This month has felt pretty busy, hasn’t it? In terms of movies, there have been a lot of new releases, from spooky films for Halloween to the first rumblings of potential awards season contenders. I wanted to get this out as soon as possible because my mini reviews will be split into at least three parts this month, and include a couple of September releases I didn’t get to earlier. Some of these films are particularly urgent, whether they be a documentary you’ll want to see before election day, or a fun film you might want to add to your Halloween viewing rotation. Below, you’ll find reviews of “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” “The Boys in the Band,” “Dick Johnson is Dead,” “Hubie Halloween,” and “The Glorias.” These are all currently available on streaming services. Enjoy, and stay tuned for more mini reviews later this week!
“ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY” (Amazon Prime Video)
“All In: The Fight for Democracy” is a film that ought to be essential viewing for anyone living in America. Voting is a right that many Americans—white Americans in particular—take for granted, this documentary directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes examines the history of voter suppression in the United States. There is particular emphasis on how the system continues to try to suppress people’s right to vote today (especially people of color), an issue that I think it’s safe to say that many citizens are unaware is even an issue. A lot of the discussion revolves around the 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia between Brian Kemp and Stacy Abrams, with Abrams providing significant commentary throughout the film. There’s nothing revolutionary about the talking heads format of this documentary, but that’s okay; the significance and urgency of its message comes across clearly in this straightforward approach, punctuated by graphics that show the statistics behind the message. It’s easy to understand, entertaining, and, above all, infuriating—and hopefully viewers will carry that energy to the polls to vote this November. Runtime: 102 minutes. Rated PG-13. 5 out of 5 stars.
“THE BOYS IN THE BAND” (Netflix)
“The Boys in the Band” was a play before it was a movie, and, as is the case with many stage productions that make their way to the big screen, you can tell. But that isn’t often an issue in this film directed by Joe Mantello, who also directed the 2018 Broadway revival (the original 1968 off-Broadway production was made into a film in 1970, and playwright Mart Crowley worked on the screenplay before he passed away earlier this year). The story is set in 1968 New York and centers around a group of gay friends who gather at Michael’s (Jim Parsons) apartment for a birthday party for Harold (Zachary Quinto). But when Michael’s straight roommate from college, Alan (Brian Hutchison), shows up unexpectedly, the party is thrown into turmoil, and secrets and lies are thrown out into the open. The entire cast of from the Broadway production reprised their roles for this film, including Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Robin de Jesús, Charlie Carver, Tuc Watkins, and Michael Benjamin Washington. Their performances across the board are great and are what drives the story forward; they also often feel very big in the way that works well on stage but can sometimes seem over-exaggerated on screen. But each character in this large cast is distinct and each actor makes him their own. While elements of the story feel dated, the original play was groundbreaking for the LGBTQ community, and it’s still rare today to see a film comprised entirely of gay actors focusing solely on their relationships and how society marginalizes them. Runtime: 121 minutes. Rated R. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
“VAMPIRES VS. THE BRONX” (Netflix)
It can be difficult to take a premise that has been done time and time again and make it not only different, but exciting, yet “Vampires vs. the Bronx” accomplishes just that. Directed by Oz Rodriguez, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Blaise Hemingway, this film follows a group of teenage friends—Miguel (Jaden Michael), Bobby (Gerald Jones III), and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV)—who want to save their local bodega from being bought out in their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in the Bronx. But when they start investigating Murnau Properties (a clever Easter egg if I’ve ever seen one), the company buying out all the homes and businesses in the area, the kids realize that their neighborhood is being taken over by vampires. “Vampires vs. the Bronx” delivers the perfect blend of horror, comedy, and adventure with an added layer of social commentary that makes it a delightful Halloween treat. It helps that the young leads are utterly charming and likeable, and The Kid Mero as bodega owner Tony and Method Man as Father Jackson are great additions to the cast. Runtime: 85 minutes. Rated PG-13. 4 out of 5 stars.
“DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD” (Netflix)
It would be easy to write “Dick Johnson is Dead” off as a morbid experiment—in fact, the entire premise of Kirsten Johnson’s documentary about her father may rub some viewers the wrong way once it presents itself. But in actuality, “Dick Johnson is Dead” is a unique film that waffles between surrealism and humor, sadness and grieving, and proves that one does not need to exist without the other. After her father Richard Johnson is diagnosed with dementia, Kirsten proposes an odd idea to him: that they make a film about his impending death, and stage a variety of sequences imagining him dying or dead. These fantasy sequences include everything from Dick dying in violent accidents, entering heaven, and even acting out his funeral. But the film also shows us the making of these sequences, and Kirsten directing her father, who is a more than willing participant who quickly wins his way into viewers’ hearts. It’s a way for Kirsten to cope with losing someone she can’t bear to lose (she also reflects on losing her mother to Alzheimer’s in 2007 and how hard that was), and a way for her to spend time with her dad. But for all its weirdness, “Dick Johnson is Dead” doesn’t spends little time actually dwelling on death. Rather, it is a celebration of life that is incredibly personal but feels universal. And if it initially does make you uncomfortable, that’s likely because the film is not afraid to confront death head-on, a subject that society as a whole often shies away from discussing. Runtime: 89 minutes. Rated PG-13. 4 out of 5 stars.
“HUBIE HALLOWEEN” (Netflix)
Remember when Adam Sandler said that if he didn’t win an Oscar for “Uncut Gems” he’d make an extremely bad movie on purpose? Well, “Hubie Halloween” can’t be that movie, as it was filmed months before “Uncut Gems” was even released in theaters. But even if it was intended to be, it isn’t bad at all, especially by the Sandman’s standards. Set on Halloween night in Salem, Sandler plays Hubie Dubois, a deli worker who spends Halloween night monitoring the town for safety. At the same time, he’s scared of just about everything, and despite his good intentions is ridiculed by most of Salem. But when people start going missing, it’s up to Hubie to save the day. Directed by Steven Brill, “Hubie Halloween” contains a surprisingly convoluted plot that is difficult to sum up; it’s made up of a series of sequences that feature everything from Hubie’s new neighbor who might be a werewolf (Walter Lambert, played by Steve Buscemi), an escaped convict from a mental institution (Richie Hartman, played by Rob Schneider), and escapades at the drive-in theater, a haunted house, a corn maze, and the local radio station, that somehow all come together in the end. And there is a good portion of it that is off-putting, like the reliance on poop jokes, or the tendency to over-explain jokes that are actually quite funny just as they are (as if Sandler and Tim Herlihy, who wrote the screenplay, don’t trust their audience to make that mental leap). But there are plenty of other jokes and gags that are actually funny enough to make up for all of that. Especially impressive is the commitment to running gags throughout the film, like the neighborhood kids hurling items at Hubie as he rides down the street on his bike (and he also deftly dodges them), or Hubie’s thermos that contains more tricks that a pocketknife. The variety of cameos from other comedians is a delight, and there’s something comforting about the fall aesthetic and spooky (but not scary!) vibes that the film fully commits to and that make it the perfect movie for this time of year. Ultimately, its simple message of kindness to others comes off as sincere; even its end credits sequence, which is filled with outtakes of the cast having fun and concludes with a heartfelt tribute to the late actor Cameron Boyce (who was cast in the film and passed away just days before filming began), will leave you feeling warm. Maybe Hubie is the hero we needed this Halloween after all. The cast also includes Julie Bowen as Hubie’s love interest Violet, Kevin James and Kenan Thompson as Salem’s police sergeants, June Squibb as Hubie’s mom, Shaquille O’Neal as the local DJ, as well as Ray Liotta, Maya Rudolph, Michael Chiklis, Tim Meadows, China Anne McClain, and many, many more. Runtime: 102 minutes. Rated PG-13. 3 out of 5 stars.
“THE GLORIAS” (Amazon Prime Video)
Directed by Julie Taymor, “The Glorias” is a biopic about activist Gloria Steinem, based on her memoir My Life on the Road. But as the title of the film suggests, there is more than one Gloria in this film, as the story, rather than proceeding in a totally linear fashion, jumps around to different points in Steinem’s life. Not only that, but the film serves as a sort of conversation Steinem is having with herself, as the four actresses who play Steinem—Ryan Keira Armstrong as child Gloria, Lulu Wilson as teenage Gloria, Alicia Vikander as Gloria from the age of 20 to 40, and Julianne Moore as Gloria from 40 until the present day—appear throughout the film riding on a bus together, as if in a dream, reminiscing about life and what they wish they might have done or said differently. Each actor manages to make the role their own while making it apparent that they are all portraying the same woman; Vikander carries the bulk of the film, and handles Steinem’s progression from journalist to activist and public speaker. Taymor sidesteps cliché for much of the film, at one point even turning a misogynistic interview into a Wizard of Oz-inspired revenge fantasy. But overall, the film lacks a consistent pace and tone so it’s rarely as engaging as it should be, and despite its long runtime, it feels like it barely scratches the surface of Steinem’s life and accomplishments. Still, as a primer, it’s a great overview, and it commits to portraying feminism and feminist issues with a depth that many films do not. The cast also includes Janelle Monáe as activist Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Bette Midler as fellow Women’s Movement leader Bella Abzug, and Timothy Hutton as Gloria’s father Leo Steinem. Runtime: 139 minutes. Rated R. 3 out of 5 stars.