Film Review

Film Review - Brimstone


To his literal credit, writer/director Martin Koolhoven takes complete responsibility for his latest endeavor, which is titled “Koolhoven’s Brimstone” on the print, picking up where artists such as John Carpenter and Lars von Trier have left off. While there’s undeniable production heft on display throughout the picture, it’s Koolhoven who’s standing up for the effort, which concentrates on lessons of punishment in the American west, frosted with incestual appetites, ultraviolence, and a 148 minute run time. “Brimstone” is punishment, but that’s the idea, trying to inflict as much pain as possible as it explores kinks and sadism, bending genre traditions with an unnerving fixation on prolonged suffering. It’s a brutal film, in aggression and pacing, and I can only hope some of Koolhoven’s helming fee went to some badly needed therapy sessions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beauty and the Beast (2017)


Disney has been doing very well with their recent corporate decision to make live-action versions of their animated classics, putting a new coat of paint on old stories and familiar characters, with passable interest in restoring elements of source material. “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Jungle Book” both made a billion dollars at the box office, while “Cinderella” made half as much but won the war of quality. Now the suits have turned their attention to “Beauty and the Beast,” which, to many admirers, is considered one of the finest Disney animated efforts of all time. And what better way to celebrate such an important chapter in the studio’s history than to mount a live-action take that’s largely without heart, soul, musical achievement, visual appeal, and judicious editing. Perhaps maybe, just maybe, we should all confront the reality that Bill Condon isn’t a very effective director. Read the rest at

Film Review - Before I Fall


“Before I Fall” isn’t a faith-based production (at least not an overt one), but it provides one of the more stimulating spiritual stories of the past filmgoing year. An adaptation of a 2010 novel by Lauren Oliver, the production does indulge its YA origins, keeping matters of the heart close to the humiliation of high school and home life, but there’s more here than initially meets the eye. Once the feature purges most of its juvenile behavior, it settles into an engrossing study of personal awakening and, gasp, kindness, staying on message as it files through the usual teenage concern. “Before I Fall” isn’t stunning, but that it works at all is kind of miraculous, treating its characters with dignity and taking their hidden concerns seriously. Read the rest at

Film Review - Table 19

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Director Jeffrey Blitz hasn’t made a feature film in a decade, and there’s a very good reason why. “Table 19” is his first big screen effort since 2007’s “Rocket Science,” and it’s an attempt to get his helming groove back after years in television, put in command of a screenplay co-conceived by indie golden boys, Jay and Mark Duplass. An overstuffed, undernourished attempt to turn a wedding reception into an intimate character study, “Table 19” isn’t funny and it certainly isn’t profound, stuck in neutral with deeply disturbing, virtually unexplained characterizations and random editing, helping to repeatedly disrupt what initially appears to be a farce, but soon reaches clumsily for something deeper. Blitz is lost here, flailing with terrible scenes, trying to make something meaningful stick with stillborn material and a dead-eyed cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - Catfight


There are days when one desires thoughtful, refined cinema, and there are days when one craves a movie where star Anne Heche and Sandra Oh beat the stuffing out of each other for 90 minutes. “Catfight” is the latest from ultra-indie director Onur Tukel, who’s inching his way into the mainstream sunlight, but doing so with his sense of humor fully intact. While the feature does present the visual of the two actresses locked in brutal combat, working each other over with fists, hammers, and wrenches, “Catfight” is also a reasonably sharp satire of motherhood, politics, and the art world, with Tukel putting in an effort to beef up his picture with satisfying, sly characterization. The film is also frequently hilarious, delivering bellylaughs to go with broken faces, keeping the bizarre endeavor wonderfully entertaining.  Read the rest at

Film Review - I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore


Actor Macon Blair made quite a favorable impression in 2014’s “Blue Ruin,” embodying a weary level of rage in Jeremy Saulnier’s outstanding revenge thriller. Blair returned to Saulnier country in last year’s stunner, “Green Room,” making something out of a supporting role. Now taking charge of his own filmmaking destiny, Blair graduates to the director’s chair for “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” which shares DNA with Saulnier’s work, but follows its own direction of quirk and violence. The feature is amusing, but also astute in its understanding of depression and loneliness, with Blair (who also scripts) trying to turn everyday malaise into a foundation for thriller-style developments with a collection of oddballs and vicious criminals. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Laugh


As most professionals involved in comedy like to remind civilians outside the industry: there are no taboos when it comes to funny business. A comedian should have the right to roam wherever their instincts lead them, touching on the worst elements of life in a way that brightens assured darkness. “The Last Laugh” is a documentary that explores the nature of envelope-pushing and how there actually is a topic that causes most comedians to pause: The Holocaust. From Mel Brooks to “Life is Beautiful,” director Ferne Pearlstein delves into the limits of joke construction, interviewing bright stars and educated people, working to understand how anyone could make The Holocaust funny, along with other world events that trigger immediate heartache. Read the rest at

Film Review - Land of Mine


It’s impressive that filmmakers continue to find fresh areas of World War II to explore, moving beyond simple Allied heroism to discover harrowing trials of moral code and survival from unexpected sources. “Land of Mine” offers viewers a piece of history from Denmark, picking up the story right as the world was picking up the pieces after years of senseless destruction masterminded by German forces. It’s a tale of punishment and understanding, but “Land of Mine” provides plenty of suspense as well, albeit the gut-punch kind that typically shadows a specific challenge of macabre endurance. Writer/director Martin Zandvliet isn’t above a few unnecessarily manipulative moments, but he handles intense drama with confidence, delivering a WWII saga that’s engrossing and harrowing, adding another piece to the puzzle of wartime anguish and rehabilitation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kedi


Director Ceyda Torun set out to make a documentary on cats, but ended up with something slightly more soulful after time with the knee-high stars of the movie. “Kedi” is a study of the feline population in Istanbul, where the creatures largely roam free, carrying on with their lives with and without help from the local human population. Perhaps trying to avoid a dry viewing experience dependent on wily cat behavior to fill 75 minutes, Torun looks at the bigger picture of interaction, with the animals acting as therapy for the community, offering unique terms of companionship that bring joy and purpose to those in need of something to care for or simply pet on occasion. “Kedi” is simple, but it finds a tone of kindness that’s special and endearing while still offering all the feline behaviors a “Cat Fancy” subscriber could love. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wolves


It hasn’t been an easy ride for director Bart Freundlich. After making a splash with his debut feature, 1997’s “The Myth of Fingerprints,” the helmer failed to build on his buzz, instead painting himself into a career corner with mainstream flops such as 2004’s “Catch That Kid” and 2009’s “The Rebound,” losing indie cred and professional opportunity over the last two decades. With “Wolves,” Freundlich attempts to merge his love of crowd-pleasing storytelling with art house emotion, making a team sports picture about individuality, digging below surface antics of a dysfunctional family struggling with a monetary nightmare to preserve character, taking his time massaging anxieties and betrayals out of the gifted cast. “Wolves” handles itself like a distant cousin to 1979’s “Breaking Away,” with Freundlich aware of moviegoer needs, yet he offers engrossing dramatic depth to make sure the effort is more than a series of coming-of-age clichés. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lavender


In 2013, director Ed Gass-Donnelly faced an unwinnable situation when he was hired to helm “The Last Exorcism: Part II,” a sequel nobody asked for to a movie that wasn’t beloved. Attacking the material from a slightly different direction, Gass-Donnelly did as good a job as possible, laboring to revive depleted creative batteries while testing the limitations of studio work. Box office wasn’t kind, but Gass-Donnelly is back to scary stuff with “Lavender,” a semi-ghost story that permits him more room to show off his abilities, taking on creepy houses and fractured memories with stabs at style and thick genre mood. “Lavender” is familiar in many ways, which serves the production well for the most part, but it’s not always a tasteful film, eventually making positive accomplishments difficult to track by the third act. Read the rest at

Film Review - Collide


Director Eran Creevy is looking to achieve a big screen rush. He attempted something aggressive a few years back with “Welcome to the Punch,” which brought in respectable actors (James McAvoy and pre-“Brothers Grimsby” Mark Strong) to make a genre film. It didn’t quite connect as intended, so Creevy is trying again. With “Collide,” the helmer returns to interesting, perhaps unexpected casting and picks up a co-producer in Joel Silver, the former king of 1980s action pictures. Striving to replicate an adrenaline rush with this mix of a heist feature and “The Fast and the Furious,” Creevy puts his faith in speeding cars and loose logic, hoping to deliver passable escapism with “Collide,” which, if you squint hard enough and hop on one foot, is actually an entertaining B-movie, delivering some agreeably frantic moments in a European setting, coming up with the basics in chases and intimidation to please paying audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Get Out


Jordan Peele is primarily known for funny business. After last year’s “Keanu,” perhaps there’s no recent evidence of it, but Peele is best known as half of “Key & Peele,” which became a popular sketch show for Comedy Central after debuting in 2012. While former partner Keegan-Michael Key is out there taking every role that comes his way, Peele has remained choosy, focusing on building a directorial career. Like many first-time helmers, Peele has selected the horror genre to introduce himself to audiences, but “Get Out” isn’t your typical shocker. It’s a far more sinister and slapstick, combining a real love of chillers with racial commentary and broad jesting. Peele is laboring to make an audience-pleasing nightmare with “Get Out,” and it’s a successful endeavor, but not overwhelmingly so, with iffy taste and timing of humor disturbing the hypnotic spell it’s itching to cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - XX

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The mission powering “XX” is the opportunity to celebrate female empowerment in an industry that doesn’t welcome many women. And what better way to examine this point of view than through grisly, darkly comedic horror shorts collected in an off-beat anthology film. The production isn’t about consistency, it’s about demonstration, offering directors Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Karyn Kusama an opportunity to share their love for the macabre and the grisly, constructing four stories from women about women starring women. The idea is provocative and the genre fertile, but “XX” only gets halfway there in terms of overall satisfaction, maintaining traditional unevenness with omnibus storytelling, never quite reaching greatness despite its potential to do something different and daring. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drifter


Co-writer/director Chris von Hoffmann attempts to replicate the Rob Zombie experience with “Drifter,” though it’s a futile quest, as Zombie is a singular weirdo with specific tastes in exploitation entertainment, backwoods horror, and gritty style. To try and mimic a formula that not even its creator understands seems foolish, but von Hoffmann doesn’t seems to mind, launching a moody chiller about travelers accidentally entering dangerous terrain, coming face to face with displays of highly theatrical madness. “Drifter” has style and attention to composition, but it never inspires a reaction to any of the horrors the production submits. It’s a dry bite of cannibalistic terror in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and a film that feels like it lasts for three years, despite kinetic plot elements. The helmer tries to disturb his audience, but he’s better at putting them to sleep. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bitter Harvest


The timing of the “Bitter Harvest” production and now theatrical release isn’t accidental. The picture was shot at during the early stages of 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, giving the producers a boost in importance for this historical drama. Although the movie concerns the misery of The Holodomor, where millions of Ukrainians died via Soviet-ordered starvation during the early 1930s, “Bitter Harvest” also strives to be a reminder of cultural perseverance under Russian rule, submitting a tale of survival and resistance that hopes to inspire others into action. Passion is mighty in the movie, but it’s also a painfully melodramatic take on world events, working to welcome audiences into bleak territory through a romantic tale of lost lovers, and the fantasy doesn’t mesh with reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lost Cat Corona


New York City attitude provides the backdrop to “Lost Cat Corona,” which visits various levels of hardness as one man embarks on an odyssey to find a missing feline. Writer/director Anthony Tarsitano brings in a plethora of familiar faces to help populate this dramedy, wisely trusting the value of character actors to give the picture a deeper feeling, while these seasoned performers also know what to do with mildly comedic moments. There’s nothing particularly urgent about “Lost Cat Corona,” and its aimlessness isn’t always appealing. However, Tarsitano aims to explore certain areas of masculinity in his screenplay, giving the effort unexpected meaning, which helps to balance out the movie’s less than thrilling stretches of NYC irritability. Read the rest at

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