Film Review - Mile 22

MILE 22 2

Well, it was great while it lasted. Just two years ago, director Peter Berg suddenly seemed interested in becoming a filmmaker of integrity, trying to void his system of “Battleship” residue by switching focus from adrenaline-pumping actioners to a true-life disaster (“Deepwater Horizon”) and a police procedural (“Patriots Day”). It was a one-two punch that suddenly elevated estimation of Berg’s previously dubious ability to put a movie together, joined by Mark Wahlberg, who also worked a bit differently to tackle something more explicitly dramatic. The results were impressive, with the pair discovering a new kind of screen intensity that didn’t involve comic book jingoism or exaggerated masculinity. Of course, both features failed to drum up much interest at the box office, forcing Berg back into testosterone-huffing mode, with “Mile 22” a fairly transparent attempt to reclaim industry standing, taking command of an ultraviolent, barely coherent black ops extravaganza that’s all about making noise and spilling blood. Professional editing and cinematography need not apply. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich


While major horror franchises receive all the publicity and adulation, the “Puppet Master” series has been hanging on in one form or another since 1989, nearing its 30th year of staging slaughteramas featuring small, malicious toys. Fresh blood is being introduced to the fatiguing story, with “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich” trying to reposition the brand name for future installments, giving it a new massacre mile to walk while still tending to a few of the sights and sounds fans have come to expect. Granted, I’m no expert when it comes to all things “Puppet Master” (a saga that’s unfolded over 11 sequels, prequels, and spin-offs) but it’s hard to resist the utter strangeness of a bottom shelf staple that’s brought in Thomas Lennon and Charlyne Yi to star, while the screenplay is provided by S. Craig Zahler, who previously created the genre brutalizers “Bone Tomahawk” and “Brawl in Cell Block 99.”  Read the rest at 

Film Review - BlacKkKlansman


Perennial provocateur and man of mischief Spike Lee has always made films about racial hostility and growing unrest in America, but his instincts are uncharacteristically sharpened for “BlacKkKlansman,” which finds the helmer trying to pull off one of the most mainstream features of his career while still pouring his cinematic DNA all over his latest joint. Lee’s fired up with the effort, but tries to remain respectful to the steps of suspense and police procedure, in charge of an undercover cop story that doubles as a cruel reminder about racism and its longstanding hold on the nation. “BlacKkKlansman” isn’t subdued by any means, but Lee is atypically patient with the tale, making careful moves to strengthen his comparisons, fuel his outrage, and still remain faithful to a tale of cops looking to make the largest bust of their careers.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Alpha


After watching his brother Allen find his way as a solo director, Albert Hughes (formerly of the helming duo The Hughes Brothers) finally gets one to call his own in “Alpha.” Allen went to crime and male posturing to make his mark with 2013’s “Broken City,” but Albert goes in a completely different direction for his endeavor, about 20,000 years into the past, taking audiences into a time of man and creature and hostile environments, with the director laboring to pull off his best Caroll Ballard impression with “Alpha,” a survival picture that’s big on atmosphere but light on suspense. Albert certainly knows how to put together a striking image, but his work here feels incomplete, with the production aiming for a grander adventure than what actually ends up onscreen.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Never Goin' Back


“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is an adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 novel, returning to a darker age of acceptance to examine the unsavory details of a gay conversion camp. It’s a potent snapshot of intolerance, but executed in a subtle way, with co-writer/director Desiree Akhaven not banging a trash can lid with the material, electing to highlight the ways of religious condemnation as it takes on the formidable foe of human nature. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is perceptive and sharply performed, and Akhaven creates an evocative depiction of the titular character’s submersion in guilt, left to Evangelical sharks as she tries to take hold of her identity during an already turbulent time of adolescence.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Miseducation of Cameron Post


“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is an adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 novel, returning to a darker age of acceptance to examine the unsavory details of a gay conversion camp. It’s a potent snapshot of intolerance, but executed in a subtle way, with co-writer/director Desiree Akhaven not banging a trash can lid with the material, electing to highlight the ways of religious condemnation as it takes on the formidable foe of human nature. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is perceptive and sharply performed, and Akhaven creates an evocative depiction of the titular character’s submersion in guilt, left to Evangelical sharks as she tries to take hold of her identity during an already turbulent time of adolescence.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Crazy Rich Asians


“Crazy Rich Asians” is an adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel, which proved to be so popular, it inspired a series of books concerning class volleying and family anxiety, with the first chapter taking the action to Singapore. It’s an exotic location, impressively magnified on screen by director Jon M. Chu, who drenches the picture is style, color, and heightened performances, just to make every frame of this endeavor shine as brightly as possible. It’s a considered effort, but the labor doesn’t extend to the plot, finding “Crazy Rich Asians” lacking when it comes to dramatic invention, delivering the same old conflicts and situations, with the staleness of the plot contrasting harshly with the vibrancy of the imagery. Chu is armed with a charming cast, and they help aid digestion of the leftovers found in Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli’s screenplay, which plays everything very comfortably to ensure mainstream acceptance.  Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Doctor Detroit


While the summer of 1983 was always going to be dominated by the release of "Return of the Jedi," it's fascinating to note that Universal Pictures really thought they had something special with "Doctor Detroit," which was issued a few weeks before the "Star Wars" sequel. Strange comedies were certainly welcomed by adventurous audiences, but here was a movie that offered a lighthearted take on prostitution and, in a way, gang violence, putting emphasis entirely on star Dan Aykroyd, who was making his debut as a leading man after teaming with friend John Belushi on numerous projects. No matter how one considers the endeavor, "Doctor Detroit" is a very weird feature, and while it didn't end up doing much business during its initial theatrical release, the film remains an amusing curiosity, recalling a time when a major movie studio though they had R-rated gold with difficult material, trying to bypass inherent darkness with musical numbers, cartoon-style silliness, and Aykroyd's natural comedic extremity. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Terror


As the story goes, director Norman J. Warren caught a showing of "Suspiria" and was greatly impressed with the stylistic choices made by filmmaker Dario Argento, also respecting his general disregard of a traditional narrative to live in the moment with abstract wonders. Warren, born and bred in the U.K., decided to try to replicate a slice of Italian cinema in his homeland, with 1978's "Terror" a hodgepodge of giallo craftsmanship and horror freak-out obsessions. The helmer of "Prey" and "Satan's Slave," Warren already knew a thing or two about freaking out audiences, but with "Terror," he strives for mimicry, and as plenty of other challengers already understand, it's hard to do what Argento does, especially during the "Suspiria" years. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Seven


The title "Seven" is most associated with the chilling 1995 David Fincher hit, which provided a depressing reminder of the world's cruelties and capacity for evil. Director Andy Sidaris actually used the title earlier, and I think most people would rather live in his world. 1979's "Seven" is a secret agent actioner from Sidaris, who's best known for movies such as "Hard Ticket to Hawaii," "Savage Beach," and "Malibu Express," creating a career that often highlights pretty people engaging in ultraviolence, always in a warm, tropical setting. He's a master in the "girls with guns" subgenre, and "Seven" is his second pass at establishing exploitation career interests, this time taking the mayhem to Hawaii, where the battle begins between wicked men and the select few hired by the government to assassinate them. Sidaris is known for one thing, and he does it relatively well in the picture, which understands ridiculousness, but remains focused enough to supply a fun ride of chases, bikinis, and extreme concentration on villain routines. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Blood Hook


Horror hits the bait shop in 1987's "Blood Hook," which provides a most unusual setting for its unfolding nightmare: the North Woods of Wisconsin. The contrast of nature's serenity and sliced and dice gore is the driving force behind the picture, which is something of a spoof of slasher cinema, but not really, with director Jim Mallon playing most of this cheerily but not jokingly. It's not a movie that's concerned with providing scares, having more fun working out the details of the kills and it remains utterly devoted to characterization, with a host of personalities competing for screen time. In fact, the most chilling aspect of the effort is its run time of 111 minutes, which is far too long for something this light, but the trade-off is vivid comprehension of emotional concerns and regional oddity, with Mallon making sure everyone who shows up for the slaughter gets a moment or five to detail their troubled existence. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story


As an actress, Hedy Lamarr was defined by her beauty, using good looks to support a Hollywood career that included turns in films such as "White Cargo," "The Conspirators," and "Her Highness and the Bellboy." During her heyday, she created a stir wherever she went, wowing the public with extraordinary glamour. "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" endeavors to find the woman underneath the attractiveness, identifying the star as a brilliant mind interested in the mastering of inventions, with a strong pull toward science, reaching a specific breakthrough during World War II that's largely responsible for the world of wi-fi that we know today. "Bombshell" has the benefit of shock value, with director Alexandra Dean selecting an extraordinary topic for documentary dissection, working to redefine Lamarr's legacy as a figure of allure to one of unheralded brilliance. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Slender Man


Director Sylvain White (“Stomp the Yard,” “The Losers”) doesn’t have much to work with in “Slender Man,” and he knows it. The PG-13 horror story is an expansion of an internet creation intended to give readers the willies and inspire a viral-like obsession with creative representation. The Slender Man myth is meant to be a campfire story, avoiding a deeper inspection of what exactly a creature that looks like Jack Skellington is meant to do. Screenwriter David Birke doesn’t develop the elusive apparition and White tries to bury what amounts to 90 minutes of nothingness in style, repeating the same shots and ideas for suspense until the end credits roll. “Slender Man” isn’t as tasteless as feared, but it’s about as languid as expected, becoming yet another nondescript genre offering meant solely for the sleepover demographic. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Meg


In recent years, summer shark movies have become a tradition, offering audiences a chance to experience the horrors of the deep from the comfort of the multiplex. In 2016 there was “The Shallows,” and last year, “47 Meters Down” managed to surprise box office prognosticators by becoming a major hit for an extremely low-budget picture. Now the stakes are raised with “The Meg,” which not only delivers a massive prehistoric shark to terrorize everyone, but the feature itself is delivered with a healthy amount of spectacle, turning the stillness of the open ocean into a battleground fit for a typical seasonal blockbuster. “The Meg” is big, loud, and just silly enough to reach a mass audience, as director Jon Turteltaub pays careful attention to the escapism aspects of the production, making more of a PG-13 adventure than a fright film. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Summer of 84


The helming team of Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell is known as RKSS, and a few years ago, they reached into the past to inspire their post-apocalyptic adventure “Turbo Kid.” A cheeky ode to VHS entertainment from the 1980s, video games, and teen cinema, “Turbo Kid” presented a valentine and a lampoon, building an enchanting low-budget world with exaggerated retro flair. RKSS returns to their childhood with “Summer of 84,” with this round skipping silliness to delve into a murder mystery of sorts, staying in the warm bath of adolescent entanglements, but pushing the mood into something more threatening. There’s a lot of sleuthing going in “Summer of 84,” and while the title suggests a nostalgic romp around one of the best moviegoing seasons of the 1980s, RKSS actually dials down cutesiness for something darker and slower.  Read the rest at

Film Review - A Prayer Before Dawn


Movies do not get more ferocious than “A Prayer Before Dawn.” It’s an adaptation of Billy Moore’s book, which detailed his time behind bars in Thailand, becoming the lone Englishman in a sea of locals who weren’t welcoming to the outsider. Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire treats the source material with the utmost respect, replicating a harrowing living event with extreme attention to violence of the mind and body. “A Prayer Before Dawn” is frightening to watch but always engrossing, with Sauvaire going procedural to immerse the audience in the threats and rituals of a claustrophobic world, creating an evocative viewing experience that’s rooted in horrific encounters, but also refreshingly clear about the ravages of self-destruction, emerging as perceptive summary of addiction set in a vividly rendered Hell on Earth.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Custody


Last spring, I reviewed “Loveless,” an outstanding Russian drama about parents forced to confront their own toxicity when their child goes missing and nobody seems to really care. It had a lot to say about emotional and physical abuse, doing so with specific interest in the war between a separating couple, with personal issues trumping family welfare. Now there’s “Custody,” a French production that tunnels into the darkness of divorce, exploring the troubles of separation, especially when one participant in a dying affair doesn’t care to let go of the union. “Custody” is more of a dramatic experience than “Loveless,” but it carries a similar fixation on the anguish of children, giving it a proper gut-punch feel while still tending to the needs of storytelling as writer/director Xavier Legrand examines the horror of divorce and the destructive power plays it inspires.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


An adaption of a 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” has a significant challenge in overcoming its title. It’s a marquee massacre, simultaneously pinpointing its audience and repulsing newcomers with what initially appears to be the ultimate in Stiff Upper Lip postwar adventuring in England. Fussiness remains, preserving its cultural construction, but “Potato Peel Pie Society” manages mild charms and emotional deep cuts as it sorts through literal and psychological wreckage tied to the horror of German occupation in the 1940s. It’s not a stunning endeavor, but director Mike Newell gets parts of the whole right, maintaining appealing intrigue and performances.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Package


Crude comedies are often troublesome, with most in a hurry to be offensive without being funny, hoping to get by on shock value. This year has been especially strange for R-rated entertainment, but “The Package” is trying to be the most outrageous of them all, and there’s something endearing about its mission to be absolutely grotesque. There’s a lot of extreme behavior and visuals in the picture, but screenwriters Kevin Burrows and Matt Mider, along with director Jake Szymanski, push through the basics in riff-happy entertainment to fine something inspired in the midst of utter nonsense. “The Package” has its issues with pace and substance, but there are big laughs to be found along the way, with the central grossness of the plot getting the movie to a level of playfulness that’s not often found with this type of vulgar funny business.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Dog Days


Garry Marshall passed away two years ago, but his spirit remains in “Dog Days,” with screenwriters Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama trying to replicate the formula that turned vanilla pictures like “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve” into hit films. There’s no holiday to celebrate in “Dog Days,” with the magic of canines the reason for this multi-character gathering, finding pet antics and tales of wounded hearts keeping director Ken Marino busy. Much like Marshall’s later output, this feature is a jokeless, aimless concoction that relies completely on cutesiness, with a large ensemble handed very little guidance when it comes to funny business while Marino layers on sticky sentiment, trying to master a heartwarming celebration of companionship that’s disappointingly predictable. Read the rest at