The continued absence of major theatrical releases has certainly led to some interesting film lineups, and this week is no different. This week’s write-ups include Soderbergh’s latest project, a road trip movie, a romantic drama, a dude-bro comedy, and a unique Iraq war movie. The following features reviews for Let Them All Talk, Half Brothers, All My Life, Buddy Games, and Mosul.
The Setup: The story of a celebrated author, Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep), who takes a journey on a cruise with some old friends, Roberta and Susan (Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest), to have some fun and heal old wounds. Her nephew (Lucas Hedges) comes along to wrangle the ladies, as well as her literary agent (Gemma Chan), who is desperate to find out about her next book.
Review: Pack a few acclaimed actresses together on a cruise ship and let the cameras roll. That was apparently the main idea director Steven Soderbergh had in mind for this film. Shooting and editing himself, while a script exists, Let Them All Talk is also a largely improvised affair, with the various performers finding their own paths to arrive at certain destinations. It all makes for an amusing, well-assembled picture focused on relevance, aging, changing cultures, and the depths of friendship.
For me, anytime Soderbergh arrives with a new film, especially now, I find myself interested and excited to see something refreshing. Whether experimenting with cameras, form, or narrative rhythm, his push away from modern commercial fair has still allowed him to hold onto enough reverence to attract good talent for his projects. The thing is, a film like Let Them All Talk would not be unwelcome in the 70s or 80s.
Landing somewhere between Woody Allen and Robert Altman, this movie is a dialogue-heavy feature that occasionally elicits some laughs. The comedy relies on keeping up with the wit of the characters and accepting some of the playfulness Soderbergh relies on through his editing style. Even better is how he masks certain scenes with curious cutaways to characters whose importance only grows as the film goes on.
Of course, this is an actor’s showcase as well, and putting Streep, Bergen, and Wiest together in a contemporary film means watching some grounded performances and not having to deal with wigs and accents to help represent random historical figures or other types of roles assigned to skilled, older performers for the sake of an award push. Instead, a series of conversations that match friendliness with varying degrees of tension allow Let Them All Talk to approach some interesting subjects serving as a commentary on how people go about their lives, maintaining the relationships they have, and picking up on cues understanding how they are regarded.
Plus, there’s also Hedges and Chan playing a younger set of characters, who each have a role to play in how the elder actors see themselves, let alone give into offering advice or piece of mind. While the film may have a few things on its mind regarding different generations and their takes on the world of artists (via literature), managing to find time for awkward courtship and mentoring has its pleasures.
Thus far, the “retired stage” of Soderbergh’s career has proven to be quite fruitful. They may not all be hits, but there’s plenty of ambition in them, let alone a lot to admire about many of them. Let Them All Talk is like an updated take on the kind of film that was once celebrated. I was happy to have at it.
Where To Watch: Available to stream exclusively on HBO Max starting December 10, 2020.
The Setup: Renato (Luis Gerardo Mendez), a successful Mexican aviation executive, is shocked to discover he has an American half-brother he never knew about — the free-spirited Asher (Connor Del Rio). The two very different half-brothers are forced on a road trip together, masterminded by their dying father (severely estranged from Renato), tracing the path he took as an immigrant from Mexico to America.
Review: Half Brothers is a road trip movie, one that we’ve seen many times over and done better. It’s easy to look at the story and recognize ways to pull it apart for being obvious. At the same time, the film is full of heart, and you know what, I laughed a good deal too.
Regardless of how slight this tale is, there is fun to be had. The two types of characters we follow get enough to work with that not only speaks to some standard rules of odd couple comedies, but to the nature of finding actors that could realistically be related. Based on what we see from Mendez and Del Rio, there’s a lot to like in these guys that can be attributed to their adversarial nature.
Coming from director Luke Greenfield, who has largely turned in standard studio comedies, I did enjoy how this film was constructed. Enough is going on to develop backstory and ways to reflect on today’s culture that is quite clear, if not heavy-handed, but appropriate, without taking the viewer out of the story. I don’t need Half Brothers to have a grand statement concerning immigration and the attitudes that divided people. That said, having a fairly light comedy-drama that can make some room for these ideas helps it stand out.
That said, much of this film does rely on wacky events that test the loyalties of this newly formed bond. It’s largely quite fun. There’s a level of annoyance that comes with the territory, but I can’t say I was ever put off by the way Asher got under Renato’s skin, as the film is too sweet for the shenanigans to ever come off as mean. Instead, you get some running jokes about Mexico and America that play well and a goat. It’s silly, but the fun is there.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters December 4, 2020.
The Setup: A recently engaged couple’s wedding plans are thrown off course when the groom is diagnosed with liver cancer. Not settling for less, their friends and family help to have them married much sooner, with support through a crowdfunding campaign.
Review: As this is a film based on true and relatively event events, all of the intentions are in the right place, and the work done to respectfully dramatize what took place is certainly a unique way to help the actual people involved continue to pay tribute to an important person and time in their lives. With that in mind, I couldn’t help but feel I was only given so much of this story to connect with.
If anything, it’s something of a compliment to feel as though the film’s key strength, the central relationship between Jenn (Jessica Rothe) and Sol (Harry Shum Jr.), could have been expanded on. All My Life is just over 90 minutes, and while that lean runtime is fairly appropriate for the genre and thematically fitting as far as the fleeting amount of time we have to spend with a couple who actually had their time cut short, I still wish there was more.
As it stands, opportunities to deliver more on what makes these characters stand out feels lost. Instead, much of the film can be boiled down to some key moments and characters that are more archetypes. To be clear, these are not one-dimensional characters. They feel like real people with lives. However, we don’t get a lot of what drives them outside of this plot’s main aspects.
There are some defining areas – Sol is an amazing chef, and Jenn is studying to be a psychiatrist. However, the film still largely boils down to first acknowledging their happiness, then preparing for the inevitable. Yes, the real-life scenario the film is largely built around — a hastily put together but well-funded wedding — allows for some level of conflict, but there’s never much to explore beyond this. I don’t necessarily need a hard-hitting drama for a film with romance on its mind, despite the circumstances. Still, the inherent drama isn’t really expanded upon in any real interesting way either.
That’s not to say there’s nothing of value in this film. Rothe and Shum are likable stars with great chemistry together. Both also have their friend groups that provide the requisite support matched by the genuine emotions concerning the nature of the events being dealt with. Director Marc Meyers and his crew do what is needed to put all the pieces together. It’s not a flashy feature, but the character interactions are the heart of this film.
For a romantic drama with true inspirations, I wish it went a bit deeper. As it stands, some will reach the desired reaction the film is going for, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters December 4, 2020.
The Setup: After a falling out, six lifelong friends (Josh Duhamel, James Roday, Kevin Dillon, Dan Bakkedahl, Dax Shepard, and Nick Swardson) reunite to play the buddy games — an insane competition filled with absurd physical and mental challenges. Now, all bets are off, as the determined pals fight, claw, and party for the chance to win $150,000.
Review: It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie for bros that’s so aggressively mean-spirited. It’s the kind of movie where even the required moments of characters learning some sort of lesson is still undercut by some kind of hurtful punchline to end the scene. Co-written and directed by Duhamel, who, I guess, needed an outlet for all the dude comedies he didn’t get to star in, Buddy Games feels like a bad leftover from The Hangover days, with an absence in understanding why some of these films can really work, and others really can’t.
Oddly, this movie’s sole saving grace and the one thing extending this review is Shepard, of all people. While the other actors are dealing with problems that range from supposed depression to obnoxious entitlement, Shepard is the one friend who seems like a pure innocent. His dreams of making it in Hollywood are treated as sincere, and he gets the rhythm of how a comedy like this can work (Roday seems to get it to, for what it’s worth).
Still, there’s little excuse for the rest of the cast. The amount of logic that needs to be applied to a film like this shatters pretty quickly when considering these guys’ attitudes and the nature of the games they participate in. And while this is an ensemble comedy, the least interesting story, an ongoing rivalry between Bakkedahl and Swardson, hogs up the most screen time and rarely approaches any sense of worthwhile comedy.
Honestly, The Hunger Games seemed more fun.
Where To Watch: Now available on digital and VOD.
The Setup: After being rescued by an Iraqi SWAT team from an assault by insurgents, a policeman (Adam Bessa) joins the team and is thrown into a world of secrecy and ceaseless, fierce fighting against ISIS militants
Review: With so many films concerning the war in Iraq, it’s easy to get lost in determining which of these American stories are worth their weight. Mosul is in the unique position of providing a refreshingly different perspective – one from the point of view of the soldiers actually from that country. As a result, while one could list the familiar clichés readily found in the various American-themed war films of this kind, the added viewpoint brings some inherent complexity.
Produced by Anthony and Joe Russo and written & directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who has handled the concepts of teamwork, valor, and more in projects like The Kingdom and Deepwater Horizon, there is a sturdy foundation here. At a little over 90 minutes, there’s only so much time to dig into what is making these characters tick. Still, thanks to the work from Bessa and Suhail Dabbach as the commanding officer, you get a good sense of the lives these people have been living while fighting for a city that’s been ravaged by war.
Of course, this is ostensibly an action film, and Mosul delivers on impressively staged battle sequences that speak to both the brutal and confusing nature of this sort of urban combat. For his first directorial effort, Carnahan doesn’t quite need to utilize all of the shaky handheld work and other attempts for style to tell the story he wants. However, there is an impressive level of urgency in much of the action on display, including the small arcs seen in the characters (an axe and an RPG both have their place in this film).
Oddly, there is a bit of mystery in the overall goal, which also holds this film back a bit. As the audience can only do so much when the motivations aren’t clear, it’s as though an attempt that seemed to add intrigue only walked the film through some blurred lines that didn’t really need to exist, to begin with. Still, that’s not enough to stop the film from being worthwhile. Pushing into less seen territory was a nice approach, and the movie has enough action to match.
Where To Watch: Now available on Netflix.