Lady of the Manor

[2 stars]

The ideas in this movie are fine and even intriguing. And with Melanie Lynskey (Hello I Must Be Going) and Judy Greer (Uncle Frank) driving the center of it, I had hope. Hope that was dashed by 30 min in when the movie had yet to get going.

Written and directed by the brothers Long (Justin [Masters of the Universe: Revelation] and Christian), the flick kept creeping up to the edge of being something but refusing to tip over it. It didn’t help that we were bouncing between the grounded moments of Long and the brotastic and unrelenting bravado of Ryan Phillippe (Big Sky) as they catalyzed the tale. The movie never quite finds its groove on screen nor style in script.

Ultimately I jumped to the end to see if there were any surprises or aspects that might make me go back and watch the whole thing. There wasn’t. Even the outtakes (absent the final one) that run during the credits weren’t funny or intriguing. Basically, this is a complete miss for me. I wanted it to work, and it even has a sort of topical dénouement, but that isn’t worth the 90 minutes you’d have to spend to watch it.

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Dating & New York

[3.5 stars]

Like Broken Hearts Gallery, this first feature by Jonah Feingold delivers on almost all levels. They both aim at Millennial love connections and struggles. And both made me realize how much things have changed about dating… and how much they’ve really stayed the same. Dating & New York is a bit less polished than Broken Hearts, and it’s more unapologetically aimed at a younger audience, but there is plenty there for all ages to sympathize and recognize and laugh with (and at).

From the moment it starts we know we’re about to enter a sort of satirical view of old romance films, but done with both love and affection. It isn’t making fun of those fantasies so much as updating them. And the main couple in this modern romcom comes to wonderful life with Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale (Stranger Things). The energy and easy nature of both are completely engaging. And their friends, Catherine Cohen (The Lovebirds) and Brian Muller, bring some framework and balance to what we know just has to get messy eventually, no matter how civilized and above-board it all starts.

Feingold keeps the pacing unrelenting…exhausting even, at times. The story is entertaining. The ending is honest and romantic. The gender flips he does are nicely turned. And, OK, absent one character, I never had any idea how any of these people supported themselves, but that wasn’t the focus of the story. Having found out he filmed it all in 15 days, this movie is sort of amazing.

This is a romantic comedy for both those that like romantic comedies and those who scoff at them. It’s an honest romantic comedy. Well, mostly honest. Mainly, it’s believable where it needs to be and wry where it threatens to get too syrupy. Above all, it’s fun and funny.

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Lapsis

[3 stars]

Science fiction, at its best, reflects on the world to deliver both entertainment and a message (usually a warning about where we’re are now or are headed). Noah Hutton, using an absurdist, near-term sci-fi world, has delivered on both aspects of that declaration. More disturbing still is how possible it feels, despite the unlikely way the world itself works.

Through the desperate efforts of Dean Imperial to provide for himself and his brother, we learn about the new economy and how it abuses the growing underclass it’s leaving behind. Along with Madeline Wise, the two navigate the situation trying to find solutions to problems both very personal and very large. And a surprise cameo by Arliss Howard (Mank) added a nice dimension.

Lapsis isn’t perfect, but it overcomes its humble underpinnings to make you listen. It isn’t as complex as Primer, nor as slow, but in some ways it reminded me of that wonderfully surprising indie. The ending of Lapsis may well leave you scratching your head; it certainly did me. The message, however, is probably as simple as it seems to be. I wish Hutton had been a little more explicit, but he certainly made me care enough to ponder and discuss it, so he did something right.

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Adam & Steve

[3 stars]

Craig Chester’s indie romp and rumination on missed opportunities and love is as entertaining and sweet as it is raw. Chester and Malcom Gets’ near slapstick romance plays out over the course of the film, helped along by the secret that they had met once long before, but neither puts the story together. It also includes a surprising cast of characters, most notably Parker Posey (Lost in Space) and Chris Kattan.

Chester had fun with this story. He allows it to get absurd, but never for too long. But he also uses the craziest of those moments to find the deepest humanity and emotion. This isn’t a great film, or even a polished product, but it finds some really great moments and truths. If you can get through the first couple scenes, the rest is a cake walk. And if you spent the late 80s and 90s/00s in NYC it will resonate even more.

Adam & Steve Poster

Godzilla: Singular Point

[3 stars]

Who would have thought they could find a new Godzilla tale to tell rather than remake after remake (however clever)? Singular Point is an amusingly complex tale of hyperspace, quantum physics, cryptology…and Kaiju. What more can you want in an entertaining anime? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it does have fun getting there and trying to explain it. And it has the one of the best weapon names every put forth in this genre.

I will admit that I watched the first episode and walked away for several weeks. There was something intriguing there, but I was worried it was going to just devolve into silly, overdone tropes. After I came back, they proved those assumptions very wrong. This is a very different tale of Godzilla, and a very different sort of battle for the planet.

This first series is fairly self-contained. If you watch through the final credits, there is a coda that opens it up for a follow-on story. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but given this last round, I’d give them a chance to pull me back in again.

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A Nightmare Wakes

[2.75 stars]

The reason to see this first feature by writer/director Nora Unkel is not the movie itself. The story, while closer to history than the typical apocryphal retelling of it in many movies and even a recent Doctor Who, ends up as a a tortured metaphor for the birthing of the story. It isn’t bad or uninventive, but it just isn’t as engaging as the myth, and isn’t accurate enough to serve as revelatory. And, worse, it weakens Shelley as a writer, a person, and as a woman.

However, what Unkel does show us is what she might be capable of with better equipment and script. The movie is beautifully filmed, edited, and framed. It is also relatively well acted, particularly by Alix Wilton Regan (The Wife) who has to navigate a huge range of emotion and mixed reality.

For a peek at a director and what may be to come, check this story out. While it is no more accurate than many of the previous tales (especially at the end) it attempts to present a more honest view of the creative process and relationships that gave rise to one of the most enduring tales ever put to bound paper. And if the movie should fail to excite, appreciate it simply for the potential it presents.

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Language Lessons

[3.5 stars]

Natalie Morales’ (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) and Mark Duplass’ (The Lazarus Effect) Language Lessons is probably the cleverest pandemic film I’ve seen in the last 18 months… precisely because it isn’t about the pandemic, even though it is obviously constructed as it is because of it. Unlike other completed efforts like Staged, Locked Down, or Songbird, this movie is more timeless. It took its constraints as a way to create something rather than as the reason for the story.

And the story is funny and touching all at once (and not entirely what you think it’s going to be). It manages to make an improbable situation feel completely honest and real. Morales did a great job directing and editing the final piece, and the story and script by Duplass and her is surprisingly compelling. The result is something truly affecting. The film’s already started to gather awards, and I suspect you’ll hear more about it as the season picks up. In a world hemmed in by Zoom calls, this manages to break out of the frame, even while staying within it.

Language Lessons Poster

The Voyeurs

[3 stars]

The Voyeurs is a movie that demands your trust, but it doesn’t really do enough to earn it, even if it eventually pays off. And because of that, Michael Mohan’s dark trip down a twisted rabbit hole never quite attains the credibility it needs to get you from event to event.

The real weakness here isn’t the story, it’s the casting. It aspires to be Rear Window with a dash of Eyes Wide Shut. But that cocktail requires a certain level of maturity and depth of character. We have to believe in each of these people and their choices. It isn’t that we haven’t all been in the position of choosing whether to keep watching something we shouldn’t or not, it’s that we have to believe in the obsession that builds for the main couple we’re watching (who are watching others…love the meta yet?).

Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) holds his own in this respect fairly well. So does Natasha Liu Bordizzo (Wish Dragon). But neither of their partners are, frankly, old enough to be believable. Sydney Sweeney (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) is literally too young to have the position her character holds. She has nice range, if a bit shallow, but she’d have to have been a tween in college. And Ben Hardy (6 Underground) has the needed ego and frenetic energy, but none of the magnetism and maturity to help ground the character and set him apart from those around him. And it makes the dynamic between him and Sweeney somewhat frat-boyish rather than with more levels.

I did appreciate Mohan’s approach to the story and the complexity he engineered, but the casting issues really diminished the impact. Though the addition of Katharine King So (Transplant) as a grounding voice in the midst of it all helped. Still, the movie is filmed and edited well, and the story will pull you along, even if you cringe at a few particular moments. But Mohan crafted the journey nicely. I just wish he had cast it to better meet his goals.

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Motherland: Fort Salem (series 2)

[ 3 stars]

I can’t say the first series of this show did more than intrigue me. The ideas were interesting, if illogically constructed at times, and the writing spotty, at best. But they had gathered a good bunch of talent and there was an inkling of complexity that brought me back for series 2.

Fortunately they upped their game in this second round and reworked some of their logic (without apology) to create a topical and suspenseful story. The writing still isn’t perfect, but the character development expanded considerably and several mysteries are explained. However, to be honest, the writing still has some real problems, including a “surprise ending” that is anything but. However, there is also plenty to chomp on and commit to.

When the usual offerings on the use of magic are something more soapy like Discovery of Witches, this more action-and-suspense oriented storyline is welcome. Like Warrior Nun it also puts women at the center of power and story. Of course, like that it’s also referencing a clear threat of patriarchy, but that’s unavoidable. And, fortunately, it is all subtext rather than direct.

If you haven’t tried the show out yet, give a crack. The improvements in the second series give me hope for the upcoming third, which promises to be full of even more action and intrigue.

How to Build a Girl

[3 stars]

Growing up is difficult, but finding your place in the world, generally, sucks. However, from the outside, those evolutions can be both enlightening, heartwarming, and hysterical. So, if you enjoy coming-of-age flicks like Sing Street, Blinded By the Light, and about a 100 other Brit music-based stories, this one’s for you. It has the added bonus of riffing a bit on Almost Famous as well.

Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart) dances on the edge of adulthood in this story of finding herself and escaping the financial struggles of her area and family. The film is loaded with recognizable and new faces, most of which are just fun to spot. But a couple standout as worth flagging. Laurie Kynaston as her brother and mirror, and Paddy Considine (The Third Day) as her supportive-but-often-pointless father are among them. And then there’s Alfie Allen (Jojo Rabbit) in an unexpectedly calm and contemplative role. The rest you’ll have to find for yourself.

Coky Giedroyc directed Caitlin Moran’s adaptation of her own book with a real sense of love and life. This isn’t a terribly deep story, but it has enough to sink your teeth into while also making you laugh. The side-eye commentary is plenty of fun as well. Check this out when you need a lighter laugh and a reminder of what it was to make that transition from thinking you are the world to being part of it.

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