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Quick Reviews: Week Of 09.02.2022
Flash Reviews Of The Upcoming Weekend's Movie Releases
Here are my thoughts on the movie releases from the weekend of 09.02.2022 (Labor Day weekend) in alphabetical order of their respective release dates plus two films I caught up to that have been out for a few weeks now. A reminder, you can click this link to see how I grade films when I review them.
I CAME BY
- Plot: A rebellious young graffiti artist targets the homes of the wealthy elite, but discovers a shocking secret that leads him on a journey endangering himself and then those closest to him.
- Review: I legitimately had no clue that this film existed until it popped up unannounced and un-marketed on Netflix but a few days ago. However I Came By did release in UK cinemas a few weeks back before coming to the states as a straight-to-streamer.
And if you know about British film its got a pretty impressive set of actors in it from 1917’s George McKay, Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald, Wizards VS Alien’s Percelle Ascott, and in a role as a murderous serial killer of the likes that I thought I’d never see him play is Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville. McKay always plays well as a youngster caught up in trouble and does a lot with the surprisingly little screen time you get from him in this; Macdonald is as good as expected as a desperate mother taking too many risks to find her son, and Ascott holds his own as the sort of co-protagonist of this and as the one character who is trying to not take part in the chaos that develops but unwillingly does. But Bonneville truly impressed me as the antagonist; for playing against type he really wowed me in his ability to sell himself as something completely different from his much more gentile and dignified Mr Brown role in the Paddington films.
The movie does some things well other than the solid acting performances. The tensions at times is executed so good that I found myself gripped and scared for the protagonists in certain dangerous situations. The movie also sort of winks and nods in an almost campy matter with certain things it dares to do even while not letting the tone shift away from its dark thriller setting. It also does some absolutely ballsy twists that will stun some viewers who came into this expecting certain story beats.
However the movie also has some big flaws. It feels like there’s two movies battling it out here. One is a tense thriller about trying to out a serial killer, the other is almost an American Psycho sort of tale in which we follow someone around doing evil things and getting away with it. While I really enjoyed Bonneville’s performance, this script really needed to figure out what movie it wanted to be. And as ballsy as the twists were, I also found myself frustrated by some decisions that were made to achieve those twists including writing the characters to make some absolutely convoluted decisions, leaving us a final product that at times feels like its being a bit too cruel with its decisions.
Overall there’s two movies in this and it leads to a sloppy and uneven final cut that is single handily saved by its ensemble and especially Bonneville who is easily the MVP in this. I came away from this feeling like I did with the earlier in the year’s Deep Water, not really feeling like this was something I liked or disliked either. I have very mixed feelings on coming by this one.
- Initial Grade: B/C
LOVE IN THE VILLA
- Plot: A young woman takes a trip to romantic Verona, Italy after a breakup - only to find that the villa she reserved was double-booked and she’ll have to share her vacation with a cynical British man.
- Review: Yes, here we are again. Another straight-to-TV-style low budget, small production, cliché filled, light, airy, and conventional as hell rom-com from Netflix this week. As I’ve stated with each passing week as the year has gone by, these are all blending into almost being the same movie and its becoming harder and harder to find a way to properly state my thoughts on these films given I basically have the same things to say for all of them, and most people are going to either loathe these or take them as what they are and there’s no real middle ground in-between.
This time its Love In The Villa, which has the played out trope of a just-dumped-by-her-boyfriend woman having the bad luck of getting stuck with an unplanned vacation roommate who just so happens to be wealthy, good looking, as fit as someone who’s preparing for a superhero role, and seems to have the perfect witty dialogue whether he’s either being a nuisance or charming. Incredible coincidence right?
The tropes don’t just end there though. As you’d imagine the initially icy relationship between the two will melt and love will blossom and then exes will pop up to complicate things and -. Oh I’m sorry am I spoiling things for you? Come on now, we’ve all seen this movie many times before in many forms and Netflix releases it every week these days.
The film also happens to have a bit of identity crisis. The first half feels like a comedy about two roommates going at it with one another, and the second is more of a conventional hopeless romantic rom-com. The shift tries to be subtle, but its noticeable enough that I was joking to myself as I watched the movie that its almost like they combined two scripts. And its also likely a factor into this overstaying its welcome just a little bit at a runtime of almost two hours, which is a bit much in my eyes for this kind of movie.
But as I’ve stated with almost every single one of these movies that Netflix pumps out each week, if you’re a sucker for this and you don’t mind these are admittedly forgettable but nice comfort food snacks in movie form, you’re going to get what you want from this.
And to be fair to the movie it does attempt at times to subvert some of the tropes even though I don’t think its as clever as its attempting to be. And the chemistry between the leads played by Kat Graham and Tom Hooper, at least to me, wasn’t wooden like it can come off with these rushed to finish, low budget projects. I did genuinely chuckle a few times at the corny jokes. Even with all the flaws, just like all of these movies, I can’t say I outright disliked this.
So this is the part where I once again say, you know if you’re gonna’ like this before you hit play. Find these movies to be too cheap and predictable or the subject matter just ain’t your typical cup of tea? You can skip on to the next row on your app then. Are you a hopeless romantic who enjoys these even knowing how cheap and corny they are? Then find a little love in your villa and press play when this pops up on your app.
- Initial Grade: B/C
HONK FOR JESUS: SAVE YOUR SOUL
- Plot: In the aftermath of a huge scandal, Trinitie Childs, the first lady of a prominent Southern Baptist Mega Church, attempts to help her pastor-husband, Lee-Curtis Childs, rebuild their congregation.
- Review: In a time when religion has been mixing with politics and the culture wars, its become almost a trope on to itself for the secular film world to poke fun at and satirize the evangelical side of Christianity.
As a man of faith myself who rejects the extremism of the social politics that dominates the political wing of the faith, its always put me in a bit of a quandary. There’s a balance between putting a mirror to and criticizing the excesses of mega church pastors and the theologians who believe the government should impose their faith onto others; and then there’s just outright attacking someone for having faith overall. So I came into this with in all frankness with some personal baggage and a different perspective than you might find from others. When it comes to Honk For Jesus: Save Your Soul, I think the movie means to and (mostly) pulls off the former, but I’m not so sure the balance is always there one hundred percent of the time.
We all know about these pastors who grift off their congregants to make themselves rich, and we all know about the hypocrisies some of them get caught up in when scandal breaks. This film attacks those issues head on while still keeping the laughs there. The work from Regina Hall and Sterling K Brown is pretty phenomenal, their chemistry works and they’re comedic timing is on point even when I wasn’t completely all in on a scene. Their characters’ excesses and the way they either seem so ambivalent to them or play them down nails the kind of thing you’d expect from such a couple in a similar scandal. The crave for celebrity and money that takes over the point of church of community and service and praise to something grander than yourself. Through the entire runtime they anchor this movie and are the faces of such valid criticism.
The problems with the film are in its organization and execution. The former being that the movie decides to go in and out in terms of the perspective we get to see of the documentary crew and the couple when the cameras are off. This can becoming a bit confusing and makes the movie feel uneven at times. Given this is a mockumentary, I was hoping for more of something like we’d see from The Office or Abbott Elementary in which the documentary perspective is always there non-stop.
The execution suffers at times, there are moments I felt it strayed too close to outright mockery of one’s faith rather than criticizing the way that faith can be corrupted. Again, I don’t get the vibe that was what was meant but there are a few, just a few mind you, moments that it felt like the film really struggled to stick to that balance. We even get to meet another pastoral couple and while I never felt they were as corrupt as our troubled protagonists, I also felt like they were portrayed as opportunistic in a way that made me question if the movie was trying to make any church leader look like negative influence.
The movie also feels like it starts to lose steam considerably during the second half, and by the end I kind of felt like the filmmakers were almost making it up as they go and didn’t know exactly what they were trying to tell us about these two people.
But at the same time I literally laughed out loud at certain moments, and I loved the direction and camera work alongside some clever dialogue which was more common than the sloppier moments. But I still left the film feeling a bit wanting.
Overall I guess you can say I’m mixed on this one. Perhaps a re-watch or two would clarify things for me better, but I can’t really say I had an overly negative or positive view of this. Not sure my soul was saved by watching this, but I was entertained even with the flaws that bugged me which alongside with it.
- Initial Grade: B/C
- Plot: When Marine Veteran Brian Brown-Easley is denied support from Veteran’s Affairs, financially desperate and running out of options, he takes a bank and several of its employees hostage - setting the stage for a tense confrontation with the police.
- Review: I first became aware of the existence of this film back when I was reading the Sundance Film Festival coverage when it was still under the original title of 892. I barely noticed up until the last minute that it was coming out to wide release last week, and ended up having to delay watching it until this weekend.
Now having finally seen it I can echo the sentiments I’ve seen by many about John Boyega’s lead performance in this as the real-life desperate veteran that controversially ended up dead during a standoff with the police. From his first line of dialogue I was very impressed with the life Boyega breathed into the late husband and father who arguably should not have died on that fateful day. If this were a bigger awards player I would dare say Boyega’s performance could have a shot at being an Oscar nominated one, but alas this film’s aspirations haven’t reached that high.
Regardless I do think its worth a watch, especially for those who are invested in the scandals that are ongoing at the VA or on the much needed criminal justice reform in this country. The movie’s pacing reminds me of Thirteen Lives from earlier in the year in that it wastes no time getting the plot going and almost makes you feel like you’re watching breaking news as it happens. The script even finds a way to sneak in small audience moments that bring a little bit of levity to such a serious and tense real-life tale. It makes this a watch that will get your attention and keep it for its entire runtime.
This is also the late Michael K Williams’ final role and he delivers even with him having much less screen time than I anticipated he would.
However I couldn’t help but to think the third act was very rushed and sloppily executed. It reminded me of the issue I have with most documentaries where they seemingly realize its time to wrap things up and meet a certain runtime quota and suddenly the pacing at the end isn’t as efficient. It certainly is a good example of a film that eventually loses steam.
There are also some scenes during the film that had me wondering just how much got chopped up in the editing room post production. I usually have issue with films overstaying their welcome, but this one felt like it just needed a little more to truly put it up there as something potentially special past just Boyega’s incredible performance.
If this small film happens to still be playing at your local theatre and you enjoy real-life inspired thrillers with something to say or just want to witness Boyega’s great performance for yourself, I think its worth breaking out the wallet or monthly unlimited subscription card out for to go and see this one.
- Initial Grade: B-
- Plot: Ben Manalowitz, a journalist and podcaster, travels from New York City to West Texas to investigate the death of a girl he was hooking up with.
- Review: I didn’t realize this film was a thing until the very weekend it started playing in theatres. Focus Features picking it up plus it being BJ Novak’s directorial debut (On top of a pretty nice looking ensemble cast) made me intrigued to check it out for myself. A month later I finally had time to fit it into my schedule and caught it through video on demand.
With Novak himself in the lead role and also starring the likes of Ashton Kutcher, Issa Rae, and even John Mayer among others, its clear Novak used his resources and networking to get a pretty good casting list. The performances all range from competent to solid and the decision to play out the story as an actual podcast project in the making was fascinating one as content creator myself who has struggled to keep one together in the past.
There’s a lot of commentary in here that I wasn’t anticipating in regard to culture that as a Psephology enthusiast also caught my attention. I also loved the themes around our main protagonist getting to know someone even after her passing and even though they shared intimacy together. Kinda’ hits on the way we as human beings can interact with one another and yet not really know each other.
But I think the film’s writing elevates its weaknesses. Those being that though Novak did a good job in his performance, I kind of felt like there could have been more solid casting there and at the risk of sounding harsh I didn’t find his direction to be all that interesting (Though not outright bad or mediocre either). I appreciate Novak’s creativity and passion to start branching out a bit, but I can’t help but think he should have focused more on the screenplay - but it is a directorial debut and hopefully he learns from it if he goes forward with another directorial project. I was also a tad disappointed with where the story decided to go in the final act in regard to the twists and turns as the mystery truly unravels. It was almost like it was forcing itself to be more clever than it had to be.
But all in all I see why this has gained some momentum and passion behind it among fellow cinephiles and critics. There’s a lot of great potential in this and I look forward to seeing if Novak can best himself with any future feature-length projects he may have in store for us. When it comes to Vengeance, I would say any fan of either dark comedy or a great “Who dun it?” could have some fun with this one.
- Initial Grade: B-