The summer movie season is officially underway! After having last year’s summer movies canceled, I am ecstatic to embrace a new wave of tentpole releases. The major releases will always dominate the conversation, but June also has its fair share of under-the-radar gems worth discussion. For this New Release Breakdown, I will be updating this feature throughout June to highlight a myriad of new releases hitting select theaters and VOD platforms. Let’s get the ball rolling!
FATHERHOOD – Directed by Paul Weitz
Fatherhood Synopsis: A father (Kevin Hart) brings up his baby girl as a single dad after the unexpected death of his wife who died a day after their daughter’s birth.
Kevin Hart’s dynamic talents have always felt underused on screen. While filmmakers are quick to highlight his energetic comedic delivery, they also straddle the actor with thinly-conceived roles lacking in terms of growth and dimension. Hart’s latest endeavor, Fatherhood, presents interesting opportunities for newfound vulnerability onscreen. Good intentions aside, this stagnate family drama never elevates its Hallmark schmaltz.
Hart certainly tries his best to elevate the middling film around him. His toned-down delivery allows him to relay the internal pains of a grieving single father while still keeping his comedic touch skillfully intact. At its best, Fatherhood offers a few intimate glimpses into the joys and pains of being a single parent. Paul Weitz’s direction works when he allows the material to speak on its own terms, foregoing any overworked score choices to capture emotional beats at their most fragile.
Unfortunately, Fatherhood rarely dances away from maudlin tropes. Dana Stevens and Weitz’s screenplay work in too many broad frames of familial drama, wildly overworking a narrative that should be fairly barebones in essence. The general tonality feels overbearing in its saccharine swings at emotion, rarely feeling assured enough to trust the material’s inherently appealing core. By the time the second half comes around, the special bond between Hart and his growing daughter becomes lost in a wave of contrivances.
Fatherhood desperately calls for naturalism, but the film’s overproduced and overbaked tendencies consistently get in the way. I will say, I do hope Hart continues down this pathway. He has the ability to turn in some strong dramatic work when given the chance.
Fatherhood debuts June 18th on Netflix.
DOMINO: BATTLE OF THE BONES – Directed by Baron Davis, Carl Reid, and Steven V. Vazquez Jr.
Domino: Battle of the Bones Synopsis: Hoping to reclaim his former glory, a fallen dominoes champion (Lou Beatty Jr.) recruits his step-grandson (Nathan Dana) to help him win an off-the-wall tournament chock-full of colorful personalities.
Former NBA superstar Baron Davis makes his writing/directorial debut with an uproarious comedy about an overlooked cultural staple. His film, Domino: Battle of the Bones, throws a busy array of bold personalities and slapstick gags at the screen. While the film’s presentation lumbers with a certain clunkiness, the material’s infectious spirit registers plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.
Davis and company are clearly having a blast throughout the production. The film thankfully never takes itself seriously, successfully allowing every bit character and bizarre moment to stand on its own terms as good-natured comedy. From David Arquette’s sincere effort as a sleazy businessman who continues to fall on his face to Anthony McKinley’s spirited performance as a wild card with an eye for dominos, the actors all nail the finite frequency required for their over-the-top caricatures (I can’t forget Snoop Dogg who serves a vital role as a sharp narrator).
Amongst all the busyness, stars Lou Beatty Jr. and Nathan Dana establish a fairly sturdy center to ground the chaos. The duo’s humorous and well-meaning rapport sparkles despite its contrived origins, with Beatty Jr. stealing every frame as a wise-cracking grandfather. Still, Domino: Battle of the Bones desperately calls for more focus and cohesion. The film’s bloated 110-minute runtime jams in one too many thankless subplots, while the second half loses some of its comedic luster in favor of generic plot contrivances.
Even with structural issues, Domino: Battle of the Bones is the kind of spirited effort I love to see. Hopefully, this is the start of an exciting career transition for Baron Davis.
Domino: Battle of the Bones opens in select theaters on June 11th.
FLASHBACK – Directed by Christopher MacBride
Flashback Synopsis: Fredrick Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien) starts having horrific visions of a girl (Maikia Moore) who vanished in high school. He reaches out to old friends (Emory Cohen) with whom he used to take a mysterious drug but soon realizes the only solution lies deep within his own memories.
Passion projects can often endure a tumultuous journey to release. Few cases are truer than writer/director Christopher MacBride’s debut effort Flashback, a long-forgotten indie that completed its production nearly three years ago. MacBride’s earnestly ambitious kaleidoscope of sci-fi elements isn’t always the most cohesive experience, but the director’s unbridled vision does elicit a compelling yarn for audiences to untangle.
Every frame of MacBride’s film is stitched together with creativity and passion. The director implements his unique vision with assured verve behind the camera, implementing a myriad of disorienting techniques and kinetic edits to place audiences in Fredrick’s shoes. The initial intrigue develops into a fairly interesting dive into memory and addiction. Both forces hold Fredrick captive from a future existence with his job and fiance (MacBride’s bold visuals are thoughtfully incorporated into the character’s decaying mindsets). Star Dylan O’Brien also offers one of his most revealing performances to date as the lost protagonist, imbuing the idle character with humanity and conviction at every turn.
I love movies like Flashback for the grand home-run swings they take, even if MacBride’s noble intentions don’t always connect. The film presents a revealing emotional core that far too often gets sidetracked by narrative mechanics. Perhaps a longer runtime or tighter narrative could allow the characters more time to breathe (particularly Emory Cohen and Maika Monroe’s supporting roles), but Flashback still generates a striking impression despite lingering imperfections. I hope MacBride’s effort finds an audience, as it has cult classic potential written all over it.
Flashback is available in select theaters and VOD platforms on June 4th.
AWAKE – Directed by Mark Raso
Awake Synopsis: After a devastating global event wipes out all electronics and eliminated people’s ability to sleep, a former soldier (Gina Rodriguez) recovering from addiction, pursues a potential cure with her estranged daughter and son.
Cut from the cloth of schlocky disaster films, Awake operates comfortably enough amongst its ridiculous peers. Led by a dedicated performance from Gina Rodriguez, this roller-coaster ride of inexplicable chaos finds its stride the campier it gets. Mark Raso’s competent direction swerves audiences through creepy religious cults and corrupt government agents with enough gusto, but his film’s painfully generic tendencies rarely inspire interest.
Similar to other disaster films, Awake takes itself deathly seriously. The been-there-done-that screenplay from Mark and Joseph Raso places a pedigree on melodramatic character beats and generic plot twists. There’s completely nothing for audiences to attach to, as even Rodgriuez’s sturdy gravity cant imbue interest in the generic protaginst. Awake also far too comfortably embraces the genre’s standard motions, with Raso’s lack of visceral verve nailing home the sense of malaise. It’s fitting that a film about sleep derived people sleepwalks through a majority of its runtime.
For better and for worse, Awake is a perfect fit for Netflix. It’s a passable enough diversion destined to be quickly be forgotten by streaming audiences.
Awake debuts June 9th on Netflix.
THE PAPER TIGERS – Directed by Quoc Bao Tran
The Paper Tigers Synopsis: Three Kung Fu prodigies (Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, and Mykel Shannon Jenkins) have grown into washed-up, middle-aged men, now one kick away from pulling their hamstrings. But when their master is murdered, they must juggle their dead-end jobs, dad duties, and old grudges to avenge his death.
Unlike a lot of festival darlings, Quoc Bao Tran’s incredibly earnest writing/directorial debut The Paper Tigers lives up to its glowing reception (debuted originally at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival). Tran’s film thrives as an infectious love letter to kung-fu cinema, with the adept filmmaker repurposing familiar genre mechanics into a spiritedly sincere effort.
Several filmmakers have tried to modernize kung-fu cinema, but few realize there’s more to the genre than impressively choreographed fights. The Paper Tigers operates at its peak when focused on the deeply-felt bond between the central trio. The talented leads personify each role with charisma and dramatic sincerity, successfully creating a charming rapport that reflects their storied history (the warm childhood nostalgia makes this feel like a good version of what Grown Ups attempted). Tran’s warm core is thankfully complemented by the film’s technically adept fight sequences, with the filmmaker capturing every acrobatic movement and hard-hitting punch with equal aplomb.
The Paper Tigers does present some technical hiccups. The film’s budgetary restrictions present themselves at opportune times and the story goes through a familiar narrative playbook that rarely surprises. Still, the film’s endearing qualities are ever-present in every frame. I hope this is the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Tran’s career.
The Paper Tigers is now available in select theaters and on VOD throughout June.
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