After a few weeks away, I made a grand return to the theater! Below are three films I saw on the big screen and a couple big streaming releases. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Honor Society (Paramount+)
Starring: Angourie Rice, Gaten Matarazzo, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Synopsis: Honor (Rice) is a senior who is determined to get out of her small town, attend a prestigious college and leave all she knows behind. She has her sights set on Harvard and has a connection in the form of her guidance counselor (Mintz-Plasse). Problem is, the guidance counselor is considering four different students, including Honor. So, she hatches a plan to put herself in the lead, which hits a snag when she ends up falling for fellow top student Michael (Matarazzo). Along the way to getting everything she thinks she wants; Honor discovers what she really needs. This is a film that hooks you and delivers a great final act. I enjoyed Rice in the lead role. Her breaking the fourth wall was fun and the final turn in the film was a lot of fun. She has a star quality, which elevated the film. It’s a fun part for Matarazzo, too. Best known for his work in Stranger Things, this is a different kind of role—particularly as we turn toward the third act. Director Oran Zegman delivers and interesting look, while the script from David Goodman has humor and heart. I enjoyed this quite a bit.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Theaters)
Starring: Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer-Camp and Isabella Rossellini
Synopsis: This film began as a series of short films that first debuted in 2010. Now, 12 years later, Marcel is on the big screen with a feature-length adventure. Some of it repeats the sequences and lines from the series of shorts. It’s a conversation between Marcel (Slate) and director Fleischer-Camp, who is documenting Marcel’s story. Marcel lives with his grandma (Rossellini). They are isolated since Marcel’s family and community disappeared. After gaining notoriety from the documentary shorts, Marcel hopes to find his family. That includes an appearance on Marcel’s favorite show, 60 Minutes, and an interview with Leslie Stahl. This film is nothing short of adorable. Marcel, voiced by Slate, has been adorable since debuting 12 years ago. The same energy and spirit in those shorts are featured in this film. I enjoyed Slate’s performance and the work from her co-star and co-creator Fleischer-Camp, who has been a part of Marcel’s story from the beginning. This one has heart and is a lot of fun. It’s a pure delight, well worth checking out.
Rating: Rated PG for some suggestive material and thematic elements.
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, and Daniel Perea
Synopsis: Jordan Peele has developed quite a reputation and following as a filmmaker. He delivers modern horror stories that feel lived in and compelling. Get Out was nominated for Best Picture, while Us was a worthy follow up. Now he’s back with Nope, which follows a brother (Kaluuya) and sister (Palmer) who run a Hollywood horse training business. Their father (Keith David) was the driving force, but since his death they’ve struggled to get on track. Now the theme park next door, run by a former child star (Yeun) is trying to acquire the property and the horses. When strange things begin appearing in the sky, OJ (Kaluuya) and Emerald (Palmer) try to capture the images to earn a fortune. They use the help of an electronics store employee (Perea) and a decorated cinematographer (Wincott) to capture the images before it’s too late. This is a fascinating and engrossing film. Those who’ve seen the trailers will know a bit about where this is going, but I won’t spoil the big plot twists here. Peele’s movies have great dialogue and characters, focusing on building a world and sucking you in. You care about these people, which is a big part of the appeal. Kaluuya is fantastic in this film, as is Palmer. You can’t help but root for these two throughout it all. I thought this one was wildly creative and might be my favorite of his films. It’s one that will stick with you after the credits role and is a heck of a ride that should be seen on the big screen.
Rating: Rated R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images.
Not Okay (Hulu)
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Mia Isaac, and Dylan O’Brien
Synopsis: This Fox Searchlight film released exclusively on Hulu centers on a young woman, Danni (Deutch), who wants to be known. She feels anonymous. She works at a publication as a photographer but she wants to be a writer. The problem is, she doesn’t really have anything to say. One week she fakes going to Paris for a writers’ conference. The problem is, Paris suffers a massive terrorist attack. Rather than admitting the lie, she steers into the skid and shares her story as a survivor. Her friendship with a gun violence survivor, Rowan (Isaac), vaults her to a new level of popularity. But when the truth comes out, all that disappears in a flash. This film touches on some important topics, including gun violence, cancel culture, Internet celebrity and cyber-bullying. And yet, it’s a story that’s a bit gross in its construction. Deutch is great in the lead role, making a fairly unlikeable character somewhat compelling. I enjoyed Isaac in the supporting role, too. Writer/director Quinn Shephard crafts an engaging film that has its moments. I just didn’t think it handled some of these tough topics with the requisite care. It’s OK but falls short of being great. It’s also, at times, wildly uncomfortable.
Rating: Rated R for language throughout, drug use and some sexual content.
Starring: B.J. Novak, Issa Rae, Boyd Holbrook, Lio Tipton, and Ashton Kutcher
Synopsis: Sometimes a movie surprises you. That’s the case with Vengeance, a new comedy from writer/director/star Novak. It centers on a New York writer, Ben (Novak), who runs through a series of casual relationships. He never makes a connection that lasts with anyone. When he gets a call that a former hook up, Abilene (Tipton), is dead and he’s expected to attend her memorial in Texas as her boyfriend, it shakes him. Ben makes the trip and after connecting with Abilene’s brother, Ty (Holbrook), he gets drawn into a mystery. Did she overdose as law enforcement said, or is there something to the conspiracy theories that fuel her family? Vengeance is a beautifully told story. It’s an incredible blend of humor and pathos that says a lot about the world. Rae is wonderful as Ben’s podcast producer and friend. This is a journey of discovery and Holbrook and Novak have a beautiful back-and-forth. But one of the best aspects of the film, and the most riveting performance, came from Kutcher in a supporting role as a music producer. He is in two major sequences and both are highlights of the film. This movie has a lot to say about culture, conspiracy culture, podcast culture, true crime stories and the misconceptions we have of people. But, more than anything, it’s about the value of connection. And it’s beautiful. I laughed, I cried and I was totally drawn in. This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year, a hidden gem of the late summer at the theaters.
Rating: Rated R for language and brief violence.
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.