Hi all! It’s been busy over here lately but I wanted to share some lingering mini reviews of some late June releases that I’ve been sitting on for a while. You can find reviews of “Fatherhood,” “The Ice Road,” “Good on Paper,” “Wolfgang,” and “False Positive” below; they can all be watched now on Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus!
It should be one of the happiest days of Matthew Logelin’s (Kevin Hart) life. But “Fatherhood,” the comedy/drama directed by Paul Weitz and based on a true story, opens with a funeral. Matthew’s wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) passes away suddenly after giving birth to their infant daughter Maddy, leaving Matthew unprepared to raise her alone. The first part of the film deals primarily with Matthew coping with his grief while juggling his job and learning to care for Maddy, fending off his mom Anna (Thedra Porter) and mother-in-law Marian (the wonderful Alfre Woodard) who believe that he should move back home with them so they can help raise her. These scenes are the strongest and most real parts of the film, which do a good job portraying both Matthew’s grief and triumphs as a parent, and Hart turns in a convincingly dramatic performance that also allows him to exhibit some of his usual wise-cracking personality. The second half of the film fast-forwards several years. Maddy is older and she and Matthew have settled into a pretty good rhythm, until Matthew both starts seeing a new woman (Lizzie, played by DeWanda Wise) and is given a big job that would require him to travel to Croatia for a while. Maddy’s (Melody Hurd) apparent preference to live with her grandparents for a while cause Matthew to think that maybe he’s failed her as a parent. It becomes a little trite as it follows a predictable formula, but the performances and moving story will still get you at the end. It’s nice to see a story that focuses on the struggles that fathers face in a world that still predominantly associates the mom with all the parental duties, and it’s great to see it focus on Black fatherhood in particular. Lil Rel Howery and Anthony Carrigan are fun additions to the supporting cast as Matthew’s best friends Jordan and Oscar, who are a large part of his support system. Runtime: 109 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“THE ICE ROAD” (Netflix)
Liam Neeson brings his action hero persona to a north Canada truck driver in the action thriller “The Ice Road,” directed by Jonathan Hensleigh. An explosion that traps miners underground prompts a trucking company to form a rescue team to deliver wellheads to assist with their rescue, driving their heavy trucks over dangerously icy roads to get there. On the team, led by Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne), is Mike (Neeson) and his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD and brain trauma, as well as Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), a young woman whose brother is one of the miners trapped in the collapse. The fact that their rigs could go under the ice at any minute automatically renders their journey rife with tension, and that paired with the family dynamics established at the start of the film might have been enough to make “The Ice Road” a passable thriller. But the movie isn’t content with being solely about a rescue mission, throwing a corporate conspiracy into the mix as the story rolls along and the action becomes increasingly silly (the things you can pull off with a big truck, let me tell you). Fishburne is wasted, Neeson is fine as usual, and Midthunder is a great addition, adding a different personality to the group, but they aren’t enough to make “The Ice Road” feel more than at best remarkably average, at worst incredibly dull. Runtime: 108 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“GOOD ON PAPER” (Netflix)
“Good on Paper” is not your typical rom-com. Andrea Singer (Iliza Shlesinger) is a stand-up comedian struggling with the next step in her career when she meets Dennis (Ryan Hansen) on a flight. Dennis, a successful hedge fund manager and Yale graduate, is nice and funny, and the two become friends almost immediately. Andrea isn’t initially attracted to Dennis, but she starts dating him after they get closer. But Andrea’s best friend Margot (Margaret Cho) senses something suspicious about Dennis’ story. Dennis is such an obvious liar that it’s a little frustrating for the viewer to watch Andrea constantly make excuses for him. And yet, isn’t that what you do when you don’t want to believe the worst of someone you really like? There is some truth to be found in the heightened scenarios of “Good on Paper,” which become even more bizarre toward the end of the film. Cho is a standout, and Shlesinger—who wrote the screenplay based on a real event that happened to her—is likeable. But director Kimmy Gatewood’s directorial debut doesn’t balance the stand-up comedy scenes with the rest of the narrative very well, and the result is a mixed bag that mostly just leaves you feeling badly for everyone involved. Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated R.
“FALSE POSITIVE” (Hulu)
I’m hard-pressed to think of a recent movie that made me feel more uncomfy than director John Lee’s “False Positive.” When Lucy (Ilana Glazer, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Lee) and her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux) struggle to conceive a child, they visit Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), a leading fertility doctor and one of Adrian’s former teachers. Lucy successfully gets pregnant after Hindle inseminates her using his own technique, but a series of events causes Lucy to start to become paranoid that Hindle isn’t what he seems. “False Positive” is horror satire, but despite the comedy backgrounds of both Lee and Glazer, it isn’t especially scary or funny. The tone of the majority of the film is still noticeably light- like when, for example, Lucy tells her all-male team of coworkers that she’s pregnant, to which they all respond with some form of “you’re glowing”- but it is simultaneously deeply uncomfortable and unnerving. This is especially the case when Lucy realizes how deeply she has been violated, and struggles to find anyone to help her. Glazer plays the woman in peril part with a great deal of believability, and Brosnan and Theroux are appropriately slimy, even if Brosnan becomes a big too much of the mustache-twirling villain by the end. Lee and Glazer just don’t push either the horror or the satire as far as they could have to make an impact, and by the time we reach the film’s surreal ending, it’s a little too late. Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated R.
“WOLFGANG” (Disney Plus)
It should come a little surprise that this Disney Plus documentary about the life and career of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck- who has restaurants in Disney resorts and regularly handles the cuisine for the Academy Awards’s Governor’s Ball, which airs on ABC, which is owned by Disney- is a glowing portrait that largely glosses over some of the more turbulent aspects of his life. But while it isn’t very dense, director David Gelb’s 78 minute documentary is a solid overview of the man who revolutionized the restaurant industry, getting at the heart of his accomplishments. The Austrian chef moved to Hollywood in the 70s, where he turned Ma Maison into a popular and well-reviewed establishment before opening his first restaurant, Spago, which became an almost immediate go-to spot for celebrities. He then became one of the first celebrity chefs on accident through his various television appearances, which spotlighted not just his culinary abilities but his personality. At the same time, his busy schedule threatened the stability of his family life. The film interviews not only Puck but also his associates (I could have listened to the Spago employees talking about the revolving door of stars who frequented the restaurant all day) and family members, including his sister and ex-wife Barbara Lazaroff. We start to get to the heart of the film’s subject through these conversations, which first reveal how Puck became estranged from his family because of his stepfather, who pushed him to prove himself as a chef, and later how his success caused his new family life to crumble. The former provides a clear theme and motivation for Puck that persists throughout the film, but the latter feels more like it is glossed over, even sanitized, to paint a more positive portrait of Puck, ending with the typical happy “I’m happy where I’m at in my life now” sequence. But even though “Wolfgang” only scratches the surface of this complex man and his extensive career, the final product is still a good mix of inspiring and educational, with some lovely glamor shots of food thrown in for good measure. Runtime: 78 minutes. Rated TV-PG.