams a good remake of a movie?
Obviously, one does not have to be super well versed in the subject matter of a movie to be entertained by it. Some of the best movies introduce the audience to a whole world they didn’t previously know the ins and outs about. A good movie can be made about anything. Rams is not one of them. Now the movie is devoid of quality. When remaking a well received film, it’s difficult to make a movie that justifies its own existence, but it also has the added benefit of a template of what they should be doing. There’s definitely a good movie that can be made for some story. Sheep are, at best, a niche interest, so making a movie about them is a challenge when trying to appeal to audience members who only know that sheep make wool and say “baaa”. In this respect, it succeeded. The sheep are the most interesting part of the movie. Seeing them run around and be sheep is cool, not to mention learning about everything that goes into the sheep industry is interesting. The sheep are not the problem.
Remember the guy who is just blown away seeing that dinosaurs travel in herds in Jurassic Park? Even back in the early nineties, Neill was an angry old man. Although this time he is without the Spielberg charm that was given to his “I hate kids” character. In Rams, he’s just a quiet, angry guy, and not in the cool “Ryan Gosling in Drive” kind of way. The only time he shows any emotion is when he is alone with his sheep. He’s not funny and his emotional scenes do not land.
The rest of the cast does a much better job. There is a lot of personality in the other sheep farmers. The love interest and the villain are handled so well. You’re rooting for her as much as you want that weasel to lose. The movie is shot very well. It must be hard to make a whole bunch of shots of sheep look good. Some moments in the movie work, but it’s fair to think that the original had handled things better. Also, don’t be ashamed if you had to look up the difference between a ram and a sheep. That is not necessary knowledge.
If one thinks sheep are cute, it would be a morally conflicting recommendation. To the hardcore fans of sheep, it’s your time to shine. While it is a nice ode, it’s also quite the dour picture. There are some funny moments here and there, but not enough to call it a comedy. It's decently enjoyable though, and certainly a memorable watch. Rams is exactly what the poster looks like it is. Two old dudes and an animal, the animal, sheep. Maybe it was a ram. It did have the horns.
Rams hits VOD on February 5.