Review by Camden Ferrell
What We Left Unfinished is a unique documentary if nothing else. It is the first feature length documentary from director Mariam Ghani. This is a documentary that analyzes an intriguing era of Afghan cinematic and political history with great insight from those who partook in these events.
The political situation of Afghanistan in the 20th century is a little too nuanced to discuss in depth in this review. However, this documentary analyzes five unfinished films that were made between 1978 and 1991, the country’s communist era. Using footage, interviews, and other archival footage, this movie tells the story of Afghan history, its regimes and how it affected the filmmaking industry in the country. This is an enriching story that sheds some light on an aspect of Cold War Afghanistan that many people may not be familiar with.
The movie benefits significantly from the testimony of the people who worked on these unfinished films. These people come from a variety of roles in film production, and they each contribute a unique perspective to the overarching narrative. Their anecdotes and experiences do a decent job at painting a picture of how the industry changed with the political climate in Afghanistan. One of the advantages of covering an era that was only a few decades ago is that the movie allows its subjects to speak on their experiences from a modern point of view.
This is an undoubtedly ambitious documentary, and it’s mostly successful. It’s a Herculean task to condense such a complex political history to a mere 70 minutes, but Ghani does this surprisingly well. While the movie suffers from feeling incomplete and not comprehensive enough, she does a great job of touching on the major events of this time period. Using these five unfinished films, she gives the viewer a decent understanding of Afghanistan’s history.
In addition to telling a story about Afghan cinema, the movie also serves as an analysis into authoritarianism, propaganda, and censorship. Again, the movie could have been significantly longer to explore these points more thoroughly, but the movie does a good job of including the most important parts. The movie also features some truly great archival footage from these unfinished films, and it goes a long way in elevating the narrative that Ghani is trying to tell.
What We Left Unfinished is a one-of-a-kind documentary that serves as a history lesson with many layers. Ghani’s direction tells this story in a very short period of time, and she impressively uses her subjects and footage to analyze Afghanistan and their storied cinematic history during this period of the 20th century.
What We Left Unfinished is in theaters August 6.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Based on real events in Somalia in the early 1990’s, Escape from Mogadishu is a new South Korean drama film. Already a box-office hit in South Korea, this movie is directed by Ryoo Seung-wan. This is a thrilling film about a real-life event that features memorable action sequences, sharp writing, and a fantastic leading performance.
In the nineties, South Korea was not a member of the UN. In order to secure membership, they needed approval from other countries, so the approval of African countries was imperative to achieving their goal. Ambassador Han Shin-sung and his team are tasked with promoting South Korea to the Somalian government. Meanwhile, North Koreans are also in Somalia for their own purposes. However, civil war erupts in Somalia leading to perilous conditions that endanger the lives of our ensemble. Now, they must find a way to safely escape the war-torn country. This is an exciting premise that has many layers to its story, and it’s all made more engaging due to the true nature of the story.
In addition to directing, Ryoo also wrote the script for the movie. It has its occasional lulls, but it’s a well-written movie that simultaneously informs and entertains. It is able to propel its plot forward while also developing an understanding of the political and diplomatic nuances of the situation. It does a great job of addressing the relations of South and North Koreans as well as briefly touching on the Somalian civil war without muddling its main story.
One of the biggest highlights of the movie is the leading performance from Kim Yoon-seok who plays Han Shin-sung. Even though the entire ensemble brings a lot to the table, Kim absolutely nails his role as the South Korean ambassador. He adapts well to the wide range of scenes, and he has an amazing screen presence that truly elevates his scenes.
Another thing worth mentioning is how incredibly stellar the action is in this movie. While some of it seems a little derivative, Ryoo creatively blocks and executes a particular sequence involving multiple cars, and it is one of the most exciting scenes of the year. It is unpredictable, and it is executed in a creative and unique manner that really sets this movie apart from others in its genre.
There are certain scenes that don’t feel too essential, and a small chunk could have been shaved from the movie without losing too much substance. This is one of the film’s biggest flaws as the extended break between action scenes can often diminish the suspense and tension that the film builds up. Thankfully, the chemistry of the cast can usually compensate for this flaw.
Ryoo’s newest movie also serves as a superficial education on this historical event, and it adds more layers to the main escape thriller story. He also manages to infuse a little bit of humor throughout that is very welcome. It’s a dynamic movie that is another win for South Korean cinema that has the potential to reach a widespread audience who will enjoy it thoroughly.
Escape from Mogadishu is an enjoyable South Korean film with amazing action and great performances. It highlights the writing and directing abilities of Ryoo and manages to tell a layered story from the country’s history.
Escape from Mogadishu is in theaters August 6.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Never Gonna Snow Again is a movie that premiered at the 2020 Venice International Film Festival. It was also the Polish submission for Best International Feature for the 2021 Academy Awards. This movie is written and directed by Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert. It may have its slow moments, but this is a unique and well-executed movie about the lost souls of the upper middle class.
Zhenia is a Ukranian migrant in Poland. He makes a living by taking in-house calls and visits as a masseur to a gated and well-off community. There he learns of each of their unique and daily struggles, woes, and secrets. His excellent massages make him a hot commodity in the neighborhood where dives deeper into these people’s lives and spirituality. This is a unique and simple premise that works really well in pulling the audience in with its story.
The script by Szumowska and Englert is intriguing if not always refined. The dialogue does a great job of characterizing the community while creating a subtext of social commentary that it delivers upon later in the movie. There are some scenes that aren’t written particularly well, but as a whole, the dialogue is more compelling than not.
The movie is led by Alec Utgoff who plays Zhenia. As an immigrant in his country of work, he’s an outsider, and he’s not as accustomed to the country and its people. As a result, he doesn’t have much dialogue, but he does a great job acting regardless. He plays off of the other actors very well with a more subdued performance that still speaks volumes. It’s impressive how he’s able to accomplish this, and his performance is one of the highlights of the film.
The direction of this movie is mostly strong. They have a great way of blocking scenes and communicating the story through non-verbal means. This is especially true thematically since aside from a final line of text on screen, everything else is conveyed a lot more subtly. The movie also combines some more spiritual and fantasy-like elements into its story, and it does a strong job of not feeling too out of place. There are some moments in the final half that really steam roll the film’s momentum, and it seems to hinder its ability to finish strong. However, there are still a lot of commendable aspects working in the film’s favor.
Never Gonna Snow Again is a quiet yet thematically strong story told through the eyes of an immigrant masseur. It features a strong script and solid execution from the duo of Szumowska and Englert and a great leading performance that almost make up for its shortcomings.
Never Gonna Snow Again will be in select theaters July 30.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Alvin Ailey was a choreographer who was a titan in his time. Aside from his work as a dance and activist, he founded the world-class Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Director Jamila Wignot’s new documentary, appropriately titled Ailey, examines his life and career. This film premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary has an interesting visual style and execution, but it can often lack substance especially for those who aren’t knowledgeable about Ailey’s career.
Ailey was born in Texas in 1931, and this documentary briefly details his upbringing. Wignot’s storytelling abilities start off very strong. She utilizes archive footage to capture the essence of his rearing despite the absence of actual primary sources from his childhood. What proves to be a skillful and promising start soon diminishes as we explore his career.
One of my main qualms with the film is how its meditative nature often substitutes style for substance. We don’t get a coherent progression of his career, and it seems to skip over integral parts of his story. This isn’t inherently a problem, but it’s a problem for viewers like me who are not familiar with Ailey’s work. As much as the slower and more visually driven footage is interesting, it doesn’t have nearly the same effect without a strong narrative underlying the film.
The talking heads from members of the dance company and those who knew Ailey are decent. They supplement the narrative as well as they can, but it still feels like there’s blanks in the story that could have been fleshed out more. Ailey’s death in 1989 means that he wasn’t able to give any modern interviews for the film, but the archival footage does a sufficient job of conveying his spirit and personality.
Despite the odd pacing and narrative shortcomings, the film does occasionally make up for it with strong execution. The archival footage is great, and Wignot has a great eye. There are one or two powerfully edited sequences accompanied by gorgeous music that flourish and elevate the film. Unfortunately, this level of artistry is far from consistent. The documentary has a fascinating and multi-faceted subject and some proven talent executing it, but as a whole, it doesn’t feel as comprehensive or insightful as it could have been.
Fans of Ailey’s work may be pleased with Ailey and its meditative artistry, but for those unfamiliar with him, this isn’t the most helpful introduction to his career. The film has all the ingredients for a great documentary, but aside from a select few moments, the potential is left mostly untapped.
Ailey will be in theaters in NY on July 23, in LA on July 30, and more theaters nationwide on August 6.
FEAR STREET PART THREE: 1666 -- A Bone-Chilling, Atmospheric, and Satisfying Conclusion to the Series
Review by Camden Ferrell
Fear Street Part Three: 1666 completes the trilogy of horror films that have been released on Netflix each Friday this month. Leigh Janiak once again writes and directs this final installment. By a small margin, this is the best movie in the trilogy that uses its period setting to create a truly eerie and atmospheric cinematic experience that ties up the overarching story neatly.
Now that we have seen the horrific events of 1994 and 1978, it is now time to go back to the beginning. Picking up right from the cliffhanger of the second film, we are transported to 1666 as we learn the story of Sarah Fier and how the curse of Shadyside started. This premise is interesting, and it is elevated by some smart narrative choices and execution.
Written by Phil Graziadei, Kate Trefry, and Janiak, this is a strong script. It isn’t anything miraculous, but it does a great job of building suspense and further developing the lore of the town through this 17th century setting. The old timey dialect doesn’t feel forced or cheesy, and it surprisingly fits well amongst the other movies. It is by far their most ambitious and distinct, but it still very much feels like part of a set. This serialized nature always makes the movie feel consequential and significant as a result.
The cast, made up of new actors as well as those from previous films, does a great job adapting to the new time period. Kiana Madeira does a great job leading this film, captivating the screen with immense talent, and playing well to a large range of scenes. While the entire cast is strong, McCabe Slye’s over-the-top performance as a paranoid and aggressive villager makes a sizeable impression despite his brief screen time.
By far and away, this film is the least gory of the series. It substitutes its fast-paced, bloody kills with slower, more deliberate, and disturbing crimes. While the shock factor is lower, there are some genuinely haunting moments with graceful execution and horrific imagery. Janiak changes her entire approach to executing horror, and it works very well.
In addition to the chilling moments of horror, there is also a very tense and eerie ambiance to the film. It truly commits to the period with its bleak palette and sinister atmosphere. It is a far more mature film than the ones that came before it. While those were paying homage to the fun slasher films of their era, this movie pays tribute to other horror films set in this era, especially those that deal with witch hunts.
There is also some strong albeit familiar themes of hysteria and paranoia present in the movie. The setting and historical context of this movie sets these themes up well, and the film executes them in an engaging manner. Much like the first film, it also has an LGBT angle that is seamlessly incorporated into the larger story. It also satisfyingly ties up the story of Shadyside without rushing its story or giving too much away too soon.
Fear Street Part Three: 1666 is the best film in the series and solidifies the series as an overall success in my books. Janiak has proven how talented and versatile she is as a filmmaker, and I’m ecstatic to see what she does in the future. It features a great story, an ominous setting, and plenty of tension and horror to keep you on your toes.
Fear Street Part Three: 1666 is available on Netflix July 16.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Gunpowder Milkshake is the newest movie from Israeli writer and director Navot Papushado. The film boasts an impressive cast and an action-packed premise. Unfortunately, even though the movie starts and ends strongly, it stumbles elsewhere in between and ultimately squanders its potential.
Sam is abandoned as a girl by her mother who is an assassin. Years later, she too grows up to become a cold-blooded assassin. One of her missions goes awry and spins out of control, and she go rogue, seeking help from her associates in order to protect a young girl who is caught in the middle of all the chaos. It’s a simple enough premise that has been done before. Even though it’s nothing new, there is a lot of potential for high octane action and fight choreography.
One of the most jarring aspects of this film comes from its script, written by Ehud Lavski and Papushado. It starts out strongly with witty dialogue and cleverly paced scenes. These beginning moments seem to pay homage to the other films from this genre. However, the script slowly loses focus and utilizes a lot of dialogue that are more caricature than homage. It takes its premise and doesn’t do much to spice it up or make it unique. It is unevenly paced throughout, and it ultimately is one of the aspects working against this film.
The acting in the film is decent throughout, but the ensemble isn’t properly utilized. Karen Gillan leads the film as Sam, and she does it with a steadfast cold-blooded performance that is entertaining if nothing else. The movie was marketed as an ensemble film, but its talented cast is not as present as one would hope. Actors like Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino are painfully underused, but they are strong and entertaining in their scenes.
Most of the action is tepid, and some of the set pieces and choreography feel a little dissonant. The fights are oddly paced, but even in the most underwhelming of scenes, there are always a handful of thrilling shots and moments. Even though a lot of the action doesn’t land properly, the final big fight sequence is genuinely exhilarating and exciting. If the other scenes were of the same caliber, this could have been a top-notch action film. The movie also has some interesting cinematography, wardrobe, and production design to give the film superficial personality even if it doesn’t mean much below the surface.
Gunpowder Milkshake has its moments, but as a whole, it is underwhelming considering the amount of talent on and off screen. It doesn’t make the most of its cast and premise, and it doesn’t distinguish itself amongst assassin movies. There is already a sequel in development, and one can hope they expand more upon this world and properly utilize its wide array of characters.
Gunpowder Milkshake is streaming on Netflix July 14.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Dachra is Tunisia’s first venture into the horror genre. It has played numerous festivals since its premiere, including the Venice Film Festival. It is also the narrative feature debut of writer and director Abdelhamid Bouchnak. The movie does benefit from its consistently sinister ambiance, it feels far too derivative and sluggish to reliably frighten or entertain.
In this horror movie, three journalism students are working on their documentary assignment. They decide to interview a woman named Mongia, a deranged woman who could provide insight into the crime they’re investigating. They are then led to a secluded village where nothing is as it seems. It’s interesting enough as a premise and it draws from a lot of North African folklore, so it has the potential to be something truly unique.
From the start, its writing isn’t bad, but it fails to do more than deliver superficial dialogue and exposition. Its interactions are passable, and the script lays a foundation for the film without doing much else. It’s not bad, but it’s far from skilled and worthy of its interesting premise. It borrows too much from other horror movies to ever be distinct in its style. As the first horror film from this country, it feels like more could have done to make it more unique and representative of that area and culture.
The movie prefers to be more subtle in its thrills, and while the bleak color palette and ambiance create a great environment for the characters, it ultimately falls flat. It isn’t explicit in its horror, but even the more suggestive moments of horror aren’t communicated or executed well most of the time. There is some great imagery and blocking throughout, but the final effect isn’t always as intended.
Bouchnak’s creative vision seems confident throughout. It’s meandering pace is by design, but it doesn’t do much to maintain interest through its slow pacing. The main actors try their best, and they do well with the material especially in the latter half of the film. However, they still don’t always compensate for the squandered potential in its writing and execution.
Dachra is a noble narrative feature debut from Bouchnak, and it has a chilling atmosphere, but the thrills often fall flat, and it doesn’t do enough to stand apart from other horror movies. Despite its flaws, it does show some promise for its director, actors, and the future of Tunisian horror movies.
Dachra is in theaters July 9.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is the second movie in the horror trilogy that is debuting on Netflix in successive weeks this July. Writer and director Leigh Janiak continues her work on this second installment. Even though it doesn’t live up to the quality of the first, this is still a mindlessly fun and gory slasher movie that pays homage to the films of that era.
After the events of the first film, our protagonists track down a paranoid and reclusive woman who tells her about the summer of 1978 and how it relates to the murders from the first movie. This is a movie that works very well as a stand-alone film, but it does a great job of connecting to the first film and its lore.
This script was written by Zak Olkewicz and Janiak, and it doesn’t do anything too impressive, but it provides a reliable foundation for the story to unfold. It lacks the characterization and tender moments that made the first one so unique. However, this simplistic writing may actually work in the movie’s favor as it allows the viewer to focus more on the violence and fun nature of the film.
The acting is sufficient from the entire cast. Both Sadie Sink (Stranger Things) and Emily Rudd do a good job playing sisters in this film. They each hold their own in their respective storylines, and even though it’s nothing particularly impressive, they provide some enjoyable personality to the film. The acting from the rest of the cast, mostly consisting of kids and teenagers, is also decent and contribute to the environment.
Like the first movie, this film makes good use of its R-rating. It features even better and more graphic kills than the first movie, and it would fit nicely into the subgenre of slasher films. It also features some strong sexual content and drug use, and it’s refreshing to see these movies take risks in order to create more mature and daring movies.
Once again, Janiak is able to pay homage to an era while still creating a movie that feels fresh and original. She has proven herself to be a consistent and confident talent in this genre, and it makes me especially hopeful for the series’ final film. She directs this movie with style, and it’s executed in a thrilling manner.
Even though the script isn’t the most dynamic and engaging, the film maintains a steady pace and doesn’t hit any lulls. It is consistently entertaining, and it goes by fairly quickly. It’s a love letter to this era of horror films that will please genre enthusiasts and novices alike.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 may not be on par with the first, but it’s a thrilling and violent summer camp movie that will entertain audiences when it comes out. It’s a testament to Janiak’s ability as a director, and it will excite you for the final film in the series next week.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is available on Netflix July 9.
Review by Camden Ferrell
In between blockbuster franchises, Chris Pratt now stars in The Tomorrow War, an original sci-fi action movie. It is the live-action directorial debut of Chris McKay who most recently directed The Lego Batman Movie. While it’s a unique premise that delivers on occasional action-packed thrills, this movie can also be bogged down by its bland writing and daunting runtime.
Dan is an ex-military family man who works as a high school biology teacher. One day, people from thirty years in the future arrive to inform Earth of the forthcoming catastrophic war against aliens. Dan is one of many who are recruited to go to the future to fight these powerful threats. It’s a cool premise that has lots of potential for sci-fi thrills and action, and it also benefits from the originality of its premise.
From the start, Zach Dean’s script doesn’t do much to set this film apart from other action blockbusters. It lazily delivers exposition and cliched dialogue, and while it serves its most basic purpose, it mostly feels like a buffer until the action begins. It doesn’t do much to explain the logistics of this world, but luckily the film is more preoccupied with mindlessly entertaining its audience.
Chris Pratt leads the film as Dan, and he plays a very similar character to previous roles. He is a strong, noble, and funny action hero, and he surprisingly pulls that character off pretty well after all these years. He’s not great or revelatory, but he carries the film with the same charisma as his other franchises. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is severely misused or underused. Sam Richardson, who is a talented and funny actor, is ignored for most of this film and doesn’t get his due diligence. The movie also features Yvonne Strahovski, and while she gets ample screen time, she doesn’t always have the best material to work with.
The movie does a great job at crafting its aliens. The design is creative and really interesting and quickly prove to the audience that they are a formidable foe for our protagonists. I believe it could have benefit from more close-range attacks and fights with them, but the action we’re presented is still very good. McKay executes many of these action scenes well. They’re exciting and fast-paced, and they are the film’s saving grace.
Even though the PG-13 rating can hinder its potential for violence, the movie still manages to pull off some gruesome scenes and kills that will please viewers. In addition to the scenes with the aliens, there are a handful of really cool sequences and shots that are quite exhilarating. The movie has a hard time maintaining the quality of its entertainment, but it still has its moments to shine.
The biggest flaw with this film is its length, clocking in at nearly 140 minutes. The movie truly feels too self-indulgent, and it’s final forty minutes were mostly unnecessary to satisfyingly conclude its story. The pacing is rather inconsistent, and it really distracts from the things that were working in the movie’s favor.
The Tomorrow War benefits from its original premise and its action, but it’s writing, length, and misused actor bring it down throughout. Despite its flaws, it’s a fun movie that proves McKay has a promising future in this genre.
The Tomorrow War is available on Amazon Prime July 2.
Review by Camden Ferrell
R. L. Stine is one of the most prolific authors today, writing over a hundred horror books for kids and young adults, including the Fear Street books. Fear Street Part One: 1994 is a new movie based on his series, and it’s the first in a trilogy of movies releasing in subsequent weeks in July. While it doesn’t reinvent the horror genre, this movie embodies all of the genre’s best tropes while including some shocking R-rated elements to the story.
After a brutal murder in their small town of Shadyside, a group of teenagers learn more about how this connects to the town’s long history of murder. Together, they encounter this evil and search for a way to destroy it. It’s a simple premise about small town murder and possession, and it’s that simplicity that allows the film to breathe and be a fun teenage-driven horror film.
Taking place in the titular year of 1994, the movie does a great job of recreating that aesthetic without exploiting the nostalgia of that era. It doesn’t throw the period-appropriate props or elements in your face to make you bask in its nostalgia, but it rather uses it as environmental garnishes that elevate the ambiance and create a more immersive setting.
This movie has a strong cast of young actors at its disposal. Kiana Madeira does a great job of leading this film as Deena. It isn’t anything mind-blowing, but she plays into the genre and setting very well and is a compelling actress that’s fun to watch. The supporting cast also features some strong performances from actors like Julia Rehwald and Olivia Scott Welch who both show a lot of promise as young actors.
Leigh Janiak directs this film with confidence, and even if it hits a few snags at times, it’s clear she has a strong creative vision that is evident in the final product. This is her second feature film, and she demonstrates a mature ability to execute thrills and balance it with more character driven moments. The screenplay, written by Phil Graziadei and Janiak, is sufficient enough to provide a foundation to the movie. The dialogue isn’t especially fresh or compelling, but it has its moments.
One of the best things working in this movie’s favor is its R-rating. The movie doesn’t hold back, and it features many bloody moments throughout. They’re spaced evenly throughout, but the final half of the movie has some genuinely gruesome and shocking moments that elevate this past its contemporaries. It’s dedicated to adapting this story for an older audience who’s ready for more adult content.
There is also something quite refreshing in the representation in this movie. It features an LGBT lead character, and it is actually committed to telling such a unique story without exploiting it or virtue signaling. It balances these heartfelt and thoughtful moments with the blood and guts throughout to prove that this is a thematically progressive movie while still being aesthetically traditional.
Fear Street Part One: 1994 is a fun and refreshing new horror movie from Janiak, who is also directing the next two movies in the series. It doesn’t say anything too revolutionary, but it’s an enjoyable movie full of classic thrills and scares. It showcases some young talent while also getting you excited for the following week’s installment.
Fear Street Part One: 1994 is streaming on Netflix July 2.