Ten new releases, in a few words


B.J. Novak has written and directed for television before (“The Office,” “The Mindy Project”), but “Vengeance” marks the actor’s first foray into film writing/directing. It’s clear he has a lot to say, but his story of a podcaster (played by himself) going to Texas for a story on an ex-fling’s mysterious death has a lot of ups and downs. Ultimately, I dug it. “Vengeance” is funny, it’s clever, and it’s unpredictable. I was less enthused about the controversial ending, but I forgive it. I’m excited to see what Novak might do next. 6.5/10


Roland Emmerich has made some of the best bad movies in Hollywood, but “Moonfall” is just plain bad. The Moon is off-course, and will hit Earth in a matter of days. NASA only has one call to make…to a disgraced former astronaut (Patrick Wilson), of course. “Moonfall” is sci-fi that’s a lot more fi than sci. It’s filled with clumsy exposition telling audiences what they need to know, and laughable green-screen acting. The visual effects, at least when there aren’t actors on screen, are tolerable. But not as ground-breaking as “2012” was in 2009. It’s been a decade since Emmerich has directed something I’ve liked…I’m starting to think I’m not actually a fan of his anymore. Or maybe I only ever liked “Godzilla” and “2012” because those big-budget spectacles were what I wanted at the time. 2/10

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

I wanted so badly to like this mockumentary about a disgraced pastor (Sterling K. Brown), his wife (Regina Hall), and their attempt at a comeback. But the laughs just weren’t there for me, despite having two insanely talented actors at the wheel. Lee-Curtis (Brown) is a character that’s uniquely unlikable, but audiences aren’t quite sure whether they’re meant to root for him or not. Or is this a story about Trinitie (Hall)? The movie never makes that decision. 5/10


One would think Michael Morbius–a gaunt, pale scientist who turns into a vampire–would be the role Jared Leto was born to play. Somebody should have told him that, because his heart wasn’t in it. The movie, based on the Marvel comics, is less a superhero movie than a body-horror movie with an unlikable protagonist and a less likable villain. Nevertheless, the superhero action scenes are there, and they are bad. Is there anything worse than an effects-heavy action movie with ugly visual effects? The fight scenes featuring Morbius are so visually chaotic, you’re at risk of whiplash. There’s not a single scene where, afterward, I thought to myself “That was awesome.” Usually, a good superhero movie has at least a few of those. Even worse is the look of the vampire characters. If “Morbius” was content with being a drama, its writing would have needed to be a lot less sloppy. I laughed more than I gasped. That’s not a good sign. 2.5/10


I wonder what someone in 1987 would’ve thought if you told them that the best “Predator” and “Top Gun” movies wouldn’t be released until 2022? I would guess they’d be shocked that those franchises would still have audiences 35 years later. But that’s the truth. You can be nostalgic about the original all you want, but “Prey” is the most well-rounded of the “Predator” movies. It has great characters; a full, rich story; and just as much kickass action as any of the others. 7.5/10


It’s not enough that every tenth movie Hollywood produces is about kids with superpowers usually being hunted down by a government entity (“Freaks,” “Brightburn,” the entire “X-Men” franchise), but now we have to start remaking these movies, too!? 1984’s “Firestarter,” starring an adorable post-“E.T.” Drew Barrymore, was already not a great movie. Who felt the need to make another one that’s even worse? 2.5/10

The Black Phone

Blumhouse is prolific, but not everything the production giant releases is up to par with “Get Out” or “The Invisible Man.” I was disappointed by “The Black Phone,” though it garnered mostly positive reviews. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Ethan Hawke plays a creepy magician who has been kidnapping local youths in 1978 Denver. When he picks up the main character, he isn’t aware that the kid has a special psychic power where he can communicate with people in the past. For one, this largely unexplained hereditary power is disorienting. A portrait of gritty 1970s America is undone by this sometimes-cutesy gimmick that allows the victim to talk to past victims. Second, Ethan Hawke hardly appears at all. The kid is left alone a lot for a kidnapping victim. That’s only somewhat explained, but it’s mostly just incredibly convenient for the plot. 4/10

Where the Crawdads Sing

For the record, my wife was enthralled with this adaptation of the bestselling novel. I mean, I think she preferred the book. Most people usually do. But not having read the novel, I was expecting a murder mystery with a romantic subplot. What I got was a steamy, bayou-set Nicholas Sparks copycat with hints of mystery. The narrative jumps around so much in time that even the murder subplot that could have been decent is butchered to bits. I was bored out of my mind. 3/10

Not Okay

I referred to this Hulu original as “Near Evan Hanson” in my Letterboxd review, because of its plot’s similarities to that Broadway musical. Zoey Deutch, never a bad casting choice, plays an Instagram-obsessed young professional who decides to capitalize on an international tragedy in an effort to gain more followers. But her web of lies gets too complicated to keep going, and besides, maybe she’s realizing she could be a better person. It makes some strange choices, and only half of them pay off. But it has something to say about our new digital world, and how our online actions can affect other people (even if the connection isn’t obvious to us at first). 5.5/10


Jordan Peele’s third directing effort isn’t a horror movie. It isn’t even half as scary as “Us.” Instead, it looks like Peele was trying for a 1980s Spielbergian sci-fi adventure. I loved it. It’s a real throwback of a movie, with Peele’s usual artistic flair. Sometimes, that flair leads to some unexplained elements. Personally, I wish those outliers would have just been left out, but they don’t get in the way (like the plot holes in “Us,” which bothered me). 7.5/10

Nope First Trailer: Jordan Peele Directs Steven Yeun, Keke Palmer |  IndieWire

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