In-House Reviews: King of Killers, Ernest & Celine, Golda, Nandor Fodor & More!

Entering Labor Day weekend means the summer movie season has come to an end. Denzel is sending some folks off with a bang in his latest Equalizer film, but there are still other films to consider. This set of write-ups includes a hitman action flick, an animated sequel, a comedic period mystery, an Israeli biopic, an Adam Sandler-produced comedy, an indie comedy-drama, a zany comedy sequel, and a gory horror satire. The following features reviews for King of Killers, Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia, Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose, Golda, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, Fremont, Vacation Friends 2, and Dude Bro Party Massacre III.

King of Killers: 5 out of 10

The Setup: Offered $10 million to eliminate the world’s greatest assassin (Frank Grillo), a hitman (Alain Moussi) travels to Tokyo to meet the client but soon discovers other professional killers have also been invited.

Review: Oftentimes, when it comes to these smaller-budgeted action films filling out the cast with stunt performers, it at least means you have a lot of talented fighters that will at least do what’s needed when it comes to the various set pieces. Unfortunately, it’s not that writer/director/co-star Kevin Grevioux (creator of the Underworld series) doesn’t stage numerous stylish action sequences. If anything, I think his ambition exceeds his grasp when delivering a comic book movie on this level. Splashes of color and strobing effects suggest some ideas that could be handled well with others or with a bit more money to work with.

As it stands, here’s a straightforward concept that I kept waiting to see stronger results from. With that in mind, Grillo is clearly relishing his role, being more involved in the film than I expected. Lead Moussi (who could pass for Grillo’s stunt double – and probably has) is decent enough as well when the film doesn’t require his solid martial arts and gunfighter skills. That this movie has the courage to set up a sequel is bold, but given what’s set in place here, I wouldn’t mind seeing the king be challenged again.

Where To Watch: In theaters, on digital and VOD on September 1, 2023.

Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Ernest and Celestine return to Ernest’s land, Gibberitia, to fix his treasured violin. When they arrive, they find that the land that once was full of song has banned all music and gone silent and dull. With a new group of unlikely friends, Ernest and Celestine are the only ones who can bring joy and color back to Gibberitia and find the one person who can fix Ernest’s violin.

Review: The watercolor world of Ernest and Celestine makes its return in another sweet-hearted animated adventure. While not on the same level as something like the live-action Paddington films, the same sort of spirit is in mind as we watch two best friends navigate a return trip to Ernest’s hometown, where he must deal with the menace of music being limited down to one note only. It’s a silly idea, but it allows for fun interplay, chases, reconciliations, and more. At 80 minutes, it’s not as though there’s too much of this film, though even with my surprised delight that a sequel had been made, I could still feel a few possible limits stretched thin in an effort to maximize this release. Regardless, there’s fun animation spread throughout, making for a pleasant trip.

Where To Watch: In select theaters on September 1, 2023.

Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose: 4 out of 10

The Setup: Set near 1935 London, when famed paranormal psychologist Dr. Nandor Fodor (Simon Pegg) investigates a family’s claim of a talking animal, he uncovers a mysterious web of hidden motives. Soon, everyone becomes a suspect in his relentless pursuit of the truth.

Review: Not without a lack of trying, it’s a shame this film isn’t better. Based on a possibly true story, while comedic mysteries seem to be all the rage, this attempt to put forth Nandor Fodor’s story out there is a mess. It is partly due to Pegg, who attempts to flex his character actor muscles by adopting a particular accent and playing his role quite gratingly. It’s simply not much of a compelling character to watch. At least Minnie Driver seems to be having fun as his girl Friday.

Making things worse, however, are all the long, talky conversations that apply to nearly every character. Rather than building momentum to keep the case interesting or exciting, it sometimes feels like we are watching endless video game cutscenes. Characters get next to each other, exchange dialogue, and then exchange more, dragging the pace down. As a comedy, it’s not very humorous. For a mystery, I can’t say the revelations were all that special. Sort of a lame duck.

Where To Watch: In select theaters on September 1, 2023. On VOD and Digital on September 19, 2023.

Golda: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Faced with the potential of Israel’s complete destruction, Prime Minister Golda Meir (Helen Mirren) must navigate overwhelming odds, a skeptical cabinet, and a complex relationship with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber) as millions of lives hang in the balance during the tense 19 days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Review: They should not have shown footage of the real Meir at the end. While you get to see the real spunk the late former Israeli Prime Minister had, it will make you wish Mirren and this film also had that kind of energy. Still, it’s okay for a movie that appropriately narrows its focus. As a Jew who hasn’t found himself offended by this casting, I may wish they toned down the big fake nose Mirren wears, but in the realm of late-August biopics that get attention from non-controversies only to be quickly forgotten when very few actually end up seeing the film, I at least appreciated the attempt to do something with the story of such a pivotal figure.

Directed by Guy Nattiv (whose Oscar-winning short Skin and its feature-length remake I can’t forget about soon enough), this is most certainly a pro-Israel film and has little it wants to accomplish as far as digging into any real grey area in that regard. However, a few military strategy scenes and Schreiber’s involvement as Kissinger allow for some interesting approaches to the material. It’s far from a great biopic, but it drives its more significant points home well enough.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Stacy (Sunny Sandler) and Lydia (Samantha Lorraine) are BFFs who’ve always dreamed about having epic bat mitzvahs. However, things go comically awry when a popular boy and middle school drama threaten their friendship and rite of passage.

Review: Not counting his concert film, this is the best comedy to come out of the Netflix/Happy Madison collaborations, and that’s a good thing (but I still support you, Hubie). What could have been a new leading example in the “nepo baby” wars is instead a sweet-natured coming-of-age story about two best friends experiencing drama around the time of their bat mitzvahs. Just as Cha Cha Real Smooth noted for me last year – the more movies featuring bar or bat mitzvahs, the better! It’s fun to see a film embracing modern Jewish culture in this way, yet still playing broadly enough to be so appealing.

It doesn’t hurt that the cast is made up of young performers who act like authentic young people. Both Sandler’s daughters, as well as Lorraine, are in good form here. Adam Sandler stepping back for a supporting role as the dad (along with Idina Menzel as the mom to make this an unofficial Uncut Gems prequel) is also worthwhile, as his dialed-down comic persona provides the right kind of counter energy to what’s mainly taking place involving the kids. Just as notable is Sandler creating an opportunity for new creatives, like director Sammi Cohen, to come in and deliver something worthwhile, let alone appeal to a different sort of audience when it comes to these Happy Madison films. That, in itself, is a mitzvah.

Where To Watch: Available to stream on Netflix.

Fremont: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Formerly a translator for the United States military in Afghanistan, Donya (Anaita Wali Zada) struggles to rebuild her life in San Francisco and works for a Chinese fortune cookie factory. In a moment of sudden revelation, she decides to send out a special message in one of the cookies.

Review: Yes, I will be the latest person to reference Jim Jarmusch in describing Fremont. How could you not? Director Babak Jalali is doing plenty to channel the acclaimed hipster director, down to the use of black & white and incredibly dry sense of humor. The stillness of the frame and the film’s melancholy atmosphere further add credence to the inspiration. It would not matter if Fremont wasn’t successful as a film in its own right, but it is. Donya’s quiet journey is interesting enough, which is especially important for a movie that can detail her past without actually showing any of it. On top of this, there’s a bit more charm than one may expect from the various characters, as if their inherent humanity is just beneath the surface, with the film suggesting restraint to build up minor levels of dramatic or comedic tension. Of course, this is also a film about loneliness, and seeing the latest filmmaker tapping into what that is for a young immigrant character means finding the unique elements that can enrich a feature. Fittingly, the sincerity here rings true.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.

Vacation Friends 2: 4 out of 10

The Setup: Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) lands an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean resort, and he and his wife, Emily (Yvonne Orji), invite their uninhibited besties, Ron and Kyla (John Cena and Meredith Hager). But when Kyla’s incarcerated father (Steve Buscemi) is released from San Quentin and shows up, things get out of control.

Review: Well, I’ll say this much – given the fast turnaround on this sequel to a direct-to-Hulu comedy from last year, if the quality of this film is any indication, I hope this cast didn’t secretly film several more sequels to follow. While I can’t say Vacation Friends was a great buddy/getaway comedy, it was amusing enough to watch that set of people (including an unleashed Cena) get into silly antics. That was a good enough reason to want to like this film, with the new inclusion of Buscemi raising possible excitement up at least a few notches. Alas, this movie is just not very amusing at all. The jokes don’t land, the premise is just plain bad, and little is done to take advantage of any number of ideas that could have worked with better planning. At least Ronny Chieng (stepping into his latest “irate businessman in a nice suit role” for 2023) gets some laughs, as there’s little else to help this plodding trifle of a summer comedy.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Hulu.

Dude Bro Party Massacre III: 6 out of 10

The Setup:  A satirical twist on the 80’s slasher genre and presented as the only surviving VHS copy of a reviled franchise, the plot focuses on the serial killer, Motherface. After she murders his twin brother, a young man infiltrates a fraternity where his brother lived, only for all of the Delta Bis to be picked off one by one.

Review: I never saw this satirical slasher when it was originally released in 2015, but this random re-release was as good a time as any. Sitting somewhere between the fake trailers from Grindhouse and Wet Hot American Summer, this joke-packed blood fest from the comedy troupe 5-Second Films doesn’t waste any time getting to the gags and the gore. Going out of its way to lean in on a lot of ridiculous humor and subverting expectations any chance it can, this film is at its best when you can just feel the joy this team had in delivering on some of its most absurd moments. At just over 90 minutes, not everything lands with the same impact, but there’s a lot of joy to take in whenever the perfect line read comes along. These dudes deliver.

Where To Watch: Available on VOD on September 1, 2023

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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