“Charm City Kings” stars Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Meek Mill, Will Catlett, and Teyonah Parris. Released on HBO Max on October 8, 2020, the film is about a teenager who joins an infamous group of dirt-bike riders.
The film is directed by Angel Manuel Soto, who also directed “Frailty” and “The Farm”. It is based on the 2013 documentary “12 O’Clock Boys” by Lofty Nathan. The pandemic may have dampened our movie-going spirit, but it will never take away the one thing that we film fanatics are always excited for: awards season. The one time of year when we watch films that may or may not become Oscar-worthy contenders next year. This year’s looking a lot different than the ones before, mostly due to the fact that the coronavirus is still lurking around and almost all of the businesses, including cinemas, have been closed down temporarily. Right now, Hollywood has been relying on several streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime to showcase the award-worthy films to people that are still keeping themselves safe at home. I usually have to wait for the right time to see a specific film at my closest cinema, but this year, I don’t have to because I can just use one of the streaming services I own to watch it anytime I want. With that in mind, let’s start things off with another film that’s skipping the theatrical release in favor of a streaming service release. The first time I heard of this film was when I saw its trailer that appeared in front of “Bloodshot” in the theater. I know nothing about the documentary it’s based on, but I was interested in it regardless. Thankfully, I don’t have to wait to see it in the theater thanks to HBO Max. With that in mind, let’s get this awards season started with a film about a dirt-biker gang.
The story combines the elements that are inspired by Lofty Nathan’s documentary “12 O’Clock Boys” with a coming-of-age tale about Mouse (Winston), a teenager who dreams of being a part of an infamous dirt bike crew known as The Midnight Clique. The crew’s leader Blax (Mill) takes him and his friends under his wing. Later on, Mouse gets more than what he bargained for when he is starting to feel torn between his normal life and the gang life that’s filled with fast money and violence. Since the film is set in Baltimore, it gives the filmmakers an opportunity to craft a compelling story that showcases the lifestyle of the state’s African-American community, and unsurprisingly, they did their job fairly well. Aside from some of its familiar genre elements and its hit-and-miss emotional beats, the film represents a riveting and cautionary experience that’s powered by the talents of the cast and crew, most notably Jahi Di’Allo Winston and rapper Meek Mill. Winston delivered a worthy performance that’s well-balanced with his character’s emotions without falling into his stereotypical personality, and Mill further proves that putting a music artist in the right role can lead to some remarkable results. “Charm City Kings” marks the acting debut of Meek Mill, who I haven’t listened to that much, and I have to admit that I was impressed with how he handled these skills as a first-time actor. Will Catlett and Teyonah Parris were also great in their roles as Detective Rivers and Terri respectively. This is one of those times where a film relies on the cast to carry the concept forward, even though its narrative falls on the “good” side on the spectrum, and it does it with finesse and passion. The film portrays the community in its own enthralling and beautiful way thanks to its slick cinematography and the sheer confidence of Soto behind the camera, but it’s also not afraid to showcase some of the cons that lie within that lifestyle, such as joining a gang. Plus, the film is stabilized well with some of the dirt-bike skills that were portrayed on screen.
Overall, “Charm City Kings” makes great use of its cast and crew by delivering a well-portrayed and thoughtful drama that’s as skillful as the dirt-bike riders. While it’s far from a masterpiece, the film has a good enough narrative to showcase its coming-of-age elements with ease. Thanks to some splendid performances from the cast and Soto’s directorial style, this is another solid film from HBO Max and a strong start for this year’s awards season. If you’re a fan of coming-of-age films and you have HBO Max under your streaming service belt, this is worth checking out.
“Hubie Halloween” stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Julie Bowen, Maya Rudolph, and Ray Liotta. Released on Netflix on October 7, 2020, the film is about a community volunteer who winds up in a middle of a murder case on Halloween night.
The film is directed by Steven Brill, who also directed films such as “Heavyweights”, “Little Nicky”, “Drillbit Taylor”, and “The Do-Over”. There’s nothing more joyful than spending Halloween with Adam Sandler…said no one ever. The “Sand Man” and his Happy Madison crew are back once again to deliver the laughs on Netflix, whether you like it or not. Not only that, but they’re also delivering the frights this Halloween season, and who doesn’t enjoy a fun scare? If you can’t already tell, Netflix and Sandler pretty much go hand-in-hand when it comes to their projects. While the reviews for these films were downright atrocious, that didn’t stop them from becoming successful with their audience viewings, and it looks like this latest collaboration between Sandler and Steven Brill won’t be that much different. I can admit that his recent comedies weren’t on par with his works from the 90s, but despite that, I’m still rooting for him to be successful, especially after delivering a worthy performance in “Uncut Gems”. The film appears to be going back to the roots of Sandler’s other film “The Waterboy” in terms of his innocent, yet gullible, character routine, but is it enough to make this a solid Halloween treat?
The story follows Hubie Dubois (Sandler), a man who serves as a community service volunteer to make sure that the residents of Salem are celebrating Halloween safely. Hubie loves celebrating the holiday every year even though he’s afraid of everything and has been mocked by almost everyone. This year turns out to be much different than usual when an escaped inmate and a mysterious new neighbor have him on high alert. To make matters worse, the people around him are starting to disappear. It’s up to Hubie to solve the mystery and save his hometown from the terrifying “monsters” that lurk beyond the Salem streets. As expected, this is another typical Sandler comedy that has him fooling around with his fellow co-stars in the most lowbrow way possible, so I can assume that this should be easy for me to talk about. Now you might recall a joke that involves Sandler planning on making the “worst movie ever” if he didn’t get nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Uncut Gems”. Many have assumed that “Hubie Halloween” might be that movie. I’m sorry, but have any of them seen “Jack & Jill” or “The Ridiculous 6” or even “That’s My Boy”? How could he make something that’s on the same level as those films? Short answer: he can’t. He just can’t. This is one of the films that are made to make people laugh without taking things too seriously, especially during this difficult time, and I highly respect it for attempting to accomplish that goal, even though it won’t get everyone to join in on some spooky silliness. Packed with a plot that’s as bare-bones as a skeleton and plenty of tasteless slapstick, this is neither Sandler’s worst nor his best film so far in his career, but I have to admit that I did have some fun watching it. There were times where the film struggled to blend the comedy with the mean-spiritedness that came from some of the supporting characters. However, it does come packed with a tolerable, yet flawed, story that represents the importance of staying true to yourself despite what other people say or think about you. It’s the type of message that I wish a lot of people can relate to. The cast did the best they could to deliver some fun performances, especially Sandler as Hubie. While I didn’t mind the goofy accent that he’s pulling off, I do feel that some of his freak-outs were pretty phoned in. Other than that, I thought he did fine. It’s just Sandler being Sandler. No harm in that. Kevin James and Steve Buscemi also delivered some good moments as Officer Steve Downing and Walter Lambert (Hubie’s new neighbor) respectively. Another thing I want to mention is the film’s style of humor. As I mentioned before, the humor is what you expect from a Sandler comedy: crude, nonsensical, and kind of gross. If you’re not a fan of his recent brand of humor, I can assure you that this film will make you want to throw all of your Halloween candy at the screen so that it will wind up with cavities. If you actually don’t mind this type of humor, you might find some of its jokes to be quite funny. The humor can be a bit tiring or annoying depending on how much you loathe the mean-spiritedness of some of the supporting characters (or the main character), but it did manage to keep things entertaining by providing a few jokes that were actually amusing. Yes, they can be a bit tasteless and cartoonish at times, but this is something that I would allow because some of them made me laugh.
Overall, “Hubie Halloween” may not have the right materials needed to make this the next Halloween classic or even the next Sandler classic, but it has enough treats in its bowl to satisfy those in need of some goofiness in their lives. Sandler and his friends were once again tolerable in their roles, the film had a good message, and the humor was passable for the most part. However, I’m afraid that those things may not be enough to convince the haters to give Sandler another chance. Nonetheless, I think this is another enjoyable addition to the comedian’s Netflix collection, which means that he hasn’t completed his goal to make the “worst movie ever”. Well, not yet, anyway.
“The Exorcist” stars Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair. Released on December 26, 1973, the film has a mother teaming up with a couple of priests to rescue her daughter from a demon.
The film was directed by William Friedkin, who also directed films such as “Good Times”, “The French Connection”, “The Guardian”, “Rules of Engagement”, and “Killer Joe”. It is based on the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote and produced the film. It’s that time of year again. The weather’s getting cold, the leaves are changing colors, and everyone is setting up their spooky decorations. That’s right, my friends, it is once again October, which means Halloween is just around the corner, which means I now have the urge to watch some of the creepiest films and shows that I could find on television, including the one that I’ve been waiting to talk about since the day I reached the age of 17. Horror films in general have been quite popular nowadays thanks to the involvement of producer Jason Blum and his production company, but some of them weren’t able to capture the spine-tingling spirit that the others accomplished back in the 1970s. Before we had the likes of Mike Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Kruger haunting people’s nightmares, there was this one person that’s so terrifying, so nightmarish, and so disgusting that it gave people chills every time they think about them. That, my fellow readers, is a demon in a 12-year-old girl's body. If you thought that monsters and ghosts were scary, try having a supernatural demon control your actions. That will surely keep you awake for days. There are plenty of films that deal with demonic possessions, but none of them came close to the one that started the trend, William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist”, the film that made everyone peed their pants with fright and vomit all over the place. Despite a troublesome production and multiple concerns over its content, the film became a commercial success with multiple people waiting in long lines during the cold winter days to experience it either for the first time or more than once. I guess people wanted to celebrate the day after Christmas by watching a horror film that involves a possessed girl vomiting on a priest. I’m beginning to think that she’s not the only one who needed to be exorcised. Its success lead the film to become the first horror movie to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and spawn a franchise that consists of two sequels, two prequels, and a television series that lasted for two seasons. It also went on to become a horror classic among critics and audiences many years later and a major influence on pop culture. Now, here’s the thing about my experience with the film. I have heard a lot of great things about it, but I haven’t actually watched it from start to finish until now. Maybe I was too nervous or I just didn’t have the time to see it for myself. My mind works in mysterious ways. Since I got nothing to do this week, I figured now would be the best time for me to finally see if it actually deserves the title “horror classic”. Plus, it would give me the opportunity to review more horror classics later down the road. And now, without further ado, let’s get our freak on.
The story follows Chris MacNeil (Burstyn), a single mother who lives in Georgetown with her 12-year-old daughter Regan (Blair). Chris is working as an actress for a film helmed by her friend/associate Burke Dennings (MacGowran). One day, Regan begins to act strangely after coming into contact with a Ouija board, and by strangely, I mean using obscene language, speaking backwards, and having abnormal strength. After consulting a number of physicians, including Father Damien Karras (Miller), Chris later discovers that Regan is possessed by an ancient demon known as Pazuzu. With the help of a veteran Catholic priest Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), Karras must perform an exorcism to rescue Regan before her soul is lost forever. I was hoping that I would watch it on one of the streaming services for free, but I wasn’t able to find it anywhere. So I decided to rely on one of the cable channels to view it. Despite having to suffer through a bunch of commercial breaks and edits made for television, my first experience with it was pretty much what I expected it to be. Creepy, but satisfying. Rather than being a straight-up horror film with jump scares and gore appearing every few minutes or so, “The Exorcist” comes across as a dialogue-driven supernatural drama that involves the characters’ perspectives of this frightening situation and happens to have horror elements in it. This could test the patience of those who wanted to get to the good stuff right away, especially since the film is two hours long, but it also gives the audience time to get to know the characters before they’re sent to face the demon in the finale. You have Chris and Regan whose relationship with one another changes after the latter becomes possessed, and you have Damien Karras who is struggling with his faith in God. The film was able to explore these characters and their relationships with each other in a tolerant and engaging matter without rushing into the scary stuff head-on, which was something that most supernatural horror films in recent years failed to accomplish. Now you may be wondering what caused this film to still have an everlasting impact on a lot of horror fans since its initial release. Was it the eerie atmosphere, the practical effects, the music, or the unnerving sequences? The answer is all of the above. William Friedkin proved to be a talented filmmaker when it comes to the quality, but he also proved that he can provide elements that are unsettling and realistic rather than cheesy and intolerable, such as the performances from the cast and its alarming sense of eerie and dread. Ellen Burstyn was fantastic in her role as Chris as she was able to deliver an uncomfortable, but fulfilling, range of emotions without coming off as laughable. Jason Miller and Max von Sydow also delivered some great performances as Karras and Merrin respectively. Linda Blair as Regan was also the best part of the cast because of her reactions while being possessed. Similar to Burstyn’s performance, Blair’s emotional range was both haunting and effective in terms of the film's tone. There were some sequences that still proved to be quite alarming as of today thanks to some convincing special effects and its atmosphere, such as the cerebral angiography scene and the exorcism sequence in the third act. If you have read the fact that people wound up fainting or vomiting after viewing those sequences, that’s how you know how shocking they were. When I watched the cerebral angiography sequence for the first time in its entirety, I didn’t feel sick or faint at all. All I felt was uneasiness and nothing else. I can understand that it’s unnecessary, but I can also understand that it adds to the disturbing tone that the film was going for. If you get queasy very easily, I would advise you to not watch that scene. I would also give props to the sound editing and Jack Nitzsche’s musical score for emphasizing the scares and the atmosphere. The sound effects, in particular, weren’t as technical as they were today, but that’s what made it so terrifying (and nostalgic) to begin with. Whether it’s the characters yelling in pain or the demon’s voice, the sound editing had a proper amount of creepiness that’ll get stuck in your brains for quite a while.
Overall, “The Exorcist” is an unnerving, yet riveting, experience that should be viewed by every horror fan in existence. The fact that it’s more dialogue-driven than scare-driven may test some people’s patience, but aside from that, it’s still an effective horror film that cares more about story and characters rather than having cheap jump scares appear every few minutes. The cast was great in their roles, Friedkin’s direction was impressive, and the scares were still effective to this day in terms of the practical effects and the atmosphere. It’s too bad that I wasn’t able to watch the uncut version of the film, but I have to take what I can get because I had been neglecting it for far too long and I really wanted to share my experience with you guys. Maybe someday I’ll take another look at it once it’s made available for free on one of the streaming services. Until then, the television version that I watched will have to do for now.
“Secret Society of Second-Born Royals” stars Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Skylar Astin, Élodie Yung, Niles Fitch, Ashley Liao, Noah Lomax, Faly Rakotohavana, Isabella Blake-Thomas, Olivia Deeble, and Greg Bryk. Released on Disney+ on September 25, 2020, the film is about a princess who gets recruited into an organization of super-powered second-born royals.
The film is directed by Anna Mastro, who served as an assistant to director McG. Remember those moments when you are scrolling through the list of movies and shows on your streaming service and you find something that’s too outlandish to believe? I just encountered that moment. That’s right, readers, I am reviewing a princess movie, but not just any princess movie. It’s a superhero princess movie. Got your attention, didn’t I? This is probably one of the strangest films that I have ever had the privilege to talk about, mostly because of the fact that it involves a princess with superpowers. Move over, Rapunzel, because there’s a new magical princess in town. All I know about this film is that it is helmed by McG’s protege (surprise, surprise), and it is produced by Disney Channel. Sounds like we’re off to a pretty interesting start. My guess is that it was originally going to be an original movie for the channel, but was later moved to Disney+ to attract a wider audience. It would make sense since I haven’t watched Disney Channel that much now that I have Disney+ on my television. Whatever the real reason was, it definitely looked like something that Disney would develop for one of their television channels. But enough of all of that television talk, let’s see if this latest Disney+ film has enough royalty in its bones to justify its concept.
Set in the land of Illyria, the story follows Sam (Lee), a second-born princess who would rather play music than get the royal treatment. She’s also the younger sister of Eleanor (Liao) who’s preparing to take the throne following the death of their father and uncle. After causing an accident while hanging out with her friend Mike (Lomax), Sam is forced by her mother Catherine (Yung) to attend summer school in order to make up for her mistakes. The summer school that she’s attending actually turned out to be a top secret society lead by Professor James Morrow (Astin), whose goal is to teach other second-born royals to use their given abilities to protect their monarchies. With the help of her new friends, Sam must learn to harness her powers in order to save the world from a ruthless villain (Bryk). The film is obviously a combination of any superhero team movie like “X-Men” and “The Avengers” and a kid-friendly princess movie with a dash of television-movie quality to boost its flavor. So, consider this as a possible substitute for kids who are too young to watch the teen-rated superhero films. As expected, the film has the look and feel of a television movie for the Disney Channel in terms of its budget and the filmmaking quality. In other words, don’t expect it to be a film that offers gorgeous visuals and big set pieces. But does that make it a bad film? Well, in some parts, maybe. I wouldn’t say that it’s as unbearable as “Artemis Fowl”, another film that premiered on Disney+. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s another win for the streaming service either. It’s a somewhat enjoyable film that delivers what we expected from a Disney teen film about a group of royals that have superpowers…and nothing else. There were actually plenty of opportunities for the film to expand beyond its simplistic concept, such as its world-building, but then I realized that, once again, it’s a film that acts like a made-for-television movie, so…screw me for thinking that. Despite showcasing some relatable messages, its plot is very formulaic to a fault and the screenplay by Alex Litvak and Andrew Green is full of cheesy dialogue and average jokes that would make any strict viewer want to have the power to make the film disappear. If you don’t mind any of those nitpick-worthy flaws and just want to watch a bunch of teenage royals save the world from evil, then you should be fine watching this with your kids. The performances from the cast weren’t exactly Oscar-worthy, but they’re fine enough to make the film (and their characters) watchable. Peyton Elizabeth Lee, who is known for her role in Disney Channel’s “Andi Mack”, takes center stage as Sam and for the most part, she did all right. Not perfect, not awful, just somewhere in the middle. Skylar Astin was also quite enjoyable as James Morrow, and Élodie Yung from Netflix’s “Daredevil” was respectable in her role as Catherine. As for the visuals themselves, they range from okay to pretty cheap. They’re not as horribly made as the ones from the other television films, but I can easily tell that they’re not something that I would call “groundbreaking”.
Overall, “Secret Society of Second-Born Royals” isn’t as heroic as it could’ve been, but it has enough tolerable moments to make this wannabe franchise-starter a fine watch for those who are curious. It won’t win everyone over due to its storytelling being formulaic and weak. However, it does provide some little entertainment value thanks to its cast and its messages about teamwork and responsibility. I guess you can say it’s like Disney Channel’s other television film “Kim Possible” back in 2019. It’s not a great television film, but it has some moments that I personally thought was passable.
“Enola Holmes” stars Millie Bobby Brown, Sam Claflin, Henry Cavill, and Helena Bonham Carter. Released on Netflix on September 23, 2020, the film chronicles the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister.
The film is directed by Harry Bradbeer, who is known for directing several shows like “Killing Eve” and “Fleabag”. It is based on the book series The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer. For many years, Sherlock Holmes has solved many mysteries throughout London with his trustworthy sidekick Dr. Watson. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes has become a cultural icon with his strong sense of observation and logical reasoning. However, there are specific cases that are so tough, one Holmes isn’t enough to crack them. If you’ve been following the history of Holmes for quite a while, you might have realized that he has relatives by his side, not just Watson. There’s his older brother Mycroft Holmes and surprisingly, his younger sister who hasn’t gotten the chance to be in the spotlight until now. This latest film involving Doyle’s characters takes the franchise in a different direction by placing its focus on Holmes’ energetic and determined sister. I’m not a huge Holmes fan myself, but I have watched several adaptations of the character, such as Guy Ritchie’s version and its sequel starring Robert Downey Jr., so my expectation for this new adaptation was pretty standard. With that in mind, let’s find out if this film is as exciting as solving actual mysteries.
Taking place during the Victorian era, the story follows the young sister of the famous Sherlock Holmes (Cavill). Enola Holmes (Brown) is a care-free and intelligent young woman whose beliefs are much different compared to the beliefs of other women, much to the dismay of her other brother Mycroft (Claflin). She’s inspired by her mother, Eudoria (Carter), who taught her almost everything such as jujitsu, reading books, and word puzzles. On her sixteenth birthday, Enola discovers that her mother has gone missing, leaving only her birthday gifts as her clues. Enola must use her trustworthy skills to travel to London and find her mother. Along the way, she encounters Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), a young lord who is targeted by a mysterious assassin. This is another adaptation that takes the Holmes lore in a light-hearted and family-friendly direction in order to attract people who are unfamiliar with the source material. Clearly, I’ve seen a couple of film adaptations that took this similar approach, most notably the “Gnomeo & Juliet” follow-up “Sherlock Gnomes” and the infamous “Holmes & Watson” back in 2018. Those films, in particular, struggled to crack the case in terms of living up to the concept’s potential. “Enola Holmes”, on the other hand, managed to solve it in a heartbeat. With a tight and fresh script by Jack Thorne and Harry Bradbeer’s quirky sense of direction, this is one of the better adaptations of “Sherlock Holmes” I have ever seen as well as one of the best surprises of the year. What I honestly liked about the film’s story was not just its fresh appeal and the colorful production design, but also the character of Enola. The film explores Enola’s growth by showcasing her personal journey to forge her own path in the midst of solving her first case during a time when women’s roles are automatically given to them. It can get a bit political with its themes, but it was balanced well with a fun and lively mystery that offers plenty of intrigue, twists, and heart, and who doesn’t love a fun mystery? Not every mystery needs to be serious, you know. After taking on supporting roles in “Stranger Things” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, Millie Bobby Brown finally takes center stage, both as the main lead and as one of the film’s producers, in what could be her biggest challenge in her career. Unsurprisingly, she was able to impress me without any problems at all. She delivered the right amount of attitude and charisma into her performance and her fourth-wall-breaking sequences, resulting in her being the best part of the film. If you love her in “Stranger Things”, you might love her in “Enola Holmes” as well. I also thought that Henry Cavill was perfectly cast as Sherlock. Everything about him was absolutely brilliant in my eyes. He’s got the physique, he’s got the looks, and he’s got the accent that screams “intelligence”. If his goal was to make himself known for other roles outside of Superman when it comes to film, I would say he’s getting there. Sam Claflin also did pretty well as Mycroft, although I wasn’t into the fact that they made the character a bit too much of a jerk, but that’s just me. Going back to the film’s direction, I enjoyed the fact that it respects the lore it’s based on while delivering an upbeat and peculiar perspective on it. While Guy Ritchie’s take on the source material offered an approach that’s gritty, stylistic, and action-packed, Harry Bradbeer delivered an approach that’s clearly the exact opposite, along with plenty of dialogue that’s easy to pay attention to. As for its flaws, I would say that the film can be a bit too stretched out for its own good, clocking in at around two hours. While the pacing in the first two acts was pretty consistent, the third act slowed it down just a tiny bit.
Overall, it’s no mystery that “Enola Holmes” is a highly-entertaining and spirited take on the world of Sherlock Holmes. Lead by an irresistible main lead, an engaging screenplay, and a fresh style that’s envisioned by Harry Bradbeer, the film is another case that deserves to be solved by its audience. This is an easy recommendation for those who are familiar with the source material and are in a mood for something light-hearted. There have already been talks about making it into a franchise for Netflix as of this writing, and all I can say about that is…I am ready if they are.