We’ve made it to February, and we’ll soon know what films are competing for the Academy Awards. That always brings people out to see what they might have missed. This week I saw a number of films, including three more films from Sundance! Here’s a look at all the movies 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.
Starring: John Boyega, Michael K. Williams, Nicole Beharie, and Selenis Leyva
Synopsis: Another film premier from Sundance, this one is based on a true story and features a powerful lead performance from Boyega as well as the final on-screen credit for the late Williams. Brian Brown-Easley (Boyega) was a veteran who was let down by the Veteran’s Administration. Not seeing any other way to be seen and heard, and facing homelessness, he walked into a Wells Fargo and said he had a bomb. This film follows Brown-Easley through that day, and his interactions with two tellers (Beharie and Leyva) and a police officer (Williams). It’s a difficult story with a sad ending, but it is also a great showcase for Boyega. Director Abi Damaris Corbin, who co-wrote the script, does a great job building the drama and tension while making you invest in Brown-Easley’s story. This was a tense and gripping drama that had me riveted over its run time.
After Yang (Sundance)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Haley Lu Richardson, Ritchie Coster, Clifton Collins, Jr., and Sharita Choudhury
Synopsis: This was a film I saw as part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. It made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival and hopefully soon will be available to mass audiences. It comes from writer/director Kogonda, based on a short story from Alexander Weinstein. It’s set in the future where families can adopt synthetic humans to serve as members of their family. Yang (Justin H. Min) is one such synthetic, and when he fails it comes as a blow to his sister Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Her father, Jake (Farrell), seeks to find answers and hopefully restore Yang. Along the way, he learns more about Yang, his past and what it means to be alive. This is a beautifully shot and paced film. Kogonda delivers a story that is moving and engaging, but more than that causes you to think about the bigger questions in life. That’s a gift. I saw four films from Sundance and enjoyed them all, but this spoke to me in a unique way. I loved Farrell in the lead role, but equally as compelling was Richardson, who plays a key part in Yang’s life and in the message of the film. There was great beauty both on screen and in the ideas explored here. I enjoyed this film immensely.
Cha Cha Real Smooth (Sundance)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Raul Castillo, Vanessa Burghardt, and Leslie Mann
Synopsis: This was the Audience Award Winner for Sundance, and it’s easy to see why. The film comes from Raiff, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film in addition to starring in it. He is a young man just out of college looking for direction. He works at a food stand in the mall while moonlighting as a party starter in the Bar Mitzvah community. It’s there he meets Domino (Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Burghardt). He instantly finds a connection that leads him to something he thinks he might want. But does Domino feel the same? This one has some charming and sweet moments. Raiff does a wonderful job in the lead and as a director here, and Johnson is great opposite him. They have an easy rapport and chemistry that draws you in. Ultimately the film has a bit of a bittersweet ending, but I appreciated the journey and the work of Mann in a supporting role as Raiff’s mother. This will likely be a popular one when it comes out in major release.
The Fallout (HBO Max)
Starring: Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Niles Finch, Julie Bowen, John Ortiz, and Shailene Woodley
Synopsis: This was a big hit at the 2021 SWSX festival and makes its major debut as a streaming film on HBO Max. It centers on a trio of high school students (Ortega, Ziegler and Finch) who all happen to be in the same bathroom during a school shooting event. They are spared from physical harm, but the emotional trauma for each is palpable, and the film takes a journey through that. Ortega is in the lead, with Bowen and Ortiz as her parents. Both her mother and father try to help Vada cope, and do at times, but this is a difficult and confusing journey for Vada, as it is for her friends. This film has some beautiful moments and some heart-breaking moments. In fact, the final act of the film is this incredible mixture of both that’s a credit to writer/director Megan Park and the wonderful lead performance from Ortega. January was quite a month for the young actress between her strong work in Scream and her beautiful performance in The Fallout. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it feels timely and relevant.
Rating: Rated R for language throughout, and teen drug and alcohol use.
Home Team (Netflix)
Starring: Kevin James, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, and Jackie Sandler
Synopsis: This new comedy for Netflix, which is produced by Adam Sandler, centers on the true story of how Saints Head Coach Sean Payton (James) spent the year he was suspended by the NFL. He helped coach his son’s PeeWee team and, along the way, bonded with his son and found the love of the game again. All that sounds interesting and this film wasn’t bad, but it felt weird. James does a nice job in the lead role but feels like an odd fit as Payton. It almost felt like this would have been a better comedy if it had been fictionalized and not tied to real life events, which didn’t seem to fit well. In the end, I enjoyed the film for what it was but it still felt a little strange in terms of being a biopic.
Rating: Rated PG for crude material, language and some suggestive references.
Ice Age: The Adventures of Buck Wild (Disney+)
Starring: Utkarsh Ambudkar, Simon Pegg, and Justine Machado
Synopsis: This new original animated adventure dropped on Disney+ to close the month. It’s a sequel in the Ice Age series, focusing on Buck (Pegg) and his adventures. It includes most of the core characters, voiced by other actors, before spinning its own tale, which runs about 80 minutes. It’s a long 80 minutes. The animation is OK but the story is dry and feels like it meanders without a lot of solid jokes. Maybe it will appeal to kids but this felt like an unnecessary sequel just to boost the profile of original offerings on a streaming platform.
Rating: Rated PG for some action and mild language.
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Raul Castillo, and Algee Smith
Synopsis: This futuristic thriller was released in late December as an original film on Hulu. It stars Moretz as a pregnant woman who, along with her boyfriend (Smith), are trying to get some place safe as the world is at war with synthetic beings. That’s a heady concept but the film falls flat fairly early. The script from writer/director Mattson Tomlin is weak in terms of its plot and character development. The actors do an OK job but you never feel invested in the journey here and when the climax comes, and it’s clear we’re meant to have an emotional response, it’s difficult to get connected to what the film has to offer. This is an interesting swing but the execution is lacking.
Rating: Rated R for violence and language.
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.