It was a rich week of films with several new streaming movies and a couple films I saw at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Catch my thoughts on a six-pack of new films below! If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Magazine Dreams (Sundance)
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, and Michael O’Hearn
Synopsis: This film was one of two I screened from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It was an Audience Award winner, the second feature film from writer/director Elijah Bynum. It centers on a young man who is obsessed with becoming a bodybuilding icon that graces the cover of magazines. He devotes himself to the pursuit while working a part-time job at a market and caring for his grandfather. He also has a rough background and an issue with connecting with people and suppressing his own rage, for which he’s in counseling. When he finally gets to meet his idol, things don’t go as planned. After a series of setbacks, Killian (Majors) is forced to confront his rage and disappointment in order to discover if he can find a path forward. This is a dark and intense film. It certainly won’t be for everyone and it isn’t a feel good watch. However, the performance from Majors, who sinks into the role and dominates nearly every scene, is mesmerizing. I didn’t love the story or the overall arc, but I couldn’t stop watching Majors and his work in this role. Bynum does a great job of showcasing him and his raw intensity, which pops off the screen. If nothing else, I hope people remember this fine work from Majors, who will appears in two more wide releases before we even hit April this year.
Starring: Storm Reid, Nia Long, Ken Leung, Joaquim de Almeida, and Tim Griffin
Synopsis: This follows the same style, and is based on a story from the creators of Searching. While a stand alone sequel, it offers a quick nod to that first film in its opening sequence. But this film seeks to use the same style—shot entirely through someone’s computer screen and cell phone—to tell a completely new story. In this one, co-directors and writers Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick craft an engaging new screen story. It centers on June (Reid), whose father passed away a decade earlier. Now, her mother Grace (Long) and her new boyfriend (Leung) are headed to Columbia on a holiday. When they don’t return as expected, June begins to investigate. As she does, she realizes something nefarious is afoot. Working her computer and her contacts, including a local (de Almeida), she begins a frantic search to find her mother. This film moved at a good pace, and Johnson and Merrick built the tension well through the format. What struck me was how emotionally invested I got in the journey. I enjoyed Reid in the lead role and thought she did a nice job carrying the story, while de Almeida was great in an interesting supporting role. The film had good twists and turns and held my attention. So far, it’s the best new film I’ve seen in 2023.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong violence, language, teen drinking, and thematic material.
Shotgun Wedding (Amazon Prime)
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Coolidge, Cheech Marin, Lenny Kravitz, and D’Arcy Carden
Synopsis: It’s January and one of our first big comedy releases is a wedding comedy starring Lopez. We got one from her in this range last year that ended up being a bit of a hidden gem. This film has its moments but doesn’t quite rise to that level. Darcy (Lopez) and Tom (Duhamel) are getting married on location at a small island resort in the Philippines. It’s already a challenge dealing with parents (Marin and Coolidge) when Darcy’s ex (Kravitz) arrives unexpectedly as a guest. The pair are trying to figure out their options when pirates land on the island, taking the guests hostage to extort money. Tom and Darcy aren’t in the first capture wave and are forced to set their issues aside to save their family and friends. This one has some good comedy and Lopez is solid in the lead role. She and Duhamel have decent comic timing and I enjoyed the supporting cast, particularly Coolidge and Carden. There are some laughs, a few twists and the ending you’re expecting. This isn’t anything special but it was an easy watch.
Rating: Rated R for language and some violence/bloody images.
Teen Wolf: The Movie (Paramount+)
Starring: Tyler Posey, Crystal Reed, Holland Roden, Tyler Hoechlin, and Colton Haynes
Synopsis: This latest film is a cap to the TV series on MTV that ran for six seasons. I’ve never seen an episode of the TV series, but I tried the movie. Let me be honest, that doesn’t work—at all. Most of the times the expectation of a film from a television franchise is that it works for long-time fans but is accessible for those not familiar with the source material. That’s not the case with Teen Wolf, which heavily relies on six seasons of material, picking up established characters in an established world and asking you to follow them. This felt a bit Twilight-esque, and if you’re a fan of the series this is a nice addition. As mentioned, I was lost and more than a little bored, especially with a run time that lingers at nearly two and a half hours.
Theater Camp (Sundance)
Starring: Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, and Ayo Edebiri
Synopsis: My second entry from Sundance, this is decidedly lighter. It’s a comedy set at a summer camp for theater kids, hence the title. Gordon and Nick Lieberman serve as directors, working on a story from Gordon, Lieberman, Platt and Galvin that was previously a short film. It centers on a great acting teacher, Joan (Amy Sedaris), who has run the camp for a long time. When she has a stroke, her son Troy (Tatro) has to take over. The former campers turned teachers (Gordon, Platt and Galvin) don’t take it well as they struggle to get through the summer and deal with all their personal dreams and ambitions, while Troy tries to keep the camp afloat. This is based on the experiences of the collaborators and it shows. If you were into the performing arts, you understand camps and experiences like this. Ultimately, this film is about celebrating those who are able to find their place and kindred spirits, forming friendships that have lasted a lifetime. It’s quirky and fun, and I really enjoyed Tatro and all his efforts to keep the camp going. Meanwhile Galvin is a sneaky star, having a number of fun sequences before a great third act reveal. I enjoyed the film but it was the closing sequence, and the final musical number, that really got to me. I enjoyed the ride and I look forward to more people getting to see this charming little film.
You People (Netflix)
Starring: Jonah Hill, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Nia Long, David Duchovny, and Lauren London
Synopsis: This new Netflix film comes from writers Kenya Barris, who created Blackish, and Hill. It’s about a couple—Hill and London—who are from different worlds. They’re in love and planning to get married if they can survive their families. Ezra (Hill) comes from a Jewish family and though they’re not particularly religious, they can’t help but try and fail to be hip—especially his mother (Louis-Dreyfuss). Amira’s family are Muslim, and very focused on representing their community. Her father (Murphy) has a clear vision for the man his daughter should marry—and Ezra doesn’t fit the bill. Can this group get past their differences and find a happy ending. This is a compelling and sharply written film. I enjoyed the back-and-forth, particularly with Hill and Murphy. Barris is a talented writer who is used to pushing the envelope. That happens a fair bit here, and it could be a turnoff for some. But I enjoyed the film for what it is and enjoyed the overall arc of the story.
Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some sexual material and drug content.
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.
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