Disney is running the board this Memorial Day weekend with The Little Mermaid, but there’s plenty of fish in the sea. This set of write-ups includes a Gerard Butler action flick, an indie comedy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a darkly comedic thriller sequel, a soul singer documentary, a trippy indie fantasy, and a family sci-fi film. The following features reviews for Kandahar, You Hurt My Feelings, Wrath of Becky, Love to Love You, Donna Summer, Moon Garden, and Crater.
The Setup: An undercover CIA operative (Gerard Butler) gets stuck in hostile territory in Afghanistan after his mission is exposed. Accompanied by his translator (Navid Negahban), he must fight enemy combatants as he tries to reach an extraction point in Kandahar.
Review: In the realm of films concerning Americans attempting to be extracted from Afghanistan with their sympathetic translators, Kandahar is no Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant. A shame too, as there are multiple interesting characters who are all not Butler’s Agent Tom Harris. That’s no knock on Butler, who does his tough guy thing quite well with director Ric Roman Waugh (Angel Has Fallen, Greenland). The problem is this film seems to want to be about more than just the action highlighted in the finale. However, with the various levels of pontification and introspection, the pace drags to a halt at multiple points. Even less helpful – as good as the sound design and even some of the staging in other areas- an extended night sequence left me hopelessly lost in better registering what was taking place during a firefight. Negahban and Travis Fimmel’s enlightened soldier are engaging, but the rest is a wash.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a popular writer, and her husband Don (Tobias Menzies), a well-liked teacher, share a loving relationship. When Beth discovers that Don has been untruthful to her about his opinion of her work for years — Beth’s world comes crashing down.
Review: Perhaps it comes down to a clear dearth in supply when it comes to biting comedies featuring mid-to-high-class New Yorkers struggling with middle-age problems and getting older (the yearly supply of Woody Allen was certainly helping with that), but writer/director Nicole Holofcener takes something that could feel slight delivers a delightful comedy. With a plot focused on the betrayals that come from trading in brutal honesty for surface-level approval, there’s so much to take away from this low-key feature that relies on the talents of its central cast. At the center is Louis-Dreyfus, who has yet to lose a step in nailing the delivery of clever bits of dialogue, let alone knowing the exact pitch to hit for a humorous reaction. With plenty of beats that can surely be found as relatable or at least sharp enough to create conversation, You Hurt My Feelings nails the way of finding entertainment in its calculated insight.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Two years after she escaped a violent attack on her family, Becky (Lulu Wilson) attempts to rebuild her life in the care of an older woman — a kindred spirit named Elena (Denise Burse). But when a group known as the “Noble Men” break into their home, attack them, and take her beloved dog, Diego, Becky must return to her old ways to protect herself and her loved ones.
Review: 2020’s Becky was a unique success. It was meant for a SXSW premiere, but things changed due to the pandemic. It relied on a simple high concept but had to trade in Simon Pegg for Kevin James, who would lead the band of neo-Nazis going after a little girl and her family. Thanks to drive-ins and rentals, the film was enough of a hit to get a sequel, and it was all worth it. While the first film felt as though it wore out its welcome and couldn’t quite balance the severity of what happened to Becky’s family with the outlandish nature of her taking down her foes, Wrath of Becky had a much better handle on everything. Perhaps that’s due to the new writer/director duo, Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote, who do plenty to have fun with the setup, Becky’s narration and imagination, and the presence needed from the “Noble Men” supremacist group led by a game Sean William Scott. The results are pretty fun, with the sequel tease making me more excited than I was for this unexpected first sequel.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Donna Summer creates music that takes her from the avant-garde scene in Germany to the glitter and bright lights of dance clubs in New York, shown through never-before-seen home video footage and interviews with friends, family, and colleagues.
Review: My mom would play Donna Summer a lot, among other notable 70s singers (including the late Tina Turner, whose HBO documentary, Tina, is well worth seeking out). With that said, I can’t say I ever knew much about the Queen of Disco, so a streaming release that engaged with her career and the person she was ended up quite enlightening. Winner of multiple Grammy’s and one of the best-selling artists of all time, what became very clear is how all this success did not lead to Donna Summer becoming any more of a public persona than she allowed. She was pretty private and dealt with various forms of abuse during her rise to stardom. Keeping that in mind, this doc is less about her musical achievements and more focused on what various people who knew her had to say. It can feel a bit lopsided in that regard, considering how much time we spend with certain individuals. Still, it’s an interesting enough approach from directors Brooklyn Sudano and Roger Ross Williams.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on HBO Max.
The Setup: When a little girl (Haven Lee Harris) has a terrible accident and slips into a coma, she finds herself thrust into a darkly surreal industrial dream world. Haunted by a nightmarish specter that feeds off her tears, she must follow her mother’s radio-static voice to find her way back to consciousness.
Review: This sort of trippy feature contains far too much ambition and visual experimentation for me to question whether or not the narrative has all that much to offer. Shot entirely on expired 35 mm film, I greatly admire a film that is as cleverly crafted as this. No CG was used here, but plenty of miniatures, camera tricks, and other ideas were deployed to create an atmosphere that sits somewhere between a music video for Tool and worlds of Neil Gaiman being brought to life. However, despite starring a young girl, this movie is no Coraline. But that doesn’t really matter. Director Ryan Stevens Harris has put his very young daughter at the lead here, and even while shifting between ages (this film was made over three years), there’s enough authenticity in the performance to help steer this dream-doused feature in the right direction for its 90-minute runtime.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.
The Setup: The coming-of-age adventure story of Caleb Channing (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), who was raised on a lunar mining colony and is about to be permanently relocated to an idyllic faraway planet following the death of his father (Scott Mescudi). But before leaving to fulfill his dad’s last wish, he and his three best friends, Dylan (Billy Barratt), Borney (Orson Hong) and Marcus (Thomas Boyce), and a new arrival from Earth, Addison (Mckenna Grace), hijack a rover for one final adventure on a journey to explore a mysterious crater.
Review: While there’s nothing resembling a sense of edge in this Disney-produced kid adventure film, it still finds ways to hit when it needs to. Not to skip to the end, but Crater is successful at landing the emotional beats it aims for thanks to the work by director Kyle Patrick Alvarez to establish this cast, let them do the work for their characters, and still allow for a fun adventure to take place. In other words, it’s fitting enough to call this Stand By Me meets Interstellar, minus anything that would push this out of the PG-rating zone. Crater is likable and stronger than the average family film that comes to a streaming service these days, and that’s nothing to look past when the options can drastically vary.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Disney+.