Film Review - The Mountain Between Us


There has to be a reason why fine actors such as Kate Winslet and Idris Elba were drawn to “The Mountain Between Us.” There’s no professional challenge to the project, which tonally resembles a Lifetime Movie, presenting the stars with a tale of unexpected love emerging from a traumatizing survival challenge. Director Hany Abu-Assad has done fine work before, with “Paradise Now” and “Omar,” but he’s wrapped up in the nothingness of the picture as well, pretending that the sudsy elements of the screenplay (an adaptation of a 2011 novel by Charles Martin) are soulfully meaningful. “The Mountain Between Us” is a silly feature, but there’s no sense of such awareness from the production team, who plow ahead with a tedious, shallow soap opera that wastes the time of everyone involved. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blade Runner 2049


1982’s “Blade Runner” started off life as a box office disappointment in a particularly lively summer release season. Its reputation and influence developed radically over the decades, taking the Ridley Scott film on a wild ride of reappraisal and celebration, building a protective fandom who championed the construction of multiple cuts and numerous home video releases. Keeping up with trends of the day, there’s now a sequel, released 35 years after the original picture, hoping to give the faithful the cathedral tour they’ve been requesting for the decades now. The good news is that “Blade Runner 2049” is a sensational movie, loaded with outstanding technical accomplishments and revelatory performances. Even better, the follow-up manages to line up with the pure cinematic glow of the Scott endeavor, with helmer Denis Villeneuve paying careful attention to homage and narrative extension as he attempts to pull off what’s long been considered to be an impossible task. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Gerald's Game


After a rocky start this year, Stephen King adaptations are having a thrilling autumn. After the shocking success of the recent “It,” which has gone on to break box office records and rescue a grim moviegoing year, “Gerald’s Game” arrives on the scene. It’s a smaller production than “It,” but just as twisted, with an endless appetite for the macabre and the grisly, bringing King’s vivid imagination to the screen, seemingly unmolested by outside interference. After scoring creative hits with “Hush” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” co-writer/director Mike Flanagan returns to his horror interests with this wicked tale of imprisonment, refusing to let the smallness of the story get in the way of its potential to unsettle. “Gerald’s Game” is not a slam-bang genre exercise, but a slow descent into psychological depths, keeping Flanagan busy as he attempts to visualize a tale that largely takes place inside one panicked woman’s mind.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Barracuda


“Barracuda” is a homecoming tale in a way, opening as a story of a reunion between sisters before it develops into so much more. It’s set in Austin, Texas, and keeping the film sufficiently weird are directors Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin, who invest in a slow-burn sensation of discovery, asking audiences to be patient with a movie that gradually evolves from a relationship saga to a horror endeavor, but not in an obvious, blood-and-guts way. “Barracuda” is sinister stuff, smartly conceived and executed by the helmers, who conjure darkness without announcing it, using the power of folk music to disarm viewers while the characters are carefully positioned for more macabre, distressed reveals. It starts small, but the picture escalates magnificently.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One


Co-writer/director Shane Abbess has something planned with “The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One.” He’s attempting to go big with a sci-fi epic, but doesn’t have the necessary funds to truly indulge his franchise fantasies, requiring not just invention, but complete confidence to piece together an homage to B-movie escapism without a major push of financial comfort. Abbess doesn’t iron out all the kinks, but “The Osiris Child” is an engaging actioner with some striking visuals and a tireless need to entertain, making something about of next to nothing. The production hopes to disrupt expectations with a non-linear storytelling approach, mixing things up dramatically, but the picture comes through with periodic clarity, with urgent performances, appealing visual effects, and a sense of genre love coming together to create an energetic, pulpy feature, with Abbess succeeding where many other have tried and failed.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The King's Choice


The endlessly unfolding saga of World War II on the big screen takes a visit to Norway for “The King’s Choice.” It’s a historical film, detailing the plight of King Haakon VII as he confronts growing Nazi interests in his country, forced to deal with the encroaching threat when it finally reaches his front door. It’s a story of contemplation and debate, with periodic bursts of warfare, but director Erik Poppe isn’t entirely interested in detailing the visceral elements of combat. He’s made a theater piece in a way, concentrating on verbal jousting and acts of intimidation as Norway faces a German future. Poppe crafts a talky picture, but also a compelling one, understanding the internal unrest of a man who’s trained to be a royal ornament, only to find himself with a direct opinion on the arrival of an enigmatic enemy.  Read the rest at

Film Review - My Little Pony: The Movie


31 years ago, there was the first “My Little Pony” feature, created to cash in on the surprising success of the Hasbro toy line, giving fans a long-form version of the thing they love, expanding the world and the potential of the brand name. After a long breather from the multiplex, Hasbro returns with “My Little Pony: The Movie,” which is meant to amplify the very strange but sincere success of the “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” universe, which helped to make magical ponies relevant again and spawned an intriguing subculture hauntingly known as “Bronies.” “My Little Pony: The Movie” doesn’t generate an epic march for its big screen graduation, but it tries to open the world up in smaller ways, bringing in a hero’s journey plot and celebrity voicing to reach beyond the core demographic and offer family audiences something colorful, empowering, and semi-silly to enjoy together.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Walking Out


“Walking Out” takes viewers deep into the wilds of Montana to experience a particularly harsh survival challenge for a father and son on a hunting trip. It doesn’t shy away from formula when it comes to analyzing the pain of men unable to communicate properly while enduring difficult challenges together. You’ve seen this type of story before, but what “Walking Out” offers are beautiful locations and a more precise understanding of paternal influence, using generational woes to deepen the feature. Directors Alex and Andrew J. Smith are determined to generate atmosphere during the picture, but there’s not much going on with the lead characters besides pressure points of masculinity and physical endurance, leaving the effort a bit lacking in the drama department, even with a few terrific scenes to hold the movie together.  Read the rest at

Film Review - So B. It


The strangely titled “So B. It” is an adaptation of a 2004 novel by Sarah Weeks, and perhaps it should’ve remained in literary form. Despite its classification as a children’s book, the material covers difficult emotional ground, putting the protagonist through the wringer as she claims independence and searches for the truth behind her family history. Sent in to tame the writing is director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Gary Williams, who try to create a warm glaze to pour over frightfully abrasive interactions, doing their duty to make the picture approachable for a wide audience. Unfortunately, “So B. It” is stunningly unpleasant, asking viewers to endure scenes of hysteria and loss that are almost impossible to process in a loose 90 minute run time. The feature aims to be a tearjerker and something of a mystery, but it misses a sense of settled discovery and catharsis by a country mile.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Cold Moon


“Cold Moon” is being advertised as the latest work from the man who co-wrote “Beetlejuice,” and that’s an accurate claim, as Michael McDowell wrote the original 1980 novel that’s inspired the new film. And that’s pretty much it for connective tissue to the Tim Burton classic. While “Cold Moon” does deal with the horrors of the afterlife, it does so with a sobering haunting, far from any comedic promises the marketing makes. Co-writer/director Griff Furst has an interesting challenge with McDowell’s material, striving to keep the more sellable elements of the picture alive while the story slowly creeps away from nightmarish violence and demented characters. It’s more Florida Gothic than “Beetlejuice,” so buyer beware.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Son of the Pink Panther


If there was anyone capable of doing something with a shot at becoming the next Inspector Clouseau, it's Roberto Benigni. While he wasn't a household name in the U.S. in 1993, Benigni was making his way to global recognition with films like "Johnny Stecchino," "Down by Law," and "Night on Earth," earning raves for his special sense of humor, with emphasis on slapstick. That co-writer/director Blake Edwards cast Benigni in "The Son of the Pink Panther," his second attempt to revive a dead franchise, is not a surprise. What is amazing about the production is how little comedy it gives its star, who's often out there on his own, working to make weak jokes work with help from his special way with broken English and physical endurance, hoping to live up to Peter Sellers standards with his take on Clouseau-ian tomfoolery. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Curse of the Pink Panther


By 1983, the "Pink Panther" franchise was big business for co-writer/director Blake Edwards, who was eventually stuck without his all-important star after the death of Peter Sellers in 1980. Edwards wasn't ready to slaughter the golden goose, concocting a "tribute" with 1982's "The Trail of the Pink Panther," which utilized old footage to resurrect Sellers for one final victory lap as Inspector Clouseau. Edward waltzed into reboot territory with "The Curse of the Pink Panther," which debuted less than a year later, submitting a new bumbling detective in Sleigh, played by Ted Wass. Trying to keep the heart pumping on a dying series, Edwards bends over backwards to make "Curse of the Pink Panther" work, but all it takes is two minutes of Wass in the starring role to understand how badly miscalculated the refreshing is, stumbling through old jokes with man who just doesn't possess the proper insanity to carry the brand name forward.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Inspector Clouseau


After collaborating on 1963's "The Pink Panther" and 1964's "A Shot in the Dark," director Blake Edwards and star Peter Sellers were interested in taking a break, moving on to different creative endeavors, switching their attention to 1968's "The Party." Producer Walter Mirisch had other plans, determined to bring back Sellers's bumbling detective Inspector Clouseau even if he couldn't persuade Sellers to return to the job. Enter Alan Arkin, who takes over the role for "Inspector Clouseau," with the respected and practiced actor tasked with replicating Sellers in many ways to sustain the franchise, which was growing in popularity with audiences. However, as talented as Arkin is, he does have his thespian limitations, and imitating Sellers-as-Clouseau is one of them.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - One Dark Night


"One Dark Night" is a horror film originally released in 1983. It is not R-rated. During a time when nearly every genre picture was trying to be the most gore-rific, angriest production around, this little movie plays it relatively calm, joining the likes of "Poltergeist" as a chiller that's mostly chill, only raising hell periodically. It's the first feature from co-writer/director Tom McLoughlin, who would go on to rated R shenanigans with 1986's "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives," but here, in his debut, he hopes to channel the world of Roger Corman, trying to create something creepy with a limited budget, setting the effort inside a single location for most of the run time. "One Dark Night" takes an eternity to get where it needs to go, but it's worth the wait, finding McLoughlin inventive with escalation, getting in a few genuinely eerie moments along the way.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Heli


Cartel violence in Mexico is vividly rendered in 2013's "Heli," which takes elements of violence fairly far to make a point about the brutality of gangs and corrupt law enforcement. Co-writer/director Amat Escalante has a vision for his feature, playing it spare to emphasize unease, working to understand the plight of the impoverished and emasculated in Mexico, under siege from all sides, but when does example become excess? It's a fine line "Heli" has trouble walking, often caught enjoying its horrors instead of using them to make a larger point about menace in the middle of nowhere. Read the rest at

Film Review - Flatliners (2017)


Say what you will about the career of director Joel Schumacher, but in the midst of creating overcooked garbage over the years, he managed to manufacture a few gems as well. 1990’s “Flatliners” is one of them, yanking viewers into the pulse-racing fantasy of medical students testing the boundaries of death to discover life’s secrets, only to be confronted with their own vast reservoirs of guilt and shame. Drenched in color, twitchily performed, and committed to a special spooky mood, Schumacher was firing on all cylinders 27 years ago, crafting a mighty offering of youth-market entertainment. Why the need to remake the feature in 2017 isn’t completely understood, but one wonders if screenwriter Ben Ripley (“Species III”) even watched the original picture, as his reworking of the story rudely sheds the ethical and moral urgency of the 1990 movie, more interested in drafting a simplistic horror endeavor with paper-thin characterizations and deadly dialogue.  Read the rest at

Film Review - American Made


There have been many movies like “American Made,” which details the life and times of a simple man who stumbled into a criminal empire, amassing a fortune he can’t handle during a politically turbulent period of time. Ted Demme’s “Blow” employed a similar formula of wish-fulfillment screenwriting while exploring addictive, destructive behavior. However, other productions aren’t directed by Doug Liman and star Tom Cruise, who reunite after their creative success with “Edge of Tomorrow,” focusing on a much more human tale of bad ideas lubricated by greed and hubris. “American Made” is rendered loose and funky by Liman, who offers his signature hustle to a familiar story, directing the heck out of the picture, which provides irresistible energy and a strange saga of corruption, while Cruise is simply a force of nature, delivering one of the best performances of his career.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Battle of the Sexes


Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton don’t work very often, but when they do decide to make a movie, it’s always been something worth paying attention to. The “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Ruby Sparks” helmers return with “Battle of the Sexes,” which dramatizes the famous 1973 tennis match between 29-year-old Billie Jean King and 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, with both sides playing for the glory and dignity of their gender on national television. It was a publicity circus meant to playfully poke at period resentments during the era of the Women’s Liberation Movement, but Dayton and Faris aren’t interested in manufacturing a straight recreation of the match. They, along with screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, cut deeper, studying the tentative lives of the players as they struggle with domestic issues and, for King, burgeoning sexuality during a rocket ride to nationwide fame. True to form, the pair treat the subject with care, and make a stirring, colorful, and amusing effort, finding different ways to approach an oft-told tale.   Read the rest at

Film Review - Different Flowers


The bond of sisterhood is examined in “Different Flowers,” which begins as a runaway bride tale and evolves into a pleasant understanding of personal freedom. Making her feature-length directing debut is Morgan Dameron (also scripting), who graduates to a larger canvas after working in shorts and television (also credited as J.J. Abrams’s assistant on multiple movies), using what feels like an autobiographical take on sibling interaction, putting more emphasis on interplay than plot, giving the effort a loose, conversational mood with dabs of quirk. “Different Flowers” isn’t a radical creation out to redefine the screen potential of sibling rivalry, but as a quieter, kinder, and more emotionally knotted odyssey of clarity in the face of marital submission, there are a few ideas here on personal worth I’m sure a lot of viewers will relate to.   Read the rest at

Film Review - Realive


Writer/director Mateo Gil (“Blackthorn”) doesn’t make it easy for himself, creating a movie that asks the universal question: what does it mean to live? It’s not a topic that can be contained to a single feature, but Gil handles himself artistically with “Realive,” which endeavors to examine a living experience interrupted, introducing thoughts on existence that weave into a compelling sci-fi story about cryogenic stasis. Gil is curious about the subject, putting thought into his story of resurrection, finding interesting, emotional ways to inspect a fantasy topic, electing a mournful filmmaking approach to a tale that threatens to crumble at any moment. That “Realive” manages to sustain its fascinating ethical and existential questions throughout is impressive, never sacrificing the central mystery of a man out of time trying to make sense of everything he left behind.   Read the rest at