Here is the second part of my list of mini reviews of streaming movies released in August- I hope you all have a fun and safe holiday weekend!
“MAGIC CAMP” (Disney Plus)
“Magic Camp” was originally slated for theatrical release in summer 2018 before its release was cancelled and it ultimately ended up on Disney Plus last month, but even two years ago it likely would have felt rather dated. Landing somewhere just above a DCOM in terms of story and scale, the family comedy directed by Mark Waters stars Adam DeVine as Andy Duckerman, a formerly successful magician moonlighting as an Uber driver in Vegas when Roy Preston (Jeffrey Tambor), the director of a summer camp called the Institute of Magic, of which Andy used to be a pupil, comes calling. Preston recruits Andy, as well as Andy’s former partner, the currently very successful Kristina Darkwood (Gillian Jacobs) as camp counselors. They are each assigned a cabin, with cabins competing against each other in the camp’s end-of-the-year Top Hat magic competition. Andy initially has a hard time connecting with the inexperienced group of kids he’s assigned to, but he warms to the noticeably gifted Theo (Nathaniel McIntyre), who is still dealing with the loss of his father and is nervous about performing his card tricks in front of others. The story divides its time between Andy and Theo, and rather than spending that time developing one protagonist really well, we get a rather rushed version of each of their stories. It’s hard not to get some enjoyment out of watching the magic tricks, and the cast of kids—which includes Josie Totah (billed as J.J. Totah), Cole Sand, and Isabella Cramp—are fun and give each of their characters their own quirks. The film ends on a very predictable note that gives everyone what they wanted. Occasionally cringey but overall watchable, especially for families, “Magic Camp” is a movie that is easy to consume, but will be just as easily forgotten about. Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated PG. 2 out of 5 stars.
“PROJECT POWER” (Netflix)
“Project Power” is a surefire example of a cast and story premise that are way better than what ended up on screen—although the final product is still a lot of fun. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman from a screenplay by Mattson Tomlin, “Project Power” is set in New Orleans, where drug dealers begin circulating “power,” a pill that grants the user a certain superpower for five minutes. The drawback is that that power could be something that kills you, prompting the question, why would anyone want to take it in the first place? Throughout the film, several moral questions about the use of power are raised but never fully answered, opting for a lot of flashy action scenes instead. The action follows three main players: Robin (Dominique Fishback), a teen dealer who aspires to be a rapper; Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who buys from Robin but also befriends her; and Art (Jamie Foxx), who was one of the original test subjects for power and whose daughter Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson) was born exhibiting powers without ever having taken a pill. She was kidnapped because of this, and Art is trying to track her down, his investigation leading him to Robin. He and Robin, who is about the same age as Tracy, form a tentative bond as they search for the source of the drug. Fortunately Gordon-Levitt is fun to watch regardless of what he’s doing because in this movie his character is relegated to spouting a lot of generic police dialogue, but there are some strong characters in Art and Robin. Fishback is undoubtedly the star of the show with her saavy performance that outshines her costars. What “Project Power” really lacks, outside of some much-needed introspection, is a solid villain. But the on location shooting in New Orleans lends the film a real sense of place and ground it in reality, and it’s multitude of violent and fast-paced action scenes are easily digestible, especially for those of us sorely missing the usual summer action blockbusters that usually hit theaters this time of year. Runtime: 113 minutes. Rated R. 3 out of 5 stars.
“THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN” (Disney Plus)
“The One and Only Ivan” is a film that frequently feels torn between several different moods and messages, resulting in it feeling rather bland and muddled as opposed to making a definitive statement. Directed by Thea Sharrock and based on the award-winning children’s novel by K.A. Applegate, the story is set in the Big Top Mall, which houses a circus run by Mack (Bryan Cranston), the star of which is the gorilla known as the one and only Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell). When the circus begins losing business, Mack purchases a baby elephant called Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) to draw in crowds. What initially seems like the setup for a jealous conflict between Ivan and Ruby turns into a plea for animal rights, as older elephant Stella’s (Angelina Jolie) stories about living in the wild told to Ruby conjure up Ivan’s memories of being free. At the same time, Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), the daughter of the circus’s janitor George (Ramón Rodríguez), gives Ivan some old crayons, and he decides to use his drawing skills as a means to an end. “The One and Only Ivan” is a fairly typical talking animal movie, although its voice cast (which also includes Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, and Chaka Khan) is really impressive, and the CG animals fit nicely into the human world—not too real, not too cartoony. The characters also made some solid observations about humanity, most notably when Stella tells a story and reflects that not all humans are bad, while Ivan has a more harrowing tale from his childhood that shows the more dangerous side of humanity. The film doesn’t really commit to any of its ideas however. One aspect of the story suggests that we should revile Mack for keeping these animals in cages, but the film also makes it very clear that he isn’t a bad guy. The film starts out on a mission to save the circus, which Ivan initially seems quite happy to be in, only to pivot at the end. And we don’t see Ivan actively developing his art skills before the climax of the film either. All this to say, while it’s true that nothing and no one should be expected to be just one thing, all of these elements together in this film feel jumbled. Regardless, the film’s sense of humor and the fact that it isn’t overly deep make it a great watch for kids, and the attachments the animals form with each other are very sweet. The ending will likely have your eyes welling with tears regardless. That’s just what cutesy animal movies do to us. Runtime: 95 minutes. Rated PG. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
“CHEMICAL HEARTS” (Amazon Prime Video)
“Chemical Hearts” is the epitome of teen angst. The movie, written and directed by Richard Tanne and based on the novel of the same name, follows Henry Page (Austin Abrams), a high school senior and aspiring writer who loves love—he’s just never been in love. Then he meets Grace (Lili Reinhart), a melancholy new student who just transferred from another school, when they are both granted editor position on the school newspaper. Grace immediately intrigues Henry: she walks with a limp and a cane, yet insists on walking everywhere; she has a car but won’t drive; she doesn’t really desire the editor position, and she is reluctant to open up when Henry tries to talk to her. Little by little she does let him in, but their romance is threatened by Grace’s past trauma. “Chemical Hearts” is frequently sappy and melodramatic as it navigates the ups and downs of first love and being a teenager, but those familiar themes are made interesting by the characters. Reinhart is especially good as mentally, Grace is put through the ringer, and she’s intriguing to watch as the initial mystique surrounding Grace fades into a more concrete and tragic backstory. Runtime: 93 minutes. Rated R. 3 out of 5 stars.
“ALL TOGETHER NOW” (Netflix)
Directed by Brett Haley and based on the novel Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick, “All Together Now” is a teen drama that centers around high school student Amber Appleton (Auli’i Cravalho). The opening scenes take us through a typical day in Amber’s life: she goes to school with her friends, sometimes bringing them breakfast; she’s a talented musician who participates in many activities at her school, including planning the annual variety show; and she works several jobs, including teaching English at a retirement home, all while toting around her little dog Bobby. Throughout it all, Amber is incredibly perky, but at the end of the day we discover that she and her single mom, Becky (Justina Machado), are homeless and sleeping on a school bus, and that Amber is trying to save enough money for them to get an apartment without Becky having to go back to her abusive, alcoholic boyfriend. As much as she loves to help others, as times continue to get tougher, Amber has a hard time accepting help from those around her, including her friend Ty (Rhenzy Feliz). “All Together Now” explores topics like homelessness, abuse, and economic disparity with a forthrightness that isn’t often seen in these kinds of movies. The movie starts off strong, but after a while the onslaught of hardships thrown at Amber throughout the film makes it an overly depressing watch, and the transition to its upbeat, sentimental ending feels sudden. The main thing that “All Together Now” proves is that Cravalho really is a bona fide talent, and she shines in any mood, any scene. And in this time where so many people are struggling financially and emotionally, it’s hard not to feel uplifted watching a community come together to support one of their own. “All Together Now” also stars Judy Reyes as Donna, the mother of one of Amber’s friends, Fred Armisen as her teacher Mr. Franks, and Carol Burnett as Joan, the cankerous woman who lives in the home Amber works at who eventually warms to her. Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated PG. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
“THE SLEEPOVER” (Netflix)
“The Sleepover” is like a discount “Spy Kids.” It’s watchable and frequently enjoyable, but elements of it start to wear on you after a while. The family comedy, directed by Trish Sie, opens on what appears to be a typical American family. Teenager Clancy (Sadie Stanley) is invited by her crush Travis (Matthew Grimaldi) to a party at his house, but clashes over it with her overprotective mother Margot (Malin Akerman). Her younger brother Kevin (Maxwell Simkins) is bullied at school, and her pastry chef father Ron (Ken Marino) is incredibly awkward. But that night, a man and woman kidnap Kevin and Margot, who turns out to be a highly skilled former thief in the witness protection program being forced into helping her former cronies pull a big job. Clancy and Kevin, along with their friends Mim (Cree Cicchino) and Lewis (Lucas Jaye) are left to follow the clues Margot left behind to try and save them. Rather than focusing primarily on the kids, which would have been more appropriate for this kid-targeted movie, the action is equally focused on the parents, who not only aren’t as interesting, but after a while, all the cringey gags the very out-of-his-depth Ron has to perform get pretty old after a while. “The Sleepover” is a fairly typical wild-night-out kid’s movie where none of the characters end up majorly impacted by any huge revelations and are able to go back to their normal lives in the morning—albeit a bit more confident, a tad more understanding—and the group of young actors are smart and fun to watch on their big adventure. It’s just too bad the story doesn’t spend more time with them. Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated TV-PG. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
“PHINEAS AND FERB THE MOVIE: CANDACE AGAINST THE UNIVERSE” (Disney Plus)
The new “Phineas and Ferb” movie is truly a treat—and I say this as someone whose only exposure to the series was an episode I watched right before seeing this movie. This is the second “Phineas and Ferb” movie and works well as a standalone film, so as long as you have a preliminary understanding of the premise of the show and its characters, you’ll still be able to follow and enjoy it. As the title suggests, this movie puts Candace (voiced by Ashley Tisdale), the long-suffering older sister of Phineas and Ferb, in the spotlight. Fed up at constantly failing to expose any of her brothers’ elaborate summer vacation schemes to her parents, and feeling that she isn’t special compared to them, she is elated when she is beamed up to a spaceship and finds that the aliens on board believe she is their savior. Meanwhile, Phineas (Vincent Martella), Ferb (David Errigo, Jr.), their friends, and the evil Dr. Doofenschmirtz (Dan Povenmore), whose daughter Vanessa (Olivia Olson) was abducted along with Candance, set out to rescue them, with Perry the platypus (Dee Bradley Baker) following on his own mission. Much of the cast of the original show returns to voice their characters, including Caroline Rhea, Richard O’Brien, Alyson Stoner, and Mitchel Musso, with Ali Wong voicing the alien leader Super Super Big Doctor. “Candance Against the Universe” is a purely wacky cartoon delight that relishes its absurdity; this is perhaps most obvious in Doofenschmirtz’s new gadget, the chicken-replace-inator, which will swap something’s place with the nearest or farthest chicken. Fourth-wall-breaking and peppy music numbers all find a home here too, but despite mostly not taking anything too seriously, the story of Candace realizing how much her brothers really love her and how much she loves them is sincere. “Phineas and Ferb: Candance Against the Universe” is directed by Bob Bowen, with series co-creators Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh credited on the script. The beauty of animation is that clearly, despite four very full seasons and two feature length films, they haven’t run out of fun ideas yet for these characters. Runtime: 86 minutes. Rated TV-G. 4 out of 5 stars.