“Antebellum” stars Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe. Released on September 18, 2020, the film is about an author who is trapped in a Southern slave plantation.
The film is written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz in their feature directorial debuts. We often get scared by a lot of things such as ghosts, demons, monsters, and skydiving. However, there’s one thing that I believe puts all of those fears to shame, and that, my fellow readers, is slavery. Having to work non-stop for the people who owned you and being treated like garbage is nothing but pure torture, especially from the perspective of an African American in the 19th century. Now imagine yourself reliving this difficult time. Scary, huh? Seriously, if that ain’t a horrifying nightmare for everyone, I don’t know what is. That is the topic of this weekend’s newest release, which sees this terrifying fear come to life before our own eyes. It’s never too early to celebrate Halloween, am I right? This is another film that was originally scheduled to hit theaters before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, including cinemas. It was supposed to make its debut in April before it got delayed to August and then eventually got removed from the release schedule entirely. After a while, the film’s studio Lionsgate announced that it will be released through video on demand instead, making this the latest film to go from theatrical release to VOD release since the pandemic began. Such an interesting time to live in right now. Now that it’s finally available for our home-viewing pleasure, let's see if this latest horror film can bring in some early frights.
The story follows Veronica Henley (Monáe), a woman who’s having a successful career as an author. Her life suddenly changes when she is mysteriously abducted and is placed in the Antebellum South, where she is held as a slave at a plantation. She must use her wits to free herself and the other captives from this devastating time that they’re forced to live in. You might be thinking that this is a standard horror film that involves some type of time travel, but it’s actually more than just that. It’s also a film that represents one of the most provocative sins that are still happening today: the mistreatment of African Americans. Whether it’s during the Antebellum South or even today, people of color have been treated differently compared to the people who are white. What makes this situation even worse is that we don’t know when these heinous acts will end. These themes alone would’ve make this film another groundbreaking experience that’s in the same veins as “Da 5 Bloods” or even “Get Out”. Sadly, they’re the only things that I actually liked from the film. While it did represent this topic in a frustrating and honest matter, the representation was nearly ruined by its poor story choices and its lack of genuine frights. It’s like the writers/directors made a cake with the ingredients being two cups of the horrors of real-life problems and a few dashes of the elements of films from Jordan Peele and M. Night Shyamalan. Instead of a tasty treat that everyone will enjoy on a daily basis, it wound up being a sloppy and shameful mess that will make them question why they made it in the first place. It looked nice from a technical aspect, I can give them that, but when it comes to the storytelling, it’s a mediocre horror film that lacks any depth in its characters and the environment and has no idea what to do with it. I also want to point out that the second act of the film was not only misplaced and confusing in terms of the narrative, but also a bit slow. I think it would’ve been a bit better if it was placed after the title credits and then explore more of the situation that the characters are in. On a positive note, the cast did pretty well with their performances, with Monáe being the highlight as Veronica. While not her strongest performance in her career, Monáe did express the emotional and terrifying side of her character to a satisfying degree. Lange and Malone were also decent as Senator Denton and Elizabeth respectively, while Gabourey Sidibe did her best to keep the second act alive as Veronica’s friend Dawn.
Overall, “Antebellum” works fine as a call-to-action against the mistreatment of African Americans, but like its topic, its poor execution is simply impossible to ignore. I respect the filmmakers for sending this type of message out to the world with this film, and I hope I get to see more of that message really soon. Unfortunately, I have to say that the story they’re trying to tell to back up this message just didn’t work for me. As a regular horror film, it struggled massively to combine its themes with proper storytelling and scares in a way that Jordan Peele can with his films. I can’t say that it’s the worse thing I’ve seen, but I can say that I was pretty disappointed with this one.
“The Devil All the Time” stars Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Haley Bennett, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, and Harry Melling. Released on Netflix on September 16, 2020, the film is about a young man who attempts to protect his loved ones from corruption and brutality.
The film is directed by Antonio Campos, who also directed “Afterschool”, “Simon Killer”, and “Christine”. It is based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock. A lot of things can happen after the war, especially when you’re around people with terrifying secrets. This next film from Netflix is another book-to-movie adaptation, and much like “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, this is a psychological perspective of a situation that will make you feel a bit uncomfortable. Looks like Netflix is starting to become a fan of the genre. This was something that I wanted to check out because of its cast, most notably Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson. Holland has been on the rise since bringing Spider-Man to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Pattinson is still gaining popularity from his fans in his post-Twilight days. Having these two together in a film will surely give the streaming service a respectable amount of views, but is it good enough for me to recommend it?
The story takes place in Southern Ohio and West Virginia after the events of World War II, where we see multiple characters in a series of unnerving and violent events spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s. The characters consists of Arvin Russell (Holland), a young man who is raised by his grandmother after his parents died, Lenora Laferty (Scanlen), Arvin’s step-sister, Carl (Clarke) and Sandy Henderson (Keough), a husband-and-wife murder duo, Sheriff Lee Bodecker (Stan) and Reverend Preston Teagardin (Pattinson), a preacher with a dark side. If you have read the book it’s based on (or read the rating box on the poster), you should already know how twisted and violent this film is going to be. In fact, seeing the film’s title alone would get the viewers to realize that they’re in for a treat, and not the kind that'll leave you feeling satisfied. The film deals with plenty of grim topics like corruption and violence which would’ve make this an experience that’ll leave viewers uncomfortable in a good way. Unfortunately, for me, it turned out to be an experience that’s neither provocative nor disturbing, resulting in an underwhelming thriller that didn’t leave that much of an impact. The only things that I personally enjoy were the cast and Campos’ filmmaking style. As expected, Tom Holland delivered a riveting performance as Arvin, a young man who does what it takes to protect the people he loves. This is another performance that fully captures the feelings of a character inside and out without over-expressing themselves. It’s subtle, but also effective. Robert Pattinson was also very enticing in his role as Preston as well as Clarke and Keough as Carl and Sandy respectively. I also want to point out that the narration in the film is provided by the book’s author himself, Donald Ray Pollock, which I thought was a nice touch for those who want to hear the story from the perspective of the person who wrote it. Antonio Campos has a remarkable style that captures the harsh and bleak reality of the film’s timeline, ranging from its respectable cinematography to its production design. It looks impressive from a filmmaker’s perspective. The problem that lies within it is that in terms of its plot and characters, it lacked an unnerving impact that it was going for. I’m pretty sure that most people will feel uncomfortable with its disturbing nature, but from my personal perspective, it felt like the film didn't have a strong script to go along with its intended nature. It definitely has its share of images that may upset certain people. However, I don't think they’re alarming enough to remain in my brain for hours. It also didn’t help that the film suffered a bit from some of its pacing issues. There were a few scenes that dragged a little bit, but thankfully, they didn’t take me out of the film entirely.
Overall, “The Devil All the Time” is an impressive-looking film that showcases this reality in a depressing way, even though it wasn’t able to wash away some of the sins that it committed during the process. While the film does deliver some remarkable talent onscreen and represents Campos’ stunning filmmaking style, its average screenplay and pacing kept it from reaching its intended potential. I would say it’s watchable for those who read the book, but as I mentioned before, it didn’t leave that much of an impact for me compared to the other films I’ve seen that also have disturbing content.
“Unpregnant” stars Haley Lu Richardson, Barbie Ferreira, Alex MacNicoll, Breckin Meyer, Giancarlo Esposito, Sugar Lyn Beard, and Betty Who. Released on HBO Max on September 10, 2020, the film is about a teenager who goes on a road trip with her former friend to get an abortion.
The film is directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg, who is known for directing several films from The Asylum as well as directing “A Deadly Adoption” and the 2020 remake of “Valley Girl”. It is based on the novel of the same name by Ted Caplan and Jenni Hendricks. You can’t have a fun road trip without someone by your side, especially since this road trip involves getting an abortion. HBO Max has gotten off to an impressive start with their original documentaries like “On the Record” and last month’s “Class Action Park”. The latter is worth checking out, by the way. Although, their original film library is having a hard time finding their footing. I’m not really impressed with how “An American Pickle” turned out even though it has earned some good reviews from critics. I enjoyed Seth Rogen’s performance, but the overall story wasn’t as delicious as a jar full of pickles. So I was hoping that the next few films from HBO Max would be able to turn things around, including a film that deals with abortion. I don’t watch a lot of films that involve this type of concept because let’s face it, abortions take away lives before they’re even born, and that’s no good. Despite the fact that they’re good for teens who aren’t ready to handle that type of responsibility, I belong in a group that doesn’t support this heartless crime. But don’t worry, I’m only viewing the film because of its cast and the positive reviews it’s been getting. So with that in mind, let’s find out if this latest original film from HBO Max is worth a trip.
The story centers on Veronica Clarke (Richardson), a high school student who dreams of enrolling in an Ivy League college. Her dream and her reputation are put into jeopardy, however, when she discovers that she is pregnant. After she learns that she can’t get an abortion in her home state without her parents’ permission, she convinces her former friend Bailey Butler (Ferreira) to take her to the next nearest clinic to get one, which is in Albuquerque. During their road trip, they attempt to rekindle their friendship while being forced to go through one mishap after another. The plot is equivalent to “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”, which is another film that involves a road trip to get an abortion, with a small dash of inspiration from Ridley Scott’s “Thelma & Louise”. You might understand what I mean if you saw one of the films I mentioned. This is one of the subjects in film that can be a bit tricky to represent if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you treat it poorly by making numerous jokes about it, you’ll be receiving death threats in the mail in a matter of minutes. If you make it too dark and depressing, then it will become unwatchable for its target audience. “Unpregnant” was able to properly balance this representation as well as deliver a fun and heartwarming tale about two former friends reconnecting with one another. Its thematic depth wasn’t as deep as it could’ve been when it comes to its subject matter, but it didn’t hinder this compelling experience thanks to its mixture of light-hearted comedy and teen drama that treats its mature topic with respect and care. Haley Lu Richardson delivered a performance that’s worthy of her talents as Veronica, but the real star here is Barbie Ferreira, who is known for starring in the HBO series “Euphoria”. Ferreira’s character, Bailey, is someone who isn’t afraid to get a little crazy, but is also meaningful during specific moments in the film. It’s the type of blend that Ferreira was successfully able to pull off mostly due to her charismatic performance and her chemistry with Richardson. She’s basically one of the reasons why I found this film entertaining and endearing. If you’re concerned that Ferreira’s character might ruin the film because of her personality, worry not. She passed with flying colors in my book. The rest of the cast, including Meyer and Esposito, also had some good moments that weren’t as memorable as the chemistry between the two main lead actresses, but were worthy enough to make it more watchable. Truth be told, I was a bit baffled to see Goldenberg helm this type of film after directing several low-budget television films, including the Lifetime movie “A Deadly Adoption”. At first, I was worried that the film might turn out to be as cheesy as those types of films, but after watching it for myself, I was surprised to see that she’s able to make it bearable and a bit more realistic. Goldenberg offered a respectable balance in its tone that understood the issues of its sensitive topic without constantly making fun of it. There was this one scene that I believe could’ve been ripped out of any low-brow road trip comedy, making its tonal shift not only unexpected, but a bit off-putting. Aside from that, the film’s tone has a proper balance that doesn’t offend or alienate its audience.
Overall, “Unpregnant” is a road trip that isn’t as boring as a real-life road trip. While it’s not a powerful portrayal of its themes, it has enough heart and humor to provide a well-acted and suitably-written comedy that’s not only entertaining, but also thoughtful. Thanks to the chemistry between Richardson and Ferreira, Goldenberg’s direction, and a screenplay that’s both honest and funny, this is one of the better films that HBO Max has to offer. Here’s hoping that the streaming service can keep that trend going in the future.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” stars Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis. Released on Netflix on September 4, 2020, the film is about a woman who questions her relationship while meeting with her boyfriend’s parents.
The film is written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, who also directed “Synecdoche, New York” and “Anomalisa”. It is based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Iain Reid. Sometimes the most challenging part about being in a relationship is figuring out whether to end it or not. Writer/director Charlie Kaufman is back to give us a psychological perspective of this nerve-wrecking situation that’s streaming exclusively on Netflix. My experience with Kaufman’s filmmaking style was pretty rare since the only film I’ve seen from him so far was “Anomalisa” back in 2015, which I thought was a superb animated film for mature audiences. However, that didn’t stop me from checking it out because I heard some pretty good things about it…and because I got nothing else to see in the theater for a while. With that in mind, let’s see if this film is just as stressful as meeting your loved one’s parents.
The story follows a young woman (Buckley) who is contemplating on ending her relationship with her boyfriend Jake (Plemons). Before she can do that, Jake decided to take her to meet his parents (played by Collette and Thewlis respectively) at their farm. During their visit, the young woman experiences some unusual events that’ll make her think about her relationship even more. The best way I can describe this film is that it is metaphorical in its imagery and its dialogue, which is something that Charlie Kaufman is known for in his other works. It is also one of the films that challenge your mind and get you talking about what the heck you just saw on the screen, for better or for worse. I’m serious about the “for better or for worse” part because there is one group of people that are into films that get them thinking about their complex symbolism, and there’s another group that prefer films that provide escapism. Personally, this film felt more suitable for the former group. There were plenty of moments that I liked from this bizarre piece of cinematic art, but there were also some moments that left me feeling befuddled in a bad way, including the third act. Charlie Kaufman represented the complexities of the human condition with an unnerving sense of subtlety and beauty. However, the film suffered a bit from its uneven pacing and the ending. With a runtime of two hours and 14 minutes, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” can feel like it has overstayed its welcome for casual moviegoers, but it was able to make this visit a bit more welcoming thanks to its cast and Kaufman’s screenplay. Jessie Buckley delivered a remarkable performance as the young woman who’s stuck in an internal conflict with herself. This is something that I thought was well-handled because Buckley allowed the audience to understand her character’s emotions both physically and mentally in terms of her dialogue. Jesse Plemons was also good in his role as Jake. There’s nothing else I could really say about his performance. He was spot on. The best part of the cast, in my opinion, has to go to Toni Collette as Jake’s mother. Seriously, is there anything that this actress can’t do? Much like her role in “Hereditary”, Collette had plenty of enjoyable moments that made her unsettling performance more engaging. Another thing that I liked was Łukasz Żal’s cinematography, which was shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. It’s a beautiful-looking film that displays its sequences like they were pieces of art, even the ones that are somewhat creepy. Going back to its flaws, the film does drag a little bit despite the cast doing their best to capture my interest, mostly because that there’s nothing going on until something strange starts to happen. Most of the film had sequences that offer some significance in its themes, such as the surreal imagery and the ones involving the high school janitor (played by Guy Boyd). These sequences alone were pretty impressive from a critical perspective, but for moviegoers who aren’t familiar with Kaufman’s other works and the source material, they can leave a pretty darn headache. The ending is also something that left me feeling a bit mixed. I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it either. I just don’t know what to think of it honestly. It’s one of those things in movies that left me feeling undecided.
Overall, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a piece of art that’s both pretty and uncomfortable to look at, even though it lacked the qualities needed to get its modern audience interested. Its pacing and the ending are some of the things that prevented the film from reaching “best film” status in my eyes. For those who understand Kaufman’s storytelling skills, this is a suitable and unsettling experience that’s carried by a talented cast, a respectable screenplay, and its gorgeous cinematography. To be honest with you guys, this was a tough movie for me to talk about because of how it was represented on screen. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but the film said otherwise, leaving me with a confused state. I’m happy that some of the people liked, or even loved, this one because of the complexity of its themes. Personally, I thought that there are other films that handled the complexity a bit better than this. It’s a decent film that’s available on Netflix, but it’s not something that I would watch over and over again.
“Mulan” stars Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, and Jet Li. Released on Disney+ on September 4, 2020, the film is about a woman who takes her father’s place to serve in the Imperial Chinese Army.
The film is directed by Niki Caro, who also directed films such as “Whale Rider”, “North Country”, “McFarland, USA”, and “The Zookeeper’s Wife”. It is based on the Chinese folklore “The Ballad of Mulan” by Guo Maoqian, and it is a live action adaptation of the 1998 animated film of the same name. Whether we like it or not, the Disney live-action remake train is still chugging along with its next stop being…you guessed it, China. After months of waiting, we are finally getting to see if this latest remake can become a mighty warrior or a mighty wimp. Originally destined to be the next box office hit for Disney, the film was delayed multiple times from its original March 2020 release date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing that the coronavirus is not going away anytime soon, the studio has finally decided to cancel its theatrical release in favor of a Disney+ release, but with a catch. This release marks the debut of the streaming service’s newest feature called “Premier Access” in which you have to pay an additional $30 to watch the film. That’s right, on a streaming service that allows you to watch a bunch of movies for free with a paid subscription, you have to give it more money in order to watch a new movie. That’s insane. On the plus side, however, you get to keep the film for as long as you stay subscribed to Disney+. Seeing that the film costs around $200 million to make, I can see why they made this decision. The coronavirus is still circling around the area, and the theaters are doing what they can to keep themselves open, even if it means decreasing their capacities by 50 percent. So if the film is released in theaters instead during this time, the probability of it breaking even would be…less than 50 percent. Releasing it on Disney+ with a price tag does sound irritating at first, but at least it will keep families safe at home during the pandemic. It would be interesting to see how much money it makes from Disney’s premiere access strategy, but right now, I’m more focused on how their latest remake turns out. With that in mind, let’s head out to war.
The film follows the same storyline as the 1998 animated film, except there are no musical numbers and there's no small dragon with the voice of Eddie Murphy. So if you’re hoping that the film will have the same formula as the recent Disney remakes like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King”, you might feel either disappointed or grateful depending on your perspectives towards the latter two. For those who haven’t seen the 1998 version, the story centers on Mulan (Yifei), the eldest daughter of the Hua family. She learns that the Emperor of China (Jet Li) is issuing a decree that one man from each family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend China from Northern invaders lead by the ruthless Bori Khan (Lee) and a powerful witch named Xian Lang (Gong Li). Hua Zhou (Tza Ma), Mulan’s father and a former war veteran, was chosen to take part in the army despite his poor health. Fearing that her father may not survive, Mulan decides to take his place by disguising herself as a man. With the help of Commander Tung (Yen) and the other recruits, including the ambitious Chen Honghui (An), Mulan must face every obstacle possible in order to save China and embrace her true potential. The film marks the first Disney live-action remake to earn a PG-13 rating as opposed to the usual PG rating that the other remakes received, mostly due to its violent content. So there will be some sequences that might be a bit intense for the younger crowd. Just throwing it out there in case you’re planning on watching it with your kids. This is a mature take on the animated version’s narrative that showcases the main character’s journey of self-discovery, which is one of the main reasons why the 1998 film still holds a place in my heart, with the other reason being Mushu, of course. What I like about this live-action upgrade is that it honored the themes and Chinese traditions that were represented in the animated version, such as being honorable and true to one’s self, while offering some new material to keep the story from being too familiar. We still see Mulan as a woman who’s willing to save her father and bring honor to her family despite the consequences of breaking tradition. I still see Mulan as a great role model who inspires other women to not be afraid of who they want to be, and I’m happy to see that portrayal again in a whole new light. The next thing I want to talk about is the cast, which consists of actors from Asian descent. Smart move, Disney, smart move. Liu Yifei assumes the role of the title character that once belonged to Ming-Na Wen in the animated version. She’s been in other films before this one, but unsurprisingly, I haven’t heard of anything she’s been in because they’re mostly from China, so I’m counting this as my first encounter with this actress/singer. All I can really say about her performance was that it was fine. She definitely captured the spirit of the character in her own way, even though her acting was a hit-and-miss. I still prefer Wen’s portrayal of Mulan, but Yifei has enough moments of her own to reintroduce the character to a new generation of fans. Donnie Yen and Yoson An were also decent in their roles as Commander Tung and Chen Honghui respectively, with the latter being a tolerable addition to the film. The only character in the remake that interested me the most was Xian Lang, who was portrayed by Gong Li. I was concerned that she’ll wind up being a generic sidekick to Jason Scott Lee’s Bori Khan, a vile warrior who’s based on Shan Yu from the animated version. Seeing that she actually got plenty of things to do in the film was, in my eyes, quite surprising. Without giving away spoilers, I thought the screenwriters did a nice job at attempting to give Xian Lang some necessary depth. As for Li’s performance, it was good. Not bad, not perfect. Just good enough. I also want to mention Jet Li, who was almost unrecognizable as the Emperor of China in terms of his makeup and his voice. He was passable in the role, but I couldn’t help but feel that the way he sounds wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It didn’t detract my experience with the film, so I’m thankful for that. The film’s production design and the costumes were also the best parts because of how they accurately reflect the lifestyle and traditions of the Chinese culture. They looked absolutely stunning, in my opinion. So yeah, there are definitely some good things that can be found in this latest live-action remake from Disney, but unfortunately, there are also some bad things that could bring dishonor to some die-hard fans of the 1998 version. Obviously, this is another remake that lacked the impact of its animated counterpart in terms of its storytelling, a common flaw that has plagued the other live-action remakes before this one. While I did appreciate the film for staying true to the source material as well as delivering some fresh material to make itself stand out on its own, I thought the execution on these qualities fell a bit flat. The clunky narrative structure didn’t help that much as it constantly rushed through specific scenes without giving them the amount of depth they deserve. For a film that’s less than two hours long, that’s pretty annoying. The action sequences were also something that left me feeling mixed. On the one hand, the choreography was simply enjoyable. On the other hand, the action that was shown onscreen wasn’t as exciting as I thought they would be. If its goal was to create an action style that resembles the kung fu movies from the past, then I hate to say that it wasn’t able to accomplish that mission. Because of the flawed editing and the forgettable stunt work, the film’s sequences struggled to combine realistic war elements with the elements that require suspension of disbelief.
Overall, the live-action remake of “Mulan” is honorable with its themes and inspiration, but its flawed storytelling prevented it from making a man out of me. It definitely has plenty of likable moments, such as the cast, the messages, and the production design. However, it also has moments that make this another disappointing addition to the studio’s “live-action remake” collection, such as its rushed narrative and the action sequences. It’s something that you will either love or hate depending on your expectations towards it. Was it worth paying additional money for? Not really, but hey, it could’ve been a lot worse. It’s a fine watch for those who are interested and are familiar with the 1998 version. As for those who are saving up their money on important stuff, they’re better off waiting until it’s free to watch on Disney+.