Film Review

Film Review - The Hitman's Bodyguard


“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is supposed to be a comedy. However, it also desires to be an action film, and an R-rated one at that. To achieve such a restricted rating requires a bit more brutality than the average adrenalized endeavor, but screenwriter Tom O’Connor has a strange way of providing that extra inch of merciless behavior. In the opening five minutes of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” the villain guns down a helpless woman and her child in cold blood, looking to prove a point to a man he’s intending to intimidate. And so the laughs begin. Actually, they never start in this misbegotten movie, which has the idea that it can somehow recover from such a chilling act with jokes about Ace of Base and “that’s what she said” one-liners. Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t have much of a funny bone or even a special way with big screen chaos, remaining dead weight from beginning to end, wasting the time of a lot of talented people.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Logan Lucky


When Steven Soderbergh teased retirement from feature filmmaking after the pay cable debut of “Behind the Candelabra” in 2013, I doubt few truly believed he was going to give up the habit. He returned for the Cinemax series, “The Knick,” and now Soderbergh is back in an “Ocean’s Eleven” mood with “Logan Lucky.” One might expect something more profound from a revered director returning to the big screen (his first theatrical effort since “Side Effects”), but he’s in a silly mood for this West Virginia-branded caper, mounting a heist movie that’s big on broadness, with chewy, dim-witted characters trying to outfox one another while screenwriter “Rebecca Blunt” orchestrates a twisty, procedural event for the audience to snack on. It’s light stuff, which is a nice change of pace for Soderbergh, who, for the first time in a long time, seems genuinely interested in providing an entertaining ride, albeit with total boobs in the driver’s seat. Read the rest at

Film Review - What Happened to Monday


As a director, Tommy Wirkola is a wily one. He rose to prominence with 2009’s “Dead Snow,” which pitted vacationers against zombie Nazis, toying with subgenre parody while playing it all with violent intensity, coming up with something different where few others could. Wirkola graduated to Hollywood attention with “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” permitted him access to a large budget and global attention, still managing to preserve his sick sense of humor. Eventually returning to his roots with “Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead” (a grand improvement over the original), Wirkola now graduates to more sobering fare with “What Happened to Monday,” which strives to provide vigorous action/mystery beats while essentially detailing the end of the world. “What Happened to Monday” is twisty and pitiless, but it retains Wirkola’s interests in aggressive confrontations, often sold with subtle cheekiness. It doesn’t feature the engorged fantasy flow of his earlier efforts, showcasing a maturing of sorts for a man who’s made two movies about zombie Nazis.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Naked


Actor Marlon Wayans and director Michael Tiddes have been inseparable in recent years, but their output has been thoroughly depressing. They’ve been addicted to parodies, making easy jokes about dumb movies, scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of comedic content in efforts such as “Fifty Shades of Black,” “A Haunted House,” and “A Haunted House 2.” Their endeavors have been simply awful, becoming a fixture on Worst of the Year lists and box office returns have been dwindling. Enter Netflix, who offers the partnership a chance to continue without the pressure of multiplex performance, allowing the pair to try something a little different for their small screen debut. “Naked” aims to be a bit softer than their previous films, blending more romantic and dramatic elements with screamingly unfunny comedy, keeping Wayans expectedly unpleasant, but with a smaller decibel level, which is easier on the senses.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Dave Made a Maze


“Dave Made a Maze” plays like a short film that spun out of control, unable to contain its big ideas, colorful characters, and bottomless appetite for homegrown visuals. It emerges from the mind of co-writer/director Bill Watterson, a longtime actor and once a mighty production assistant, who pours every last drop of imagination he can find into the oddball creation, which offers a striking odyssey into the shared uncertainty of milennials, who face domesticity, scarcity of work, and management of expectations often without a proper outlet for crippling fears. And it’s all stuffed inside a puppet theater-style explosion, with Watterson doing a fine job juggling tone and providing enough visual oddity to make this strangely sincere cardboard adventure work for much of its run time.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 6 Days

6 DAYS 1

“6 Days” is a dramatization of an embassy siege that occurred in the heart of London in 1980. There have been many films detailing similar conflicts, and they all follow a routine of shock and chaos, with the defining elements of the production found in the moments wedged between argumentative behavior and terrorist demands. “6 Days” has an interesting story to tell in this regard, delving into the headspace of the madmen, the police, the press, and the Special Forces unit preparing to end the standoff when activated. Perhaps sensing a losing battle with originality, director Toa Fraser (“The Dead Lands”) keeps the picture taut and introspective, finding ways to encourage suspense and maintain personal perspectives in the midst of panic.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Fencer


“The Fencer” is a European production, but it plays like a heartwarming Hollywood production. It’s a post-WWII tale of leadership and redemption, and it’s something of a sports movie as well, but instead of taking on more obvious confrontations, the feature explores the world of fencing, using its foundation of strategy, elegance, and respect to inform a story about a man struggling to reconcile with his traumatic past, finding hope in the company of children. What could be saccharine and silly is transformed into a pleasingly sweet endeavor from director Klaus Haro (“Letters to Father Jacob”), who’s faced with a slightly icier version of “The Bad News Bears,” but manages to make something sincere. “The Fencer” is built to be an audience-pleaser, and it’s successful in that respect, delivering a level of benevolence that’s immensely appealing, even if it’s not the most challenging picture in release today.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey


The synopsis, “A coming of age California motorcycle road trip set in the ‘60s, combining elements of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘The Odyssey’,” accompanies the release of “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey.” While it’s certainly true that the movie features a motorcycle road trip, the rest of the claims aren’t precisely correct, perhaps reaching a bit high for this low-budget endeavor. A sense of self-importance drives the film, with writer/director Terry Sanders (a practiced documentarian) striving to make a distinctly American effort concerning universal curiosity about sex, crafting a period picture to return to a time of relative innocence, which best supports his mission. Aiming to replicate classic literature, and Sanders ends up with a YA novel, as “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey” is soft, melodramatic, and while not offensive, it’s just too imprecise for its own good.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Annabelle: Creation


We rarely see this type of excavation when dealing with a Hollywood franchise, but “Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to 2014’s “Annabelle,” which was a prequel to 2013’s “The Conjuring,” which has already spun off a sequel in 2016’s “The Conjuring 2,” and currently awaits another prequel in 2018’s “The Nun.” Phew. And yet, through the haze of industry universe building (“The Conjure-verse”?), “Annabelle: Creation” arrives relatively unscathed, defying the odds to be an effective chiller that’s excitedly performed and sensationally directed by David F. Sandberg. That the movie works at all is miraculous, considering what a dud “Annabelle” was, but the helmer stays grounded with this return to the antics of a possessed doll, playing with sound and imagery wonderfully, while trying to restore elements of demonic influence that made the original “Conjuring” such a treat for genre fans. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Glass Castle


Four years ago, Destin Daniel Cretton directed “Short Term 12,” which detailed the inner lives of those involved in a residential treatment facility. It was a beautiful, emotional feature. My favorite of the year. Cretton returns to screens with “The Glass Castle,” graduating to a larger, more mainstream project that has the opportunity to be seen by a wide audience, potentially flocking to theaters to view what the helmer has done with his adaptation of Jeannette Walls’s best-selling 2005 memoir. To maintain such broad expectations, Cretton smoothes his filmmaking fingerprints, reducing most of “The Glass Castle” to questionable sentimentality and troubling character arcs. It’s certainly a different beast than “Short Term 12,” but Cretton’s latest is in dire need of the same grit and intimacy, playing broad with primal emotions and delicate dramatics.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Planetarium


If you find yourself in the presence of someone complaining about a lack of original films being made these days, send them over to “Planetarium,” which features one of the stranger, more unexpected plots I’ve encountered in recent memory. It’s not an especially triumphant effort, but co-writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski (“Grand Central,” “Belle Epine”) certainly gives the endeavor a proper boost of the odd and the seductive, making a pre-WWII story that touches on the afterlife, moviemaking, and sisterhood. “Planetarium” rides a thin line between intoxicating and infuriating, and perhaps this is where Zlotowski enjoys the view most, creating a picture that uses mystery to manage the unreal, filling the gaps with fetishistic activity and scrambled behavior, asking the viewer to put a cinematic puzzle together where half the pieces are missing.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature


I can’t imagine anyone was more surprised by the success of 2014’s “The Nut Job” than the producers of “The Nut Job.” It was a throwaway feature, meant to gobble up some family filmgoing bucks during a January slow period, but it connected, defying expectations to become another “Hoodwinked!” of sorts, showing box office hustle in a marketplace dominated by animation empires and brand names. That the movie wasn’t very good was another story. Profit is profit, and now there’s “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature,” which also isn’t very good, but it remains to be seen if parents, now stuck in the dog days of August, will have a much patience with a franchise that’s not particularly clever or inventive with cartoon mayhem, and offers a follow-up where a canine character gleefully consumes two piles of vomit.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Escapes


I think for most people, at least in film circles, the name Hampton Fancher only has meaning as the screenwriter of “Blade Runner” and the director of “The Minus Man,” which featured advertising that reinforced his creative control. “Escapes” is a love letter to the real man, with director Michael Almereyda creating a documentary to celebrate Fancher’s expansive life. However, instead of recruiting friends and family to help tell this story, approaching the subject from the outside in, “Escapes” simply permits Fancher to share tales on his own, with enormous amounts of text-based information used to fill in the gaps. And Fancher talks, talks, and talks, transforming into a monologist as she shares select memories for Almereyda, working through the details of his days with a subtle physical bounce and a mind that enjoys the labyrinth of storytelling, leaving no stone unturned as he welcomes visitors to his past.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Pilgrimage


Medieval monks go on a mission in “Pilgrimage,” a bruising actioner that returns to a burgeoning world of fanaticism and the worship of magic. Director Brendan Muldowney isn’t interested in telling a superficial story of travel and combat, but sets out to make the viewer feel the pain of the journey, which keeps its characters in state of discomfort and confusion for the duration of the run time. That’s not to suggest the feature is a slog, as it highlights compelling characterizations and meaty conflicts, with a primary offering of mysticism fueling tempers in the middle of Ireland, finding Muldowney keeping his effort primal and propulsive, using limited locations effectively, tied together with a reasonable amount of mystery.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Armed Response


There was some hope that with his appearance in “The Expendables 3,” Wesley Snipes would be able to restore what was left of his career after years of participating in junk cinema and enduring personal problems. Handed a high-profile gig, Snipes followed it up with an appearance in “Chi-Raq,” the best Spike Lee movie in years, but his bad habits are back. “Armed Response” effectively ends the Snipes revival, returning him to dismal DTV fodder that previously padded his filmography. He couldn’t look more bored here, but it’s hard to blame the man for sleepiness when paired with director John Stockwell, who rarely, if ever, puts in a commendable effort (previously helming “Turistas,” “Cat Run,” and “Dark Tide”), barely piecing together this tedious supernatural chiller.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Kidnap


Managing a career filled with critical and commercial disappointments, Halle Berry found moderate success with 2013’s “The Call,” which required the actress to portray a character largely stuck in a stationary position, directing the survival of a kidnap victim from the pressurized environment of a 911 call center. It was mild exploitation, and it found an audience, reenergizing Berry’s career as Hollywood hunted for another “Taken” situation where a veteran actor could be transformed into mature butt-kicker for an older audience. Berry picks up where she left off in “Kidnap,” which also finds the star in a stationary position directing the survival of a kidnap victim, only here the action largely takes place on interstates, challenging Berry to come up with a commanding characterization that mostly involves a persona talking to themselves and making poor decisions for 90 minutes. “Kidnap” is certainly energetic, but before it gets stupid, it remains very dumb. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Dark Tower


Development on “The Dark Tower” has been brewing for a very long time. Many filmmakers, including J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard, have attempted to conquer Stephen King’s legendary series of novels, but only now has there been a production that’s managed to stick the landing. Perhaps the mere act of getting this byzantine material to the big screen is enough to brand the movie a success, but director Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair,” “Truth About Men”) doesn’t have the experience with such massive waves of fantasy. “The Dark Tower” offers a divisive viewing experience, with fans offered references and backstory, while newcomers are presented with the digestion of an entire universe in a mere 90 minutes. The picture speaks a different language, and if you’re not locked into position from the get-go, giant sections of the effort are terribly confusing, while the rest is just tiresome and dull.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Endless Poetry


Writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky took a break from filmmaking after 1990’s “The Rainbow Thief,” or perhaps filmmaking asked for a breather. While never a prolific helmer, Jodorowsky’s absence was noted, making his return to screens with 2013’s “The Dance of Reality” all the more special. Going the autobiographical route, Jodorowsky distorted and amplified his life and times, emerging with another, slightly less extreme offering of surrealism that triumphantly reinstated his creative authority. Interested in scratching the same itch, Jodorowsky returns to his story with “Endless Poetry,” a continuation of “The Dance of Reality,” charting his maturity and artistic awakening, revisiting the point of impact when childhood melts away and more adult pursuits begin to take command. Sustaining the mood, Jodorowsky once again bathes the feature in oddity, personal expression, and grotesqueries, making this second chapter as captivating as the first.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Step


For a film titled “Step,” highlighting the struggles and successes of a high school dance squad, there’s surprisingly little choreographed movement contained within. It’s a documentary about young black women in America who use dance to escape from their daily lives and questionable future, but the feature isn’t strictly about rhythm. Director Amanda Lipitz is far more interested in the educational goals of her subjects, which is an amazing break from expectations, putting full attention on the battle to attend college and the war of passing grades. “Step” eventually gets around to dance and its substantial rehearsal time, but Lipitz has a stronger picture when exposing concerns about potential and showcasing intelligence celebrated and sabotaged. As empowerment cinema goes, it works, but not for the obvious reason.  Read the rest at

Film Review - A Ghost Story


After helming “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” director David Lowery elected to disturb his rise to indie film glory by taking on the considerable demands of a Disney production. Lowery was an unusual choice to take command of 2016’s “Pete’s Dragon,” but he managed to create something remarkable out of a remake, gifting the effort a sense of magic and sincerity that’s rarely encountered in family entertainment. It was one of the best pictures of the year. Getting something mainstream out of his system, Lowery returns to the low-wattage needs of no-budget cinema, going the esoteric route with “A Ghost Story,” which is as opposite a viewing experience from “Pete’s Dragon” as can be. Challenging the mind and the rear end, the endeavor is pure Lowery, who puts everything into a tiny feature about time, the afterlife, and relationships, crafting an art-house Rorschach test that demands a specific type of moviegoer in a precise mood for cosmic puzzling.  Read the rest at