Directed by Thom Zimmy
Runtime 95 Minutes
In Thom Zimmy’s hagiographic overview of Sylvester Stallone’s oeuvre, the Italian Stallion is a two-trick pony. Catching up with the actor-writer-director in the midst of a trip down memory lane caused by packing up his entire life and moving from Los Angeles to Palm Beach, “Sly” curiously casts his career as earmarked early on by his creation of the characters of Rocky Balboa and John Rambo and the rest of his 50+ years of moviemaking trapped in the shadow of these two achievements. Stallone offers a charismatic and self-effacing interview as he delves into his early struggles escaping an abusive home in Hell’s Kitchen, breaking his Hollywood typecasting by writing his own material and by fortifying his star persona through tying his two signature characters inextricably to himself. For the Rocky and Rambo films, Zimmy’s film is granular and meticulous in breaking down their significance, but literally anything else in Stallone’s extensive career gets the screen time equivalent of a footnote. While it is occasionally revealing with Stallone’s willingness to dig through the skeletons in his personal and professional closet, Sly cannot help but come across as a backhanded compliment to Stallone’s legitimately impressive foray into Hollywood – defined by his ability to write characters for himself and otherwise not worth mentioning for the other 80% of his filmography.
Hell of a Summer
Directed by Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk
Runtime 88 Minutes
Set in the precious few days before the summer camping season begins at Camp Pineway, Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk’s Hell of a Summer is a slapstick-heavy slasher sendup that crudely speaks the language of the genre it satirizes to plenty of laughs. Assembling a gaggle of one-note prospective counselors (the drama kid, the granola/hippy girl, the earnest veteran) in the days before the summer camping season, the bonding exercises and attempts to hook up with one another are spoiled by a masked killer picking them off one by one in increasingly comedic and absurd whodunnit scenarios. While the characters are surprisingly one dimensional, even for a tongue-in-cheek parody, and its material skewering the Friday-the-13th-mode of slasher film leaves something to be desired, Wolfhard and Bryk’s script is a rapid-fire series of jokes and bits that provide plenty of laughs. The cast admirably plays to the farcical tone with their exaggerated movie stereotypes and the flippant tone established early on is fairly consistent throughout the brief runtime. While much of the slasher plot, when revealed, makes little sense and the pacing leaves the film meandering at times, Hell of a Summer is a promising debut that could have emulated what it parodied just a tad more.
Directed by Ethan Hawke
Runtime 105 Minutes
Simply put, Ethan Hawke’s middling Wildcat, starring daughter Maya Hawke as seminal novelist Flannery O’Connor, is not going to deter the nepo-baby allegations. A biopic of the struggling, faith-obsessed author, housebound in her Georgia home after the diagnosis of lupus (which would later claim her life), the film splits itself between O’Connor’s lifestory toiling to find the will to write and dramatized vignettes from her works. The intention of this structure and having Maya Hawke quadruple cast as the protagonist of many of these excerpts is to no doubt make the claim that O’Connor naturally sprinkled autobiography into her prose, but cynically, it plays more like a reel to showcase the star’s supposed range. Hawke as director awkwardly incorporates these vignettes, which upsets the pacing of the film overall, slathers the film in a melancholic blue tint that is far too on the nose, and fails to express the importance or significance of O’Connor’s work through Wildcat’s haphazard jumbling of her biography with her prose.
The starring Hawke is serviceable as the once-controversial author, but it’s a performance that is never given a moment to breathe with the scattershot treatment of O’Connor’s work and a rotating cast of scene stealers (Rafael Cassal, Liam Neeson, Cooper Hoffman) being paired up against her.
Working Class Goes to Hell
Directed by Mladen Djoedjevic
Runtime 127 Minutes
Set years after a factory fire devastated the economy and community of a small mountain town, a labor union struggles valiantly against the negligent developers and corrupt municipal government to get justice for their lost loved ones. With the faith in their union being shaken after their criminal complaint is thrown out of the court ahead of the development of a new factory, they turn to a returning member), who may or may not have spent time with a Satanic cult, in their desperation Djoedjevic’s latest is a slow burn, with the script wisely doling out slivers of backstory for his ensemble the further they get into practicing the dark arts for their own personal gains. Vibrating between the darkly comedic and the relatably tragic, Working Class Goes to Hell is an absorbing portrait of desperation that grips a community of lived-in characters who are willing to try anything when the capitalist class are made untouchable by the systems in place. Burning with righteous anger and achingly empathetic, Djoedjevic’s film is a rewarding watch once you tap into its ambling setup and allow it to bring you into this fully realized community. Stoically shot and spread out well among its cast, it will no doubt become a staple of proletariat cinema in the coming years.