Review by Camden Ferrell
Jakob’s Wife had its premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. This horror film is the sophomore feature from writer/director Travis Stevens. Even though it’s a fun and campy film, the movie is dragged down by its uneven pace and unconventional execution.
Anne is a woman who is married to Jakob, a local preacher. Throughout her marriage, she has felt herself being minimized and overlooked. After a chance encounter with a mysterious entity, she develops a violent and troubling appetite. Now, Jakob must fight for his marriage and his wife. It’s an interesting premise that is ripe for campy horror fun.
The script by Mark Steensland, Kathy Charles, and Stevens, is rather uneven throughout. The dialogue can be bland and derivative at times. However, the movie doesn’t indulge too heavily in exposition, and the script does a decent job of trusting its audience especially with the more supernatural elements of the film.
The acting in the film is enjoyable even if it can seem silly at times. The film is led by Barbara Crampton, who plays Anne, and Larry Fessenden, who plays Jakob. Crampton, a horror veteran, feels right at home in this movie. She does a decent job at handling the non-horror elements, but she excels in all of her horror scenes. Fessenden does a great job at playing off of Crampton, but on his own, he lacks the same infectious energy as Crampton.
One of the surprising features of the film is how it tackles marriage dynamics. It tackles some pretty complex ideas of the troubles that stem from marriage and the personal inadequacies one might feel as a result. Unfortunately, once the movie makes strides in exploring this theme, it stops short of anything revelatory.
The film will most likely please genre enthusiasts due to its campy nature. There are plenty of bloody and gory moments throughout that lack a certain earnestness that one might expect from other horror films. This makes it somewhat unconventional, and it may alienate novices to the genre. Stevens’ execution of his scenes is works sporadically, but it lacks conviction at times throughout.
The pacing is also all over the place in the movie. The movie steadily builds up in the first half only for the second half to be tonally inconsistent and off-putting as a result. It’s not bad by any means, but it also doesn’t reach its full potential due to the shortcomings of various elements in the film.
Jakob’s Wife is an enjoyable horror film at times that shows promise for Stevens as a horror director, but it doesn’t do much to subvert expectations. It will most likely appeal to horror fans while the average viewer may have a hard time getting behind it.
Jakob’s Wife is in select theaters and on VOD April 16.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Monday had its premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. This is the fourth feature film from writer/director Argyris Papadimitropoulos. While the leads are charming, the film feels too repetitive and not insightful enough into relationships to be memorable.
Mickey and Chloe are two Americans in Greece who come together after a night of spontaneous passion. We then see this summer fling expand into something more as we see this couple try and maintain their love through the trials and tribulations of life. It’s a simple and sweet premise that is evocative of other romance films.
The script by Rob Hayes and Papadimitropoulos is adequate if nothing else. There isn’t any profound or insightful dialogue, but it does occasionally excel at naturalistic dialogue. The writing is at its best when we are watching the simple connection between the two lovers, but it doesn’t do as well when trying to progress the plot and events surrounding these characters.
The acting is the highlight of the film. The movie is led by Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough. From the start, they have impeccable chemistry, and this remains fairly consistent throughout the film. They play off of each other really well, and this is true even in the scenes of tension and drama. When the script is lacking, you can usually count on them still being able to carry the scene in a believable way.
The movie has the potential to say a lot about self-destructive couples and the downside of passion, and it briefly touches on it, but it doesn’t give it the consideration it warrants. The characters are borderline unlikeable, and this paves the way for some great themes, but it also fails to expound on that. It doesn’t fully explore the destructive capabilities of their romance in a way that feels palpable or significant.
For what the film lacks in its themes, it makes up for in its passion. It is an undeniably sensual film that builds off of the chemistry of its leads. There is lots of onscreen passion to elevate the relationship, which is handled gracefully by Stan and Gough. It is interesting to see their relationship progress over an indeterminate period of time even if it feels hollow as a whole.
The movie can often find itself feeling repetitive by design, but it still creates an inconsistent and somewhat bland story that doesn’t do its characters justice. There are a handful of side characters that feel unnecessary, and it fails to recognize its most valuable assets and its potential themes. It’s not bad, but it is disappointing considering the talent involved in the film.
Monday is a passionate albeit underwhelming film about a summer romance that becomes much more than that. Stan and Gough are captivating leads, but they are brought down by the script and repetitive execution of the film.
Monday is in select theaters and on VOD April 16.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Based on the title alone, Sugar Daddy may not seem like an ambitious and feminist tale of identity, but that’s certainly what Wendy Morgan’s feature directorial debut is. It features a promising talent in its lead actor and writer, and it tackles some timely themes in a unique manner even if its message can get muddled throughout the film.
Darren is a talented young musician, juggling jobs to pay rent and trying to find her place in this world. Her current lifestyle impedes her ability to create music, so she decides to sign up for a website that connects her with sugar daddies that pay her to accompany them on dates. This is an interesting premise that sets the stage for an interesting exploration of this line of work.
The script, written by Kelly McCormack is a little inconsistent. The first half features some great discussions about being a sugar baby, sex work, and the morality and ethics of the profession. She develops a really mature and informed dialogue about the nuances of the subject, but she doesn’t expand on the ideas as much as she could have.
McCormack also stars as Darren, and she does a great job of executing the character she wrote. Darren is a character that has some creative elements, but at her core, she is so relatable. We empathize with her pursuit of art in the face of economic burden, and she is flawed character that adds more layers to the film. The supporting cast is mostly forgettable, but the film doesn’t rely too heavily on them, so the film doesn’t suffer as a result.
The first half of the film balances the musical side of the film and the sugar baby story fairly well. However, the movie slowly loses control of this balancing act in the latter half. It makes the movie feel inconsistent and a little uneven towards the end. It throws off the decent momentum that is built in the first half, and it feels like a wasted opportunity to dive deeper into the social issues the film presents.
I also wish the film showed the extent of Darren’s musical talents more than it already did. She’s an interesting character who is clearly talented, but I think the movie could have done more to communicate how unique she is as an individual. Regardless, the movie has a lot to say about the struggle of many artists today, the constant battle of finding one’s voice in a world that commodifies everything.
Despite its flaws, Morgan’s film is brave, and it provides a much-needed perspective about its subject. The film is thematically ambitious, but it also takes some narrative risks in its final moments that I wish had been featured more prevalently throughout the rest of the movie.
Sugar Daddy is a movie whose merits outweighs its faults. It shows promise for McCormack as a leading actress and Morgan as a director. It’s an interesting story about one artist’s pursuit of expression in the face of the modern world, and it’s worth checking out.
Sugar Daddy is available on VOD and select theaters April 9.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Funny Face is the newest film from writer/director Tim Sutton. It had its premiere at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival. This is a movie that seems more promising in theory but fails to justify itself in practice due to a messy and convoluted plot.
Zama is a young Muslim woman, jaded with her situation and desiring a new life. Saul is a troubled man who wears a mask, like a makeshift superhero, in an act of revenge against real estate developers who wronged his family. Together, they form an unlikely bond as they take on the city and the system they wish to rage against. This is a premise that has the potential to say a lot about the modern plight of Americans, but it fails to amount to anything substantial.
The script, written by Sutton, is a narrative mess. It has lots of great themes and ideas, but it fails to juggle them, and it leads to some confusing and questionable narrative choices that distract from the message of the film. The dialogue is bland, and it fails to truly explore the intricacies of its premise.
The acting in this film is a relatively bright spot in this film. Dela Meskienyar gives a decent performance as Zama, and she’s fairly charming even if her performance isn’t anything revelatory. The best part of this film comes from Cosmo Jarvis’ performance as Saul. He isn’t perfect, but he does capture the emotions of troubled young adults in this unforgiving world.
The main problem with the film comes from its multiple storylines and how it fails to make the transitions cohesive. While they are undoubtedly related in both theme and circumstance, the movie muddles the stories, and fails to properly tell a coherent story. Rather than building each other up, the storylines work against each other and make the film more disorganized as a result.
The film has some decent cinematography and some great music throughout, but it doesn’t compensate for the lack of direction on screen. It tries its hardest to generate tension and create realistic stakes for its protagonists, and it falls flat more times than not, and it leaves the viewer feeling underwhelmed by the end.
Despite its flaws, it’s clear that Sutton has a clear vision and strong themes that aren’t executed properly. He knows what he wants to say, but this film has trouble saying it effectively and efficiently. It’s a story that could have resonated with so many in this uncertain world, and the angst in the film is universal. Unfortunately, it’s all drowned out by the messiness of the narrative.
Funny Face is not the biting take on the modern world that it could have been. It’s uneven, inconsistent, and convoluted. The acting and technical aspects are decent, but the rest of the film sadly doesn’t amount to much.
Funny Face is available on VOD April 2.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Êxtase is the feature directorial debut of Maora Passoni, co-writer of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy. Featuring a unique style and format, Passoni’s newest film is a deeply personal depiction of anorexia and womanhood in an uncertain world.
This movie follows the story of Clara, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood and beyond who lives through political turmoil in 1990’s Brazil. In a world fraught with destruction and fear, Clara embarks on a path of self-destruction in the form of anorexia. This story is partly based on Passoni’s personal experience, so it’s a fitting story that she is in the best position to tell properly.
What’s noticeable from the start is how unique the film is stylistically. It has elements of a traditional narrative feature as well as elements of documentary filmmaking. She doesn’t treat these two genres differently; she elegantly interweaves different techniques to create different layers to her story. It reaches almost experimental levels at time, and it creates a more visceral experience for the viewer.
The actors aren’t given much to work with in this film due to its nature and blending of genres, but the entire cast is effective even if they aren’t memorable. The narration is quite somber but is often tinged with a mixture of nostalgia and serious reflection. However, it seems that most of the dialogue, which was written by Passoni, was intended to supplement the themes and imagery of the film rather than stand out.
That being said, the movie uses lots of graphic and beautiful imagery to tell its story. The cinematography doesn’t just capture the story but the essence of each scene, and it creates an atmosphere that is effective in conveying the film’s mood. Since the film deals with anorexia and political turmoil, some of this imagery is understandably graphic, but Passoni does this in a tasteful way that doesn’t feel exploitative.
The film also features music by acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch and Lykke Li. Lynch has proven throughout his career to be a master of sound and ambiance, and his work on this film is effective even if it isn’t his most accomplished and fleshed out. There are certain moments that are significantly elevated by his music.
The main flaw with the film is simultaneously how little time it has to explore its themes about power and suffering and also with how it seems to misallocate its short runtime. Some sections significantly dragged, and by the end, the film loses a lot of the initial momentum from the film’s great opening moments. Despite this, Passoni has created a unique experience that speaks to the times, especially in regard to the political anorexia the world faces as we all slowly become isolated from each other in these uncertain times.
Êxtase may not be a comprehensive exploration of its subjects, but it is an undeniably brave and personal film for Passoni, and it features some great imagery. It’s one of the most brutally honest films I’ve seen this year, but it can suffer at times from its inconsistent pace.
Êxtase is available on MoMA’s virtual cinema from March 28 to April 2.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Bad Trip was set to have its world premiere last year at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. However, as the state of the world abruptly changed, the movie was delayed to the following year. Director Kitao Sakurai and comedian Eric Andre collaborated once again on their newest film. Even if the jokes can become repetitive, this film is a hilariously cringeworthy and energetic road trip comedy that makes the most of its hidden camera pranks.
Chris is a slacker who by chance runs into his high school crush, Maria. Him and his friend, Bud, decide to take a road trip to New York to see her. They embark on their trip in Bud’s sister’s car while she is in prison. The story is extremely simple, and this allows the movie to incorporate many real-life pranks that work in context of the film.
The biggest strength of the film is its hidden camera pranks that make up a significant portion of the film. The screenplay by Andre, Sakurai, and Dan Curry does a mostly decent job of incorporating the pranks into the story. There are some hidden camera moments that don’t blend well into the story, but this is usually compensated by the fact that said moments are consistently enjoyable.
Andre leads the film as Chris, and Lil Rel Howery co-stars as Bud. Andre once again brings the charismatic and chaotic energy for which he is known. He brings a lot of life to the film, and he handles the hidden camera aspects of the film fairly well and does a great job of playing off of the real-life people who don’t realize they’re in a movie. Howery brings his signature charm to his role, and he has some great chemistry with Andre. The film also co-stars Tiffany Haddish as Trina, Bud’s sister who just broke out of prison. Her role is funny at times, but her performance can sometimes fall flat, especially during the hidden camera pranks.
Much like Andre’s acclaimed T.V. show, this movie succeeds in being cringe-inducing. These pranks put the characters in embarrassing and uncomfortable positions that will simultaneously make you crack up and make your skin crawl. Andre plays off the goofiness of these moments very well and convincingly sells otherwise unbelievable situations to an unsuspecting crowd. He consistently shocks, frustrates, and grosses out random bystanders throughout the film.
While the pranks are fun, they don’t have too much variety. This can lead to some bits feeling less effective in comparison to the rest of the film. Unlike the Borat films, this movie can sometimes lack the developed narrative to create some truly unique hidden camera moments. The humor in this movie isn’t clever or well thought out, so while it’s bound to make you laugh, it always feels superficial.
Thankfully, at under ninety minutes, this is a fast-paced comedy that never overstays its welcome. It’s a lot of fun, especially to view with a large group, and there are plenty of hilarious surprises throughout the keep you on edge. It may very well cause some secondhand embarrassment, but it’s an enjoyably chaotic film from start to finish.
Bad Trip sees Eric Andre once again pranking people with skill and charisma. It may miss the mark at times, but thanks to some outrageous pranks and great chemistry, this is a buddy comedy that is a sure to be a crowd-pleaser upon release.
Bad Trip will be available on Netflix March 26.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Violation premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival and played at other festivals including the Sundance Film Festival and the SXSW Film Festival. This is the first feature film from writing and directing duo Madeline Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli. Their feature debut is a disturbing and effective revenge movie with some great performances.
Miriam’s marriage to Caleb is falling apart. They both go to visit Miriam’s sister, Greta, and her husband, Dylan. However, after a shocking act, Miriam embarks on an endeavor of revenge, not realizing the repercussions it will have on her own psyche. This comes off as a standard revenge thriller at first, but the movie quickly proves it knows how to add new life to the genre.
The writing of Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli is very strong throughout. The dialogue between the characters is compelling and realistic, and they convincingly capture the nuances of these relationships. There are lots of twists and shocking moments that are written very well, and the movie deals with some very serious subject matters that are handled delicately by the writers.
The performances in this film are great. Sims-Fewer leads the film as Miriam, and she plays the role impressively well. She effortlessly handles the broad range of emotion for the character. There is one brutal scene in which her quite literal regurgitative reaction was entirely real, and it’s an impressive feat. The supporting cast is also talented, but the one that stands out most is Anna Maguire as Greta. Her relationship with her sister is very complicated over the course of the movie, and she perfectly captures those dynamics.
The movie is told non-linearly, which catches you off guard at first, but the execution of the scenes makes it work brilliantly. It makes the film’s disturbing and shocking moments even more unexpected, and it makes its themes more effective. There are some jaw-dropping moments that only work as well as they do because of how the narrative is uniquely structured.
While the film is incredibly brutal, the topic of sexual assault is a sensitive issue that is essential to handle properly. I was impressed by how the film handled that topic throughout, and it didn’t feel exploitative in any way. It maintained its effectiveness without having to exploit the female lead at all. The movie is a revenge film that contains many timely themes and says something unique about the toll revenge can take on somebody.
The film is supported by a brilliant classical score and some haunting imagery. The movie can lose a bit of its steam in the end, but it makes up for it with its eerie ambiance and tension. It’s a fantastic debut from Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli, and they have a profound way of telling this unique story in an engaging way.
Violation is a unique and shocking revenge film that contains some powerful messages. The writing and directing is superb and the acting from Sims-Fewer is fantastic. While it’s not for the faint of heart, this is a film that must be on your radar.
Violation will be released exclusively on Shudder March 25.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Nobody sees the return of director Ilya Naishuller, whose most recent feature film was 2015’s Hardcore Henry. After numerous delays due to COVID-19, Naishuler’s return to cinema, is finally set to be released. While the handful of big action sequences are extremely energetic and well-executed, the rest of the film can feel muddled and somewhat bland.
After his home is broken into, Hutch, a husband and father, chooses not to defend himself or his kids, a decision that weakens his relationship with his family. However, in the aftermath of the robbery, his lethal skills are unleashed after a period of dormancy. Hutch finds himself on a brutal and bloody path that uncovers secrets about his past as he aims to protect his family from a Russian crime lord. It’s a simple premise that works really well in setting up some great conflict and fight scenes throughout.
The main problem with this film comes from its writing. The script was written by Derek Kolstad who is responsible for the excellent John Wick films. Those films have great action, but they still have great stories and dialogues to propel the non-action scenes. Nobody lacks the compelling narrative and dialogue to make the film interesting when bad guys aren’t being slaughtered, and that’s why the film drags far too often.
The acting is mostly enjoyable. Bob Odenkirk steps out of his comfort zone in order to play the lead in this action film. He does really well with the fight scenes and choreography, but he sometimes seems out his element in certain exchanges with other characters. The supporting cast is above average, including Christopher Lloyd and RZA who give energetic performances.
Arguably, one of the let downs of this film is how it pales in comparison to Naishuller’s previous film. Hardcore Henry was a film with non-stop blood, guns, and gore, and it was a really interesting POV film. His newest film isn’t quite as brutal, but it lacks the momentum that made his previous film so enjoyable.
The cinematography is very well-done, and it does a great job of making all the action cohesive. It captures everything clearly, and in the fight scenes, it makes sure to frame all of the brutal injuries properly. The editing in these scenes is also great, and it compliments the cinematography in a way that the action becomes very tangible.
While the action is amazing throughout, there aren’t nearly enough action scenes to carry the film. There’s a handful of big sequences, and they’re all super compelling, but the rest of the movie pales in comparison to it. Even if it has to be smaller encounters, the movie could have benefitted from a heavier dose of action to supplement its story.
Nobody may not be the next John Wick, but it still boasts some great action and an interesting turn from Odenkirk if nothing else. It shows that Naishuller hasn’t lost his touch for high-octane action, and it should be sufficient viewing for fans of mindless action.
Nobody will be in theaters March 26.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Based on the Pulitzer-nominated book LAbyrinth by Randall Sullivan, City of Lies is a new crime film from director Brad Furman. A film that was supposed to be released in 2018 but was delayed due to controversy and lawsuits, it is now finally getting its wide release this year. This movie takes a fascinating and significant case and fails to elevate the story past a bland and meandering crime film without much to say.
This film follows LAPD detective Russel Poole in 1997 as he works on the investigation of the murder of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. He works alongside journalist, Jack Jackson, in order to learn the truth and grant justice to the victims. These are very famous events with a lot of real-life mystery surrounding them, so it had the potential to be a compelling film.
The main problem with the film is that it doesn’t seem remotely interested in its subjects. There is a noticeably lack of energy from every scene, and it is increasingly dull. It’s a lot of continuous exposition that doesn’t emulate the charisma and confidence needed to carry a good detective story. The film obviously has empathy towards its victims, but it isn’t particularly invested in them.
The acting in this film can be decent. It’s led by Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker, two highly established actors. While their acting is fine, it’s obvious that they are both out of their element in this film. Their chemistry does lead to some interesting interactions, but other than that, the performances aren’t anything spectacular.
The film aims to uncover the corruption in the LAPD, but its message is so convoluted that it becomes a narrative mess. It’s not hard to follow, but it does juggle too many balls at once, and this leads to central themes becoming muddled and certain story elements getting lost in the mix. The movie could have greatly benefitted from some more concise execution and storytelling.
Running nearly two hours, this movie consistently dragged. It treats its own story like a chore, and this is evident to the viewer. Scenes are paced slowly with no real purpose, and there is a lack of urgency in its scenes that don’t match the story or the performances of its leads. It’s a forgettable retelling of unforgettable events.
Despite the film’s flaws, it’s not awful. It just settles into its own mediocrity and is fairly bland. It has a great basis and some decent performances, but it squanders its immense potential, considering how iconic these two rappers were to the community. Its noble in its pursuit of exposing the widespread corruption in law enforcement, but it’s nothing new.
City of Lies is a forgettable crime film that lacks the energy needed to tell the story of this investigation. Depp and Whitaker aren’t their best, but they give decent performances that are overshadowed by the confounding narrative and tepid execution.
City of Lies is in theaters March 19.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Doors is a science fiction film from directors Jeff Desom, Saman Kesh, and Dugan O’Neal. It is a movie that explores mysterious concepts and tackle the question of our existence in the universe. While it’s a very interesting movie in concept, the movie fails to truly develop any of its segments into something meaningful.
Millions of “doors” start to appear all over the Earth. They are mysterious and clearly not of our world. Many who have had contact with the doors disappear, so people must learn about the nature of these doors. The movie is told in various segments. One follows a group of high schoolers who discover a door, another follows a group of volunteers who venture into a door, and one follows a man trying to establish contact with a door.
The segments all have very interesting concepts that benefit from its mystery. However, the movie is just far too short to properly flesh out any of these individual stories. We never really learn the true nature of the doors. This is somewhat intentional, but it fails to invest us into these entities, and it doesn’t say much about our existence and the presence of other sentient life.
The acting is fairly decent throughout. Rory Anne Dahl, Julianne Collins, Aric Floyd, and Kathy Khanh play the high schoolers and even though their chemistry isn’t entirely there, they each give some adequate performances in their segment. However, the best performance comes from Josh Peck. His demeanor is somewhat flawed, but he is able to inject the film with some energy and personality.
Out of all the segments, the high school segment, titled Lockdown, is the strongest. Directed by Jeff Desom, this is the most tense and well-executed part of the film. It builds off of the mystery and uncertainty of what’s going on in the world, and it frames it through the eyes of children, locked in a school while all hell is breaking loose. It’s not perfect, but it has some very strong aspects working in its favor.
The film is under 90 minutes, so every segment ends before anything of substance can occur. For example, the Knockers story with Josh Peck could have warranted another thirty minutes, but it ends before it can explore any meaningful themes of the film. Similar things can be said of the rest of the film. It’s a few pushes away from being a great film. It had the premise and the set pieces, but it sold itself short on its own narrative.
It’s a heavily flawed film that feels inconsistent due to the various directors, but there are still some commendable aspects. The cinematography in the Knockers segment and Lamaj segment is fantastic. Starr Whitesides worked on the Knockers segment which utilizes light and space in a very compelling way. Todd Banhazi worked on the Lamaj segment that used a dull palate to frame its subjects and still tell an interesting visual story.
Doors is incredibly imperfect and works better as a group of ideas rather than a feature length film. It suffers from some tonal inconsistencies and an underdeveloped story. It has some redeeming qualities, but not enough to compensate for its squandered potential.
Doors is in select theaters March 19 and on VOD March 23.