Film Review

Film Review - Proud Mary


I certainly get why many are rooting for the success of Taraji P. Henson. She’s a talented actress and a force of nature, but her taste in scripts leaves much to be desired, as found in recent gigs such as “Term Life” and “No Good Deed.” After scoring positive notices for her turn in last year’s “Hidden Figures,” Henson returns to the bottom shelf with “Proud Mary,” a wannabe Blaxploitation effort that’s more like a Lifetime Original, spending 80 minutes on banal relationships and the remaining five on stiffly imagined action. Henson looks bored throughout the picture, which doesn’t challenge her in the least, merely asking her to cry on cue and pose in black outfits, with the promise of creating a fascinating, empowering character of authority erased by the production’s strange obsession with screen inertia.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Paddington 2


Moviegoing surprises are always the best, and 2014’s “Paddington” was one of greater ones in recent memory. Sold as a crude, dumb comedy for little children, “Paddington” was actually a cute and clever picture, with unexpected warmth and a decent sense of adventure. Co-writer/director Paul King brought author Michael Bond’s creation to the big screen with care, and now he does it again with “Paddington 2,” a sequel that manages to best the original in laughs and tenderness. King sticks to comedy formula, but he makes a grander, slightly weirder follow-up that offers plenty of bear-based mischief, backed by an exceptional supporting cast of British talent who seem genuinely delighted to be part of the franchise, showing needed enthusiasm for the marmalade-smeared high jinks.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Commuter


Director Jaume Collet-Serra and star Liam Neeson enjoying working together. They’ve collaborated on three previous occasions, showcasing a professional comfort and a shared interest in B-moviemaking with A-list credentials. However, this partnership hasn’t delivered significant thrills, with 2011’s “Unknown,” 2014’s “Non-Stop,” and 2015’s “Run All Night” providing lackluster viewing experiences with little suspense, generally tripping over promising premises for slick, efficient entertainment. The latest addition to this dispiriting tradition is “The Commuter,” which aims to be a Hitchcockian nail-biter featuring an average man caught up in extraordinary circumstances, but Collet-Serra and the screenwriters (three in total) don’t push beyond the visual of Neeson in paranoia mode, delivering a contrived, slapdash, and ultimately useless thriller that has no perceptible interest in pace or surprise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Humor Me


Writer/director Sam Hoffman plays it safe with the plot of “Humor Me,” his directorial debut, making a movie about the arrested development of a man facing substantial responsibilities, moving in with his father for a free room and to find some clarity. However, formula is thinned out by personality, with Hoffman generating appealing characterizations, putting the players through amusing challenges as he hunts for significance in the dramedy. As the title suggests, there’s plenty of levity and passive-aggressive behavior to enjoy, and Hoffman secures success with the pairing of leads Jemaine Clement and Elliot Gould, who pull off an itchy family dynamic with terrific timing, bringing heart and laughs to “Humor Me,” which benefits greatly from their unique talents.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Inside


It’s difficult to understand any reason for remaking pictures that were part of the French new wave of extreme horror, which was all the rage with genre enthusiasts about decade ago. They were features created during a specific time and in a specific region, making translations difficult, especially for material that perhaps should remain attached to a single interpretation. After dealing with the deflation of 2015’s “Martyrs,” now comes “Inside,” which hopes to rework the 2007 Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (who recently helmed the crummy “Leatherface”) endeavor for mainstream audiences, under the impression that a wide assortment of moviegoers might be interested in 80 minutes of a pregnant woman being threatened with sharp objects. That a new take on “Inside” is unnecessary is a given, but director Miguel Angel Vivas fumbles whatever debatable tension was there the first time around, delivering a routine chiller that’s largely free of suspense.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Day of the Dead: Bloodline


George Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy has already experienced multiple remakes and reworkings, with “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” producing passably regarded do-overs. It’s 1985’s “Day of the Dead” that perpetually confounds the reheating process, with “Day of the Dead 2: Contagium” and 2008’s “Day of the Dead” (with Nick Cannon and Mena Suvari) failing to do anything with Romero’s original vision. Now there’s “Day of the Dead: Bloodline,” which is being promoted as a more respectful version of the 1985 endeavor, juiced up with modern visual effects and additional movie science. It’s not like there isn’t room for improvement with “Day of the Dead,” but “Bloodline” is a complete waste of time, taking part in what’s now become a bad movie tradition: watching dismal filmmakers botch Romero’s relatively simple zombie outbreak.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Abe & Phil's Last Poker Game


“Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game” marks the final acting effort for star Martin Landau, who passed away last summer, leaving behind a varied career with consistent work. The picture provides unusual punctuation for the thespian, who’s asked to not only communicate the ravages of medical and marital strife, but also, at the age of 88, he simulates masturbation and the digital manipulation of a loved one. While it initially appears to be a kissing cousin to Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” “Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game” eventually strives to be something of an “American Pie” sequel, with writer/director Howard L. Weiner unafraid to depict nursing home shenanigans and senior sexuality, adding a tremendous sense of surprise to what’s typically a funeral dirge for the lead characters. The horrors of life soon visit the players, but the game is mostly about bedroom interests. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Insidious: The Last Key


Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the “Insidious” series is watching how writer Leigh Whannell manages to squeeze out new directions for the saga to take after exhausting all his ideas in the 2010 original film. After going the prequel route for “Insidious: Chapter 3,” Whannell makes a sequel to the prequel with “Insidious: The Last Key,” which is meant to lay track up to the first movie, creating a crooked circle of character connection for a franchise that never had a decent road map to bring it through various installments. “The Last Key” promises finality for the brand name, but endeavors to squeeze out a few more scares using the proven fright formula that turned the three previous pictures into low-budget hits. Whannell is out of ideas, but he goes soft for the new journey into the Further, giving a fan-favorite character the spotlight she deserves. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Before I Wake


In recent years, writer/director Mike Flanagan has made a name for himself in the world of horror. He pulled off the impossible, making a compelling sequel to a complete turkey with “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” and last year he successfully loaded up nightmares with the tense, profoundly macabre “Gerald’s Game,” managing a successful Stephen King adaptation. And there was “Hush,” a little-seen but celebrated chiller executed with limited dialogue. Now finally seeing release after experiencing several delays due to a bankrupt distributor, “Before I Wake” (shot in 2013) joins the growing list of Flanagan achievements. While it’s not a true genre exercise, the feature has its scary stuff, but it’s after something more heartfelt between moments of shock and terror, with Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard digging a little deeper with the material, trying to keep “Before I Wake” as human as possible while still delivering requisite unease.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Crooked House


After years becoming part of the television routine, author Agatha Christie is suddenly big business these days, experiencing a cinematic resurrection as talented filmmakers try their hand at adapting the famed mystery writer’s puzzles for grander budgets and bigger stars. Last November, there was “Murder on the Orient Express,” which became a major box office hit, securing the return of Hercule Poirot for Kenneth Branagh in 2020. And now there’s “Crooked House,” which doesn’t have the financial means to generate a grand whodunit, but it does have the better story, launching a sinister mystery that, much like “Orient Express,” is largely contained to a single location, simmering with a collection of restless, possibly murderous characters. “Crooked House” lacks scale, but of the two recent Christie efforts, it’s the tighter, more compelling endeavor, providing a jolt of evil to go along with all the psychological gamesmanship.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Permanent


Writer/director Colette Burson has a lot of nervous energy she wants to release with “Permanent,” wielding this coming-of-age comedy like machine gun that’s a little too heavy to handle. There’s quirk galore in the film, which details the pains of adolescence and adulthood from a possibly biographical standpoint, attempting to make a funny movie about characters who are trapped in self-imposed prisons of vanity and frustration. “Permanent” isn’t particularly funny, and Burson’s furiously idiosyncratic approach registers as borderline obnoxious at times, but the “Hung” creator does have a way with providing dimension for all characters, with interesting neuroses to periodically explore when the production steps away from cartoon behavior. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Strange Ones


To experience “The Strange Ones,” one must summon all patience humanly possible, as directors Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff (who also scripts) aren’t going to make the cinematic journey easy on anyone. It’s cryptic work from the indie film-minded duo, and paced deliberately, offering a slow leak of symbolism, heavy breathing, and enigmatic behaviors that often make the 76 minute run time feel like 76 years. Perhaps for some viewers, the artfulness of Radcliff and Wolkstein’s efforts might be appealing, with the picture refusing the comfort of appealing characters and easy answers. However, “The Strange Ones” isn’t much of a puzzle, often too laborious to inspire deep consideration, missing a fundamental screen energy that could help with all the layer-peeling going on.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Stratton


To create a big screen spy series takes a lot more than sticking to the basics these days. “Stratton” is the latest attempt to explore government heroism, taking inspiration from author Duncan Falconer’s series of novels, exploring the life and death struggles of the titular character, who’s part of the Special Boat Service. Such affiliation is rarely celebrated, giving the material something unique to help separate itself from the competition. Unfortunately, it’s the last defining trait in “Stratton,” which is quickly weighed down by clichés, most executed without an ounce of concern from director Simon West. He’s sticking to the basics with this globetrotting thriller, and while it’s far from a bad movie, it’s not an inspired one, testing patience as the production tries to pretend it’s an original vision.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Blame


A former child actress, Quinn Shephard has decided to take command of her career by making her directorial debut with “Blame,” which revives the sexual hysteria of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” moving the madness over to a high school setting, where such reckless behavior is daily routine. The script (written Quinn and Laurie Shephard) isn’t subtle with its scheming characters, with Shephard making a movie about a play, but can’t quite shake the theatricality of the production, leaving a “Mean Girls”-style approach to hallway antagonism, periodically interrupted by a compassionate understanding of the adolescent experience for teen girls. “Blame” has its heart in the right place, but Shephard isn’t seasoned enough to infuse the picture with necessary tension, often caught struggling just to fill 95 minutes of screen time.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Phantom Thread


Paul Thomas Anderson often takes his time between projects, and there’s a good reason why. He’s a perfectionist when it comes to screen style, making sure everything’s where it needs to be to help bring out the best in his actors, creating gorgeous spaces to stage emotional breakdowns. Anderson’s last two efforts, 2012’s “The Master” and 2014’s “Inherent Vice” were accomplished technical achievements, but icy and periodically tedious, with tonal whims often sabotaging pace, and the helmer’s interest in the mumbly range of star Joaquin Phoenix often registered as more permissible than it needed to be. “Phantom Thread” reunites Anderson with his “There Will Be Blood” star, Daniel Day-Lewis, who restores a certain illness the director’s last decade has been missing. While deliberate to a point of stillness, “Phantom Thread” is deliciously twisted and nuanced work, returning Anderson to the psychological games he’s skilled at capturing, while Day-Lewis provides one final reminder (he announced his retirement from acting last summer) that he’s the very best at what he does. Read the rest at 

Film Review - In the Fade


Co-writer/director Fatih Akin doesn’t make it easy for himself with “In the Fade.” The picture deals with the aftermath of terrorism, detailing modern fears of everyday violence striking the innocent, erasing entire lifetimes in a single horrific moment. Most movies play up the exploitation possibilities of a revenge scenario driven by grief, knowing that audience sympathy is easy to achieve. Think “Collateral Damage” or the recent “Patriots Day,” which used the fury generated by fear and grief to power breathless cinematic thrills. “In the Fade” teases this style of filmmaking, with Akin trying to walk the thin line between a thoughtful understanding of the primal scream of violence and the urge to celebrate comeuppance. The material doesn’t provide easy answers, and perhaps plays it all a bit too easy, but “In the Fade” handles frustration properly, asking necessary questions about the vicious cycle of violence.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Call Me by Your Name


The fire, anxiety, and curiosity of a young man’s first love is brought vividly to life in “Call Me by Your Name.” It’s an adaptation of an Andre Aciman novel, but screenwriter James Ivory (“The Remains of the Day,” “Howard’s End”) strips the source material of literary pause, offering a more loosely defined sense of awakening, providing ample inspiration for director Luca Guadagnino, who delivers a highly sensual viewing experience, punctuated with powerful flashes of exposed emotion. “Call Me by Your Name” doesn’t force itself on the viewer, winding softly, almost aimlessly until it begins to form a connection between two people that’s more powerful than even they were expecting. Perhaps it’s not the most haunting tale of devotion found in the film year, but Guadagnino creates an evocative understanding of time and place, generating a sincere picture, and one that taps into the blur of primal longing.  Read the rest at