Review by Camden Ferrell
Best Sellers is a new comedy-drama film that is also the feature directorial debut of Lina Roessler. It was an official selection of the Berlin International Film Festival in 2020 before its cancellation. The movie is also the writing debut of Anthony Grieco. This is a harmlessly safe movie that is equal parts formulaic, predictable, and charming.
Lucy Stanbridge is struggling to maintain the legacy of her father’s publishing company due to declining sales and subpar novels. In order to try and elevate the status of her company, she enlists Harris Shaw, an aging and cranky writer, to go on a book tour for his newest novel. This story is simple, sweet, and enjoyable, but it’s one that relies heavily on the chemistry of its lead actors.
Grieco’s script makes it very clear early on that it’s not trying to do anything new. He adopts the tried and tested storytelling formula that has been done countless times before. This is not saying it’s bad. It has its charm, but it does seem content to be unambitious in telling these characters’ stories.
The movie is led by the always reliable Aubrey Plaza and acting legend Michael Caine. They both have strong chemistry together, but there are sometimes where their bond seems nonexistent. Both Plaza and Caine seem to be putting in minimal effort into their roles. Neither feels particularly inspired, yet the movie doesn’t suffer too much as a result.
Caine’s Harris Shaw is an often-unlikeable author as intended, but he can also be quite infuriating which makes it hard to really get behind his character which is a major flaw in a movie like this. Plaza also doesn’t give us much reason to care for her character, and the script doesn’t fully flesh out these characters and develop them as people.
Roessler’s direction is one of the stronger aspects of the film. She has an honest vision that humanizes the characters in ways that the script and actors simply can’t do properly. She balances the comic aspects of the film with the more serious moments, and she does it gracefully for a first-time director. Like many things in this movie, it’s far from perfect, but it shows genuine promise for her future.
The movie luckily doesn’t lose any steam with its fairly short runtime. It’s a simple story that has a satisfying conclusion that ties everything up nicely. Again, it’s not great, but it’s mostly carried by its charm and confident direction.
While it’s a shame to see such talented actors taking on such safe and formulaic roles, it’s hard to deny that Best Sellers has its enjoyable moments. It’s a decent calling card for Roessler as a director, and it’s a light-hearted movie for people to watch this weekend.
Best Sellers is in theaters and on demand September 17.
Copshop is director Joe Carnahan’s first feature film in roughly seven years. He co-wrote the script along with Kurt McLeod, the latter of which is debuting as a feature writer. The movie can often succeed as a detail-oriented homage to grindhouse films, but it ultimately falls flat due to odd pacing and a convoluted story.
Teddy is a con artist trying to hide out after his latest scheme. His plan: get arrested and detained at a small-town police station. However, the assassin who’s pursuing him, Bob, decides to get detained at that same police station. They both bide their time in neighboring cells while Valerie, a rookie cop, attempts to deal with the chaos to come. This is a fun premise that has a lot of promise for smart dialogue, violence, and tension.
While the writing starts out decently strong, featuring some fast-paced exposition, it can often fall into cliches. These moments make the movie feel cheap, almost like an imitation of similar movies in the genre. From here, the pacing slows down, and a lot of the tension that the premise warrants is slowly squandered.
The movie features a fairly strong cast, consisting of actors like Frank Grillo and Gerard Butler who play Teddy and Bob respectively. They both fit into their roles snugly and have mostly decent chemistry together. However, Alexis Louder, who plays Valerie, is the highlight of the film. While it’s not perfect, she does a great job of taking on this role and interacting with her co-stars. This is one of her first prominent film roles, and I look forward to what she does in the future.
As mentioned before, there are a few twists in the narrative that are fun, but they end up making the narrative unnecessarily convoluted. It’s hard to truly enjoy all the action, chaos, violence, and blood when the motivations and relationships are muddled by a script that doesn’t care to flesh everything out properly. Despite its flaws, this movie does benefit from its camerawork from cinematographer Juanmi Azpiroz. It has a retro-feel that pairs very well with the overall aesthetic of the film. Even though it’s messy under the surface, it film works very well on a superficial and visual level.
Copshop has some fun action and grindhouse vibes, but the script doesn’t take full advantage of its premise. It has a strong performance from Louder, but it’s yet another mid-tier action film from writer and director Joe Carnahan.
Copshop is in theaters September 17.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Dogs is a Romanian drama that premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section. It is the feature directorial debut of writer and director Bogdan Mirică. At its premiere it won the FIPRESCI Prize. The movie has a visually pleasing atmosphere with some interesting moments, but its sloppy narrative and emotionless script make this drama feel rather dull.
Roman has just been bequeathed land from his late grandfather. As he tries to sell off the land, he learns the means by which it came into possession of his family. He slowly uncovers this perilous mystery and learns why selling this land will be more difficult than he thought. After continuous danger ensues, Roman must decide how to approach this situation. It’s an interesting premise that explores some timely themes and has the promise to be quite suspenseful.
Unfortunately, Mirică’s script is rather uninspired and dull. The dialogue is stale and doesn’t do much to develop its cast of characters. It doesn’t give the viewer a reason to empathize or care about anyone, and it doesn’t do enough to build-up the drama and suspense that its premise affords it. Despite this, the movie has some striking visuals. It begins with a hauntingly sinister tracking shot that promises much, but it soon becomes obvious that the atmosphere and widescreen cinematography is the film’s only commendable aspect.
Dragos Bucur leads the film as Roman. He does a decent enough job of leading the film, but he’s severely held back by the quality of the film’s script. His supporting cast features a lot of titans of Romanian cinema, but their presence didn’t do much to grab my attention, and they merely floated around until the film ultimately ended.
Even though the film lacks in a lot of aspects, you can’t deny that Mirică has a vision to which he is strongly committed. His execution leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s confident if nothing else. It opts for longer more meditative takes, and he sometimes gets close to striking gold, but he makes some questionable directorial choices that scramble the narrative and pacing. This culminates in a bloody final act that doesn’t feel warranted or earned, and it feels underwhelming more than anything.
Dogs doesn’t satisfy the way one hopes it would. It’s a great premise with themes about class and corruption that aren’t fully realized. It has a strong vision and a great atmosphere, but it ultimately falls flat in almost all other categories.
Dogs is in theaters and virtual cinemas September 10.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Who You Think I Am premiered at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival. It is the newest movie from French director Safy Nebbou. It is based on the novel of the same name by Camille Laurens. While the movie loses some of its steam later on, the overall experience is elevated by a dynamic first half and an impressive leading performance from Juliette Binoche.
Claire is a middle-aged woman with two kids and an ex-husband. Becoming interested in Alex, a friend of her fling, she decides to create an online persona on Facebook. Posing as a woman in her twenties, she develops an emotional affair with Alex. This is a really interesting premise that has a lot to say about middle-age, love, and the digital age.
Nebbou penned the script with Julie Peyr, and it’s quite impressive especially in the first half. They’re able to truly capture the emotions and insecurities Claire faces without losing much of its subtlety. The dialogue is natural, and there are a few twists dispersed throughout. Unfortunately, the narrative becomes a little less compelling in the final half of the film, but it still remains thematically strong until the end.
The standout of this film is the fantastic leading performance by Juliette Binoche. She plays the role so tenderly and profoundly in ways that surprised me. She transcends beyond the trope of mid-life crisis mother, and she transforms it into something that is equal parts sensual and heartbreaking. Her supporting cast is decent but forgettable, and this movie is truly a showcase for her talents as a performer.
While the movie has a tightly paced and endearing opening half, it slowly loses its momentum. It lacks the same energy afforded to it in the earlier half and isn’t quite as engaging. However, Binoche as well as a combination of narrative twists, will keep audiences interested and engaged from start to finish. It also succeeds in tenderly exploring this woman’s mid-life crisis and the longing she has for a relative stranger. I was impressed by how maturely and non-exploitative its execution of its central premise is.
Who You Think I Am is a fresh new take on the mid-life crisis, and it’s anchored by a dedicated and solemn performance from Binoche. It has a strong script, and a delicate execution that makes this an enjoyable film from the French director.
Who You Think I Am is playing in New York and LA September 3, followed by a national rollout.
Review by Camden Ferrell
After his Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed stars in his newest movie Mogul Mowgli. Premiering at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival, this movie is the narrative feature debut of director Bassam Tariq and was written by both Ahmed and Tariq. Even though it can be a tad inconsistent, this movie excels due to Ahmed’s fantastic and emotional leading performance and the daring visual style throughout.
Zed is a rapper who returns home to London before starting on a European tour. However, those plans are halted when he gets diagnosed with a degenerative autoimmune disease. Now, he must cope with his illness, his career, his family, and his identity. This will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Ahmed’s previous film, Sound of Metal, but this movie does enough with its premise to distinguish itself.
Ahmed and Tariq’s screenplay is strong throughout. The dialogue and interactions with Zed and his family are realistic while also being interesting. It balances the movie well with more somber and quiet scenes, and it takes some narrative risks with certain aspects of the film. It isn’t always the most coherent, and it’s full of themes, some of which don’t get fully realized in the film.
The highlight of this film is undeniably Ahmed’s powerful leading performance. Not only does he excel with the rapping in the movie (most likely due to his real-life experience), but he also expertly handles all the moments in between. He’s convincing as his character struggles with his illness. He also does a great job of acting in the more surreal sequences throughout the film. He’s supported by a strong cast, but he is the clear standout of the entire movie.
One of the things I immediately noticed was how dynamic the camera work in the movie is and how it truly elevates many scenes. Annika Summerson’s cinematography is engaging and shows some true talent. Even though it can feel inconsistent at time, I do commend Tariq’s ambitious style and vision. He transforms a cultural identity crisis into a surrealist nightmare at times in a way that’s strikingly mature for a new director. Despite its flaws, this is a movie that has a strong hand guiding its vision to execution.
Mogul Mowgli is yet another showcase for Ahmed as a leading man, but it also shows promise for Tariq as an innovative and exciting director. Its brief runtime doesn’t allow for full development of its themes, and its style can be a bit jarring at times, but this is an engaging and powerful movie about one artist’s struggle through an illness.
Mogul Mowgli is in theaters September 3.
Review by Camden Ferrell
He’s All That is the most recent gender-swapped comedy, being a loose remake of the film She’s All That. This movie is from director Mark Waters, most known for his work on the teen comedy classic Mean Girls. This is a movie that at times feels tailor-made for the Tik Tok-era kids who will inevitably watch it, but it lacks any substance or redeemable qualities whatsoever.
Padgett is a beauty influencer who seemingly has her life figured out. However, after she has an embarrassing live fallout with her popstar boyfriend, her life gets shaken up. In order to redeem herself, she takes on a bet to take the most unpopular boy at school, Cameron, and turn him into a Prom King. This is a premise that is very similar to the movie on which this is based, so it’s nothing revolutionary, but it still has potential.
The original movie was mixed upon release but has found a comfortable niche since then. Even though this remake comes from the same writer, R. Lee Fleming Jr., it seems like this will not be met well by any audience. It lacks originality, and it is full of bland and static dialogue that ranges from dull to cringingly embarrassing. The characters have no development, and the script gives me no reason to be invested in the trials and tribulations of these high schoolers. It has so little to say, and it never justifies its existence.
The acting in this movie is forgettable at best. The movie is led by Tik Tok star Addison Rae in her first live-action film role. She is half-decent in some of the scenes based around her character’s actions as an influencer, probably because she is one herself. However, elsewhere, she is flat and isn’t able to demonstrate any kind of acting range. It’s a monotone performance that only has the slightest glimmers of chemistry with her co-star Tanner Buchanan. While he tries his best to play the mysterious and dreamy loner, it doesn’t work, and the rest of the cast follows suit in this mediocrity.
It’s a shame to see Waters make a movie as unoriginal as this one. Unlike Mean Girls, which has impressively remained a staple of pop culture, this is a movie that’s doomed to the depths of obscurity fairly soon. Rae’s following will probably keep it relevant for a short time, but I can’t imagine anything as shallow and unfunny as this movie persisting in the zeitgeist. The movie lacks any self-awareness and doesn’t elicit a single laugh or ounce of amusement.
He’s All That is a miserable teen-comedy that is equal parts cringe and monotony. It’s bland, unoriginal, and painfully devoid of laughs. Addison Rae’s leading performance is far from enjoyable, and the whole movie makes for a rather unpleasant 90 minutes.
He’s All That is available on Netflix August 27.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Summer Days, Summer Nights is a teen comedy-drama that had its premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. This movie is by actor, writer, and director Edward Burns. The movie isn’t without its strengths, but as a whole, the movie does little to develop its characters while drawing from better movies of the same genre.
It is the summer of 1982 in Long Island, and in this movie, a community of teenagers fall in and out of love as they all prepare for the next chapter of their lives. JJ is a high school grad, working for his dad and finding new love after a breakup. Meanwhile, Frankie is trying to reconnect with an old love of his from high school. This is a simple premise that reminds me of other teen movies, and the summer setting is a nice setting that is familiar but has potential for interesting character development.
Written by Burns, the script somewhat succeeds in creating realistic conversational dialogue, but it’s inconsistent to say the least. It’ll sporadically jump from interesting dialogue to unrealistic lines that interrupt the tone and momentum of the scenes. The movie also does very little to develop its characters beyond the superficial aspects of their relationships. It’s not bad, but the movie gives me very little reason to care for the characters in any capacity, and it feels like certain aspects of the movie could have been fleshed out more.
The acting is a bit all over the place as well. While its an ensemble, the most prominent character is JJ, played by Pico Alexander. He’s decent in his role, but it also suffers from a lack of personality afforded to the character himself. Even Anthony Ramos isn’t quite compelling as Frankie, and the rest of the cast doesn’t seem to fare much better. There isn’t much chemistry between the actors, and this also contributes to the problem of not being able to care of the characters of this movie.
Despite its flaws, there are a few things this movie does well. I was quite surprised with how strong the cinematography and camerawork are. William Rexer does a great job of creating dynamic camerawork that is strong and engaging throughout. The composition is strong, and the camera is very kinetic and elevates many of the film’s lackluster scenes.
Summer Days, Summer Nights is a rehashing of better movies, and it doesn’t have the most compelling script to frame its story. The acting is decent at best, but it does have great cinematography that heighten the overall quality. It’s not great, but it’s barely sufficient for those looking for a teen comedy-drama.
Summer Days, Summer Nights is available on VOD August 24.
Review by Camden Ferrell
The Night House is a new psychological horror film that had its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It is directed by David Bruckner and is written by the writers of 2017’s Super Dark Times. The movie can be a bit of a slow burn at times, but it’s carried by the phenomenal leading performance from Rebecca Hall.
Beth is a woman who is grieving after the death of her husband. She passes her days in the lakeside home that her late husband built just for her. However, overcome by her nightmares, she begins to uncover secrets about her husband that lead her on a mysterious and troubling path. This is a simple premise that has lots of promise for horror and mystery.
Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, the script for this movie is justifiably minimal. Especially in the first act, this movie doesn’t have too much dialogue and gives room and liberty for its actors to perform. The little dialogue throughout does a decent job of being expositional without feeling forced. While the script is strong overall, a lot of the enjoyment of the movie comes from its performances.
The supporting cast of the film is decent, but the undeniable standout of this film is the leading performance of Rebecca Hall. She plays the role of the grieving widow so well, and she navigates masterfully through many scenes, perfectly changing style and delivery as needed. Without her performance, it’s hard to say if the movie would work as well as it does.
I enjoyed how the movie didn’t utilize any jump scares to increase tension. It opts to use a more sinister nighttime atmosphere to thrill its audience. The cinematography and score are both also elements that elevate the thrill factor of the movie. It’s not scary as a whole, but it has some moments that are quite tense.
Bruckner’s direction is strong throughout. He excels in the moments of action and tension especially in the film’s final act. He even executes the slower moments fairly well, but unfortunately, there are some moments that are a little too slow for its own good. The slow burn is in the nature of the movie, and it works most of the time, but when it doesn’t work, it’s too noticeable.
Despite the pacing problems with the movie, it does a great job of combining elements of horror and mystery in order to tell a story about one woman’s struggle with grief and closure. It has some pretty shocking twists and thrilling moments that make for an overall enjoyable theater experience.
The Night House may not be groundbreaking, but it features a truly commendable leading turn from Rebecca Hall, and it has some spooky and scary moments. It has some problems with its execution at times, but for those willing to overlook it, they will be treated with a fun horror film.
The Night House is in theaters August 20.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Donald Rugoff may not be a household name, but the documentary Searching for Mr. Rugoff makes a compelling case for knowing that name. It is the directorial debut of indie film veteran Ira Deutchman, and it had its premiere at the 2019 DOC NYC, America’s biggest documentary film festival. While the movie doesn’t always capture the same energy and entertainment that Rugoff allegedly possessed, it is still an enjoyable look into the career and impact of a man who made a splash in the film industry.
Rugoff was the mad genius who was behind Cinema 5, a theater chain and film distributor. His craziness and unorthodox marketing helped usher art-house films into the mainstream. He was described as difficult and impossible, and this documentary uses testimony from former employees and contemporaries to paint a picture of an influential man who has been consigned to obscurity. This is an interesting subject, and there is a lot of rich cinematic history in this time period that helps make the story more dynamic.
Deutchman delivers a noble first film, and this is mostly because it is obvious that he has a profound respect and admiration for Rugoff. This is evident in the way the film is executed and his onscreen journey to learn more about this enigmatic man. This is the type of film that lives or dies by its director’s passion for the subject. In this regard, the film succeeds in honoring his legacy as well as capturing an image of the film industry in this time period.
As mentioned before, the film features a myriad of interviews from former employees and colleagues. They do a mostly sufficient job of creating a portrait of Rugoff. The excess of interviews can bring down the film and its pacing, but it’s clear there isn’t a lot of other material to capture his character. Most of the interviewees bring something to the table to elevate the film, but there are a handful that do feel inconsequential.
The film’s strongest aspect is how it incorporates film history into the story of Rugoff. Deutchman’s admiration for independent cinema is most apparent in these moments, and these sections of the movie are very entertaining and informative. Unfortunately, there are other sections of the movie that interrupt the momentum and make the pacing feel sluggish. It’s an enjoyable movie, but it doesn’t quite live up to Rugoff’s legacy and impact on modern independent cinema.
Searching for Mr. Rugoff is an enjoyable documentary that film buffs will most definitely enjoy. Despite some questionable pacing, this is a movie that is entertaining and is a great debut from Deutchman as a director.
Searching for Mr. Rugoff is in theaters August 13.
Review by Camden Ferrell
After the release of The Kissing Booth 2 in 2020, it was revealed that it was shot back-to-back with the third film, The Kissing Booth 3, which is why this young adult series is coming to a conclusion so quickly. It is based on the series of books by Beth Reekles and Vince Marcello has once again returned to direct. While it will please the fans of the first two movies, this is a movie that is as unpleasant as its predecessors and features weak performances, cringe-inducing writing, and a tepid conclusion for these characters.
When we left off, Elle was in a dilemma. She had been accepted to two schools, one her best friend would be attending and one where her boyfriend was currently enrolled. Putting off this decision, she decides to try and pull of the most memorable summer ever, but as expected, drama unfolds with her relationships. This is a simple premise, but it is the first movie in the series to take place during the summer, so it thankfully avoids the high school plot that has already been done twice before.
Written by Marcello and Jay S. Arnold, this script is no better or worse than the ones that came before it. The dialogue is unnatural, and the plot is progressed in a manner that is forced and unceremonious. The interactions between the characters are stiff and some are incredibly awkward and unintentionally uncomfortable to watch play out. This isn’t a surprise, and it’s mostly on par with the previous films. It’s not as openly sexist and misogynistic as the first, but less is happening in its story than the second.
All of the main cast returns for this movie. Joey King once again leads the film as Elle, Jacob Elordi returns as Noah, and Joel Courtney plays Lee. The quality of their performances is consistent with the other movies, so even though it jumps between lifeless and painfully melodramatic, it’s not unexpected. There are times where they seem exhausted with the movie, but there are a handful of moments where the actors look like they’re having genuine fun despite the weak material they’re working with.
Aside from the writing problems, the scenes are executed in such an off-putting manner. It has strange camera angles, laughably bad visual effects, befuddling editing, and it all feels sloppily constructed. The movie also doesn’t have the substance to forgive these mistakes. The actions of the characters are confusing and unmotivated, and the movie sporadically opens new plot lines that contribute significantly to its nearly two-hour runtime. It’s something that will not win over any new fans.
The Kissing Booth 3 is an unpleasant watch, but it’s something that is expected from the series’ track record. Worth watching only for the sake of completionism and for fans of the series. It repeats the myriad of shortcomings of its predecessor and marks the end of a series that shouldn’t have been made.
The Kissing Booth 3 is streaming on Netflix August 11.