Review by Camden Ferrell
Stanleyville is the feature directorial debut of actor Maxwell McCabe-Lokos. Written by McCabe-Lokos and Rob Benvie, this quirky film had its premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in 2021. This black comedy starts out with a really interesting and eccentric concept but unfortunately suffers at the hands of an inferior second half of the film.
Maria is a woman who is burdened in life with a meaningless job, an incompetent husband, and an insufferable daughter. One day, she decides to walk away from her life. Shortly after, she’s invited to compete in an odd and bizarre contest with other people to win an orange SUV. This contest of increasingly strange and somewhat dangerous tasks isn’t an entirely new concept in media, but it is one that has some inherent intrigue.
The writers do a great job with setting up this premise in an efficient manner. The beginning is paced very well, and it gets us to the crux of the plot sooner rather than later which works well for the overall movie. The dialogue is interesting between the contestants, but somewhere around the middle of the movie, it fails to maintain its established momentum. In the last half as tensions continue to rise, it’s hard to maintain the same level of interest due to the novelty wearing off somewhat.
The acting is above average throughout. The movie is led by Susanne Wuest who is decent as she gives a subdued and subtle performance as Maria. Other actors like Christian Serritiello and Cara Ricketts are what give the movie a lot of its drive and contribute to the exaggerated quirkiness of the other elements in the movie. Overall, the cast is above average on their own, but they sometimes lack the necessary chemistry for a single location movie like this one.
The movie is well shot by cinematographer Cabot McNenly. Despite what flaws are present with the narrative direction of the film, you can always rely on it to be composed well to give the film a polished feel on the surface. This along with the production design contribute to the film’s oddball and quirky tone and aesthetic.
The biggest problem with this movie is how it sets up the premise very well, but it delivers a rather unsatisfying payoff in its last half. The execution in the latter half of the film doesn’t feel nearly as inspired as what came before. There was a lot of intrigue and whimsy involved in the premise that doesn’t feel properly explored or executed. There are some narrative directions that don’t work too well and ultimately bog this film down more than it should have.
Stanleyville is a quirky film with quirky characters and a quirky premise. Some might revel in its eccentricities, but I find the film to end poorly despite having a strong foundation. Despite everything, it shows significant promise for its director as he is able to create a convincingly bizarre atmosphere for a first-time feature film director.
Stanleyville is in theaters April 22.
Review by Camden Ferrell
After his previous films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers has become one of the most exciting directors working today. His newest film, The Northman, is undoubtedly his biggest and boldest movie in scope. This is another phenomenal film in the director’s blossoming career. This movie is epic, ambitious, violent, and gorgeous in both its visuals and execution.
Amleth is a Viking prince who is set on a journey of vengeance that spans over many years. After the murder of his father, we see the titular character embark on his quest to quench his thirst for revenge. This premise is nothing new, and it closely resembles that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but this is still a timeless story that can always be exciting when done properly.
From the start, it’s clear that Eggers hasn’t lost his touch for compelling characters and dialogue. He has always been so dedicated to creating a sense of verisimilitude, and he often achieves this through his rich and poetic dialogue. This movie is no different, and him, along with co-writer Sjón, are able to create interesting characters amongst the Viking-era backdrop.
The acting in this movie is fantastic from everyone involved. This is an extremely talented cast that is typically great in what they have done in the past. It features the likes of Ethan Hawke, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Bjork. They are all great in their respective roles, but leading man, Alexander Skarsgård, commits himself completely to his role. It is equal parts brutal, carnal, and human, and the movie would not have worked without him.
From a visual standpoint, this movie is outstanding. The cinematography is dynamic and captivating, and it enhances the entire film, specifically the action sequences. The movie doesn’t rely on quick cuts and editing to amp up tension. Eggers is able to expertly use long takes to slowly raise the intensity of the film’s numerous battle sequences.
The movie is also executed extremely well. Unlike his previous films, this movie has many moving parts whether it be actors, flying objects, or animals. He is able to block and execute these scenes in a seamless way that feels natural and contributes to the consistent momentum throughout the film. There is a lot going on at any given moment, and a less experienced director might have made a muddled mess from these elements, but Eggers is confident in his execution.
If the movie can be faulted for anything, it’s that it might not be the most accessible movies. While I’d argue that it’s more forgiving than his previous films, some audiences might find themselves either bored or confused with the movie. In typical fashion, Eggers doesn’t make his films too straightforward, and he puts his faith in the audience’s ability to analyze and deduct his intentions. This might not be your average Viking story, but it’s one that will reward those with an open mind.
The Northman is bold, brutal, and bloody. It is relentless in showing the graphic extremes of human emotion throughout this revenge story. It features stunning visuals, a powerful cast, and a tried and tested story. Some might be overwhelmed in more ways than one by this movie, but it’s an ambitious story of epic proportions that is one of the best films of the year so far.
The Northman is in theaters April 22.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Anyone who has stepped foot in a mall in the last few decades is undoubtedly familiar with the clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch. Experienced documentary filmmaker Alison Klayman explores the cultural impact of the brand over the years as well as its downfall in the film White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. While this documentary provides an adequate snapshot of the climate during the brand’s reign, it only provides a surface level look into the different factors that led to the brand’s demise.
Despite being established over one hundred years ago, most people are familiar with A&F thanks to its rebranding in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They became a staple of shopping malls and quickly became a status symbol for teens and young adults everywhere. This documentary aims to tell the story of its rise to cultural prominence as well as its subsequent decline in popularity and success in more recent years. This is a really interesting premise due to how well known the brand is by its customers and even those who never stepped foot in one of its stores.
From the start, it’s clear that this documentary doesn’t have any ambition to explore too deeply into the history of the brand. It functions as a straightforward and often shallow look at the brand and its recent history. It’s a great jumping off point for novices to get a general idea of the brand and the controversy surrounding it, but it could have benefitted from a longer run time in order to adequately discuss and explore the cultural nuances of this story.
Even if it’s not as informative as it could have been, it’s hard to deny that it’s oddly nostalgic and entertaining. A&F might not be nearly as popular as it was in its prime, but viewers are sure to be engaged due to how iconic the brand was to many generations of teens. It definitely brings back some memories for people as they recall how it was impossible to avoid seeing the brand in their schools and in public.
The documentary doesn’t stray away from exploring the more controversial side of the company including the myriad of discriminatory lawsuits brought against them. It was refreshing to see many victims of the company given a platform to call out the incessant discrimination and racism within the company, and I wish they dedicated more time to them. While there are many factors that led to their downfall, I do believe that focusing on the victims of the company and its high-ranking members needs to be given serious consideration. The movie handles it respectfully, but I feel like it only managed to capture the tip of the iceberg in that regard.
White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is not as comprehensive as one would hope, and it succeeds mostly due to the brand’s previous popularity and nostalgia. With a brief run time, the movie feels rushed, and it doesn’t seem like it was able to give the issues within the company its due diligence. However, many people might still be interested in this documentary in order to learn more about why this one unstoppable company has seemed to fade into the background.
White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is streaming on Netflix April 19.
Review by Camden Ferrell
One of the few things that audiences will largely agree on about Jane Schoenbrun’s newest film is that it is ambitious and one-of-a-kind. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair had its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and has found its way around the world, playing numerous festivals since then. The multi-layered nature of the movie may not make it accessible to some audiences, but it’s a trippy and sometimes uneasy look at identity through the lens of internet culture.
Casey is a young girl in a small town, and she finds herself immersed in a role-playing game online. From here, we see her document her experience and journey with this phenomenon from the confines of her attic bedroom. This is a uniquely modern story that blends many facets of internet culture into a somewhat harrowing and ethereal experience.
Schoenbrun’s style is on full display from the first moment, and their aesthetic is distinct if nothing else. The execution of everything has dark undertones that are nuanced enough to make you feel uneasy without detracting from their overall intent. This is certainly an artistic vision that is not for everyone, but it’s bold and one of the most fearless displays of personal identity and dysphoria that we may have seen so far in contemporary cinema.
This movie relies heavily on its premise and underlying themes, but it’s a premise that is only as strong as its lead actress. Anna Cobb stuns in her feature film debut with a rather challenging role for a new actress. Thankfully, she seems to have adopted this role well and knows how to mesh with Schoenbrun’s aesthetic and direction.
Aside from the narrative itself, the movie is also elevated by its interesting shot compositions and chronically online feeling. The fitting music of Alex G also works wonders throughout the movie in generating the desired atmosphere for the movie. It’s an unconventional aesthetic that I don’t think could work with other movies, but it’s one that seems essential for a movie like this.
Another great part of this movie is how Schoenbrun is able to emphatically convey their messages and feelings. Even to someone like me who has had wildly different experiences from the director, this movie gave me a lucid look into the unique perspective of them as a person and an artist. Schoenbrun has proven themselves as a skilled storyteller who is able to impart their perspectives and feelings to an audience who would otherwise not be privy to this part of human identity.
Despite everything that is working in the movie’s favor, I do find that without context into its creator or intent, this movie might not be particularly accessible. It’s a nuanced project that rewards analysis, but it is also one that might rely a little too heavily on a specific perspective going into it.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair rewards viewers who are willing to broaden their horizons and perspectives. It’s a wholly original act of cinematic dysphoria that will make you feel everything but bored. It’s hard to put into words why this movie is so hauntingly resonant, but it’s a great showcase for Schoenbrun as a creative voice that is worth keeping on your radar.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is in theaters April 15.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Regardless of one’s personal opinions about him, it’s hard to deny the cultural prominence of Elon Musk in recent years. Musk, the richest person on the planet, is also the CEO of SpaceX. Return to Space, the new documentary from Oscar-winning duo Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, is an interesting but far too safe and conventional look into modern space exploration for directors of this caliber.
This film follows the collaboration between NASA and SpaceX as they work towards sending American astronauts back to space and beyond. In this documentary, we get to see the inner workings of SpaceX, including the work of its engineers, astronauts, and CEO. This is an interesting topic that is relevant to our time, and it’s a story all audiences can enjoy, not just those interested in space travel.
It’s clear early on that this movie is intent on being conventional. It plays out like a standard documentary. It aptly tells its story, but the film itself doesn’t have a whole lot of passion or personality; that burden is but on the subject. This is probably the film’s most underwhelming aspects since it comes from the directors of Free Solo, one of the best documentaries of the last decade.
The movie has a lot of great interviews from people involved in space exploration. They’re often able to give entertaining commentary or insight into the process of SpaceX and NASA while still being accessible to all audiences. There is also an abundance of great footage of these engineers and astronauts at work that is balanced adequately with the interviews and archive footage alike.
On a visual level, the movie is shot very well, and it takes full advantage of the magnitude of its subject. However, this exuberance exists solely on a superficial level, and the rest of the movie can feel rather uninspired at times. As mentioned before, this is a really solid documentary that is ultimately disappointing considering who is helming the production. Despite being over two hours long, it feels like more could have been done with this movie.
Return to Space may not be a fully comprehensive look at SpaceX and their objectives, but it’s a great starting point to learn more. It examines the history of space exploration and how it affects that field today, and it offers an optimistic promise for what’s to come in the near future for these pioneers.
Return to Space is streaming on Netflix April 7.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Bull had its premiere at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival and played multiple festivals since then. This movie comes from writer/director Paul Andrew Williams, who has directed some critically acclaimed British television (Broadchurch) among other projects.
The titular character, Bull, is a former mob worker. After being absent for 10 years, he suddenly returns to his hometown on a quest of revenge against those who double-crossed him. In addition to seeking revenge against this gang of people, he is also trying to find his son. This premise is resonant of many other revenge thrillers we have seen in recent years like John Wick, Nobody, and most recently, Clean. While it’s a set up that is overused, it’s one that can always still be interesting if it is executed properly.
Despite having such an accomplished writer working on the film, the script is one of the biggest weaknesses of the movie. It does little beyond setting up the main story and motivation and letting the action and blood do the rest. It doesn’t do much to develop its lead character beyond surface level exposition, and this prevents the audience from feeling fully invested in the journey of the protagonist.
The film is led by Neil Maskell who is decent more than anything else. As the titular character, he is able to interact well with his co-stars, and while he’s no superstar in the action department, it’s hard to deny that he is enjoyable to watch in the more intense moments of the film. The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable and stays in the shadows of Maskell’s character.
While most of the movie feels bland, it is saved by its action. The only thing that prevents this film from being completely forgettable is its unrelenting violence. Bull’s path of revenge isn’t clean or pretty, and the movie does a great job of not straying away from the gruesome violence that makes this such an enjoyable genre. The lack of substance and originality is most definitely compensated by the film’s willingness to show the limits of human violence and cruelty.
Bull is a mostly enjoyable revenge thriller that is still plagued by many problems. Fans of the revenge thriller genre might enjoy the blood and gore of this film. However, those looking for a revenge drama with deep themes and development might find themselves underwhelmed.
Bull is in theaters April 1 and on VOD April 5.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Night’s End is a new movie from horror director Jennifer Reeder and writer Brett Neveu. Some might know Reeder from her film Knives and Skin or her segment in the film V/H/S/94. This film had its premiere a few weeks ago at FrightFest Glasgow before its premiere on Shudder. Unfortunately, this film lacks originality and is void of thrills or a sense of fear.
Ken is a reclusive man who moves into an apartment. However, strange occurrences lead him to believe his apartment is haunted which causes him to seek out an exorcism. Haunted abodes and subsequent exorcisms are overused tropes in horror, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t viable. This movie does try and modernize the concept in its own way, but it falls flat and just feels like its treading the same water as better movies that came before it.
Since the protagonist is a shut-in, a lot of the movie is told in the context of online video calls. This is a storytelling device that has been seen a lot in recent years, even more so because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the only way in which the film tries to significantly carve its own path for exorcism-based horror movies, but it doesn’t work very well. The online video call doesn’t blend will with the premise of the movie, and it mostly leads to the film feeling less scary as a whole.
The entire cast of the movie is painfully forgettable. Geno Walker leads the film as Ken, but he isn’t given great material to work with, and his interpretation of the character never feels believable. The only significant cast member is Michael Shannon who is uncharacteristically bland in this movie among an equally bland cast of supporting characters.
The movie is plagued with problems throughout. Its pace is sluggish despite being a very short movie, and none of the execution feels particularly motivated. It tries to blend the mundanity of a recluse with the intensity of a haunting, but it never mixes well, and it creates a muddled tonal mess. As mentioned before, the video call angle subverts the earnestness of its premise and ultimately robs the film of its potential to scare audiences.
Night’s End is a bland horror film that is more forgettable than anything. They try and put their own spin on the haunting and exorcism tropes, but it consistently falls flat. The cast is bland, and the execution is sloppy and doesn’t properly blend the different elements of the movie.
Night’s End is streaming on Shudder March 31.
Review by Camden Ferrell
It has been over a year since the first MCU show premiered on Disney+, and their universe is still expanding with their most recent effort. Moon Knight is their newest series and the first attempt at a live-action adaptation of the iconic character. Even if the series isn’t as subversive or fresh as intended, this is still an enjoyable series with great performances, exciting action, and an overall strong introduction to the MCU for this character.
Steven Grant is a mostly average museum gift shop employee. However, he has found himself blacking out and having memories of a different life. As he learns more about the atypical encounters he’s been experiencing, he finds himself thrust into a perilous global adventure. On this journey, he learns more about his own perplexing identities and greater forces at play in Egypt. This is a premise that incorporates a lot of the main defining traits of the character while also giving him a story that is bigger in scope than his comic book outings.
Jeremy Slater is the head writer for the show, and he does a mostly strong job crafting this story and its characters. It can often find itself hitting the same narrative beats as other MCU properties, but every episode has the occasional surprising moment that will keep audiences on their toes. In the promotion of the show, those involved have insisted that the show leans heavily into the dissociative identity disorder of the protagonist, and this is handled very well. The show is built heavily around the character’s DID, and it allows the story to set itself apart from other Marvel properties.
In addition to the mental illness aspects of the show, it was also promised to be brutal and unrelenting in its violence. I found that this was only partly true. While it is one of the more violent entries in the MCU thus far, it isn’t nearly as gruesome or shocking as it seems to think it is. A lot of the violence feels implied or limited by the show’s rating. However, one of the most interesting parts of the show is how it combines the DID elements with violence to create a unique method of storytelling that hasn’t been seen in the MCU so far.
While there are a lot of moving parts in this production, it is undeniable that the show’s acting is its strongest asset. The series is led by Oscar Isaac who puts all of his energy into his interpretation of Moon Knight. He is great for the most part, really dedicating himself to the DID aspects of the show as well as the costumed action. His co-star, May Calamawy, is a pleasant surprise in the show. She has great chemistry with Isaac and is an unexpected delight. However, even though the show has multiple great performances, everybody is outacted by Ethan Hawke. As the show’s antagonist, Hawke delivers one of Marvel’s best performances ever. He is haunting, calculated, and sinister in his role as Arthur Carrow, and he is by far and away the most memorable part of the show.
Indie directing duo, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, as well as director Mohamed Diab helm this new series. The overall tone of the series feels uniquely grim most of the time, but it can’t always free itself from the MCU’s trademark humor and style. While it makes an honest attempt at feeling distinct and subversive for a Marvel property, it only partially succeeds at that. There are a handful of truly stunning shots and sequences, as a whole, the execution of the series only feels slightly above average more times than not.
Even if its far from perfect, this show is a step in the right direction for the MCU’s brand. It shows that they are not afraid of taking risks and trusting their directors with rich characters like Moon Knight. Moon Knight’s unique history since his comic debut in 1975 has consistently proven there’s more than one way to use and develop this character, and this show is no different. It retains some key traits of the character while also trying to forge a new path for a new audience.
Moon Knight may take a little while to hit its stride, but by its fourth episode, it has set up some really exciting things that will captivate fans. I think many will enjoy how it incorporates the character’s mental illness into the series and keeps you guessing. This may not be Marvel’s strongest project, but it is one of their most unique, and it’s one that will hopefully win over new fans for the character.
Moon Knight premieres on Disney+ March 30. New episodes debut on Wednesdays. Four out of six episodes reviewed.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Mothering Sunday is a new romantic drama film that is based on Graham Swift’s 2016 novel of the same name. It had its premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and played numerous festivals afterward like the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is helmed by director Eva Husson with a script from Lady Macbeth writer Alice Birch. The movie may not have the most depth, but it succeeds due to its incredibly erotic nature and the chemistry of its two leads.
Jane is a maid for a wealthy British family in 1924. On Mothering Sunday, she receives the day off and goes to visit her forbidden lover Paul, the son of a rich family who is engaged to be married within his social circle. Jane’s life is shaped by a single afternoon of passionate carnal love with Paul, and we see the effect this relationship has on her over time. This is a simple and beautiful premise that gives the story the opportunity to focus on its characters and their feelings in lieu of a more eventful plot.
Birch’s script isn’t nearly as engaging or insightful as her prior efforts, but it lays a decent enough foundation for the actors to build on. The erotic nature of the film is able to grow thanks to how the story was structured and the characters were written. It does have a few scenes that disrupt the overall flow of the story, and this can make the final product underwhelming.
The strongest aspect of this movie is its performances. Big actors like Colin Firth and Olivia Colman play very small roles, and the rest of the supporting cast isn’t very prominent, so the burden of carrying the movie falls on its two leads. Odessa Young plays Jane, and Josh O’Connor plays Paul. Both actors are talented in their own rights, and they are quite great in this movie. This film lives and dies by the chemistry of its leads, and they have great chemistry. Their physical and emotional connection are strong throughout, and they handle the erotic scenes with gracefulness and tenderness. Without them, it's possible this movie could have failed to capture audiences like intended.
Husson’s direction is a little all over the place with this movie. She definitely excels in the movie’s moments of physical passion as those scenes are executed exquisitely. However, the in-between moments sometime lack the artistry and pacing of her other scenes, and this can make the film come off as stilted in execution. Regardless, the movie is shot adequately, and the music is romantic and subtle. There are some overarching problems with the movie, but it still mostly succeeds in telling a passionate and titillating story of forbidden love and how it affected her life over time.
Mothering Sunday is certainly a movie for adults only and rightfully so. It Is content to be unambitious in its narrative, so it can instead focus on the raw passion of its characters. Its erotic nature is paramount to its success, and it works very well thanks to how it is tenderly executed by its director and her actors. It may be a bit too slow in places, but it’s a sweet and romantic film that ultimately succeeds in its intent.
Mothering Sunday is in theaters March 25.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Deep Water is an erotic thriller that marks the return of director Adrian Lyne, having not directed a film since 2002. The movie is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name and is finally being released after delays of over a year. While all of the pieces are present to create an engaging and captivating thriller, these elements don’t land properly and create a relatively bland experience that is more monotonous than it should have been.
Vic and Melinda are a married couple with a child. They live what appears to be a normal life. They have a nice house and great friends. However, things are not as they appear. Vic allows his wife to have affairs with other men in order to avoid divorce and ruining their family. Their lives and the lives of those around them get thrown into a spiral when Melinda’s lovers start to disappear. This is a great premise that has the potential to be everything an erotic thriller should be.
The script, written by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, fails to capitalize on the set up for this movie. Levinson is typically a strong writer who knows how to create tension while still meaningfully developing characters, but that ability is absent from the movie. None of the characters feel fleshed out or particularly well-written. The plot is inconsistent in tone, and it seems unsure of what it’s trying to ultimately achieve. It reveals its hand way too early while failing to create any tension or thrills from it.
The movie is led by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas. Despite both being talented actors in their own rights, this movie fails to see them perform up to their usual standards. Even though they were a real-life couple at the time, their chemistry is non-existent in most of their scenes together. The supporting cast consists of other talented actors like Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery, and Jacob Elordi, but they aren’t given much to work with either.
Even though the movie isn’t terrible, it meanders far too long, and doesn’t know how to tell its story effectively. It has occasional moments of excitement, especially in its final act, but it still ultimately fails to captivate audiences with the thriller it promised to be.
Deep Water might be a fun film for fans of its lead actors, but this film might not be exciting enough for most people to enjoy. It’s competently made on a technical level, but it lacks the storytelling ability that its director and writers have been known to execute properly in the past.
Deep Water is streaming on Hulu March 18.