Film Review

Film Review - Tomb Raider


Hollywood really wants to make something out of “Tomb Raider,” the famous video game saga that’s been brought to the big screen on two previous occasions, in 2001 and 2003. Both efforts emphasized tech and sex appeal, bringing in Angelina Jolie to deliver curves and power to the character of Lara Croft, and while the movies made some money, it wasn’t enough to keep the series going. There’s a newer Croft on the market (a popular 2013 game), and producers now turn their attention to a fresh take on old business, hiring Alicia Vikander to portray a greener, leaner Croft to a fit a narrative that concerns the character’s introduction into a world of near-misses and survival. And yet, despite a welcome change of direction, the new “Tomb Raider” only intermittently succeeds as a widescreen event, with too much down time taking a bite out of the endeavor’s pace and thrills. Read the rest at

Film Review - Loveless


“Loveless” is a Russian production, and has some very specific commentary on how the country treats its citizens, which might not register as strongly with foreign audiences. What’s more precise is its understanding of a toxic relationship and how such hatred seeps into the system of others. It’s a film that touches on resentment and human nature, but it’s a tale about the loss of a child, with such a traumatic experience nearly regarded as everyday business by the lead characters. Co-writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev explores the selfishness of a broken marriage in “Loveless,” but pays closer attention to collateral damage, balancing the procedural aspects of a missing child case with the defined narcissism of parents who barely seem to notice their child is gone. It’s a lengthy, slow-burn dip into an emotional abyss, but Zvyagintsev has something to share with viewers, offering a compelling study of denial. Read the rest at

Film Review - Keep the Change


Writer/director Rachel Israel has made a film about autism that’s unlike many pictures about the subject. Instead of creating a mournful endeavor or a shallow quirkfest, she finds the heart and soul of everyday people trying to find their way in the big city. “Keep the Change” has its serious side, but it’s mostly a comedy about building confidence and communication, featuring a cast of autistic people to secure authenticity and celebrate a unique perspective on traditionally neurotic characters. “Keep the Change” is also hilarious and warm, finding its own voice as Israel creates a special space for her cast to shine, preserving idiosyncrasies and timing to best reinforce the unusual atmosphere of pure personality on display.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Hell's Kitty


I’m sure the behind-the-scenes story on “Hell’s Kitty” is far more interesting than tale presented onscreen. Writer/director/star Nicholas Tana is hunting for a paycheck, looking for money he couldn’t find on the internet with his web series, “Hell’s Kitty,” turning his attention to the glory of feature-length filmmaking, only he doesn’t actually have new ideas to share. The movie is stitched together from episodes of the show, displaying little regard for continuity or coherence, with Tana struggling to cover the seams. The gimmick here is the hiring of horror stars to basically recreate some of their most famous roles, and that’s where expectation levels should remain, as Tana does manage to coax a few recognizable faces back in front of a camera. What he forgets to secure are technical achievements and a narrative direction, making the endeavor more valuable as a nostalgia trip than a genre event.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Infinity Baby


I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that “Infinity Baby” was shot over a matter of days. It also wouldn’t be a shock to learn that the movie was created for some type of academic requirement or perhaps an art installation. It’s not a conventional picture by any means, but it’s barely a picture to begin with, unfolding without much care for storytelling support or character arcs. Director Bob Byington and screenwriter Onur Tukel seemingly set out to celebrate the art of acting with the feature, and they’re quite successful, as sharp, committed performances are all over “Infinity Baby,” helping to sell the vague fantasy on display. It’s an odd film, intentionally so, and your mileage may vary when it comes to the lasting impact of an ephemeral effort, but there are interesting attitudes and neuroses here that save the viewing experience, or at least make it tolerable for 67 minutes of screen time.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Love, Simon


“Love, Simon” has a message of compassion and empowerment it wants to share with its target demographic. It’s a story of personal acceptance featuring gay characters, but it’s presented as an average teen movie with quirky personalities, glossy emotions, and a celebratory finale, keeping tight to formula as a way to remain relatable. Intentions are pure and, thankfully, there’s plenty of sincerity to keep the feature afloat, with director Greg Berlanti making sure the emotions that count the most are projected as accurately as possible. The rest of “Love, Simon” isn’t nearly as neatly executed, with some rather severe screenwriting issues making trouble for the picture’s overall effectiveness. There’s plenty to admire here, and any sort of gentleness at the multiplex is something to be treasured, but it’s hard to ignore the film’s general unwillingness to confront cruelty. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bent


While paychecks make the world go round, there must have been something greater about “Bent” at one point during its development to attract actors such as Karl Urban, Sofia Vergara, and Andy Garcia. It’s a dim thriller that strives to emulate detective noir from the 1940s, transferring hard-boiled antics to the current playground of DTV productions: Louisiana. It’s unremarkable in almost every way, but it does have the actors, with Urban showing interest in co-writer/director Bobby Moresco’s crude way with corruption, sex, double-crosses, and standoffs. Perhaps “Bent” was something major in the script stage, but the final cut is a defanged, slightly bewildering collection of motivations and last names, while the overall production is missing a great deal of energy to fuel even its most modest ideas for mystery.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy


In 2001, director Thomas Riedelsheimer made an art-house hit with “Rivers and Tides,” his study of the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and photographer whose specialty is the wonders of the natural world. The artist’s work is a proper fit for big screen exploration, and Riedelsheimer was eager to share Goldsworthy’s unique perspective on the living life force that surrounds us, highlighting his interest in the manipulation of found objects, symmetry, and tactile zen. Nearly 20 years later, the helmer has returned to the company of Goldsworthy for “Leaning Into the Wind,” which doesn’t explore the subject’s life as he lives it today, but reunites with his specialized vision, joining Goldsworthy as he travels around the world to refine his influences and continue developing his art, with the movie detailing several installations and private tours that contribute to the creator’s personal view. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Strangers: Prey at Night


A decade is an eternity when it comes to the wait for a sequel. That’s an entire generation, and horror franchises generally keep puffing along when chapters are issued annually, maintaining whatever freshness was there originally that beguiled audiences. 2008’s “The Strangers” was a low-budget success, securing a certain future of follow-ups, but they never arrived until today, with “The Strangers: Prey at Night” taking on the unwelcome challenge of connecting to the original feature and showcasing a sense of renewed purpose to appeal to a younger audience. “Prey at Night” remains stuck with some editorial issues, and there’s the dead-end premise to grind things to a halt, but the newest celebration of nihilism and chart-topping hits from the 1980s is actually quite effective when it wants to be, finding signs of life in a brand name that was on its way to the morgue. Read the rest at 

Film Review - A Wrinkle in Time


Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book, “A Wrinkle in Time,” is a beloved “science fantasy” novel that’s often been described as impossible to adapt for the screen. There was a 2003 television movie that attempted to bring the author’s rich imagination to life, and now director Ava DuVernay tries her hand at interpretation, armed with a substantial budget and a bit of star power. Of course, DuVernay isn’t a seasoned filmmaker, previously working on smaller scale pictures such as “Selma,” and her inexperience riding the bucking bronco of CGI, whimsy, and world-building is evident from the first frame. “A Wrinkle in Time” doesn’t work, and while the helmer struggles to transform the complex material into the starting line for a fresh Disney franchise, she often comes up short, finding the feature too stiff and underdeveloped to connect as an awe-inspiring tribute to the power of science and love.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hurricane Heist


There’s no fighting Rob Cohen’s directorial style, which is meant to simulate a jackhammer to the senses. He’s a crude architect of mainstream entertainment, unwilling to make something special when he can just blow something up, and “The Hurricane Heist” is exactly the type of movie he does repeatedly and poorly. After bottoming out with the worst Mummy sequel (2008’s “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”), the unwatchable “The Boy Next Door,” and the strangely mean-spirited “Alex Cross,” Cohen remains revved up for this mix of “Twister” and “Hard Rain.” It’s meant to be spectacle, but the helmer only knows noise, offering a 100-minute-long cluster of puzzling action, dreadful performances, and a loose understanding of how Mother Nature works. Not that “The Hurricane Heist” needs to be a documentary, but a little meteorological authenticity would’ve been a fine distraction from all the bottom shelf creative decisions peppered around this dud -- the latest addition to a particularly odious filmography.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Gringo


2008’s “The Square” marked the feature-length directorial debut for Nash Edgerton, who crafted a wonderful homage to Coen Brothers cinema while stoking his own interests in macabre turns of plot and damaged characters. Weirdly, he never produced an immediate follow-up, spending time in television and creating shorts, but now Edgerton has returned to the big screen with “Gringo,” which carries a few of the same mischievous impulses that made “The Square” such a winner. Sadly, the effort as a whole is a let-down, watching the helmer take on too much characterization as he masterminds a cat’s cradle of combustible personalities trying to control aspects of Mexico, with some hoping to make it out alive. “Gringo” is a misfire, and a periodically painful one too, almost unwilling to come together with any sort of welcome ferocity, watching Edgerton spend too much time on narrative dead-ends and not enough on an end game for all this widescreen bustle.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Thoroughbreds


Writer/director Cory Finley is a playwright making a transition to film, but he doesn’t leave behind the theater in full. “Thoroughbreds” is his helming debut, and it plays very much like a theatrical piece, focusing on the construction of personalities through tightly considered dialogue, not screen movement or cinematic escalation. It’s something to be shared inside an intimate space with talented actors, and as a movie, “Thoroughbreds” lacks vigor, especially with a static finale. Despite some issues with widescreen urgency, the feature certainly isn’t short on commitment, with stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, and Anton Yelchin doing a fantastic job getting into Finley’s writing, finding character beats worth savoring as the effort as a whole fights to remain on its feet without act breaks. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Death of Stalin


Armando Iannucci has a long history with improvised comedy, and a reputation for intelligent satire, previously masterminding such productions as “The Thick of It,” “Veep,” and his last big screen directorial endeavor, “In the Loop.” Continuing his interest in political bickering, panic, and ambition, Iannucci takes on the Soviet Union with “The Death of Stalin,” an ominous title for a movie that periodically shows interest in wacky behavior. An adaptation of a graphic novel, the feature remains in line with other Iannucci efforts, with the helmer putting his faith in behavioral extremity and thespian excitement, coming up with a lively but overlong examination of behind-the-scenes unrest after the loss of a feared leader. It plays to expectations, but it also offers some unusual tonal choices that keep it unpredictable.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Beast of Burden


It’s been fascinating to watch the developing career of Daniel Radcliffe. The once and future Harry Potter has been trying to make interesting career decisions, picking roles that take him far away from the Boy Wizard, eschewing fantasy for the hard edges of reality. “Beast of Burden” isn’t a particularly exhausting psychological thriller, but it does merge Radcliffe’s love of the theater with his big screen endeavors, offering him the chance to command a movie basically all by himself. It’s just Radcliffe and an airplane for most of “Beast of Burden,” resembling a higher altitude “Locke” as the actor is tasked with communicating a heightened emotional range, portraying a character dealing with professional, criminal, and domestic pressures while high in the sky.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Death Wish (2018)


The timing of the theatrical release of “Death Wish” couldn’t possibly be worse. In America, the subject of guns and the lunatics who possess them is headline news, and has been for the better part of 2018. And here comes a film that celebrates the destructive wonders of firearms and the value of reaching beyond the legal system to set things rights. All this would be incredibly distasteful if “Death Wish” was a passably provocative feature, but this remake of a 1974 Charles Bronson chiller is directed by Eli Roth, who has yet to fashion a moviegoing experience that didn’t involve the repeated rolling of eyes. Roth goes all Roth on the material, trying to turn the complexity of vigilante violence into a modern exploitation picture, keeping his take on aged material tone-deaf and painfully dim. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Party


Without opening titles and end credits, “The Party” is roughly 65 minutes long. In this day and age of bloated run times and overly plotted wipeouts, it’s refreshing to encounter a film that’s bravely short and to the point, giving audiences a direct shot of drama that’s all about the moment, not the aftermath. It also helps that “The Party” is a wicked little wrestling match of wits that’s darkly hilarious and expertly timed. Writer/director Sally Potter serves up a lean, mean machine of a feature, reveling in social discomfort and the possibility of violence, using a setting of celebration to release the art-house Kraken of suppressed hostilities, giving gifted actors a chance to run wild with pure emotional escalation. 65 minutes is just right for this dip into domestic chaos.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Sparrow


Director Frances Lawrence and actress Jennifer Lawrence previously worked together on the last three “Hunger Games” installments, likely forming a creative bond that was cushioned by the brand name’s Teflon appeal. Now they trade Panem for Russia, reteaming for the Cold War-style spy game, “Red Sparrow,” which once again situates Jennifer Lawrence in a position of pained resignation, playing another character battling against an oppressive government, doing anything she can to survive. “Red Sparrow” also has something else in common with the “Hunger Games” saga: an unwillingness to end. Two Lawrences fail to find anything approaching suspense in the thriller, which spend 139 minutes in extended conversations, trading deflated threats. Frances Lawrence appears to be under the impression he’s making opera, but all he’s doing is brewing a pot of Sleepytime Tea.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mohawk


Co-writer/director Ted Geoghegan made his debut with 2015’s “We Are Still Here,” an effective horror effort that celebrated malevolent ghosts and cinematic tension. He pulled off an impressive B-movie with limited funds and locations, showcasing a love of the genre that helped to patch a few creative potholes. Interestingly, Geoghegan goes a different direction for his follow-up, and while he remains invested in gory events and shock value, “Mohawk” emerges as a period chase picture, with the production turning to the 19th century for inspiration. A sort of low-budget take on “Last of the Mohicans”-style adventuring, “Mohawk” has the right idea for suspense and mood, offering a propulsive pace and deep synth to support a tale of woodsy survival and bloodthirsty revenge.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mute


Up to this point, Duncan Jones enjoyed a colorful filmmaking career. He’s typically drawn to sci-fi/fantasy ideas, going from small, sneaky tales (“Moon”) to the construction of an entire world (“Warcraft”). Between the extremes, he made his best movie (“Source Code”). Jones is a strong visual helmer, good with actors and tone, but his instincts mostly fail him with “Mute,” which is presented as an extended “Blade Runner” homage, but lacks a hypnotic sense of mystery and otherworldliness, trying a little too hard to show love to the Ridley Scott masterpiece. Unfortunately, Jones is too busy arranging lights and painting things DayGlo to pay attention to his own story, which goes from a mildly arresting detective tale, a future noir, to pure ugliness, stretching on for what becomes an interminable two hours. Jones faces his first real whiff with “Mute,” which grows into a colossal disappointment.  Read the rest at