In this week’s minor VOD releases, Janusz Kaminski proves that he should stick to cinematography, Frank Stallone makes his case for posterity, and Rainn Wilson falls down a hole.
If Not Now, When? (VOD and select theaters January 8) Actresses Meagan Good and Tamara Bass make their joint feature directorial debut (from a script by Bass) with this turgid melodrama, starring along with Mekia Cox and Meagan Holder as four longtime friends dealing with changes in their lives as they enter their mid-30s. The plot is loosely structured around one friend’s rehab stint for painkiller addiction, but storylines around the other three’s love lives and career struggles take up at least as much time, meandering toward an anticlimactic end. It’s like an entire season of a mediocre nighttime soap opera crammed into a shapeless two-hour movie, with betrayals, reconciliations, revelations and a few cheesy sex scenes. The celebration of sisterhood is sweet at times, and the stars have warm chemistry together, but the characters’ personal problems come off as simultaneously mundane and overwrought. Grade: C
American Dream (VOD and DVD January 12): Longtime Steven Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski is one of the greatest cinematographers in the world, but his record as a director is decidedly less noteworthy. If it weren’t for Kaminski’s name in the credits, there’d be no way to guess that this generic crime drama was made by a multiple Oscar-winner. Michiel Huisman and Luke Bracey play a pair of friends, both sons of Russian immigrants, who’ve poured all their resources into building an apartment complex. They’re somehow shocked when an obviously shady investor (Nick Stahl) resorts to extortion and violence after they attempt to back out of a deal. The story proceeds in fits and starts, with so many choppily edited scenes that it feels like key pieces are missing. Stahl seems to be having fun, although his laundromat-owning villain isn’t all that threatening, and the rest of the performances are stilted. Even the cinematography (by Keith Dunkerley, not Kaminski) is subpar. Grade: C-
The Rise of Sir Longbottom: Pocketman and Cargoboy 2 (VOD January 15): It’s hard to imagine that anyone other than the filmmakers’ close friends and family was hoping for a sequel to the dreadful 2018 micro-budget teen spy-fi thriller Pocketman and Cargoboy, but writer-director Clay Moffatt has delivered for that select group of Pocketfans. The young secret agents codenamed Pocketman (Daniel Main) and Cargoboy (Jeremy Behie) are back, facing off against immortal mind-controlling villain Sir Longbottom (John J. Berger), as all Cargoheads will remember from the post-credits teaser in the first movie. Most of the poorly staged action still takes place in a single suburban house (check out the fight scene in front of an open linen closet), the acting is still terrible, the dialogue still sounds like it was written by middle-schoolers, the story still makes no sense, and Vanilla Ice lookalike spy leader Jayden (Ben Vazquez) still constantly sports a baseball cap with a red flame design. Grade: D
Don’t Tell a Soul (VOD and select theaters January 15): The first half-hour or so of this thriller presents a Twilight Zone-style moral dilemma, as delinquent teenage brothers Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Matt (Fionn Whitehead) must decide what to do when a security guard (Rainn Wilson) who was chasing them after a robbery falls down a deep hole in the middle of the woods. The sensitive Joey brings the man food and water, but he still can’t defy the threats of his psychopathic brother and call the police. That set-up doesn’t provide enough to sustain a feature film, though, and writer-director Alex McAulay piles on increasingly ridiculous plot twists as the movie progresses, eventually losing sight of the engaging initial premise. But the performances are strong, especially from Wilson as a desperate man with several secrets, and the pacing is lively enough that the absurdities only fully register once the movie is over. Grade: B-
Stallone: Frank, That Is (VOD January 19): This awkwardly titled documentary delivers an earnest tribute to the other Stallone, Sylvester’s brother Frank, whose music and acting careers exist in the shadow of his more famous sibling. Stallone is a charming guy and has clearly worked hard for his success, but director Derek Wayne Johnson (who previously directed documentaries about the making of Rocky and the career of Rocky director John G. Avildsen) is so effusive in his praise that the movie feels like an infomercial. It’s a basic Behind the Music-style story of Stallone’s career, full of talking-head interviews with famous associates. Even at just 73 minutes, it feels padded, and it barely gets into any darker aspects of its subject, touching briefly on his resentment over being labeled “Rocky’s brother” or his struggles with panic attacks. Stallone recorded some undeniably catchy songs (“Far From Over” is still a banger) that will do more to cement his legacy than this superficial documentary. Grade: C+