‘Joe Bell’

Rated R for language including offensive slurs, some disturbing material, and teen partying. Opens in theaters on July 23.

The premise: Based on a true story, this film (from screenwriters Diana Ossana and the late Larry McMurtry) centers on Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg), a rough-around-the-edges father who decides to pay tribute to his gay teenage son Jadin (Reid Miller) by walking from Oregon to New York City. Along the way, he reflects on his role in his child’s life and speaks to audiences about the dangers of bullying.

The verdict: Although “Joe Bell” has noble intentions (and a screenplay from the “Brokeback Mountain” team), it’s kind of a mess. The most disconcerting factor is that it takes a real-life tragedy and refocuses it as a redemption narrative for someone who played a role in what transpired. Secondly, while Miller is outstanding as Jadin, the great Connie Britton is wasted in a standard wife and mother part, and Wahlberg is just plain miscast in the title role.

While he’s done some great work in the past, he doesn’t have what it takes to make his character’s journey sympathetic or believable. That’s particularly clear near the end, when Gary Sinise shows up for a couple of scenes and blows Wahlberg off the screen. It made me realize he should’ve been the lead instead, especially since he’s proven adept at playing flawed heroes. I get that he might’ve been too old for the part, but someone like Walton Goggins would’ve been a better fit as well.

Finally, I get that the non-linear narrative tries to elevate a standard biopic into something more artistically interesting. However, a couple of big twists (one of which is telegraphed from the beginning) end up making the whole thing feel manipulative and disrespectful.

Grade: C


Rated R for some language. Opens in theaters July 23 and available on Amazon Prime Video starting Aug. 6.

The premise: In this documentary crafted from Val Kilmer’s own massive library of home movies, the popular actor takes viewers on a journey through his tumultuous childhood; his incredible career on stage and screen; his offscreen life as a husband and father; and the battle with throat cancer that left his voice catastrophically damaged. Since he can’t speak as well as he used to, the film is narrated by his son Jack, who viewers frequently see interacting with his dad in poignant moments.

The verdict: According to the doc, Kilmer was one of the first people to ever own a camcorder, which he took everywhere throughout his career — as evidenced by a stunning scene of the actor walking through a massive warehouse full of thousands of tapes. The endeavor was probably expensive and time-consuming, but it weirdly paid off in the form of this unique, revealing film.

It’s clear from the footage (which features candid shots of megastars like Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell and the late Marlon Brando) he was a vain, difficult guy for many years, but it seems like his recent illness and recovery greatly humbled him and made him reevaluate what matters in life. After his health took a turn and his debts continued to mount following his divorce, he began traveling to various events like Comic-Con to make money taking photos and signing autographs.

He remarks that even though he loves meeting fans who appreciate his work, he hates that it’s come to doing this to earn money rather than make films. And, even though he says nice things about his fans, the footage of them treating him like a circus monkey and telling him what to write on their signed memorabilia is cringey and heartbreaking. It takes a physical and psychological toll, which the camera captures in some truly harrowing moments. “Val” isn’t always an easy watch, but it’s certainly a powerful one.

Grade: A-

‘Fear Street Part 3: 1666’

Rated R for strong violence and gore, language, some sexuality and brief drug use. Now available on Netflix.

The premise: In this terrific conclusion to Netflix’s entertaining horror trilogy (based on R.L. Stine’s best-selling novel series), the origins of Sarah Fier’s curse are finally revealed. Deena (Kiana Madeira) — who vowed in Part 1 to put an end to the body count that has spanned centuries — is transported back to the 1600s, where she witnesses what really happened in the village where Shadyside and Sunnyvale now sit. The ramifications will change the lives of Deena and her friends forever.

The verdict: When I watched “Fear Street Part 1: 1994,” my reaction was a pleasant surprise that a slasher movie came out of nowhere and turned out much better than I expected. When I watched “Fear Street Part 2: 1978,” I thought it was a genuinely good movie that made the first one even better in hindsight. Now that I’ve seen the ominous, riveting final installment of the series — especially how it makes surprising connections to previous films and ties everything up almost perfectly — I think the series was a bold piece of storytelling that I can’t wait to teach in my future college classes. Talk about a movie that sticks the landing.

“Fear Street Part 3: 1666” has lots of fun twists and turns, particularly the brilliant decision to cast actors from the previous two films as Puritan villagers to hammer home the generational legacy of these characters’ choices. All three films subvert genre tropes in smart ways, but this final chapter truly shows the work director Leigh Janiak and the various screenwriters put in to make that happen throughout the ongoing larger story.

I also love how the filmmakers instill humanity and distinct personality traits into characters who probably wouldn’t get them in a traditional slasher franchise. I can’t wait to see what Janiak does next, not to mention everyone in this extraordinarily talented cast. This trilogy was one of my favorite cinematic experiences of the summer.

Grade: B+

Home Video Spotlight: ‘A Quiet Place Part II’

Rated PG-13 for terror, violence and bloody/disturbing images. Now on digital and Paramount+; available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD July 27.

Full disclosure: this sequel to writer-director (and former star of “The Office”) John Krasinski’s blockbuster horror flick about a family taking on terrifying creatures was the first movie I saw on the big screen once theaters reopened after the pandemic. I’m sure that had a big impact on my viewing experience, which I’ll always remember.

It’s already available on digital platforms, but next week, fans can also own it on physical media. The 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray and DVD versions include several behind-the-scenes featurettes about making the film, as well as a digital copy of the movie. There’s also a Two-Movie Collection available on digital or Blu-ray that includes the entire saga (so far).

Twitter: @IAmJoshSewell