The VOD calendars are getting packed this summer. With many movie theaters closed because of the pandemic, streaming platforms seem to be the only place for cinematic solace these days. So, here we are, July 10, with six new reviews of movies that open this week. Be safe and try to have some happy movie-watching experiences during these less-than-pleasant times.
Filmmaker Aaron Schneider (Get Low) should be commended for the technical prowess of his new naval WWII movie Greyhound. The attention to detail in the dialogue shared between characters is precise and realistic, and everyone on board sells it like battle-tested pros. Based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd, Schneider’s nautical thriller follows U.S. Navy Captain Krause (Tom Hanks), who's leading an international convoy on his first war-time assignment in the Atlantic. When a wolfpack of German U-boats engages them in battle, Captain Krause attempts to do everything possible to save the lives of the men on his ships. Hanks, who played another kind of skipper in the 2013 film Captain Phillips, fits the mold effectively as the leader of the Allied forces. Hanks is a self-confessed WWII junkie, so it is obvious why he would want to play a ship’s commander, but he could benefit from taking on occasional roles that aren’t so safe and heroic. In Greyhound, he steers the ship well and keeps the intensity high as torpedoes launch toward him and his men. The script, which Hanks also wrote, however, is void of significant emotion. When the boat’s not rocking from enemy blasts, Greyhound sputters. Greyhound is available on Apple TV+ July 10. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
Guest of Honour
Over the course of his 25-year feature filmmaking career, Oscar-nominated writer and director Atom Egoyan has walked a very inconsistent path with the melodramatic and mostly nonlinear narratives he’s created. He peaked in 1997 with his devastatingly beautiful The Sweet Hereafter before slowly coming down from his pedestal to make unmemorable cinema like the 2008 drama Adoration, the 2009 erotic thriller Chole and the 2013 crime drama Devil’s Knot on the West Memphis Three. Egoyan returns to the types of themes he’s known for — loneliness, grief, guilt — in Guest of Honour, but once again fails to make the kind of soul-bearing impression fans know he is capable of. The film stars David Thewlis (War Horse) as Jim, a health code inspector who assesses the cleanliness of restaurants. Every scene where viewers go behind kitchen doors is fascinating, especially with someone like Jim who is sympathetic to the owners but takes his job seriously. In fact, if Guest of Honour had simply followed Jim around town to make sure an eatery’s refrigeration was functioning correctly, it might’ve been a sweet little slice-of-life story. Instead, Egoyan layers his screenplay with so many convoluted storylines, frustratingly vague flashbacks and unconvincing character motivation, it’s almost as if he’s written a film to please himself and not an audience. Guest of Honour is available on VOD platforms July 10. 2 out of 5 stars (not recommended)
Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo
The astronomical rise that actor Danny Trejo has experienced, as told in the documentary Inmate #1, is fascinating. Not only did Trejo ascend from the ground up, he had to dig himself from the depths before even hitting the horizon. Best known for his roles in the Machete and Spy Kids franchises, Desperado and Heat (and for the fact that he rarely says no to a movie), Trejo is nothing short of a Hollywood phenomenon. While you might think you know some of Trejo’s life story, filmmaker Brett Harvey (Ice Guardians) does such a great job arranging all the pieces into one compelling package, viewers will definitely learn something new about the Latino star before the credits roll. From his troubled childhood to his stints in prison through the 1960s, nothing is off limits in this authentic cinematic portrait of a man who works hard and lives by a motto we all should aspire to follow: “Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else.” Machete don’t text, but he does philosophize. Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo is currently available on VOD platforms. 3.5 out of 5 stars (recommended)
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado
It’s virtually impossible to make a biographical documentary with much conflict when it’s centered on someone as treasured as iconic TV astrologer Walter Mercado. The late Puerto Rican predictor is immortalized in Mucho Mucho Amor, a film Mercado participated in before his death last November. In the doc, co-directors Cristina Costantini (Science Fair) and Kareem Tabsch (The Last Resort) are given an incredible opportunity to turn the camera on their subject at the twilight of his career, and they don’t disappoint. At times, the film takes the hero-worshipping of Mercado a few levels too high, but Coastantini and Tabsch do their best to balance out the adoration with slight hints of turmoil, although they probably could’ve prodded more. Still, Mucho Mucho Amor will resonate with viewers who enjoy when their documentary subjects are full of life and positive energy (bonus points when they wear glittery capes). It’ll be especially true for Latinos who grew up watching Mercado during the 90s on Univision’s news show Primer Impacto after school with their parents or grandparents. Sometimes nostalgia can fool the heart, but not with Mercado. He exudes love, and we all benefit. Mucho Mucho Amor is currently available on Netflix. 3.5 out of 5 stars (recommended)
The admiration each viewer will have for the dark comedy Palm Springs will come down to just how clever they think it is. The idea is not necessarily new. It’s happened, of course, in past movies like Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day and Source Code, just to name a few. What first-time feature director Max Barbakow and first-time feature screenwriter Andy Siara do with the “time loop” narrative does create a few heartfelt moments, but it’s far from groundbreaking or imaginative. Unlike the aforementioned “time loop” movies, Palm Springs presents audiences with not one, but two characters to watch as they relive the same day over and over. Andy Samberg (Hot Rod) stars as Nyles, a stereotypical, immature hipster who wakes up every morning of the wedding of one of his girlfriend’s friends. When he accidentally lures Sarah (Cristin Milioti) into a time loop with him, the two are forced to live out the rest of their existence in a sort of infinite rom-com nightmare. While it’s funny to watch a dorky couple stumble through a repetitive life with IDGAF attitudes, the story wears thin and Nyles and Sarah really learn nothing of value, unlike Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, which was brilliantly nuanced. Sure, Palm Springs is silly and irritatingly cute, but that’s just not enough. Palm Springs is available on Hulu July 10. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)
First-time feature filmmaker Natalie Erika James gets high marks for creating a slow-burning atmosphere in Relic. However, her metaphor-heavy script on the grief and fear that families experience when someone they love develops a neurodegenerative disease doesn’t deliver the gut punch it needed to consider it a complete success. It’s an ambitious attempt that doesn’t stick the landing. Relic is an interesting mix of Japanese horror and body horror elements and the spirit of The Twilight Zone. The film stars Emily Mortimer (Hugo) and Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon) as Kay and Sam, a mother and daughter who find their nana (Robyn Nevin) missing when they travel to her home for a welfare check. Their nana eventually returns, but she is strangely different. It’s reminiscent of Pet Sematary (either version) when the dead kid comes back, except nana’s not dead. Instead, James wants audiences to witness nana wither away before our eyes. She uses imagery of a decaying household, sort of like the film Dark Water (either version), to illustrate the slow rotting of someone’s mind and personality. The idea is a powerful one, but it feels like it would have worked better on the page rather than the screen. Relic is available at local theaters and on VOD platforms July 10. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)
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