Film Review

Film Review - Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul


Originally a series of YA books from author Jeff Kinney, the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” brand name found its way to the big screen in 2010, introduced with an uneven, unappealing adaptation that basically confirmed Kinney’s world was better suited for the page, where its cartoon shenanigans could be left to the imagination. Two terrible sequels followed (the last released in 2012), each met with flat box office returns and overall audience indifference. However, profits were made, inspiring Hollywood to try again, reawakening the saga of Greg and his hapless family for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” which completely recasts and refocuses the franchise, though co-writer/director Dave Bowers (who helmed the last two movies) returns, hellbent on proving his unpleasant comedic vision for this feature, ending up with the worst “Wimpy Kid” sequel yet. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Quiet Passion


If there’s one person capable of bringing the life and times of poet Emily Dickinson to the screen, it’s Terence Davies. The director of “The House of Mirth,” “Sunset Song,” and “The Deep Blue Sea,” Davies has focused his career on artful pursuits, fascinated by social showdowns and private desires, all the while developing helming interests that lean toward the painterly, making beautiful pictures that value cinematic art. “A Quiet Passion” isn’t a traditional bio-pic of Emily, missing many years and life-changing movements. Instead, it remains tight on its subject, keeping poetic purging constant, but also setting out to grasp artistic drive, which is often motivated by an unquenchable thirst to be understood. Davies finds the edges of Emily’s life, but he’s primarily motivated by mood, keeping viewers immersed in the moment as the poet hones her talent and begins to share it with outsiders. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Survivalist


“The Survivalist” isn’t made to comfort its audience. It’s punishment from writer/director Stephen Fingleton, who’s determined to communicate the horrifying end of civilization with this survival chiller, which depicts savagery, betrayal, and sacrifice with a disturbing matter-of-fact tone. It works because it’s meant to be frightening, understanding an all-too-real possibility of global breakdown, but it remains intimate, focusing on the plight of three characters locked in an uneasy situation of trust, dealing with their own issues while threats from the outside world creep into view. “The Survivalist” is harrowing and savage, and Fingleton is largely successful with his tonal and visceral goals, only periodically allowing the ugliness of this story to reach beyond its grasp. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alien: Covenant


In 2012’s “Prometheus,” director Ridley Scott’s was looking to take the “Alien” franchise in a whole new direction, moving past xenomorph mayhem to reach the very nature of existence, challenging ideas of gods and monsters with a promising concept that allowed very little time for Ripley-esque survival games. It was met with critical indifference and audience derision. “Alien: Covenant” isn’t interested in making the same mistakes, and while it’s a sequel to “Prometheus,” it mostly severs what little existential ambition remained at the end of a wildly disappointing movie. Scott would rather remake “Alien” than answer many of the questions left behind five years ago, using “Covenant” to recycle the same old cat and mouse game with a fresh assortment of blue-collar space workers. Scott is seriously spinning his wheels here, and what’s worse, he seems to be proud of all this inanity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Snatched


In 2015, comedian Amy Schumer made a strong impression with her starring debut, “Trainwreck.” Under director Judd Apatow, Schumer managed to be hilarious and heartbreaking, displaying impressive range in what ended up being one of the top performances of the year. For her follow-up, Schumer stays with the silly business in “Snatched,” a kidnapping/survival comedy that’s rarely consistent, but periodically hilarious. It’s Schumer’s attempt at a buddy comedy, and one where she’s wisely paired up with Goldie Hawn, famously coming out of semi-retirement (her last acting gig was 2002’s “The Banger Sisters”) to join Schumer, creating warm, amusing chemistry, helping “Snatched” crawl out of the tonal whoppers and dead spots it occasionally finds itself in. Read the rest at

Film Review - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


After scoring two massive hits with the popular and surprisingly sly “Sherlock Holmes” series, which effectively refreshed a stuffy literary world with some clenched-fist energy and funky comedy, director Guy Ritchie attempted to bring the same firepower to another aged property, 2015’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Lightning didn’t strike a third time, with woeful miscastings and lethargic timing hindering what should’ve been a jaunty spy game with distinct period style. Weirdly avoiding a third “Sherlock Holmes,” Ritchie now turns his attention to Arthurian legend, hired to jazz up material that’s been revived repeatedly for screens big and small, with each production striving to be the hot take on round tables and swords in stone. Cruelly, Ritchie remains in “U.N.C.L.E.” mode with “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” which takes the wilds of magic and action and transforms it all into a disappointing lump of a movie, but one that Ritchie does his damndest to keep alive with every trick he’s capable of producing. Read the rest at

Film Review - One Week and a Day


“One Week and a Day” is about parents going through the grieving process after losing a child, but its first image is one of household sport, watching the father battle opponents on the family ping pong table. It’s the first of many surprising directions for the story, which offers a more grounded, authentically human take on personal loss. The Israeli picture marks the feature-length directorial debut for writer Asaph Polonsky, who captures realistic response to an impossible situation of mourning, locating the comedy, fear, and frustration of life in motion. “One Week and a Day” contains moments of expected heartache, but its primary mission is to follow particularly scrambled characters for an eventful afternoon, studying the confusion of this aching new reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Take Me


Actor Pat Healy has been involved in a few very uncomfortable films, playing unsettled types in “Compliance” and “Cheap Thrills.” For his latest directorial effort, Healy collects every darkly comedic trick he’s picked up while working in front of the camera, joining screenwriter Mike Makowsky for a twisted romp that examines escalations in violence and fetishism, making “Take Me” a decidedly weird and often surprising viewing experience. The production doesn’t always sustain momentum, but Healy manages his opening and closing to satisfaction, while leaving plenty of room for himself and co-star Taylor Schilling to communicate a specialized situation of mutual antagonism, making excellent scene partners as the oddity of the movie ebbs and flows, sometimes spilling over in the best ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie


Comedian Jeff Garlin is an acquired taste, with his pinched voice, casual delivery, and fondness for the uncomfortable moments in life fueling successful careers in stand-up comedy and television, appearing on the popular HBO program, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Along the way, Garlin has attempted feature film direction, helming “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With” and the improvised comedy, “Dealing with Idiots.” Both were highly amusing efforts that showcased Garlin’s comfort with actors and stillness, trying to find the funny in awkward encounters and everyday frustrations. Taking a slight detour into genre moviemaking, Garlin mounts “Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie,” a strange whodunit that adds to his cinematic interests in weird wit, once again turning to a talented cast to make magic in a relatively calm, but silly, manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wall


When one considers the filmography of director Doug Liman, a certain adrenaline level comes to mind. He’s a helmer who embraces the visceral possibilities of cinema, drawn to stories that emphasize physical peril and group mayhem, and he’s quite good at making a sweat-drenched mess. Think about efforts such as “The Bourne Identity,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” which all shared delirious peaks of bold action, mixing raw energy with precise chorography. “The Wall” brings Liman to the Iraq War, but instead of going haywire with an oft-used setting, he settles into a simple study of battling temperaments and survival skills in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, “The Wall” is a disappointment, carrying more of an iffy experimental tone than a richly suspenseful atmosphere, watching the production try to cook up something heart-racing with almost nothing to work with. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tracktown


“Tracktown” is all about the details. Making her feature-length co-writing/co-directing/acting debut is Alexi Pappas, an accomplished long-distance runner and recent Olympian trying to bring elements of her life to the screen. Playing to her strengths, Pappas tells the story of a young runner suddenly facing the pressures of a world beyond training and competition, joining fellow filmmaker Jeremy Teicher to give “Tracktown” a lived-in feel to help inspire a bizarre coming-of-age story. Delayed adolescence, first romance, and mother issues generate the drama of the effort, but Pappas and Teicher are at their best with the particulars of the running world, giving the movie a distinct personality when it moves away from formula and samples athlete routine, allowing its star to relax and simply exist in the world she’s creating. Read the rest at

Film Review - Whisky Galore


Following the recent “Dad’s Army,” “Whisky Galore” is another remake that looks to revisit beloved British material with contemporary timing. It’s a reworking of a 1949 Ealing Studios Comedy, making another pass at a strange but true World War II story, offering director Gillies MacKinnon (“The Playboys,” “Hideous Kinky”) a chance to reassess older material with some degree of hindsight, permitted a shot at fixing the shortcomings of the original picture. Unfortunately, MacKinnon doesn’t reach down deep enough, showing signs of stress as he juggles the broadly comedic movements of “Whisky Galore” and its often sobering sentimental side. It’s a digestible feature, a safe matinee choice, and while it’s easy on the senses, it could be strong and should be funnier. Read the rest at

Film Review - Violet


Grief, and its many stages of evolution, is the focus of “Violet,” which marks the feature-length directorial debut for Bas Devos (who also scripts). Following a chain of artistic freedom that wraps around the works of Bela Tarr and, soon after, latter-era Gus Van Sant, Devos devotes himself to the power of film imagery, telling as much of the story in silence, permitting cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis full command of the effort, dictating moods with shots that either ripple with meaning or trail off into nothingness. “Violet” is a specialized sit for a specific moviegoer, dealing with death in a manner that feels distant for much of the picture, yet the pain of loss comes surging into view periodically. While Devos gets a little too wrapped up in his process, trying to remain elusive, he certainly has a vision for the endeavor that braids art with ache, looking to make sense of personal loss. Read the rest at

Film Review - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


While hardly a risk for Marvel Studios, the 2014 release of “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a bit of a curveball for comic book movie enthusiasts. Up to this point, it was mostly a brand name business, with the studio careful to use their biggest names to help secure what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Guardians of the Galaxy” didn’t offer superheroes, just various aliens, sold with a funky presence by co-writer/director James Gunn, who used a tightly curated soundtrack and bottomless enthusiasm for fantasy shenanigans to bring fringe characters to the big leagues of multiplex domination, with audiences falling in love with the rag-tag band of outsiders and their newfound interest in helping those in need. It was an exhaustively charming film, but it also provided a challenge for Gunn, who left plenty of mysteries to solve if a sequel should ever arise. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea 2

To pull off a disaster movie set inside a high school, animation is the only art form left to handle the enormity and fantasy of the event. Death and destruction are contained within “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea,” a darkly comedic take on adolescent survival (both literal and social) from writer/director Dash Shaw, who examines the plight of a crumbling school with emphasis on quirky, psychedelic visuals and distinctive voice work. “My High School Sinking Into the Sea” isn’t a major offering of animation, but it’s wonderfully creative in its approach to doomsday, with Shaw arranging an idiosyncratic tour of behavior and physical challenges that permit him time to conjure a charmingly low-fi world of teen neuroses. It’s strange work, but accomplished and quite funny when it wants to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - Another Evil


While there’s a grand tradition of comedies about stalkers, or at least unstable people, it’s “The Cable Guy” that generally stands out at a particularly pointed look at the difficulties of an unwanted friendship as it evolves from careful pleasantries to something more sinister and consuming. The woefully underrated 1996 Ben Stiller film appears to be an influence on “Another Evil,” which moves the concept of professionalism gone mad to a single cabin location, pitting two characters against each other in a strange waiting game of companionship, which is shadowed by the relative urgency of ghost hunting. Writer/director Carson D. Mell delights in all the discomfort he can provide, overcoming a minuscule budget with a strong sense of dark humor and terrific eye for casting, with stars Mark Proksch and Steve Zissis handling degrees of insanity with outstanding timing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lady Bloodfight


1988’s “Bloodsport” isn’t going to be selected by the National Film Registry anytime soon, but to fight movie fans, the picture is a treasure. While responsible for turning Jean-Claude Van Damme into a global star, “Bloodsport” also spawned a franchise and shed light on underground fight tournaments, inspiring a league of knockoffs. Instead of trying to restart the series machine with Van Damme (like the recent “Kickboxer” remake did), the producers go all female for “Lady Bloodfight,” which isn’t a straight do-over, but a riff on the original feature, once again pitting a slightly overwhelmed outsider against a variety of hard, fierce competitors in the feared Kumite, an illegal martial-arts tournament. Changes in gender are interesting, and the cast is ready to brawl, but director Chris Nahon doesn’t tighten suspense or aggression to satisfaction, making an average DTV endeavor when the potential is there for something explosive. Read the rest at

Film Review - Enter The Warriors Gate


The screenwriting team of Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen returns with “Enter The Warriors Gate,” which at first seems like a return to form for the duo, who’ve previously pulled off cartoonish entertainment with projects like “The Transporter,” “Kiss of the Dragon,” and “The Fifth Element.” Cruelly, their sense of escapism has been tainted in recent years (including “Taken 2” and “Taken 3”), and while “Enter The Warriors Gate” presents a premise that easily welcomes big action and broad personalities, Kamen and Besson can’t get the story out of first gear. Lumbering and unfunny, the feature is aimed at 10 year olds and perhaps nobody else, showing significant signs of stress whenever it attempts to subvert predictability, while its video game theme is bizarrely ignored in favor of Euro cinema-style shenanigans. Read the rest at

Film Review - 3 Generations


“3 Generations” deals with gender and identity, but it isn’t defined by it. Co-writer/director Gaby Dellal would rather make a film about parenting than anything else, turning to the troubles of guardianship over a combustible teenager to fuel most of the feature’s dramatic potential. Unfortunately, while Dellal is good with specific adolescent challenges and a general sense of need, she hasn’t edited together a complete movie. “3 Generations” feels aimless at times, confusing core issues with behavioral messiness and performance indulgence, while the picture’s sense of humor isn’t defined to satisfaction. While the material approaches an important subject, Dellal often seems like she doesn’t know what she wants to accomplish here, resulting in a forgettable effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Voice from the Stone


Atmosphere is of primary concern for “Voice from the Stone.” It’s a gothic chiller that’s bathed in fog, with its eeriness boosted by a remote setting and a cavernous castle-like dwelling, while the actors have been instructed to work in deliberate ways that emphasize the mystery at hand. Director Eric D. Howell certainly has a vision for the picture, which, at times, is quite successful in conjuring tone, achieving his dream to make a Hammer Films-style endeavor for a contemporary audience. Less successful is the story, which touches on issues of grief and loneliness, but also features a pronounced genre pull that tends to value movie moods instead of emotional realities. “Voice from the Stone” isn’t very good, far too messy and unfocused to demand full attention, but when it comes together, it offers a glimpse of what could’ve been. There are simply too few moments of clarity to keep the effort interesting. Read the rest at