Film Review

Film Review - Going in Style


With a cast that includes Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, it’s impossible for “Going in Style” to go wrong. But director Zach Braff comes close. A remake of a 1979 Martin Breast comedy that starred George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, “Going in Style” has retained its pain of aging, but updates the world around these cantankerous senior citizens, with the new take focusing on the injustices of the American banking system, and how such cruelty has become casual, even legal. While boasting a screenplay by Theodore Melfi (who recently helmed “Hidden Figures”) and the sheer charisma of its leading men, who deliver feisty performances, Braff keeps the sunshine bright in what was originally a somewhat bleak endeavor. With its edges sanded off, the movie is reduced to pure entertainment, and that’s a creative challenge Braff periodically bungles. Read the rest at

Film Review - Queen of the Desert


In a case of weird timing, “Queen of the Desert” is actually the second Werner Herzog film released this week. In “Salt and Fire,” Herzog plays to his interests in art-house investigation, using strange rhythms and gorgeous cinematography to explore human oddity and environmental ache. In “Queen of the Desert,” the writer/director tries to pull off a more mainstream viewing experience, leading with romance and cinematic sweep as he dramatizes the life and times of English writer Gertrude Bell. Utilizing a larger budget and working with an eclectic cast, Herzog has the right idea here, following in David Lean’s footsteps as the saga touches on cultural shifts and adventurer solitude. What’s lacking from the picture is focus, often caught lingering on the love life of a woman who achieved and experienced far more than attention from multiple suitors.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mine


In an unusual development, “Mine” is the second European production about the threat of landmines to hit U.S. shores in 2017. Denmark’s “Land of Mine” brought its share of intensity and horror as it visited the terrors of World War II to inspire its take on the omnipresent threat of buried explosives. Italy’s “Mine” doesn’t have the same regality, but it does have a lead turn from Armie Hammer, the America star of “The Lone Ranger,” “The Social Network,” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Hammer is the big draw for the movie, which largely rests on his ability to fill 100 minutes of screen time with varying degrees of suffering, confusion, and enlightenment, remaining the sole focus of the effort. It’s a hard work for Hammer, who’s trapped in feature-length effort that should’ve been a short film instead, with directors Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro failing to come up with enough substance to keep the film compelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Assignment


Director Walter Hill has shared his love of B-movies throughout his career, only tripping over himself when trying to bring his scrappy sensibilities to blockbuster entertainment. His fondness for westerns and cold-blooded violence is reheated for “The Assignment,” which embraces hitman formula while giving the picture a strange twist on the killing machine routine, playing broadly with changes in gender and time. I’m sure Hill had a blast putting the film together, and there’s a palpable sense of mischief at work to lubricate the body count. However, while “The Assignment” is nonsense, it’s not especially interesting nonsense, watching Hill flounder as he tries to make a potentially distasteful premise into a graphic novel-inspired romp that’s miscast and entirely free of suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Salt and Fire


It was established a long time ago that writer/director Werner Herzog exists on his own planet of filmmaking interests. Never one to follow trends or structure, Herzog has been focusing on documentaries over the last decade, with the occasional narrative-driven feature popping into view. “Salt and Fire” appears to be an ultimate combination of the helmer’s love of drama and the natural world, crafting an intimate study of two people trying to figure each other out as the end of the world begins to take shape. “Salt and Fire” isn’t a disaster movie, but Herzog has his urgencies to share with ticket-buyers, once again employing his special brand of idiosyncrasy to relive the picture of the expected. Perhaps the endeavor doesn’t stitch together as cleanly as it could, but it’s always 100% Herzog. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Discovery


In terms of going for the Big Idea, “The Discovery” swings for the fences. The screenplay by Justin Lader and Charlie McDowell (who also directs) takes a look at the afterlife, not as an abstract concept constructed by religious ideology, but a very real place -- a plane of existence that one man has discovered and the world is stampeding to get there. There hasn’t been a movie like this in quite some time, giving the production a chance to create something profound, unsettling, and downright brave, while still handling a sci-fi concept that wouldn’t be out of place during the dystopia gold rush of the 1970s. And, for at least half the run time, it feels like writers are on to something amazing. Cruelly, “The Discovery” doesn’t follow through on its initial promise, eventually losing its nerve to challenge and amaze, soon relying on the indie film playbook to connect the dots, which is an impossible task when dealing with life after death. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bethany


“Bethany” is a horror film, and while it’s filled with blood and ghoulish images, its most shocking visual is the casting of Tom Green in a supporting role. The habitual prankster and comedian who shot to fame in the 1990s, Green is normally associated with broad antics and extreme repetition, exploring the limits of anti-comedy, and then going beyond them for indulgent emphasis. However, Green plays it mostly straight in “Bethany,” which strives to execute a macabre ghost story featuring a haunted house and a tortured soul. Thankfully, there’s more to the effort than Green, who’s an odd presence in an otherwise mildly effective B-movie, with co-writer/director James Cullen Bressack cooking up a proper chiller after an extended introduction. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Ticket


Co-writer/director Ido Fluk doesn’t have an original idea with “The Ticket,” but the chance to work with metaphor and biblical despair inspires him to approach the material with emphasis on its visual presentation. It’s a movie that doesn’t even open with a focused image for its first five minutes, introducing a world partially inhabited by the blind with a sensorial immersion that sets the mood for the rest of the feature. “The Ticket” isn’t wholly successful with storytelling essentials, and surprises are few and far between in the picture, but Fluk is good with his cast, getting the effort into all the uncomfortable corners of temptation its hunting for, achieving dramatic goals through living, breathing performances and an unusual appreciation for some aspects of the sightless world. Read the rest at

Film Review - In Search of Israeli Cuisine


Food has become a popular subject for documentarians in recent years, lavishing attention on the power of cuisine (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “Spinning Plates”) and its poisonous possibilities (“Fed Up”). Food remains a powerful mystery to many, inspiring filmmakers to travel to its source, to decode what defines regional tastes, showcasing a tour of artistry and delicacy along the way. For writer/director Roger Sherman, Israel provides a particular challenge of interpretation, spotlighting a country where influence from surrounding areas and personal histories has built local flavor. To help guide this odyssey into food and culture, “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” brings in restaurateur/chef Michael Solomonov, who grew up in Israel, eternally curious about his homeland’s inhabitants and their varied interpretations of food and family. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ghost in the Shell


The drive to bring “Ghost to the Shell” to the screen isn’t perplexing. What began life as a manga series graduated to a respected animated film adaptation in 1995, which launched its own universe of sequels and reimaginings. It’s juicy fantasyland material with velvety sci-fi edges, making it catnip for a director who’s skilled at bringing out rich futureworld detail to help backdrop an intimate saga of identity. Sadly, the producers landed on Rupert Sanders, a visual wizard but a storytelling snoozer, who’s already displayed his allergy to cinematic momentum in 2012’s inexplicably successful “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Sanders delivers urban sweep with “Ghost in the Shell,” and his command of design elements is appreciable. However, the feature is a leaden, bizarrely uneventful blockbuster that’s heavy with CGI and light on dramatic content, attempting to dazzle instead of engage, leaving it all cold to the touch. Read the rest at

Film Review - All Nighter


It’s strange that “All Nighter” has very limited interest in becoming a farce when it has all the ingredients to do so. Director Gavin Wiesen plays the feature carefully, almost fearful of allowing it to snowball into a series of crazy encounters in different locations, instead trying to find the truth in scenes that demand insanity. It’s not an especially effective movie, with “All Nighter” rarely making time to form its own personality as it plays up Long Night formula. Wiesen and screenwriter Seth W. Owen have the concept of clue gathering and charged interactions for their askew detective tale, but the picture desires to be funny, and it’s never that. It’s flat work crying out for more inventive leadership. Read the rest at

Film Review - Peelers


There have been a few attempts to detail horror insanity occurring inside a strip club. “From Dusk Till Dawn” is perhaps the most famous example of the breasts-and-blood formula, while “Zombies vs. Strippers” is the more memorably titled endeavor. “Peelers” is a latest addition to the subgenre, and there’s a clear desire to deliver a goopy, icky chiller that’s capable of delivering overwhelming gore while still remaining comedic enough to sustain a B-movie mood. Director Seve Schelez has exploitation interests, and “Peelers” has the right idea for R-rated entertainment, but what begins as something silly, populated with oddball characters, eventually becomes deadly serious, which is a strange tonal direction for a picture that features an extended scene of an exotic dancer spraying urine on her customers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Here Alone


It’s a big, dark world out there, and screenwriter David Ebeltoft and director Rod Blackhurst are going to make viewers feel every last second of suffering and solitude. “Here Alone” has the unenviable task of coexisting in a world where “The Walking Dead” is the biggest show on television, bravely submitting yet another post-apocalyptic depiction of a world overrun with zombies and populated with anguished people making difficult, soul-flattening choices during their trials of survival. There are a few other movies the production pinches from, yet all this familiarity doesn’t translate to comfort, with “Here Alone” a slog to get through, content to reach a level of stillness which is supposed to translate into profundity, but it merely remains stillness. An action spectacle isn’t expected here, but Blackhurst’s allergic reaction to pace and dramatic discovery is often painful to sit through. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Boss Baby


“The Boss Baby” presents a literary adaptation challenge not unlike ones found in “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express,” where the filmmakers are tasked with producing 90 minutes of entertainment based on 20 pages of text and illustration. Author Marla Frazee’s 2010 creation was a witty take on the early toddler years and the power of first words. The movie version of “The Boss Baby” is an elaborate fantasy involving magical formulas, alternate worlds, chases, and Elvis impersonators. Much has been change to give the feature something to do, and while screenwriter Michael McCullers gives it his best shot, one can actually feel the strain of the production as it dreams up something to do with a thin concept, throwing anything at the screen to see what sticks. Read the rest at

Film Review - Life


It’s uncomfortable timing to have “Life” debut in the same year as the prequel “Alien: Covenant,” as it takes a remarkable amount of mojo from Ridley Scott’s original 1979 “Alien” creation. It doesn’t simply pinch outer space horror, but creature motivation, claustrophobic spaces, and combative characters. Helping to separate the picture from its obvious inspiration is a tone of real-world space exploration, combining a NASA procedural adventure with a grisly horror event, keeping director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House,” “Child 44”) busy managing intricate science and engineering and the essentials in haunted house terror, crafting an initially suspenseful chiller that effectively introduces a threat from Mars, organically figuring out a way to unleash it on the crew. The rest of “Life” doesn’t share the same excitement for deadly encounters, quickly finding a groove where it can rest with repetitive scenes of survival and rumination. Read the rest at

Film Review - Power Rangers


The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise has always been a bit bewildering. There's clearly a huge fan base for the brand, but numerous television shows and previous attempts to bring the series to the big screen have already been aimed at a younger audience, with children delighting in the mix of sci-fi fantasy and cartoonish action, much the dismay of parents forced to endure constant living room recreations. To help the saga reach a new level of popularity, “Power Rangers” is a reimagining of the source material, butching it up for a PG-13 audience used to a little more grit than stuntmen in primary colored suits battling rubber monsters typically provides. Trying to compete with all the superhero extravaganzas out in the marketplace today, “Power Rangers” goes big with emotional reach and visual effects, with director Dean Israelite (“Project Almanac”) fighting to make something substantial out of weekday afternoon entertainment. He doesn't quite pull off a spinning, high-kicking triumph, spending so much time establishing the heroes that they barely have time to be heroes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wilson


“Wilson” has trouble with translation. The film is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, best known for his work on “Ghost World.” Paying tribute to Charles Schultz and his “Peanuts” comic strip origins, Clowes created a book of one-page adventures for his misanthropic hero, keeping Wilson a contradiction of self-awareness and actual behavior, finding darkly comic wonder in his daily life. Bringing that specific tone to the big screen proves too difficult for Clowes, with cinematic construction and emotional throughlines demanding more consistency than what this picture is willing to give. While boosted by terrific leading performances from Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern, “Wilson” is fatigued quickly, working very hard to sell an atmosphere of illness that, while insistent, isn’t all that compelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - CHiPs


Someone, somewhere gave piles of money to writer/director/star Dax Shepard to make a film version of “CHiPs,” a late 1970s television show that’s mostly known today for its ridiculous episode on the Los Angeles punk rock scene and for being the program that featured Chris Pine’s father, Robert. Not just taking a cue, but the entire approach of the Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill “21 Jump Street” adaptation, “CHiPs” aims to be violent, irreverent, and comically casual, working very hard to appear effortlessly crude. What Shepard actually achieves here is an oppressive viewing experience that’s shockingly light on action and stunts and abysmal with funny business, missing the experience of the original show to be just another riff-heavy stinker that mistakes moronic shock value for cleverness. Read the rest at

Film Review - T2 Trainspotting


21 years ago, “Trainspotting” arrived in America. Depicting a heroin hell populated with Scotland’s worst, the picture became a cult hit, reaching a generation that demanded their own story of self-destruction, sold with extreme style by director Danny Boyle and soaked in sneering mockery by screenwriter John Hodge (adapting the book by Irvine Welsh). Two decades later, “Trainspotting 2” has materialized (the actual title is “T2 Trainspotting,” but, come on, there’s only one “T2,” and it’s not a Danny Boyle movie), and it wisely doesn’t try to compete with what’s come before. Building on the idea of lost years and wayward lives, “Trainspotting 2” manages to be a deeper, more meaningful chapter in this brain-scrambled saga, enjoying the rush of nostalgia and renewed danger as it deals with a crisis that’s more universal than substance abuse: aging. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prevenge


Alice Lowe has amassed a substantial amount of credits as a character actress, making brief appearances in “The World’s End,” “Locke,” and “Paddington.” Her most substantial screen role was found in “Sightseers,” a wonderful dark comedy from director Ben Wheatley, who showed uncharacteristic focus and made the most of Lowe’s screen presence. Taking command of her professional future, Lowe makes her directorial debut with “Prevenge,” also scripting herself a prime role in a slasher film that’s more about the anxieties of motherhood than the piling of dead bodies. Crafted with wit, terrific performances, and some unexpected trips into the gore zone, “Prevenge” is striking work from Lowe, who not only understands the constant concerns that swirl around the journey of pregnancy, but she’s good with violence as well, keeping the feature suspenseful when it isn’t refreshingly insightful. Read the rest at