Film Review

Film Review - Logan


Since 2000, Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine, and he’s played him wonderfully. The movies haven’t always been great, but Jackman has been consistent in his dedication to the “X-Men” universe, portraying the adamantium-clawed killer throughout sequels and spin-offs, maintaining Wolverine’s trademarked gruffness and meaty, cigar-sucking presence. After making a strange cameo in last year’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” Jackman returns to primary focus in “Logan,” which is meant to be the actor’s swan song to his most famous role. Gifted an R-rating to unleash the mutant’s full widescreen potential, director James Mangold (returning to duty after 2013’s “The Wolverine”) goes bananas with “Logan,” transforming a once relatively peaceful PG-13 playground into a war zone, keeping Jackman in feral mode for what becomes an interesting meditation on life and death, periodically interrupted by excessive, skin-slashing, bone-snapping ultraviolence. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Great Wall


Matt Damon never looked like an action hero, but he managed to become one in the Jason Bourne film series, transforming himself into a killing machine for four pictures. Now, Damon is tasked with becoming a Western hero in a Chinese production, suiting up for the fantasy “The Great Wall,” which pits the actor against large CGI creatures, giving close quarters combat a rest. This is no ordinary production using a big Hollywood name to entice audiences, it’s the latest from director Zhang Yimou, helmer of “Hero,” “Raise the Red Lantern,” and “House of Flying Daggers.” There’s creative power and a sizable budget keeping “The Great Wall” going, and it shows onscreen, with the feature delivering impressive stunts, visuals, and sheer scale for least an hour before the seams start to split and Damon is left to Blue Steel himself through an overcooked effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fist Fight


“Fist Fight” is the latest assembly line comedy to be released by Warner Brothers that features odd couple starring roles, crude humor, and silly violence. After recent movies such as “Get Hard,” “Central Intelligence,” and “Hot Pursuit,” the formula has now been extended to “Fist Fight,” with pairs Charlie Day and Ice Cube in a battle of attitudes and improvisation, working to find a level of wackiness to appeal to the mass audience. It’s R-rated jesting and quite lethargic, with directorial control handed to Richard Keen, a television helmer making his feature film debut, and it shows. Thin, insincere, and weirdly aggressive with raunchy humor, “Fist Fight” is many things, but amusing isn’t one of them, delivering little effort when it comes to the invention of killer punchlines and considered performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Salesman


Slowly but surely, writer/director Asghar Farhadi has become a top voice in international cinema. The Iranian filmmaker has dedicated himself to intimate tales of personal woe, using his camera to explore universal concerns about family and self while picking at specific cultural issues and intimidations from his homeland. With efforts such as “About Elly,” “A Separation,” and “Fireworks Wednesday,” Farhadi has created a window to Iran, allowing outsiders to understand its people and atmosphere. His latest is “The Salesman,” and it immediately positions itself as one of his finest features, digging deep into acts of frustration and stunted communication, emerging with a richly defined sense of character and caution. “The Salesman” is modest in design, but its dramatic grip is tight, constantly surprising with its evolving sense of confusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Hang Up


The YouTube generation has inspired a rise in prank comedy, partaking in a longstanding tradition with vigor, passing the needs of comedy to satisfying cravings for cruelty. “Don’t Hang Up” initially sets out to spotlight such a mindset, highlighting the daily adventures of teenagers who live to make other lives miserable. Sadly, the screenplay (written by Joe Johnson, “The Skulls III”) doesn’t follow through on juicy material, instead sliding into slasher film formula with a distinct plan to resurrect fright feature moves from the “Saw” series to inspire grim events. “Don’t Hang Up” isn’t a heartbreaking misfire, but it’s not a picture that’s thinking clear enough, giving up on the potential for condemnation and satire to play with basic genre elements, while a heavy fog of stupidity hangs over the production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Youth in Oregon


It’s not easy to make a comedy about assisted suicide. It’s a taboo topic, and one that doesn’t lend itself to sunny side of the street screenwriting, riding a fine line between tastelessness and horror that requires exquisite directorial control. “Youth in Oregon” doesn’t have that level of tonal precision, but it gets halfway there in the care of helmer Joel David Moore, a one-note actor (“Avatar,” “Grandma’s Boy”) transitioning to production leadership (“Spiral”). Teaming with writer Andrew Eisen, the pair tries to create a face for the assisted suicide movement, hoping a road trip plot and plenty of quirk will soften the impact of a terribly depressing movie. “Youth in Oregon” is powerfully acted by select cast members, but the production bites off more than it can chew when balancing a desire for emotional authenticity and the comfort of dramatic formula. Read the rest at

Film Review - 1 Night


“1 Night” doesn’t have the star power or budget to compete with other romantic films. It has oddity instead, delivering the ups and downs of two relationships with emphasis on the unknown, playing with enigmatic plotting and cautious performances. It’s actually more of a mystery than a warm, insightful viewing experience, with writer/director Minhal Baig working hard toward an ending that explains everything, but he forgets that the journey should be just as compelling. “1 Night” allows its cast to get dirty with deep-seated issues during a particularly eventful evening, but decent performances and extended dialogue exchanges permitting an exploration of motivation doesn’t sharpen the feature. Baig is marching toward something, it’s just debatable if the mission is worth the time invested. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Cure for Wellness


Director Gore Verbinski is known for his craftsmanship, making a meal out of trifle such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, paying close attention to richly cinematic details. His track record with actual storytelling is less impressive, often so caught up in moviemaking machinery, critical elements such as dramatic conflict and resolution are sacrificed. He's a helmer forever obsessed with cinematographic mathematics, and his latest, “A Cure for Wellness,” is cruel reminder of Verbinski's preference for style over substance. There's a terrific, haunting 75 minute long chiller here for the taking, but it's buried deep inside 145 minutes of repetition, flaccid sleuthing, and visual excess. Verbinski can fashion a pretty picture, but there's little in “A Cure for Wellness” that slips under the skin. Read the rest at


Film Review - The LEGO Batman Movie


After making an appearance in 2014’s “The LEGO Movie,” Batman has now been gifted his first solo big screen adventure, at least in LEGO form. “The LEGO Batman Movie” endeavors to transform the DC Comics character and his universe of heroes and villains into its own blockbuster comedy, merging the punchline fury of “The LEGO Movie” with decades of Batman history, creating a picture that’s meant for a family audience, but may be a little too hip for the room. Inside references and cinema history cameos dominate “The LEGO Batman Movie,” with the screenplay (credited to five writers) working very hard to pack as much material as possible into every frame of the effort. It’s an exhausting feature, and while it builds a colorful world with an often sly sense of humor, it doesn’t really have much to offer Batman besides the basics in irreverent humor and superhero mayhem. Read the rest at

Film Review - John Wick: Chapter 2


The biggest surprise of the 2014 film year was the release of “John Wick.” Instead of submitting to the action cinema norm, “John Wick” established its own show of force, with directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch working to redefine gun fights and hand-to-hand combat with a sensational reworking of genre cinematography, visual effects, and pure adrenaline. It was one of the best pictures of the year, shaking big screen roughhousing out of its slumber. For “John Wick: Chapter 2,” Stahelski returns to oversee the title’s transition into a franchise, and boy howdy, does he ever get it right. A true continuation with an invigorating sense of escalation, “John Wick: Chapter 2” maintains the delicious vibration of the original film, keeping the titular character on the prowl while choreography gets harder, bullets are faster, and star Keanu Reeves is even more committed to overall brawling, presenting the follow-up with all the brutality it requires. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Red Turtle


To best understand what type of viewing experience “The Red Turtle” provides, it’s important to note that the picture is co-produced by Studio Ghibli, the famous Japanese animation house that’s given birth to numerous classics that traffic in elaborate fantasy realms, populated with complex characters experiencing sophisticated emotions. Director Michael Dudok de Wit follows this lead for “The Red Turtle,” which combines the power of pure behavior with the possibilities of visual poetry, taking viewers on a riveting journey that bends reality and touches the soul with unsettling precision. It’s a gorgeously animated adventure without dialogue to support it, and it’s incredibly artful, sincere work that rewards patience with an achingly human story of life and death as it tours the vast recesses of the mind. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fifty Shades Darker


It’s hard to argue with a phenomenon, but 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” was a terrible film. Based on the best seller by E.L. James, the picture hoped to bring viewers into a realm of BDSM via a romantic entanglement between two damaged souls, playing up the kink factor to entice those looking for a little moviegoing spice. The feature was an enormous box office success, powered primarily by curiosity, with actual creative achievements few and far between, including a troubling idea to remove any sort of ending that could provide closure to the saga. “Fifty Shades Darker” is the follow-up, and it does offer something of a climax. Multiple ones if close attention is paid. However, a story isn’t invited to this round of pained lives and saucy bedroom antics, generating a decidedly limp viewing experience as bland characters work out easily solvable problems, with the occasional bout of furious intercourse interrupting what’s basically a staring contest between two creeps. Read the rest at

Film Review - Running Wild


Scripted by Christina Moore and Brian Rudnick, “Running Wild” has the advantage of originality, being the only movie in recent memory to explore the plight of wild horses. It’s not a romantic approach either, at least not initially, constructing a story about equine rehabilitation with creatures near death due to starvation and disease, attempting to shine a spotlight on an overpopulation situation few understand outside horse appreciation circles. Oddity keeps “Running Wild” compelling, with Moore and Rudnick cooking up passable conflict for human endeavors, while director Alex Ranarivelo glazes the whole thing with a big country feel, bringing out soft hearts and wide open spaces to best keep the effort endearing. It’s an unusual feature, and one that pits dramatic formula against message specificity, but intriguingly so. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bornless Ones


If one is going to pinch from “The Evil Dead,” this is a good way to do it. “Bornless Ones” isn’t shy about its Sam Raimi fandom, taking its collection of horror and demonic happenings to yet another cabin in the woods. Writing/director Alexander Babaev isn’t quite as sharp a conductor of agony as Raimi, but he manages to cover a good amount of dread, overseeing personal problems and supernatural influence with an atypical amount of human concern, trying to make the participants are authentic as possible before the slaughter commences. “Bornless Ones” is entertaining and mindful of genre demands, eventually giving genre fans a thorough examination of gore zone details as a reward for sitting through characterization. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rings


Between 2002’s “The Ring” and 2005’s “The Ring Two,” everything that was needed to be said about the dark magic of Samara and her cursed videotape was said. It was over, finally, putting a cap on an overproduced saga that was more invested in lighting and angles than from-the-gut scares. Well, it’s difficult to let a name brand die these days, inspiring a revival of Samara’s wrath in “Rings,” which boasts an “Aliens”-like title, but doesn’t follow the same creative path of concentrated mayhem. VHS horror returns, along with flies, hair, and flickering screens, and while there’s some early hints at a fresh POV for the production, “Rings” sprints right back to the same old business, delivering what turns out to be a resurrection of the series, not a continuation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Space Between Us


The signs are there. “The Space Between Us” is directed by Peter Chelsom, a once promising helmer (“Funny Bones,” “Hear My Song”) whose last two efforts were “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and the vile “Hector and the Search for Happiness.” The screenplay is written by Alan Loeb, who boasts a resume that includes “Rock of Ages,” “Just Go with It,” “Here Comes the Boom,” and one of last year’s worst films, “Collateral Beauty.” It’s a collaboration that was destined to fail, leaving little surprise that “The Space Between Us” is borderline unwatchable. Save for a few technical triumphs, the feature is completely awkward, overlong, and tone-deaf with its sincerity. Reaching for the stars, Chelsom and Loeb barely manage to assemble a single scene without falling apart. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Knock Twice


A few years ago, director Caradog W. James crafted “The Machine,” a low-fi take on artificial intelligence and the power of free will. It’s a tale that’s been told before, but the helmer found something substantial to work with, generating an exciting, grounded offering of B-movie escapism, sold with impressive visual style. James returns with “Don’t Knock Twice,” once again challenging himself with material that’s fairly routine for the horror market, overseeing the collision of the paranoid and possessed as urban legends and personal demons are brought in for closer inspection. While it doesn’t share the invention of “The Machine,” “Don’t Knock Twice” is a compelling nightmare, watching James take special care with chills and thrills, only throttling the viewing experience when it comes time to detangle a modestly engaging story.  Read the rest at

Film Review - I Am Not Your Negro


It’s difficult to comprehend that the pain contained within “I Am Not Your Negro” is as relevant today as it was during the 1960s and ‘70s, which are the primaries decades of inspection for the documentary. It’s a cinematic rendering of author James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, “Remember This House,” with Baldwin recounting his experiences as a black man in America, putting his confusion into context as bigotry began to boil over during the Civil Right era, shaking the country. Director Raoul Peck (“Lumumba”) has the benefit of Baldwin’s work, using his eloquence and refined disgust to guide the picture, which evolves from memories to frustrations, recounting the loss of crucial lives during a time of national awareness coming after centuries of willful blindness. “I Am Not Your Negro” is powerful statement of personal experience tempted into resignation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Toni Erdmann


The struggles between fathers and daughters takes a highly unusual turn in “Toni Erdmann,” a German production that does whatever it can to subvert expectations while trying to remain at least passably human at its core. Writer/director Maren Ade starts with semi-autobiographical touches but takes long dips into absurdity with this strange dramedy. She takes her time too, as the feature runs nearly three hours long, which is quite a journey for material that largely employs subtlety to explore the depths of a ruined relationship. “Toni Erdmann” has moments that test patience in full, but it’s also a richly realistic study of interpersonal struggle and fractured communication, delivered with a free-flowing sense of playfulness and concentration from stars Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek. Read the rest at

Film Review - War on Everyone


For his first two outings as a writer/director, John Michael McDonagh made a positive impression. With “The Guard” and “Calvary,” McDonagh displayed an impish sense of humor and an overall understanding of unusual tension and itchy human interaction, using his homeland of Ireland as a distinct backdrop for criminal activity and personal salvation. However, his streak ends at two movies, with “War on Everyone” providing McDonagh with a change of venue and comedic intent, but he repeatedly comes up short with this patience-thinning mix of action and black comedy. “War on Everyone” is meant to be broad, nasty, and sarcastic, but its lack of interesting characters and story make it difficult to endure, clinging to style and tiresome quirk just to get by. Read the rest at