The Amazing Johnathan Documentary

Unless you’re Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine), it’s usually never a good idea to insert yourself into the documentary you’re making – unless, of course, you’re part of the actual story. Or, in the case of director Benjamin Berman (TV’s Comedy Bang! Bang!), you’re forced to turn the camera on yourself to capture the insanely bizarre things that are affecting the production. It’s exactly what happens in The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, a project that seemed to start off as a respectful and heartfelt journey alongside “rebel magician” John Szeles (AKA The Amazing Johnathan) during his farewell tour. In 2014, Szeles was diagnosed with a terminal heart disease and given one year to live. Berman wanted to be there to film the entire thing. But, as viewers will learn as the narrative slowly unfolds, so did a lot of other people. It’s best to know as little as possible about The Amazing Johnathan Documentary before you hit play. And even if you don’t know too much about Szeles’ career, Berman does an incredible job keeping audiences in the loop with old footage of his TV performances and interviews with fellow comedians and his family. With his nothing-to-lose attitude, Szeles is a perfect subject for this stranger-than-fiction doc that is equal parts fascinating and odd. As a character study, Berman does his best to blast through the bullshit, even when that is all Szeles wants to offer. And while there are still a handful of questions left unanswered when the credits start to roll, viewers should realize they’ve experienced something profound and uniquely meta. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary hits Hulu August 16. Grade: B+

Good Boys

No movie with this many dick jokes has any business being this funny. That said, Good Boys is just that – an obscenity-laced comedy with just the right combination of audacious humor and heart that will win over adults who don’t mind hearing 6th graders drop F-bombs. Sure, you won’t see evangelicals get on board for the R-rated raunchfest, but without the script featuring the phrase, “Grab them by the pussy,” is that really a surprise? Taking a few pages from its most obvious cinematic inspiration, the 2007 comedy Superbad, Good Boys is just as side-splitting hilarious and a lot more adorable – like the Little Rascals if the Little Rascals wielded dildos and shot people in the face with paintballs. The film stars Jacob Tremblay (Room), Keith L. Williams (TV’s The Last Man on Earth) and Brady Noon (TV’s Boardwalk Empire) as best friends Max, Lucas and Thor. When Max gets invited to a “kissing party,” he makes it his mission to go, so he can kiss the girl of his dreams. But when the boys accidentally lose Max’s father’s expensive drone and then unknowingly steal a bunch of ecstasy pills from a couple of high school girls, their afternoon turns into a race to put everything back to normal before they get grounded for life. Co-written by Lee Eisenberg (Year One) and Gene Stupnitsky (Bad Teacher), who also makes his directorial debut, Good Boys works because of its incredibly likeable trio of tweens who are actually really sweet characters. If Max, Lucas and Thor were mean-spirited little punks, this would be an entirely different movie. Luckily for audiences, even with a few lowbrow jokes that don’t register as much as others, Good Boys earns high marks. Good Boys opens nationwide August 16. Grade: B+


There’s only so much a filmmaker can do with a dark and brooding atmosphere. For every Hagazuusa or The Witch that gets it right, there are movies that depend too much on their murky cinematography to tell a story. It’s a simple distraction from the fact that the script itself isn’t very compelling. Gwen falls under that category – a gothic horror/drama with a menacing tone that allows its vagueness and lack of emotion to weigh it down. Set in the 19th century Welch countryside, the film follows a mother (Maxine Peake) and her two daughters, Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and Mari (Jodie Innis), living on their farm and awaiting their father to come back from the war. Their livelihood is put in jeopardy when mom mysteriously falls ill and their entire flock of sheep are torn apart and strewn across their land. Is something supernatural affecting the family or is there a more logical explanation for their bad luck? First-time writer/director William McGregor fashions together some thought-provoking scenarios and grim imagery, but the folktale never finds its way out of the fog. What we’re left with is a well-directed first feature that struggles to find purpose. Gwen hits VOD platforms August 16. Grade: C

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