August slows things down with the number of major titles, but plenty of smaller films are still available. This set of reviews includes an animated superhero movie, a comedy-horror mystery, another comedy-mystery, a psychological thriller, a dark comedy, and a high school comedy. The following features reviews for DC League of Super-Pets, Vengeance, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Resurrection, Not Okay, and Honor Society.
The Setup: Krypto (Dwayne Johnson), the Super-Dog, and Superman (John Krasinski) are inseparable best friends, sharing the same superpowers and fighting crime side by side in Metropolis. However, when the Man of Steel and the rest of the Justice League are kidnapped, Krypto must convince a ragtag group of animals, including Ace – a Boxer (Kevin Hart), to master their own newfound powers for a rescue mission.
Review: Here’s a film that seemed like an easy enough layup in the realm of animated features that can satisfy a broad audience. Between the popularity of superheroes and the continued success of talking animal movies (Secret Life of Pets, Zootopia, Sing, and more recently – The Bad Guys), there’s a not-so-secret-to-success at play for something like DC League of Super-Pets. Yet, these superpowered animals come up short.
For all the star power attached to this film (the cast also includes Keanu Reeves, Diego Luna, Jemaine Clement, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Olivia Wilde, and Kate McKinnon, among others), there was a real lack of momentum to what should be an exciting, colorful adventure. Sure, there are some chuckles here or there, as director/co-writer Jared Stern’s past experience on some of the Lego Movies should equip him and his team with at least some gags that work. Still, between less than stellar writing and an unmotivated voice cast, Super-Pets never seemed able to get too far off of their leash.
As the fifth collaboration between Johnson and Hart, there’s not much to what they’re doing here. Johnson seems to need Disney’s inspiration when it comes to his vocal efforts, as there’s nothing to his Krypto. Hart gets a little more to play with, as the dynamic between him and Johnson is changed up a bit this time (Krypto loses his powers for most of the film). Really, it’s McKinnon who comes closest to enlivening this film as the hairless guinea pig with a nefarious plot in mind for the Justice League.
There will be an appeal here, as the film has its share of colorful animation and action beats to keep curious eyes focused. I only wish it amounted to more. It’s not as though movies of this kind have not worked out in the past as far as pleasing more than just young children. Even when keeping the level of heart in mind, the story is not doing anything all that innovative, and the strength of the animation is acceptable without offering much style. Basically, Super-Pets is mildly amusing at best and lacks bite.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: A New York City journalist, Ben (B.J. Novak), travels to West Texas for a funeral after being mistaken as a committed boyfriend to a deceased young woman (Lio Tipton) he hooked up with a few times. Looking to start a podcast, Ben decides to stay with the family to solve a possible murder, pushing him to understand the local customs in the process.
Review: The fun and the difficulty I had with Vengeance comes from how the film seems at odds with its laid-back, hangout vibe and the central mystery driving the story. When focused on Novak’s pursuit of building a podcast around life and society while taking some time to get to a comfortable place, the film is at its most enjoyable. The mystery is no less compelling, but it means building to a resolution that is neither that mysterious nor settled in a strong enough way.
However, this is still a likable and mostly agreeable film thanks to how it finds its way to taking a proper stance against Novak and his big city ways. Playing as a satire and a deconstruction of ambitious storytelling approaches, while the edges of the script are never too sharp, the journey to turning cartoon characters into actual flesh and blood people pays off well when considering this cast.
Novak is a capable straight man not afraid to look foolish. Boyd Holbrook needs the movie to catch up with his assured take on the dim but ready-for-action brother. Issa Rae provides fun support as the producer of podcasts trying to make sense of Ben’s pitches. J. Smith-Cameron’s patriarchal role is well suited to all of this. And then there’s Ashton Kutcher being given the opportunity to show a different side of his movie star qualities with effective results.
The film is not in search of purpose, as there’s plenty to take away from the story of a privileged blue state podcaster learning how to manage himself in a red state. Even the places it explores as far as how much fame can get someone, whether they are the villain of the story or not, allows for other interesting observations. The whole effort, directed by Novak, skirts with being a bit too slight, but enough comes through thanks to the cast and some genuinely clever choices.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: When a group of rich 20-somethings plan a hurricane party at a remote family mansion, a party game goes awry in this look at backstabbing, fake friends, and one party gone very, very wrong.
Review: It’s a curious thing to have both a new Scream movie and a new film similarly using humor and a knowing eye to call attention to a murder-mystery situation taking place among a group of young adults. Now, Scream certainly has horror films in mind, while Bodies Bodies Bodies is more focused on the nature of relationships in the Gen Z age. Still, that separation makes this a refreshing change of pace for this kind of comedy-infused thriller.
Really, the most audacious thing about Bodies Bodies Bodies is its focus on extended dialogue scenes that almost feel play-like in structure. The setup is established early on, along with the various character types the audience will be dealing with. Once the party game gets going, and a body actually drops, simmering tensions increase, boil over, and still escalate. It all primarily comes through the history one picks up on through how these characters talk to each other (let alone deliver various glances and other informed actions).
From a cast perspective, building comradery between six characters in a short time for a film set in one location is no easy task, but the work is there. Everyone brings what’s needed, and it helps that characters such as Rachel Sennott’s (Shiva Baby) Alice can manage to help maintain the balance of humor without being irritating. Plus, while the focus is mainly on the female ensemble, the two men in the cast, Pete Davidson and Lee Pace, bring the right attitudes of who these two can be as performers.
One more important note – Jasper Wolf’s cinematography is terrific. Working mainly in dark spaces and utilizing phone flashlights as primary light sources in many instances, director Halina Reijn and Wolf clearly had a sound mind for how to construct a film with thriller elements based on the limits given to them. That the lighting doubles as a commentary on the obsession with phones does not go unnoticed.
Perhaps more could have been said about this generation of people, with the film only occasionally leaning in on calling out buzzwords of the moment and such. One could also call out just how often characters simply decided to wander around, alone in the dark, despite their situation, but it only detracts so much. For the most part, this movie is fun fun fun.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting August 5, 2022.
The Setup: A woman’s (Rebecca Hall) carefully constructed life gets upended when an unwelcome shadow from her past returns, forcing her to confront the monster she’s evaded for two decades.
Review: Much like last year’s The Night House, much is going to be said about Rebecca Hall’s performance in Resurrection, and for good reason. While coming from a genre film that’s not exactly building toward a crowd-pleasing ending (all factors to stand in the way of further award consideration), Hall dives headfirst into another complicated role concerning a deeply troubled woman who begins coming apart at the seams. It’s made all the worse for the character because we don’t have any reason to believe she deserves this level of torment.
It does take a level of commitment to pull off such a performance, and Hall is undoubtedly up for the task. A highlight sequence is a 7-minute, unbroken monologue allowing Hall’s Margaret to detail events from her past that provide clarity. Watching her slowly unravel is equally compelling, as director/writer Andrew Semans understands how to properly increase the tension through simple setups.
Also worth noting is Tim Roth’s David, the unwelcome presence in Margaret’s life. While the film provides many ways to read what’s taking place, Roth is keyed into exactly what this film needs from him, reminding audiences what a bastard he can be on film, regardless of the presumed existence of his character. Having Roth’s sinister grin does a lot of work for a movie that needs to get a lot across before any actual action takes place.
Not stretching on much longer than it needs to, there is something to be said for its finale. It almost feels like a dare taken on by the filmmaker. Finding unique ways to answer questions the audience may have is certainly one way to look at what takes place. Regardless, as a film focusing on the concept of grooming and abuse taken to extremes, this is a wild and compelling vision that doesn’t pull its punches.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available to stream on VOD starting August 5, 2022.
The Setup: A misguided young woman (Zoey Deutch) who is desperate for friends and fame fakes a trip to Paris to update her social media presence. A terrifying incident occurs in the real world, which becomes a part of the imaginary trip and offers all she wants.
Review: A disclaimer at the top of Not Okay notes the film featuring an unlikable female protagonist. Apparently, this was added following test screenings, which almost makes me like this film more. As a movie meant to challenge those who rely on social media to craft a persona and tap into a culture of individuals who are triggered by terrifying events in their lives, building a comedic premise around these ideas is a welcome venture. I only wish this comedy/drama/satire was more of an incisive social commentary.
With that in mind, the film’s unlikable female protagonist, Danni, does make the movie watchable. Deutch has a dependable approach to her comedic timing, which means she can play into the cluelessness and a lack of empathy needed for this character. That’s well suited to the core of this film, which finds Danni getting carried away with a lie, only to strike up a friendship with Mia Isaac’s Rowan, a true activist who has actually gone through a traumatic experience.
Things get tricky with Rowan because Isaac brings a lot of emotion to this character, who very plausibly exists in the real world. One has to wonder if a drama surrounding this character would not be a better use of time. Writer/director Quinn Shephard attempts to bridge this gap by having Danni and Rowan spend time together, yet because the plot requires shakeups, knowing where things have to go means not being as invested with what results could come out of all this beyond Danni learning self-awareness.
Still, there is plenty of good work from everyone involved, including Dylan O’Brien’s Colin, a popular influencer akin to any number of white characters with a privileged background who adopt a more urban-themed personality. A stronger film could lean in on these barely exaggerated personas to deliver a wittier critique of the Generation Z culture. As it stands, Not Okay is okay enough to work.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Hulu.
The Setup: Honor (Angourie Rice) is an ambitious high school senior whose sole focus is getting into Harvard, assuming she can first score the coveted recommendation from her guidance counselor, Mr. Calvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Willing to do whatever it takes, Honor concocts a Machiavellian plan to take down her top three student competitors until things take a turn when she unexpectedly falls for her biggest competition, Michael (Gaten Matarazzo).
Review: While it’s not as though I expect a high school comedy sent directly to Paramount+ to match the likes of Lady Bird, Booksmart, or Clueless, it’s perhaps at least reasonable to wish for movies that can rise up to something like The Edge of Seventeen. Honor Society is not a bad film. In fact, at its best, it’s pretty good. However, I’m still waiting to see a filmmaker that feels truly tapped into teen culture in a way that can be captured in the characters’ attitudes and filmmaking that best reflects that mood (Waves is a solid example, though it’s decidedly not a comedy).
The basic setup is fun and could be even more so if Rice’s Honor ever wanted to actually lean into her scheming in a more despicable way. Granted, part of the point is that Honor is ultimately a good person, but even so, were the film able to play into these characters as mean girls, but on the honor roll, there’s perhaps an extra level of wit to enjoy. With that said, there is still fun to be had in seeing Honor’s scheme extend to various students, creating different levels of drama in the process.
Fresh off of Stranger Things, Matarazzo provides good enough support as one none the wiser to Honor’s plans, playing well into the innocence needed to show the audience a fitting way for things to take a turn. Less advertised is how the school’s drama department plays a significant role in this film, as various other twists and turns concerning Honor’s other competition reveal themselves in fun ways fitting the time. With enough shenanigans and lessons to help this film serve its purpose, Honor Society passes.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Paramount+.