August 2020 was a near turning point for Cinema in 2020 as theatres began to re-open nationwide by the end of the month. However smaller titles, streaming and straight to VOD’s recent spike in interest from audiences, and hesitation by movie-goers to return made it a weak month overall for movies in what would be a harbinger that the worst was NOT behind for the film industry this year. That said I ended up checking out 14 new films in August and these are my quickie reviews on each of them.
But first, a reminder of what my grading system for movies works like:
- S Grade; 5.0 Stars: The Best Film I’ve Ever Seen, Everyone Has An S Graded Film
- A+/A- Grade; 4.0/4.5 Stars: One Of The Best Films Of The Year, If Not All-Time
- B+/B- Grade; 3.0/3.5 Stars: Worth A Trip To The Theatre For First Viewing
- C+/C- Grade; 2.0/2.5 Stars: Watch From Home For First Viewing
- D+/D- Grade; 1.0/1.5 Stars: Don’t Bother Watching This At All If You Can Help It
- F Grade; 0.5 Star: One Of The Worst Films Of All-Time
- Reminder: Reviews For These Films Can Change Over Time And Will Be Reflected Over At Our Letterboxd
With all that out of the way, lets get to those quickie reviews already…
- The Plot: An immigrant worker at a pickle factory is accidentally preserved for 100 years and wakes up in modern day Brooklyn. He learns his only surviving relative is his great grandson, a computer coder who he can’t connect with.
- The Review: There’s a lot of care into the making of this film from a technical standpoint, but the actual story told is strange, confusing, and leaves neither of our protagonists looking good. This was better off as a straight to streamer on HBO Max than a theatrical release. C- for AN AMERICAN PICKLE.
- The Plot: David Cuevas is a family man who works as a gangland tax collector for high ranking Los Angeles gang members. He makes collections across the city with his partner Creeper making sure people pay up or will see retaliation. An old threat returns to Los Angeles that puts everything David loves in harm’s way.
- The Review: Half-way through this film I found myself not minding as much as critics did…then the movie lost its mind and became way too mean and violent for my taste. Skip this one if you want my advice. D+ for THE TAX COLLECTOR.
- The Plot: Mary Lennox is born in India to wealthy British parents who never wanted her. When her parents suddenly die, she is sent back to England to live with her uncle. She meets her sickly cousin, and the two children find a wondrous secret garden lost in the grounds of Misselthwaite Manor.
- The Review: A disappointing mediocre quality film made with talent that should have provided better. The movie just feels like it was better off being made for TV than the theatres. C- for THE SECRET GARDEN.
- The Plot: An ex-soldier, a teen and a cop collide in New Orleans as they hunt for the source behind a dangerous new pill that grants users temporary superpowers.
- The Review: Pretty mediocre action flick that just doesn’t have the same pop as a big blockbuster superhero film would. Ultimately felt more vibes with a BLOODSHOT than a THE OLD GUARD with this one. This is where it belongs as a stay at home watch on Netflix. C- for PROJECT POWER.
- The Plot: A teen gamer is forced to level up to full-time babysitter when his favorite video game drops three superpowered infants from space into his backyard.
- The Review: I think I only watched this because Dwayne Wade was involved. This isn’t half-bad in terms of being something you can put on to keep the kids entertained, but the low budget does show. Its where it belongs as a stay at home film to keep the kids preoccupied. C- for FEARLESS.
- The Plot: Andy, at the urging of his former mentor and Magic Camp owner Roy Preston, returns to the camp of his youth hoping to reignite his career. Instead, he finds inspiration in his ragtag bunch of rookie magicians.
- The Review: Where to begin with this one. Its awfully dated as the film was delayed for years, so much so one actor in this has retired after a #metoo scandal and another has transition! I am actually shocked to learn Disney originally had theatrical plans for this because this felt like something better off as a Disney Channel original. C- for MAGIC CAMP.
- The Plot: A divorced mother honks impatiently at a deranged middle-aged stranger at a red light while running late on her way to work. His road rage escalates to horrifyingly psychotic proportions as he becomes single-mindedly determined to teach her a deadly lesson for provoking him.
- The Review: This being the first major film to release with theatres was probably not a good sign for the future of 2020 theatrical releases. Russel Crowe does stand out making you hate his character as you should, but the movie can be so over the top that you almost feel like you could have just found this as a made for TV Lifetime film instead. Watch this at home when you have nothing better to do, this wasn’t worth risking getting sick for. C- for UNHINGED.
- The Plot: Four boyhood friends return to New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, to find their home decimated and prospects for work swept away. Turning to a local gangster for employment, the crew is hired to pull off a daring casino heist, right in the heart of the city.
- The Review: This movie is elevated by the quirky and interesting personalities we get to follow and be introduced to in this one, but the movie hurts itself with a ridiculous fake-out ending that just takes too much time. This was actually the first film I saw when the theatres re-opened in my area and I enjoyed returning and the experience of a big screen movie, but with hindsight this was more of a movie night rental than a big screen watch. C+ for CUT THROAT CITY.
- The Plot: Ivan is a 400-pound silverback gorilla who shares a communal habitat in a suburban shopping mall with Stella the elephant, Bob the dog, and various other animals. He has few memories of the jungle where he was captured, but when a baby elephant named Ruby arrives, it touches something deep within him. Ruby is recently separated from her family in the wild, which causes him to question his life, where he comes from and where he ultimately wants to be.
- The Review: There’s some real money put into this and there’s some heart in it as well. I also get the sense the voice cast was all-in on this project. That said the movie does feel a bit small and its probably best it was released for Disney Plus streaming than a theatrical release. C+ for THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN.
- The Plot: The story of the Promethean struggles of Nikola Tesla, as he attempts to transcend entrenched technology—including his own previous work—by pioneering a system of wireless energy that would change the world.
- The Review: A CAPONE like mess all over again, this film just experiments too much and had me looking at the time through almost all of it as I painfully begged it to end already. Skip it. D- for TESLA.
- The Plot: Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves.
- The Review: I’m really frustrated that this ended up a pretty standard paint by the numbers movie night rental superhero film. There’s some glimpses here of something really special between a great romance setup with queer representation and some interesting personalities for our protagonists. Unfortunately it never aspires to be anything more than a film that you rent on a Friday night, then ultimately forget about years down the road. C+ for THE NEW MUTANTS.
- Revisited Review (C- To C+): https://letterboxd.com/cinephilecafe/film/bill-ted-face-the-music/1/
- The Plot: Yet to fulfill their rock and roll destiny, the now middle-aged best friends Bill and Ted set out on a new adventure when a visitor from the future warns them that only their song can save life as we know it. Along the way, they are helped by their daughters, a new batch of historical figures and a few music legends—to seek the song that will set their world right and bring harmony to the universe.
- The Review: I have to cop to not being the biggest Bill and Ted fan, but for me this came off like mediocre fan service that could have delivered something a little more. This was better off as something they put on a cable channel for kicks than a major release in theatres and on VOD. C- for BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC.
- The Plot: A fresh and distinctive take on Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical masterpiece, The Personal History of David Copperfield, set in the 1840s, chronicles the life of its iconic title character as he navigates a chaotic world to find his elusive place within it. From his unhappy childhood to the discovery of his gift as a storyteller and writer, David’s journey is by turns hilarious and tragic, but always full of life, colour and humanity.
- The Review: This film is a technical marvel in its art direction and a big cast that offers up great performances of literary icons. However the movie does seem to get a tad too fast paces towards the end as if it suddenly realized it needed to rush towards a certain two hour limit, leaving the film feeling like it just needed something extra to get into that greatness range. All that said this was definitely a bright spot in an otherwise bleak August for movies and worth the big screen watch on. B+ for THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD.
- The Plot: An anarchic, hip-hop inspired comedy that follows four city boys on a wilderness trek as they try to escape a mysterious huntsman.
- The Review: Crazy and fun, wild and violent, trippy and hilarious, this is a film that worked for me as a wild coming of age violent comedy. This was something that I could definitely see myself enjoying at my local cinema were it released theatrically instead of Amazon Prime Video. B- for GET DUKED!.
And that wraps up a whole month of quickie movie reviews from me for the month of August 2020. In the next post for this newsletter I’ll be running down my quickie reviews for the September 2020 films that caught my attention. Stay tuned…