Another slower week for August, but I also have another list of smaller releases available in theaters and streaming. This set of reviews includes a smaller-scale disaster movie, a crime drama, a vampire action-comedy, a body swap comedy, a biographical survival film, a cringe comedy, a bonkers action movie, and a stand-up’s family-themed comedy. The following features reviews for Fall, Emily The Criminal, Day Shift, Mack & Rita, Thirteen Lives, I Love My Dad, Carter, and Easter Sunday.
Fall: 6 out of 10
The Setup: For best friends Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner), life is all about conquering fears and pushing limits. But after they climb 2,000 feet to the top of a remote, abandoned radio tower, they find themselves stranded with no way down. Now Becky and Hunter’s expert climbing skills will be put to the ultimate test as they desperately fight to survive the elements, a lack of supplies, and vertigo-inducing heights
Review: Making a disaster movie of sorts on a budget is no easy task. Questionable visual effects aside, I want to root for a film like Fall because it pushes its premise about as far as it can go and then some. Yes, that means it’s too long at around 105 minutes when a tighter story could properly help the film from wearing itself out. With that in mind, given how often it tries to give the viewer vertigo, there’s still enough effective work to create a novel thriller.
I do enjoy this premise. While there are some questionable acting choices early on, the basic concept of a climber trying to regain their confidence with the help of her friend, who’s an influencer, makes the right kind of sense in 2022. That doesn’t make it less ridiculous, but I like the thought that went into how a film could trap two people 2,000 feet in the air. The climb itself has the right kind of tension too, as director Scott Mann rightfully makes sure to show all the ways this stunt could go south in a second before seeing what finally causes the most major problem.
Relying on a minimal cast, Currey and Gardner do a lot to keep things lively, allowing the film to have bursts of humor amid their tragic circumstances. I wish the film stepped back a few steps as far as just how much character development was added in (one particular revelation adds nothing beyond a means to justify how we can feel when it comes to the ultimate outcome, I guess). There’s also a choice that evokes similar films about people stranded and the lengths they’ll have to go, which is becoming a bit too much of a trope for me to handle.
With all that in mind, for a film that needs to make two daring people entertaining enough to watch as they deal with being stuck on a massive tower, this prolonged section does a fine job of adding suspense during their high suspension.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting August 12, 2022.
Emily The Criminal: 7 out of 10
The Setup: Saddled with student debt and unable to find work, Emily (Aubrey Plaza), a college graduate, becomes involved in a credit card scam, acting as a dummy shopper and buying increasingly risky products with stolen credit cards. Problems arise as she’s pulled deeper into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ultimately leading to deadly consequences.
Review: Here’s a crime drama that brushes right up against being a neo-noir, thanks to the no-BS performance given by lead/producer Aubrey Plaza. It’s interesting, as the title provides a compelling reason to see Emily from two sides. Do her actions turn her into a criminal, or was she always one? We quickly learn she has a record for aggravated assault. It takes a while to understand the context, but her tolerance for how people treat her during various interviews and other interactions is clear from the start.
Working as a commentary on today’s gig economy, seeing Emily get involved in low-level criminal activity to earn cash to pay off her heavy loans grounds the character. Thinking of the noirs of today, however, unless it’s a period film, the plots tend to revolve around anti-heroes, if not actual villains. Where does Emily fall? Desperation leads to her activities, but we know she has other options. Perhaps the thrill of the crimes themselves is what leads her to sinking deeper.
First-time feature director and writer John Patton Ford finds the right angles to play in pushing Emily along. Looking at films such as Ingrid Goes West and Black Bear, it’s easy to see why Plaza would dig into this material. What it lacks in sardonic humor, it makes up for in seeing the strength of her character come out in lasting ways. One harrowing sequence finds her being robbed in her apartment. The results allow the film to move in a way that signals no turning back.
For all the good that comes from the film’s urgency and related tension, Emily the Criminal suffers a bit from being too familiar. That doesn’t necessarily hurt the story’s build-up, as other developments, such as a romance with her gatekeeper to crime, Theo Rossi’s Youcef, work well enough. However, the third act ends up feeling too rushed for its own good. At a tight 90 minutes, the movie ends up feeling like the rare genre film that actually earns more room to breathe. Still, for a criminal, Emily is largely a success.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting August 12, 2022.
Day Shift: 7 out of 10
The Setup: A hardworking dad (Jamie Foxx), out to provide for his daughter, uses a boring pool-cleaning job as a front for his real gig: hunting and killing vampires in San Fernando Valley.
Review: I must note how nice it is to see this continual transition of stunt coordinators into directors. Director J.J. Perry steps in for this film, having worked on various action blockbusters in the past and the effort to create some exciting action scenes. It’s enough to push this movie past what almost feels like a Netflix Mad Lib (Jamie Foxx + Vampires + Snoop Dogg = views), working as a solid action-comedy with a hefty dose of undead bloodsuckers thrown in.
That’s a big key to all of this – it’s fun. Day Shift practically seems to be taking the clean and shiny feeling of Netflix films to its advantage, as the film plays as a heightened version of reality, where everyday activities quickly switch to high-octane hunter vs. vampire fights. There’s elaborate choreography, clever camera work, and lots of bloody violence to go with it. On top of all of this, the movie, again, doesn’t forget to find joy in what’s taking place.
Foxx is always reliable when bringing big energy to a role, and he’s excellent here as a down-on-his-luck vampire killer trying to make some quick cash. Again, this is almost a parody of this type of story (sad dad has to make money, so his daughter and ex-wife don’t move away), and it really plays like good pulp. Not hurting is the presence of Dave Franco, who turns the film into a strange buddy movie. Throw in Snoop Dogg as Big John Elliott, a veteran vampire hunter, and the film is good to go.
But that’s not all. This film does the work to establish the world of these characters and their rules involving vampires (I always enjoy the creativity when it comes to detailing how this latest version works). Karla Souza also makes for a fun villain, lampooning the idea of a big-time real estate agent. Plus, while a lot of action is solid, a whole sequence involving Foxx, Franco, Steve Howey, and DTV superstar Scott Adkins is a feature highlight.
It may be a film that’s gone straight to streaming, but as far as late summer fun, Day Shift slays.
Where To Watch: Available on Netflix starting August 12, 2022.
Mack & Rita: 4 out of 10
The Setup: When 30-year-old self-proclaimed homebody Mack Martin (Elizabeth Lail) reluctantly joins a Palm Springs bachelorette trip for her best friend Carla (Taylour Paige), her inner 70-year-old is released — literally. The frustrated writer and influencer magically transforms into her future self: “Aunt Rita” (Diane Keaton). Freed from the constraints of other people’s expectations, Rita comes into her own, becoming an unlikely social media sensation, and sparks a tentative romance with Mack’s adorable dog-sitter, Jack (Dustin Milligan).
Review: It’s important to preface this by noting how much I do not want to make my less than positive thoughts on Mack & Rita sound patronizing when I make it clear that this is absolutely a film for fans of Diane Keaton being wacky. That’s not new to Keaton, regardless of her age, as she’s engaged in as much broad comedy back in the day with Woody Allen in films like Sleeper as she does here. The difference is not a matter of her age, but she’s cut out for much better material. Even with the body swap premise being pretty old schtick at this point, it’s not as though there are not good entries in this comedic genre.
The concept is fun, as we’ve seen the older characters become their younger selves, and vice versa, but not a 30-year-old pining to be an old lady. There’s some inherent humor in that alone, but nothing especially clever ever comes from it. Instead, we have scenes detailing Keaton’s emergence as a social media star, her awkward relationship with Milligan’s much younger character, and Paige’s attempts to ground the situation in some sort of reality.
Having a premise in place is fine, but the problem for me is that it just wasn’t funny. Director Katie Aselton clearly wants the audience to have fun with scenes that play out like various sketches. Watch Aunt Rita take an exercise class. Now watch Aunt Rita accidentally set things on fire. I get what’s going on here, but even if the story wasn’t coming together, having a better hand at comedic direction would have benefited even taking in short bursts of humor.
It seems to come down to familiarity with those on screen, and by the time Keaton begins interacting more with some of the film’s older performers, there’s at least something of a rapport to keep up with that helps Mack & Rita feel like more than an empty exercise. Still, there’s little to go on here, even with a Hollywood legend showing she’s still game for having plenty of fun.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting August 12, 2022.
Thirteen Lives: 8 out of 10
The Setup: A chronicle of the events of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue that saw a junior football team and their coach trapped in a cave for 18 days and the efforts taken on by the country and volunteers to save them.
Review: After nearly a decade of floundering, director Ron Howard has seemingly just casually dropped off one of his best efforts. Thirteen Lives isn’t looking to highlight more than it needs to, and its lack of showiness is one of its greatest aspects. Yes, the 2021 documentary The Rescue (from the directors of Free Solo) is an excellent look at what happened during the 2018 Thai cave rescue, but despite my reluctance to entertain what a biographical film version had to offer, I can’t deny how good the results are.
There was already plenty to like when noting the amount of time setting up the situation with the young football team, and then the movie introduces Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell as the two volunteer cave divers. There’s no grandstanding from either of them. No Oscar speeches are being set up. This movie uses them as needed to show how the men they are portraying did what they could to help people with no fuss. And increasing the quality, Joel Edgerton even shows up playing a figure who was crucial to the rescue as well.
Recreating the situation, this film has a lot of the same energy, distress, and thrills Howard brought to his best movie – Apollo 13. Thirteen Lives doesn’t reach those heights, but the similarity in watching intelligent people working together to solve a problem rings true. Given how events actually played out, whether or not one knows the circumstances involved with the Thai government or the degree of difficulty there was to figure out how to get these kids out of the cave, this is a film that knows how to create drama without overdoing it.
Doing enough to hold viewers off from wondering what’s a special effect and what’s a set, I was pleased with this stripped-down approach to what could have been a redundant account of a very intense and intensely covered event. Thanks to all involved, despite the small scale of this release, there’s a rock-solid feature here.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Prime Video.
I Love My Dad: 6 out of 10
The Setup: Inspired by James Morosini’s true life experience, Chuck (Patton Oswalt) is an estranged father who desperately wants to reconnect with his troubled son, Franklin (Morosini). Blocked on social media and concerned for his son’s life, Chuck impersonates a waitress online and starts checking in with Franklin. But things begin to spiral when Franklin falls for this imaginary girl (Claudia Sulewski) and wants nothing more than to meet her in person, as Chuck has inadvertently catfished his own son.
Review: Really, the only thing related to this film that’s weirder than its premise is the fact that it’s based on actual events involving Morosini, who serves as writer and director, as well as co-lead. His dad apparently really did catfish his own son in an effort to get closer to him, and it’s a real gift that Patton Oswalt has as far as having the audience somehow not hate him all the way through the feature. Suffice to say, when keeping Oswalt’s more dramatic efforts in mind, this is the best work he’s done since 2009’s dark comedy, Big Fan.
With a premise like this, the concern obviously becomes how far this all needs to go. As assembled by Morosini, I Love My Dad clearly wants to play broadly in a cringe sort of way. Fortunately, it’s handled skillfully. As Chuck makes the poor decision of continually texting his son as “Becca,” the film relies on the real Becca (Claudia Sulewski) to serve as an actual visual, playing as if the two are having real conversations (and humorously aided by how texts can come through poorly due to spelling errors). It’s a neat choice that only serves to amplify an inevitable climax.
Does this movie amount to much? Not so much. There’s only so far to go with the intent of Chuck’s actions, regardless of how the film deepens the hole he has gotten himself into. However, the film does find the wildest way to bring out the truth when it comes to movies built on a comedic presence that I still have to watch through my fingers. There are also genuine moments preceding the downfall, as far as watching Chuck and Franklin find common ground and grow closer.
Were the film to rely on a different tone, I don’t know if it would be as successful, but perhaps it could feel like more than an excuse for a number of joke setups. That said, I liked being invested enough in this story, and Oswalt, along with Sulewski, Rachel Dratch, and Lil Rel Howery, did enough to support Morosini’s vision.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters
Carter: 5 out of 10
The Setup: Two months into a deadly pandemic originating from the DMZ that has devastated the US and North Korea, “Carter” (Joo Won) awakens with no recollections of his past. In his head is a mysterious device, and in his mouth, a lethal bomb. A strange voice in his ears gives him orders. The bomb may go off at any time — unless he rescues the girl who is the sole antidote to the virus. But the CIA and a North Korean coup are hot on his heels.
Review: If anything, I should be recommending this film for having crazy ambition, even if it overextends its reach. That said, I can still split the difference. Carter is an insane action film by director Jung Byung-gil (The Villainess). While not ever trying to convince a viewer that it was actually done in one take, the camera work is handled in a manner that is supposed to give the impression of a continuous sequence. And this lasts for over two hours.
Yes, this is a non-stop action film from a director who has created a lot of cool visuals through the concepts he comes up with for fights. At its best, this movie delivers unique action sequences making full use of the various settings Carter finds himself in as he faces dozens of foes at a time. The issue is the cinematography, specifically a choice to give the impression of a jittery, handheld look to further justify the visual gimmick. It can be distracting and combined with some moments of horrendous CGI, one can only go so far in praising something for the sake of its kitsch appeal.
For anyone concerned with the story matching up to the constant action…yeah, that’s not this movie. However, I will give it credit for being a lot of things at once. Carter features espionage, disavowed military, assassins, and even a zombie-like outbreak based on a pandemic. How this all fits into one film, well, just now, I haven’t even mentioned that the movie also features a flashback (within this visual choice), helicopter chases alongside trains, and skydiving. So yes, this is a movie packed with ideas, many very dumb, but not without a vision to deliver a lot of ridiculous bloody fun. It’s not quite good, but it’s very much Carter…whatever that means.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.
Easter Sunday: 4 out of 10
The Setup: Stand-up comedian Jo Koy stars as a man returning home for an Easter celebration with his riotous, bickering, eating, drinking, laughing, loving family in this love letter to his Filipino-American community.
Review: While it’s not quite “Say it ain’t so Jo,” this comedy does come up lacking, despite best efforts to serve as a humorous look at a Filipino family. If anything, a bit of a spoiler, but it’s fitting Easter Sunday ends with what a sitcom version of this film would be like, as that would make for better use of all of these performers’ time. As a feature film, even when looking at this as a series of comedic set pieces stitched together on a loose plot, there’s just not a lot here.
There’s actually so little here that the film even stops during a scene set in a church to let Jo get on stage and perform his tight five. I can understand adapting one’s material for the screen, but Easter Sunday decides to blunder its way through even the very concept of being based on something. However, I do think the film sets up a pretty straightforward idea – do you like Jo Koy? Not being too familiar, as a screen presence and a guy taking on a lot of stress for the sake of this film, yeah, I liked him well enough.
I also liked many of the performers on screen. Jimmy O. Yang, Eugene Cordero, and Tiffany Haddish all supply the comedy I would expect and shined in their moments. Director Jay Chandrasekhar (of Broken Lizard) also serves as Jo’s agent and gets some laughs. A special note should probably go to Lydia Gaston as Jo’s mom, Susan, who will go underappreciated, given what’s required of her, even if the rivalry between her and Tia Carrere’s character, Auntie Tita, is not as strong as it could have been. So yes, there are bits of humor that work here, and the heart is in the right place, but for the most part, this is one of those comedies that doesn’t supply much of what one is looking for, meaning it just kind of sits there.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.