Film Review

Film Review - Last Flag Flying


“Last Flag Flying” is described as a “spiritual sequel” to the 1973 picture, “The Last Detail,” with both movies sourced from novels by author Darryl Ponicsan. For obvious reasons, the stars of the previous effort haven’t returned (Otis Young is dead, Jack Nicholson is retired, and Randy Quaid is currently suffering through a prolonged nervous breakdown), inspiring co-writer/director Richard Linklater to shift characterization slightly, keeping Ponicsan’s plot and character camaraderie without being slavish to what “The Last Detail” started. Losing the sequelization aspect is perhaps the smartest play for Linklater, freeing him up to make something frightfully intimate with “Last Flag Flying,” taking a look at the sacrifices of military service and the delicate nature of memories, reviving the road trip for three now ex-Marines as they come to terms with past mistakes and mounting frustrations.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Justice League


There’s no reason to deny it: the DC Extended Universe would like to mirror the global box office triumphs of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, playing a game of catch-up that began with 2013’s “Man of Steel.” Now, just four years later, they’ve arrived at their first major team-up endeavor, quickly building on the success of 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and last summer’s “Wonder Woman.” In a hurry to give fans all the comic book superheroes they can handle, the DCEU jumps right into the fray with “Justice League,” delivering a sizable pounding with iconic characters, upping the action and humor to connect more directly with the mass audience. “Justice League” is a mess, but not a completely unappealing one, best when delivering special powers and toying with a group dynamic. It’s the burden of storytelling that tends to get in the way of the fun, finding the screenplay adhering to blockbuster formula when the movie itself seems more interested in The Hang with a collection of troubled superheroes just trying to get along to fight a common enemy: disappointment in the DCEU.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond


There were always stories swirling around about Jim Carrey’s troubling behavior during the production of 1999’s “Man on the Moon.” These were vague tales of complete role immersion, where Carrey became comic Andy Kaufman to portray him in his bio-pic, offering not just reverence, but his entire body and soul to a part, shelving “Jim Carrey” for a few months to live life as Kaufman and his alter ego, Tony Clifton. It sounded bizarre at the time, and it turns out it really was, with “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” finally piecing together an understanding of Carrey’s psychological choices as he inhabited his idol, with director Chris Smith granted access to hundreds of hours of behind the scenes video from the “Man on the Moon” shoot, showcasing just what happened during production, conforming that, indeed, there was no Carrey to speak of, only Kaufman.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Divine Order


While “The Divine Order” shares a story of gender discrimination, misogyny, and marital woes, it’s almost refreshing to find the tale taking place in Switzerland, avoiding American hostilities for once. The change in location is most welcome, with writer/director Petra Biondina Volpe examining the pains of womanhood from a different perspective, and while American influence remains, the screenplay showcases a distinct cultural fingerprint as it details the jail sentence of being a woman in 1971. “The Divine Order” has its melodramatic urges, but it’s an excellent overview of personal need with sharply defined characters, returning to an era of global change with a few details that mirror today’s social turbulence. Volpe taps into the zeitgeist and shares a period saga of equality, creating a picture that’s essential viewing for those interested in a wider perspective on feminist challenges.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Cook Off!


2017 is starting to feel like a big garage sale, with Hollywood searching the archives for features to sell, getting rid of titles that never worked or were impossible to market. In the last month, there was “Amityville: The Awakening” and “Geostorm” (both shot in 2014), and now there’s “Cook Off!” However, the delay on the picture isn’t slight, with the mockumentary shot in 2007, putting a decade between completion and release. It’s an enormous amount of time, keeping expectations low for an effort that, for mysterious reasons, no studio wanted to offer audiences, even with its sellable premise and cast of comedians. “Cook Off!” isn’t a great film, but it’s not a complete disaster, happily lifting moves from Christopher Guest endeavors to create its own improv-heavy take on screwball characters engaged in heated competition.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Sweet Virginia


The interesting thing about “Sweet Virginia” is that it could work as either a small town drama or a suspense picture. Benjamin and Paul China’s screenplay manages to combine the cinematic speeds with care, offering an engrossing tale of mishandled anger and desperation, putting effort into characterization while saving room for savage acts of violence. Director Jamie M. Dagg doesn’t overdo style, remaining respectful of the writing and the cast hired to turn lengthy dialogue exchanges into pained exchanges of need, keeping “Sweet Virginia” slow-burn but highly effective. It takes time, but the China Brothers manage to build something threatening and deeply felt, keeping the viewing experience surprising even while the story deals with familiar elements of intimidation and distress.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Revolt


“Revolt” isn’t really a movie, it plays more like a director’s reel for Joe Miale, who does what many other aspiring helmers do and looks to sci-fi/action to establish his name and style. It’s a road picture of sorts, using an alien invasion hook to explore African locations, working to build a few mysteries that might play out in multiple sequels. It’s a shame Miale doesn’t get the first one right, though his technical skill is impressive in spots, showing similarities to 2010’s “Skyline,” which also came off as a calling card instead of a full-fledged movie. “Revolt” feels incomplete and undernourished in the dramatic department, though Miale isn’t aiming for hospital corners with the effort, electing to focus on alien mayhem and anguished reactions from stars Lee Pace and Berenice Marlohe, who offer thespian commitment to the film and receive little in return.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Almost Friends


With “Almost Friends,” writer/director Jake Goldberger tries to make an honest movie about matters of the heart. He almost pulls it off. It’s a story about friendships that endeavor to be romances, but encounter too many issues to permit a full blossoming into love, with the production establishing multiple subplots to create a cat’s cradle of dysfunction and confession. Goldberger has interest in these lives, but his command of storytelling fluidity and consistency is a tad off, with “Almost Friends” spending too much time on characters who fail to add anything to the picture’s sense of sincerity, while clichés soon catching up to the helmer, kneecapping its dramatic integrity. There’s gentleness to the effort that’s appealing, but it doesn’t last long enough.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Daddy's Home 2


Less than two years ago, “Daddy’s Home” had the guts to open in the wake of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” hoping to be the family film alternative for those searching for broad laughs over the holiday season. Amazingly, it worked, giving Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg one of the biggest hits of their careers, cementing a screen partnership that began with “The Other Guys.” Not willing to squeak by with an unexpected smash, the duo returns with “Daddy’s Home 2,” a quickie sequel that weirdly isn’t trying its post-“Star Wars” release luck again, coming out early in the season armed with more slapstick and a support act in Mel Gibson and John Lithgow. With these movies, anything that conjures even a smile should be considered a triumph, and “Daddy’s Home 2” has a few chuckles to go with its painful repetition.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Murder on the Orient Express


“Murder on the Orient Express” is perhaps the most famous of Agatha Christie’s literary achievements. Adaptations of the 1934 book are numerous, with a 1974 Sidney Lumet film often held as the gold standard for big screen Christie translations, while other efforts, including a 2001 television movie and a 2010 episode of “Agatha Christie’s Poirot,” have had their way with the mystery writer’s twists and turns. Now something grander has arrived from director Kenneth Branagh, who busts out the CGI polish and star-studded casting to give his take on “Murder on the Orient Express” its own modern lift, gifting a new generation with an aged tale of death and deception on a stalled train. Branagh makes a pretty picture and invites some real talent to join in on the game of suspicion, but all is not well when it comes to cinematic sleuthing, as the production tends to gloss over the fine details of certain characters, which leaves the feature feeling empty and anticlimactic. Read the rest at 

Film Review - 24 Hours to Live


“24 Hours to Live” is being sold as a spiritual sibling to the 2014 action bonanza, “John Wick,” with the productions sharing a few producers and a similar interest in the creation of screen havoc, preferably with as much ferocity as possible. However, “24 Hours to Live” isn’t actually a similar endeavor, eschewing one-man-army revenge steeliness for more of a chase throughout South Africa, while the plot leans more toward “Bourne Identity”-type of secret government cruelties. The picture wisely avoids replication to become its own bulldozing actioner with a slight sci-fi twist, and it benefits from Ethan Hawke’s participation, watching the actor commit in full to his character’s brawling abilities and moments of pained introspection, finding a soul to the effort before B-movie demands close in to claim it for good.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Thumper


When Hollywood decided to make a “21 Jump Street” movie, they were afraid to be sincere with it. The late-‘80s Fox show about undercover cops in high school certainly had its goofy moments, and perhaps the program is hopelessly dated, but there was a mission to bring the complexity of the world to an impressionable audience, highlighting social issues and various forms of abuse. “Thumper” isn’t as primary colored as “21 Jump Street,” but it’s a close match in some respects, with writer/director Jordan Ross taking the idea of a cop in deep with teenagers to grittier areas of personal conduct and law enforcement. Perhaps Ross wouldn’t enjoy having his picture mentioned alongside a bubblegum TV show, but the comparison is a compliment, nailing a fascinating tonality as the pursuit of justice clashes with matters of the heart.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Bitch


Writer/director/star Marianna Palka knows that titling her latest endeavor “Bitch” is going to attract some attention. After all, this is the same filmmaker who arrived on the scene with the relationship drama, “Good Dick,” making provocative titles a practiced game for Palka. Thankfully, she can back up such mischief, creating a specialized take on the ways of neglect and depression with this strange but fascinating dramedy. “Bitch” is sure to launch 10,000 essays from bloggers everywhere, but the core experience of the movie supplies a fascinating understanding of mental fracture and repair, with Palka offering her unique take on gender and marital roles and the pain that builds up when respect and communication exit a relationship. She takes things to an extreme, yet her sense of intimacy remains powerful, cutting through a gimmick to identify relatable stress and conjure a startling feeling of hopelessness.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Square


Writer/director Ruben Ostlund made an art-house splash with 2014’s “Force Majeure.” A sharp look at relationship woes and the readjustment of patriarchal roles, the picture was emotionally authentic and dark, leaving any follow-up with the challenge of matching an original vision from a burgeoning filmmaker. “The Square” isn’t nearly as precise as “Force Majeure,” but Ostlund doesn’t make it easy for himself with this dissection of behavior, modern art, and the limits of patience. More episodic than focused, “The Square” emphasizes the helmer’s fascination with human response to troubling situations of misconduct and mistakes, attacking uncomfortable moments with a dark sense of humor and an indulgent run time (140 minutes). It’s certainly not a picture for everyone, but when Ostlund finds his footing, he creates periodic hilarity and a frighteningly accurate inspection of selfishness and poor decision-making skills.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mayhem


A few years ago, director Joe Lynch crafted “Everly,” a low-budget actioner (starring Salma Hayek) that cut costs by staging chaos inside a single apartment location, requiring helming ingenuity to help shake up the inherent stasis of the setting. It didn’t work, but Lynch apparently loved the challenge, returning to basically the same idea for “Mayhem,” which is a low-budget actioner set inside an office building, with hellacious combat claiming one area of the building at a time. It’s a battle royal with business people, and Lynch loves to generate a big screen massacre, keeping things wet with blood and high in panic for “Mayhem,” a fatiguing effort that’s saved by a bright lead performance from Steven Yeun, an underutilized movie actor (best known for this work on “The Walking Dead”) who really should be a leading man in more pictures, confidently carrying a sense of humanity to help balance Lynch’s one-note hellraising.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Thor: Ragnarok


Thor sat out 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which basically acted as an “Avengers” sequel, but without the full roster of superheroes. Thor (and the Hulk) were off on their own adventure, and finally audiences are allowed to catch up with the God of Thunder in “Thor: Ragnarok,” which is also the third official Thor movie, picking up where 2014’s “Thor: The Dark World” left off. Admittedly, there wasn’t much of a wait for the return of the hammer-launching hero, but he was missed, as “Thor: Ragnarok” is a thrilling, unexpectedly hilarious sequel that changes the tone and direction of the character. It’s not a radical departure from the usual comic book mayhem, but director Taika Waititi makes inspired choices with the material, leaning into the fantasy of it all, creating worlds, monsters, and towering action to go with the feature’s generous sense of humor. Read the rest at 

Film Review - A Bad Moms Christmas


Last year, “Bad Moms” satisfied a certain appetite for raunchy entertainment from a female perspective, offering summertime audiences a joy ride through bad behavior and motherhood lament. It found a sizable audience, becoming a sleeper hit despite not being much of a movie, with writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore simply throwing as much juvenile behavior and uninspired raunch at the screen to see what sticks. Rewarded with a financial success, Moore and Lucas have coughed up a quickie sequel to capitalize on the moment, moving the R-rated party to the holidays for “A Bad Moms Christmas,” which is very similar to “Bad Moms” but somehow worse. Laziness chains the follow-up to the ground, with the helmers not taking a moment to think about the feature they’re making, only motivated to reheat bawdy humor for a fast buck, giving fans the same viewing experience, only this time there’s snow on the ground.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Killing of Sacred Deer


Polarizing is a nice way to describe the work of writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, who creates profoundly upsetting movies by cutting into seemingly stable lives, exposing all the illness that’s been festering for quite some time. Efforts like “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster” aren’t easy pictures to digest, but for more adventurous viewers, Lanthimos tends to reward patience with an incredible command of strangeness, utilizing a static style of direction that favors observation over manipulation, forcing the audience to pick up on feral behaviors and subtle turns of fantasy. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” rivals “Dogtooth” in terms of sheer unease, and it reinforces just how skilled Lanthimos is with this style of storytelling, summoning a range of horror that’s hypnotic to watch.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 1922

1922 2

Joining the gold rush of Stephen King adaptations is “1922,” with writer/director Zak Hilditch taking inspiration from 2010 novella from the famous horror author. It’s been a big autumn for King, who dominated multiplexes with “It,” and raised anxiety levels with “Gerald’s Game,” and “1922” is another striking creative success, respecting the source material’s macabre interests and Edgar Allan Poe tribute, while offering a sharply visual endeavor that communicates terror superbly. Hilditch has some difficulty turning a 131-page story into a 100-minute movie, but he’s mostly successful when it comes to locating gruesome highlights and maintaining a haunting viewing experience, managing a dark tale of murder and expanding guilt with style and care for King’s wicked interests in the corrosion of soul and the blurring of reality.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Florida Project


While making movies for quite some time, Sean Baker made an impression with 2015’s “Tangerine,” which offered unique atmosphere and vivid characters, and also carried the gimmick of being shot entirely on iPhones, giving it a boost in publicity. Baker’s returned to professional equipment with “The Florida Project,” but he continues on his verite path with the effort, which swaps coasts, moving from Hollywood streets to the sunbaked hotels of Kissimmee, Florida, examining positions of poverty located next door to Walt Disney World. “The Florida Project” is alive, on a perpetual sugar rush of behavior, most of it toxic, but Baker retains a feel for humanity at its most feral and overworked, capturing the sheer fatigue of daily survival in a tourist-laden sweatbox. There are storytelling issues that aren’t resolved, but Baker largely gets by on atmosphere and periodic screen poetry, finding an original location to sort through troubled people.  Read the rest at