The month of January is almost over, meaning we’re quickly moving through our new year. This week is a mixture of awards contenders, new 2022 releases and even my first Sundance Film! Check out reviews of the new films I saw this week. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
A Chiara (Limited)
Starring: This film from Italy focuses on a 15-year-old girl, Chiara (Swamy Rotolo) whose world is turned upside down when her father disappears. The film earned some strong reviews and is a contender for several Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature. Rotolo is strong in the lead role, and much of the film relies on her ability to carry the narrative through her emotional responses. It’s an interesting journey that is beautifully shot but ultimately the story didn’t land with the power the filmmakers intended. I appreciated the lead role and the look of the film but ultimately it came up a bit short for me.
Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman (Netflix)
Starring: Peyton List, Tobin Bell, and Lydia Hearst
Synopsis: Netflix drops an original “thriller” here based on the story of Aileen Wuornos. Of course, we have already seen this before, done very well in Monster, a film that earned Charlize Theron an Academy Award. We didn’t need another trip into this story, especially one that feels like a Lifetime film gone wrong. That’s what we got here. The story and performances are dreadful, the story is weird and the production is middling. In short, this film is a disaster that can be safely skipped. In fact, I recommend it.
Compartment No. 6 (Limited)
Starring: Seidi Haarla and Yuriy Borisov
Synopsis: This is an International Feature contender for the Independent Spirit Awards that should also be a player in the Academy Award competition. It comes from Finland based on the novel from Rosa Liksom. It follows the journey of a Finnish student (Haarla) who is in Russia on a journey by train to see a geographical feature in the frozen north. Her compartment mate (Borisov) is a minor on his way to the same town for work. They don’t hit it off right away, but along the journey a connection is forged, one that carries over when they reach their destination. There’s some beautiful cinematography in this story, which relies heavily on its two leads to carry the narrative. And it works. I appreciated the slowly paced journey as we got to know these characters and go on a journey with them. There were some amusing moments and some heart-felt moments as people from different walks of life forged a connection and uneasy friendship.
Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual references.
The God Committee (Netflix)
Starring: Julia Stiles, Kelsey Grammar, Colman Domingo, Janeane Garofalo and Dan Hedaya
Synopsis: Sometimes a film can surprise you. That’s what happened with me and The God Committee, a film based on the play from Mark St. Germain that was written and directed by Austin Stark. The film, which runs just over 90 minutes, takes place in two time periods. In the first, in 2014, doctors on the hospital’s heart transplant committee are under the gun to decide which of three candidates will receive a heart. Further complicating the decision is the father (Hedaya) of one candidate is pledging $25 million to the hospital if his son gets help. The second part of the story takes place in 2021, as we see where the members of the committee are seven years later, and we’re left to piece together how that day impacted the forward trajectory of everyone. This film is incredibly compelling, moving back-and-forth along the time line and filling in the pieces of the story. Though most of the “action” takes place in a board room, Stark does a wonderful job of building the tension. The entire cast is strong but I particularly enjoyed the performances from Grammar and Stiles at the heart of this film. It gives you plenty to ponder and hooks your attention. Netflix is awash with content, but this is a film worth seeking out.
Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul (Sundance)
Starring: Sterling K. Brown, Regina Hall, and Nicole Beharie
Synopsis: This was my first Sundance screening, and I went in on a good one! This film comes from writer/director Adamma Ebo and centers on a Baptist Mega Church Preacher, Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown), and his wife, Trinitie (Hall), as they try to re-open their church following scandal. In 2021, one of my favorite films was The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a biopic that looked at the real-life couple Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker and the scandal that took them down. This film follows a similar set up, but the fictional tale offers more humor. Some would be tempted to call it a comedy, and that makes sense, but it also sells short the many deeply poignant and emotional moments that showcase the talent of Brown and particularly Hall. I was fascinated by the trajectory of the film and the many real and honest moments that break into the façade this couple tries to keep going as they participate in a documentary about their comeback. I enjoyed the blend of comedy and drama as well as the eye with which Ebo puts this story together. Hall gives the standout performance here and I can’t wait for this film to get picked up and released to wider audiences. It’s my favorite film of the year so far.
The House (Netflix)
Starring: Matthew Goode, Paul Kaye, Helena Bonham Carter, and Miranda Richardson
Synopsis: This film from Netflix is an animated journey but it’s not aimed at kids. It’s also not what you’d expect. It’s got a unique style and craft applied to a unique story—or rather three stories—all from Edna Walsh. The three appear to at one point have meant to be part of a limited series, but instead they’ve been fused together into a feature film. The style was interesting and engaging for the most part but I didn’t resonate with the stories. I believe most are meant to be creepy or unsettling but a lot of it came off as just weird. It was an interesting swing but the finished product didn’t work for me.
Munich: The Edge of War (Netflix)
Starring: George MacKay, Jannis Niewöhner, Jessica Brown Findlay, and Jeremy Irons
Synopsis: This drama is set in Europe in 1938 where Germany, England and the rest of the world are on the brink of war. Former friends, Hugh (MacKay) and Paul (Niewöhner) find themselves in the middle of it all. Paul is an official in Germany who is gravely concerned about the threat Adolf Hitler poses. Hugh is the secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Irons), giving him access to the top powers in England. During a peace conference in Munich the two decide to collaborate to try and prevent their countries from plunging into war. The idea here is sound and the lead actors do a decent job bringing the story to life. However, this feels a bit long at times and dry. Ultimately, the story doesn’t feel completely satisfying, either, since it wasn’t a success. It’s an interesting slice of history that has its moments but doesn’t quite achieve its ultimate aims.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language, thematic elements, smoking and brief violence.
Redeeming Love (Theaters)
Starring: Abigail Cowen, Tom Lewis, Logan Marshall-Green, Nina Dobrev, Eric Dane, and Famke Janssen
Synopsis: This new release is based on the popular Christian romance novel from Francine Rivers, who co-wrote the screenplay with director D.J. Caruso. The story is based on the Book of Hosea from the Bible, and centers on a farmer (Lewis) in California during the Gold Rush in 1850 who meets and falls in love with a popular prostitute, Angel (Cowen), and sets about to make her his wife. It sounds like a lot but the way the story plays out is faithful to the major points of the Biblical text, depicting the grace and love of God through the relationship between these two. The film clocks in at 135 minutes but makes the most of its run time. There are some engaging moments in the film, and I liked the work done by Lewis and Cowen, who played well of each other. The story has some darker notes, including a subplot about child trafficking that is more than a little unsettling. It also feels a bit dry at times but ultimately delivers on its aims at telling a faith-based love story. It will likely be popular with fans of the source material as it brings this story to life on the big screen.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual content, partial nudity, and strong violent content.
The Royal Treatment (Netflix)
Starring: Laura Marano and Mena Massoud
Synopsis: This new Netflix comedy focuses on an American hairdresser (Marano) who gets connected with a visiting Prince (Massoud) by mistake. They forge a connection as she does his hair and soon she and her colleagues are invited to his home country to help do hair and makeup for the wedding. As Izzy and the Prince get to know one another, sparks begin to fly and it’s possible the real love connection is between hairdresser and client. Fun and romance ensues. Or at least that’s the set up. Massoud was the star in the live action version of Aladdin, so it’s interesting to see him tackling the same story in reverse here. In the end, though, this is a pale imitation of that. It feels like a middling attempt to capture on the Hallmark romance formula and ends up as one that falls flat almost entirely.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.