Alphabetical Menu
Chronological Menu

Reviews for August 5th, 2025

Documentary Round-Up

      In Mija, director Isabel Castro juggles three topics: the ups and downs of Doris Muñoz's career as a music manager, the rising career of singer Cuco, one of Muñoz's clients, and struggles of Muñoz to get a green card for her parents and deported brother in Mexico. That's a lot of ground for Castro to cover in just 1 hour and 25 minutes. For the most part, Mija manages to be mildly entertaining and engrossing to watch the subjects try to overcome their adversities. Doris Muñoz is lucky because she's the only member of her family who was born in the U.S. She desperately tries to get her family green cards, but she lacks legal representation that may or may not speed up the process. Each of the three topics in this doc is worthy of exploration in a separate documentary. Together, though, it feels disjointed and makes the doc a bit sugar-coated. The elephant in the room is the U.S.'s immigration policies and all the red tape that comes with it. Mija doesn't delve into any of that, but, at the same time, it doesn't show Muñoz's emotional battles enough. By the end of the film, you learn more about vicissitudes of her and Cuco's careers without getting to know them more as human beings. There's an emotional distance between them and the audience that leaves you a bit cold. What about expanding the topic of immigration struggles with a broader scope? The Muñoz family is a microcosm of a larger, systemic immigration issue that the film fails to explore. Ultimately, Mija is a slightly moving, well-shot, but unfocused and incomplete documentary that bites off more than it could chew. It opens at IFC Center (for free) via Disney Original Documentary before streaming on Disney+ later this year.

      Claydream is an engaging documentary portrait of Will Vinton, a.k.a. the "Father of Claymation." Director Marq Evans does a great job introducing Vinton to the audience members who may not be familiar with him, so if you're among those people, you'll learn precisely what makes him so significant in the world of animation and art in general. His rise to fame is fascinating and it's clear how talented he is as an artist. Regardless of whether or not you're an art aficionado, you'll appreciate his talent and passion for claymation, and for bringing that passion to life with his artwork. He collaborated with fellow artist Bob Gardiner on many projects including the short film Closed Mondays which ended up winning the Oscar for best short. He and Bob eventually parted ways because of artistic differences. When it comes to the business side of the art world, that's where Vinton suffered the most challenges and obstacles. Claydream spends a lot of time with archival footage from the court battles between Will Vinton and Phil Knight, the co-founder of Vinton Studios. At stake Vinton's ownership of the company which did not end in his favor. Vinton Studios morphed into Laika which is still around today and is known for stop-motion animated films like Coraline and ParaNorman. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, Claymation is a well-edited, insightful and captivating documentary about an artist who deserves more recognition. It also serves as an illuminating glimpse into the complex and challenging crossroads between art and commerce. Oscilloscope Laboratories opens Claydream at Quad Cinema in NYC before expanding to Laemmle Monica Film Center and Laemmle Noho 7 in Los Angeles on August 12th, 2022.

Bodies Bodies Bodies

Directed by Halina Reijn

      Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her new girlfriend, Bee (Maria Bakalova), arrive at the mansion of her friend,  David (Pete Davidson), for a party during a hurricane. Other party guests include Alice (Rachel Sennott) and her boyfriend, Greg (Lee Pace), Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) and David's girlfriend, Emma (Chase Sui Wonders). They decide to play a game called Bodies Bodies Bodies where one of them is a killer and everyone has to guess which of them is the killer. The game doesn't go as planned, and one of them actually ends up dead.

      The screenplay by Sarah DeLappe doesn't begin with the horror elements right away. Instead, it builds up tension gradually while introducing each of the characters and explaining their relationships before they start playing the titular game. Just when you think that mother nature (the hurricane) will be the film's villain, you'll think again when you see how these people behave when faced with such dark elements.  Without revealing any spoilers, the friends hold secrets and grudges that pit them against each other. No one knows for sure who the killer truly is, and neither does the audience, so you'll be right there along with the party goers trying to guess which of them is indeed the true killer.  DeLappe blends just the right of black comedy, wit and satire with the suspense and horror while keeping the audience at the edge of their seat. What elevates the film tremendously, though, is that it's ultimately a provocative study of the dark side of human nature like the recent All My Friends Hate Me. Selfishness, anger, narcissism and egos all rise to the surface. The character who you thought you knew during the first ten minutes turn out to be a lot different during the last thirty minutes, so prepare for a wild, disturbing ride that doesn't shy away from making the character very unlikable. You'll be glad that you're not partying with them, though.  They're deeply flawed, yet still remain human. To be fair, the "big reveal" during the third act might be a little divisive, but it's nonetheless though-provoking and might tempt you to rewatch the film to see it from a whole new perspective.

      Every actor and actress is perfectly cast from the small role to the larger roles. It's refreshing to see Rachel Sennott in a movie that doesn't center around a funeral for a change, after Shiva Baby and Tahara. Thanks not only to the organic screenplay, but also to the performances, the characters all do seem like a real group of friends, bickering and all. The mansion becomes a character in and of itself, and the filmmakers make the most out of the set design and lighting once the power goes off. That's when the film is at its scariest on a palpable level. Director Halina Reijn includes some unflinching sights of blood and gore, but without going overboard into the realm of torture porn. The cinematography looks slick and stylish without relying on shaky-cam, and the soundtrack is very well-chosen. Interestingly, the hurricane serves as a poetic metaphor for the innate turmoil and darkness lurking in the heart, mind and soul of these troubled characters. At a brief running time 1 hour and 35 minutes  Bodies Bodies Bodies is a wickedly funny, hip and delightfully subversive horror comedy. It's like Scream and Jawbreaker crossed with Lord of the Flies and Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by A24.
Opens in select theaters. Opens wide on August 12th.

Bullet Train

Directed by David Leitch

      Many different assassins including Ladybug (Brad Pitt), Prince (Joey King), Kimura (Andrew Koji), The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada), Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Wolf (Bad Bunny), all end up on the same bullet train together. Ladybug wants to get ahold of a briefcase locataed on the train.

      Bullet Train is yet another B-movie with an A-list cast. The screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, based on the book by Kôtarô Isaka, introduces so many characters with so many backstories within the film that it turns the plot into a convoluted mess. There are a few moments of witty dialogue, especially during the scenes with Lemon, but, for the most part, the humor falls flat while trying too hard to be darkly comedic like the films of Guy Ritchie, Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. You'd never guess that Bullet Train were actually based on a book. It's not important where a filmmaker takes ideas from; it's important where he takes the ideas to. What ensues is a bland first act with poorly-written exposition and then a tedious second act that goes off the rails like too many films do these days. Sometimes when a film goes bonkersm, it can work if there's a clever screenplay, but the screenplay here is often dumb and, eventually, relies too heavily upon cameos in order to surprise the audience. Some of the action sequences are amusing or thrilling, but they're mostly dull and forgettable. The same can be said about the characters who are all unlikable and one-note with not a single one of them worth rooting for. There's also very clunky use of flashbacks that are distracting while diminishing the film's momentum. A lot happens on screen, yet very little actually sticks. This is one of those movies where you can't help but think of much better films from similar genres, i.e. Snatch and John Wick.

      Despite all of the A-listers in Bullet Train, not a single one of them gets the chance to shine, even Brad Pitt who's been in far superior films. His charisma can only go so far to invigorate the film. In pretty much every sense, Bullet Train tries too hard to please the audience. It's equivalent to a pianist banging on the piano over and over which creates more annoying noise than music. Speaking of music, the soundtrack is fine, but, at times, overbearing like a music video. Some of the film's choppy camerawork and editing seem like they belong in a music video than in a film. Also, how many exterior shots does Bullet Train need to remind that audience that everyone's on a bullet train? By the 5th exterior shot of the moving train, it's as though the filmmakers assume that the audience has short term memory loss or isn't intelligent enough to figure out the location themselves. Worst of all, the running time of 2 hour and 6 minutes makes the film overstay its welcome. If it were a leaner 90 minutes or so, it would at least become a guilty pleasure instead of an chore to sit through from one unfunny joke to the next. Ultimately, Bullet Train is an exhausting, convoluted and tedious bore.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Easter Sunday

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

      Joe (Jo Koy), a stand-up comedian, struggles to be a good father to his teenage son, Junior (Brandon Wardell), and pleasing his own mother, Susan (Lydia Gaston), by showing up for Easter dinner. He's tasked with resolving a spat between her and his aunt, Teresa (Tia Carrere). He has to choose between attending a meeting for a potentional acting opportunity which happens to be at the same time as the Easter dinner. His cousin, Eugene (Eugene Cordero), owes money to a local gangster, Dev (Asif Ali). Meanwhile, he bumps into his ex-girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish), who's now a cop. In yet another subplot, Junior meets a girl, Ruth (Eva Noblezada), and romances her before she meets his dysfunctional family.

      There's enough material in Easter Sunday for at least three or four different movies. Part romance, part drama, part thriller, part comedy, the screenplay Kate Angelo and Ken Cheng can't decide what kind of a movie it wants to be. By trying to please everyone, it ends up pleasing very few. None of the characters come to life. There too many of them, and they're saddled with dialogue that ranges from witless to cheesy to just plain clunky and stilted. The jokes don't land, and neither do the attempts at generating genuinely heartfelt moments. All of the characters seem like over-the-top caricatures rather than human beings. The scenes with Joe's ex-girlfriend belong in a Saturday Night Live sketch. Then there's the very dull subplot with the gangster that turns the film into a completely different genre with throwaway action and suspense. Tonal whiplash isn't fun nor amusing. Of course, the third act wraps everything up as though Easter Sunday were a contrived fairy tale. It has very little to say that's insightful about family, love or the American dream. Most disappointingly, it lacks the warmth, wit and humor found in the far superior My Big Fat Greek Wedding or the captivating energy in the crowd-pleasing Crazy Rich Asians.

      None of the actors get a chance to shine no matter how hard they try to rise above the very weak screenplay. There are pacing issues, to boot, and the editing is also poor as well as the cinematography which makes everything look like a made-for-TV movie. Eva Noblezada is in a much more captivating and heartfelt movie called Yellow Rose which gives her a more complex role that displays her acting abilities. Lou Diamond Phillips briefly shows up in a cameo as himself, but his scenes feel so forced as though the film were very desperate to make you laugh and surprise you. What's up with so many movies these days bombarding the audience with cameos? It's getting annoying and tiresome. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, Easter Sunday is clunky, overstuffed and undercooked with severe tonal whiplash.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

I Love My Dad

Directed by James Morisini

      After leaving a mental hospital for a suicide attempt, Franklin (James Morosini) decides to set a boundary with his neglectful, estranged father, Chuck (Patton Oswalt), by going no contact with him. He blocks him on his phone and on social media, but Chuck can't handle being ignored or a clear-cut boundary. He creates a Facebook page to catfish his son while pretending to be Becca (Claudia Sulewski), a waitress from a local diner.

      Writer/director James Morisini deserves credit for a bold premise that's unafraid to make the audience feel uncomfortable and icky. Imagine a much more awkward version of Toni Erdmann and you'll have something along the lines of I Love My Dad. Toni Erdmann at least worked as a poignant character study about two flawed human beings. There's something lovable about the father in Toni Erdmann. He crosses boundaries, too, but not as much as Chuck does. The lengths that Chuck goes to reconnect with his son makes him come across as an emotionally immature, insecure, emotionally needy and very, very toxic creep. By catfishing his son and letting it go so far that his son falls in love with "Becca", he hurts his son as well as the real Becca who works at the diner. Just when you think the film won't go to a certain place with the concept, yes, it does go there: sexting. That scene alone can be interpeted as a form of emotional incest. It's not entertaining or funny, but the tonally uneven screenplay wants you to laugh uncomfortably. Anyone who has any empathy for Franklin won't be able to laugh at the pranks that Chuck pulls on his son. That's not love. That's not compassion. That's not healthy. Unfortunately, the screenplay tries to make you sympathize with Chuck despite him being the least sympathetic character on screen. He's not only a toxic parent, but a toxic lover and friend, too. His character arc isn't believable nor is his "apology" when he inevitably gets caught. There's no backstory about what his relationship with his own father was like, but it was probably toxic as well and he hasn't acknowledged or healed from the abuse yet. I Love My Dad shies away from digging deeper into the relationship between Franklin and Chuck or from getting inside the heart, mind and soul of either of them. How will Chuck's behavior affect Franklin's future relationships? The film doesn't really explore that important question. The third act takes a steep nosedive with an over-the-top scene at the diner where Chuck looks even more toxic, and another scene where Franklin seems just as childish and immature as his father. And he doesn't seem to have learned any lessons about how important it is for his emotional and mental well-being to stay "no contact" with such a toxic parent. As the saying goes, sometimes the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.

      No matter how hard Patton Oswald tries to make the character of Chuck more likable with his charismatic and moving performance, he's unable to because of how consistently and irredeemably toxic Chuck comes across. James Morosini gives a decent performance as does Amy Landecker as Franklin's mother. Then there's the underrated Rachel Dratch who's very funny in her brief scenes with Patton Oswalt. More scenes with her wouldn't be great because she's a breath of fresh air, yet underused in the film. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, I Love My Dad is audacious, but tonally uneven, painfully unfunny and sophomoric.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Magnolia Pictures.
Opens at IFC Center.

Lighting Up the Stars

Directed by Jiangjiang Liu

      Mo Sanmei (Zhu Yilong), a funeral director, recently got released from prison. A young girl, Wu Xiaowen (Yang Enyou), meets Mo and his coworkers when they arrive at the home of her grandmother who died. Mo agrees to take care of Wu, and they soon bond with each other.

        Writer/director Jiangjiang Liu does a wonderful job of exploring their friendship. It's both fascinating and moving to observe how Mo and Wu's relationship evolves. Mo and Wu seem like they won't get along at first, but as they spend more time together, they become closer on an emotional level. He essentially becomes a surrogate father for her in a way that feels organic. Mo is the kind of character who seems tough, but on the inside, he's a good-natured person despite his flaws. He shows signs of empathy, compassion, love and kindness. When a woman shows up claiming to be Wu's biological mother, that's when the film becomes more complex and even a little bit suspenseful. The ways that Mo and Wu  affect one another is quite profound and deeply human, much like in the Academy Award-winning Russian film Kolya. Although,Lighting Up the Stars tackles the topic of death, like Departures, it's more about life, which, after all, death is a part of. There's a spiritual aspect to the film that's very enlightening and poetic without becoming preachy or cheesy. The ending, especially, leaves you feeling great while actually  earning the uplift. Most importantly, Mo and Wu's relationship feels authentic from start to finish, and the same can be said about their epiphanies and their characters' arcs.  

      Zhu Yilong gives convincingly moving performances that rings true. He and Yang Enyou have palpable chemistry together. In turn, don't be surprised if you can't help but root for Mo and Wu to spend more time together and for him to become a permanent father figure in her life. The film moves at just the right pace without a dull or sluggish moment. At a running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes, Lighting Up the Stars is a warm, tender and heartfelt story about friendship, grief and human connection. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by China Lion Film Distribution.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

Memory Box

Directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige

      Alex (Paloma Vauthier), a teenager, lives in Montreal with her mother, Maia (Rim Turki), and grandmother, Téta (Clémence Sabbagh). On Christmas Eve, they receive a box of photos and audio recordings that Maia had sent her friend, Liza Haber, during her teenage years while living in Lebanon. Maia would rather not open the box, and Téta stores it away, but Alex decides to open it and look through it to learn about her mother's childhood in Beirut.

      Memory Box is a quietly moving and tender story about a mother who gradually learns to face her traumatic past head-on. For years, Maia had bottled her memories of her friend, Liza, and her first lover, Raja (Hassan Akil), but when Liza dies many years later and sends her the memory box, it forces her to confront those memories. No matter how hard she tries, she can't erase those memories. At first, Alex looks through the box alone while listening to the audio recordings as the photos come to life. The screenplay by co-writers/directors Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige gradually reveals the backstory about Maia's life and what events made it hesitant to look at the past. Through the well-woven exposition, you gradually learn what Alex learns about her mother. Around the hour mark, the film changes perspectives and has Maiai recalling her memories through very vivid flashbacks. The way that those memories affect Maia is what makes Memory Box so fascinating. In a way, it's a coming-of-age-story for her as she looks back at those times with a more mature and wise perspective. It's not easy for her. Fortunately, the filmmakers see and treat her as a human being. There's one scene that almost veers toward melodrama when Maia yells at Alex when she sees her with the memory box, but it's not quite enough to turn the film into a soap opera which could've happened with a less sensitive screenplay. The film also avoids schmaltz without avoiding sentiment. By confronting her past, Maia is able to move forward, so Memory Box offers that valuable life lesson without being preachy. To watch Maia grow as a human being while she processes her emotions and experiences an epiphany and catharsis is a genuinely uplifting joy to behold.

      Paloma Vauthier and Rim Turki both give heartfelt performances as a mother and daughter. Turkie, in particular, handles the emotionally complex aspects of her role very convincingly with just the right amount of nuance during the third act. Most impressively, though, the cinematography adds both visual style as well substance during the flashbacks. One of the flashbacks as the younger Maia (Manal Issa) rides on the back of a motorcycle with her lover while bombs explode around them is mesmerizing, haunting, poetic and exhilarating. The use of different visual mediums, i.e. cellphone footage from the present day, to tell the story is quite creative and helps to invigorate the film concurrently. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, Memory Box is a genuinely poignant, profound and captivating emotional journey.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Playtime.
Opens at Film Forum.