Film Review - Coming 2 America


After 33 years, Eddie Murphy is ready to party again. 1988’s “Coming to America” is largely regarded as the end of Murphy’s golden age, when the young comic stormed the box office charts with hit comedies, turning himself into industry royalty with the feature, which delivered his last major success for years. The triumph was earned, with Murphy taking producing and starring duties, looking to transform himself into a traditional leading man, challenged to set romantic moods while engineering absurdity with a fish out of water comedy that, while overlong, did the trick, turning Murphy into a defined actor. The star has been in a good mood in recent years (scoring big with 2019’s “Dolemite Is My Name”), so it only makes sense to have Murphy return as Prince Akeem, looking to generate a boisterous screen sequel with “Coming 2 America,” a long-awaited return to the world of Zamunda, which is facing a fresh crisis of royal leadership. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boogie


“Boogie” marks the directorial debut for Eddie Huang, who turned his autobiography, “Fresh Off the Boat,” into a phenomenally successful television series, and one lauded for its sensitive handling of humor and love for Asian culture. Huang remains interested in pursuing such coverage with “Boogie,” which explores the challenges facing a young basketball prodigy dealing with the demands of education, love, and his career prospects while managing expectations from his Chinese parents. While it deals with deep insecurities and complex family issues, Huang is more comfortable with crudeness, trying to engage a younger audience for the movie, which largely confronts adult issues. It’s a messy feature highlighting Huang’s inexperience behind the camera, often downplaying what works so well in his screenplay, leading to a frustrating viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boss Level


Co-writer/director Joe Carnahan has a made a living creating violent entertainment, endlessly fascinated by screen mayhem and meaty attitude, favoring tests of survival. With “Boss Level,” he’s aiming to summarize his storytelling interests, taking inspiration from video games to launch a time loop adventure that tracks one tough guy’s particularly busy day, dealing with a horde of assassins coming to murder him in gruesome ways. Much like his last helming endeavor, 2014’s “Stretch,” Carnahan finds the fun factor in pure excess, giving “Boss Level” an enjoyable level of mischief as it organizes multiple deaths and physical challenges. It’s not quite the hyperactive film it initially promises to be, but it moves, with the production clearly having a ball as it figures out ways to raise a little hell. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chaos Walking


Author Patrick Ness created a large sci-fi/fantasy world with his “Chaos Walking” trilogy of books. The YA offerings generated a sizable fanbase, and such financial attention typically inspires a call from Hollywood, a town that, despite repeated and costly failures, remains determined to transform every workable YA novel into a franchise for years-long milking. However, “Chaos Walking” isn’t material that lends itself to high adventure, wizard battles, or dystopian gamesmanship. It’s a more internalized, character-driven experience that’s handled roughly by the film adaptation, with the screenplay clearly struggling to make sense of material that worked for many on the page. Director Doug Liman is simply overwhelmed by the endeavor, wrestling with the expectations of the fanbase and the needs of those new to the world-building. “Chaos Walking” attempts to be something special and unique to the subgenre, but it doesn’t emerge with much authority, relying on generic ideas to simply find a way out of the complicated story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Keep an Eye Out


Writer/director Quentin Dupieux was recently seen on American screens with “Deerskin,” his ode to strange masculinity, insanity, and filmmaking. It was another creative success for the helmer, who enjoys the playfulness of absurdity, asking viewers to hang tight as he creates unusual dark comedies with deliberate pacing and plenty of surprises. Produced before “Deerskin,” “Keep an Eye Out” is a Dupieux offering finally making its way to the U.S., giving fans a chance to catch up with the creator’s oeuvre as he pursues a consistent moviemaking rhythm (he already has two features awaiting release). “Keep an Eye Out” is perhaps his most contained endeavor, largely taking place inside a police station, but it retains all the delightful mischief Dupieux is known for. He masterminds an especially long night of interrogation for a cop and a suspect, working with a limited space and budget superbly, conjuring a fascinating game of panic that triggers big laughs and a few gasps along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moxie


“Moxie” was a 2017 book by Jennifer Mathieu, presenting a story about a high school girl beginning to understand how females are actually treated in educational and social systems, rising up to do something about it by weaponizing a voice she never knew she had. The material gives a lot to screenwriters Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, who set out to define multiple characters and personal histories in just under two hours of screen time, also making sure the central message of revolution is preserved, but from a human perspective involving two generations of participants. The production mostly conquers the adaptation process, while director/co-star Amy Poehler gets the feature to a place of awareness and tenderness, as the material plays to her career interests in feminism and personality. “Moxie” has a lot to say about the state of emergency facing women, and it does so with considerable charm and focus, with the endeavor perfectly cast with emerging talent capable of communicating such adolescent frustration. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Salinger Year


The mystery of J.D. Salinger and his reclusive ways didn’t disappear with his death in 2010. In fact, such fascination may never go away, with the much-hyped 2013 documentary, “Salinger,” reinforcing the potency of his name, despite the film itself offering next to nothing of interest. While not a bio-pic, “My Salinger Year” returns to the world of the writer, with the production adapting Joanna Rakoff’s 2014 book about her time at a literary agency that represented Salinger, where the young poet was suddenly thrust into a world of obsessive fans and the author’s resistance to participate in the world around him. However, instead of a feature about Salinger, Rakoff’s work details her own life, with writer/director Philippe Falardeau (“Chuck,” “The Good Lie”) making a movie about a young woman embracing experience but also fearful of professional and personal stasis. Read the rest at

Film Review - Raya and the Last Dragon


For their latest production, Walt Disney Animation conjures a grand adventure with “Raya and the Last Dragon,” doing away with musical numbers to offer a more physical endeavor with multiple battles and ancient magic. The material remains mindful of the Disney Playbook, presenting light comedy and cute creatures along the way, but there’s more of a furrowed brow with the picture, which is directed by the unusual mix of Carlos Lopez Estrada (“Blindspotting”) and Don Hall, the gifted co-helmer of 2011’s “Winnie the Pooh,” “Big Hero 6,” and “Moana.” “Raya and the Last Dragon is in good hands, and while the team has a little trouble with funny business, the scope of the feature is remarkable, delivering a brilliantly animated odyssey across fantasy lands, with rich color and exact detail, giving family audiences a proper odyssey with an important message of hope in our increasingly divided world. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Devil Below


Bradley Parker is a visual effects supervisor who’s contributed to recent efforts such as “Ad Astra,” “Godzilla: King of the Monster,” and “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey,” helping the features deliver some impressive cinematic highlights. As a director, Parker made his debut with 2012’s “Chernobyl Diaries,” a crude, instantly forgettable endeavor that didn’t launch his helming career as imagined. It was a terrible film, and he follows it up with another weak offering of horror, with “The Devil Below” caught in a similar spin cycle of untested actors handed feeble dialogue while marching around an underlit location searching for trouble. There’s only one genuinely interesting development in “The Devil Below,” but it’s dismissed in the opening scene, leaving viewers to make it through a painfully talky picture that occasionally works up the energy to become a monster movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pixie


“Pixie” goes where many crime comedies have gone before. It’s not a particularly original offering from director Barnaby Thompson (“St. Trinian’s” and “St. Trinian’s 2”) and screenwriter Preston Thompson (“Kids in Love”), with the feature’s very Irishness meant to support the viewing experience, adding a bit of spunk to the routine of bad guys, more bad guys, and the two dimwits in the middle of a drug-dealing mess. The picture has its problems with character and storytelling, but it doesn’t tucker out, which is major success when dealing with this kind of extended familiarity. The helmer keeps the endeavor moving at a swift pace, encouraging the cast to go big, helping “Pixie” find its rhythm as a violent, comedic, somewhat stylish overview of Irish hostilities. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Adaptation


1999's "Being John Malkovich" turned everything around for screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Struggling to define his career in comedy and sitcoms, the feature managed to replicate his odd sense of humor and interest in strangeness. Mischievous director Spike Jonze was an ideal match for Kaufman's dented imagination, with the pair finding unexpected box office and awards show success with the endeavor, inspiring them to move forward with a second collaboration. 2002's "Adaptation" sheds some of the obvious oddity of "Being John Malkovich" to provide a more internalized take on Kaufman's specialized brain, trying a little harder to blend mind-bending storytelling with the writer's love of idiosyncrasy. Jonze calms himself down for the job, submitting his best work in "Adaptation," managing to protect the screenplay's leaps of time and perspective while securing its dark humor and puzzling pathos. He also makes Kaufman approachable, a rare feat, smoothing out incessant quirk to deliver a picture that revels in the writer's experience as it goes from impishness to alarm. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Motel Hell


1980's "Motel Hell" entered the box office race at a special time in horror history, trying to find an audience for the Halloween holiday after "Friday the 13th" managed to dominate the early summer, inspiring studios to scramble for similar low-budget endeavors. Writers Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe weren't looking to crank out yet another slasher offering with the picture, trying to infuse the material with as much humor as they could get away with, delivering a screen nightmare that's more about oddity than offing victims. Studio interests eventually tried to bend "Motel Hell" into a more generic direction, but the feature, while not really a laugh-out-loud viewing experience, is quite inventive in the ghoulishness department, representing a last gasp of storytelling eccentricity before the industry demanded nothing but "Friday the 13th" knockoffs. Read the rest at

Film Review - The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run


There was a lengthy gap in years between the first “SpongeBob SquarePants” feature in 2004, and its sequel, “Sponge Out of Water,” in 2015. It was a strange delay for a wildly popular franchise, and while creator Stephen Hillenburg passed away in 2018, producers aren’t interested in waiting long for a third chapter, with “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” making a relatively speedy return to screens. While brightly animated with wonderful textures and cartoon elasticity, Hillenburg’s absence is felt. “Sponge on the Run” is in need of more development time and rewriting, with the effort having difficulty dreaming up things for the characters to do. It’s meant to be explosive fun, but the second sequel is unnervingly inert at times, and corporate interests to keep the brand alive well into the future tend to throttle what little plot is here. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Spellcaster


"Spellcaster" endured a long road to release, with the film shot in 1986 but only received home video distribution in 1992, caught up in producer bankruptcy issues. While it might've been a little out of date when it was finally gifted to viewers, the picture is now a terrific time capsule of MTV-led culture of the 1980s, with the production trying to tap into the pop culture frenzy of the channel, attempting to hip up an Agatha Christie-style story with monster movie trimmings. "Spellcaster" doesn't quite have enough gas to get it past the finish line, but early energy of the feature is impressive, collecting a spunky cast and a fun premise for a spooky tour of murder and panic, topped off with a little black magic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Killing Birds


While I've covered films before that have multiple titles for worldwide distribution or simple marketplace shenanigans, I've never encountered a picture where there's no real defined choice in a name. 1987's "Killing Birds" is sometimes called "Talons," or "Zombie 5." It's even titled "Zombie 5: Killing Birds" in some places, risking great confusion for those curious about the endeavor but have no clue which version to watch. The good news is that there's only one "Killing Birds," which is the title I'm settling on here, even though the movie only features a few scenes of antagonistic feathered friends. The bad news is that all this work to identify the production is wasted on a mediocre picture from director Claudio Lattanzi, who appears to have some ambition to craft a horror experience with whimpering victims and lumbering zombies, but provides very little style and incident for this type of entertainment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tom & Jerry


The world has never been away from the antics of Thomas Cat and Jerry Mouse for very long. The cartoon world’s most famous cat and mouse team, Tom and Jerry have been around for 80 years, with producers always quick to keep the brand name in public view, giving the characters film shorts, T.V. shows, and DTV movies to help sustain fandom. Now the pair makes a return to screens with “Tom & Jerry,” their first theatrical event since 1993’s “Tom and Jerry: The Movie.” And to help define such an occasion, a live action/animation hybrid offering is created, endeavoring to bring cartoon violence to a human realm, giving the latest picture some CGI magic to reel in a new generation of viewers. It’s a flashy work with decent technical achievements, but “Tom & Jerry” isn’t funny, with director Tim Story laboring to make real-world miscastings work as hard as the manic animation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cherry


For almost a decade, Joe and Anthony Russo have been immersed in the world of Marvel Entertainment. The “You, Me and Dupree” directors have enjoyed an amazing career resurrection with superhero cinema, offering the MCU some of its best chapters with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Captain America: Civil War,” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” and they brought the whole shebang to its first close with the mammoth “Avengers: Endgame.” Now, after a substantial amount of time on greenscreen stages dealing with the demands of countless actors, they’ve gone semi-indie with “Cherry,” which follows the ruination of a young man as he’s chewed up by addiction, military service, and love. As a victory lap production with complete creative freedom, “Cherry” certainly provides the Russo Brothers with a chance to showcase a gritter dramatic side to their talents, and they make an afternoon of it, asking viewers to survive 141 minutes of pure, uncut human suffering. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Zoe


Questions of ethics and scientific capability are mixed with a mother’s torment in “My Zoe.” It’s the latest offering from writer/director/star Julie Delpy, who explores the struggles of parenthood and relationships with the feature, which provides a familiar overview of domestic frustration before it takes viewers somewhere unexpected. Dealing with a medical emergency threating the life of a 7-year-old girl, “My Zoe” is unavoidably heavy, and Delpy certainly provides moments of utter heartbreak. However, she’s not content to remain in a state of shock, creating a film that’s perceptive of extremity when it comes to guardianship, taking the story to a different kind of natural resolution that’s meant to inspire plenty of post-screen conversation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dementer


In 2013, writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle made his feature-length filmmaking debut with “Jug Face.” A tale of backwoods evil and escape, “Jug Face” delivered a spare but haunting viewing experience, with Kinkle offering a different kind of horror event in a genre that frequently rewards sameness. It was a small production, but packed an impressive punch. For 2021, Kinkle resurfaces with “Dementer,” returning to unsettling incidents in the southern U.S., remaining small in scale and large in strangeness to reach viewers. “Dementer” isn’t a picture that’s easily decoded, perhaps intentionally so, but the helmer secures an eerie atmosphere for the endeavor, which also offers a level of realism as the unfolding nightmare is mixed with documentary-style footage of developmentally disabled characters going about their daily lives. Read the rest at