Previous month:
November 2017
Next month:
January 2018

December 2017

Film Review - Phantom Thread


Paul Thomas Anderson often takes his time between projects, and there’s a good reason why. He’s a perfectionist when it comes to screen style, making sure everything’s where it needs to be to help bring out the best in his actors, creating gorgeous spaces to stage emotional breakdowns. Anderson’s last two efforts, 2012’s “The Master” and 2014’s “Inherent Vice” were accomplished technical achievements, but icy and periodically tedious, with tonal whims often sabotaging pace, and the helmer’s interest in the mumbly range of star Joaquin Phoenix often registered as more permissible than it needed to be. “Phantom Thread” reunites Anderson with his “There Will Be Blood” star, Daniel Day-Lewis, who restores a certain illness the director’s last decade has been missing. While deliberate to a point of stillness, “Phantom Thread” is deliciously twisted and nuanced work, returning Anderson to the psychological games he’s skilled at capturing, while Day-Lewis provides one final reminder (he announced his retirement from acting last summer) that he’s the very best at what he does. Read the rest at 

Film Review - In the Fade


Co-writer/director Fatih Akin doesn’t make it easy for himself with “In the Fade.” The picture deals with the aftermath of terrorism, detailing modern fears of everyday violence striking the innocent, erasing entire lifetimes in a single horrific moment. Most movies play up the exploitation possibilities of a revenge scenario driven by grief, knowing that audience sympathy is easy to achieve. Think “Collateral Damage” or the recent “Patriots Day,” which used the fury generated by fear and grief to power breathless cinematic thrills. “In the Fade” teases this style of filmmaking, with Akin trying to walk the thin line between a thoughtful understanding of the primal scream of violence and the urge to celebrate comeuppance. The material doesn’t provide easy answers, and perhaps plays it all a bit too easy, but “In the Fade” handles frustration properly, asking necessary questions about the vicious cycle of violence.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Call Me by Your Name


The fire, anxiety, and curiosity of a young man’s first love is brought vividly to life in “Call Me by Your Name.” It’s an adaptation of an Andre Aciman novel, but screenwriter James Ivory (“The Remains of the Day,” “Howard’s End”) strips the source material of literary pause, offering a more loosely defined sense of awakening, providing ample inspiration for director Luca Guadagnino, who delivers a highly sensual viewing experience, punctuated with powerful flashes of exposed emotion. “Call Me by Your Name” doesn’t force itself on the viewer, winding softly, almost aimlessly until it begins to form a connection between two people that’s more powerful than even they were expecting. Perhaps it’s not the most haunting tale of devotion found in the film year, but Guadagnino creates an evocative understanding of time and place, generating a sincere picture, and one that taps into the blur of primal longing.  Read the rest at

Film Review - All the Money in the World


After taking command of last summer’s disappointment, “Alien: Covenant,” director Ridley Scott explores a different kind of parasitical relationship with “All the Money in the World,” which examines a moment in time where industrialist J. Paul Getty had the opportunity to free his grandson, Paul, from kidnappers in Italy, and chose to do nothing. It’s the burden and power of vast wealth that drives the story, with David Scarpa (adapting a book by John Pearson) hammering home an atmosphere of denial as the haves and the have nots play careful games of negotiation as a dire situation slowly unfolds. “All the Money in the World” is mindful of its look at greed and familial indifference, but it’s not a particularly well defined feature, too slack to register as a thriller and too simple to dissect J. Paul Getty and his special disdain for the rest of the world.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Bright


For their first entry into the big-budget tentpole release game, Netflix has turned to director David Ayer to take command of “Bright.” Ayer is a helmer who favors gritty street and war stories, essentially making the same movie over and over with efforts such as “End of Watch,” “Street Kings,” and “Fury.” Last summer, Ayer was handed the keys to a comic book-inspired franchise in “Suicide Squad,” and while profitable, the feature divided audiences, weakening potential for multiple sequels and spin-offs. Now he’s handling “Bright,” which also has big aspirations to feed into additional films (a follow-up is already set), delivering a grim fantasy to viewers for the holiday season. And, once again, Ayer botches the execution, with far too much dependence on old habits to make it through an unsavory blend of the silly and the aggressively ugly. Ayer certainly likes to do that one thing, but after a 12 years of making urban horror shows with shell-shocked characters, perhaps enough is enough. Even with magic in the mix, this is moldy routine.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Father Figures


Lawrence Sher is a talented cinematographer, delivering clear, colorful visuals for some of the biggest comedies of the last decade, including his work on “The Hangover” trilogy. “Father Figures” represents his graduation to the director’s chair, finally in command of his own silly business. However, the new goofballery is the same as the old goofballery, with Sher playing it very careful with “Father Figures,” which offers few laughs as the lumbers from scene to scene. It’s a crude picture about a heartfelt subject, and Sher (along with screenwriter Justin Malen) can’t decide if they want to hold hands with the audience or slap them across the face with lowbrow jokes, keeping the movie wildly uneven and predictable in its desire to shock. Granted, this is Sher figuring out the next stage of his career, but the laziness of the production is disappointing. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Pitch Perfect 3


There was really no need for “Pitch Perfect 2.” Everything about the premise was covered in 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” completing the saga of The Barden Bellas, taking them from assembly to domination. Now there’s “Pitch Perfect 3,” which attempts to stretch the one-movie idea for a second sequel, and it’s clear franchise writer Kay Cannon (joined by Mike White) has run out of ideas, transforming what was once a tale of a struggling a cappella group into a…spy film? Singing and performance remains in “Pitch Perfect 3,” but Cannon attempts to add comedic adventure to the mix while moving the action to Europe, doing what she can to delay the reality that she’s tapped when it comes to the evolution of the group and their obsession with competition. Fan favorite characters are back and some mild weirdness is celebrated, but energy is sorely lacking from the unnecessary continuation.  Read the rest at 

Film Review - Molly's Game


In recent years, the promise of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay has become a big screen event, creating excitement around “Moneyball,” “Steve Jobs,” and “The Social Network,” which won him an Academy Award. Perhaps tired of other filmmakers having their way with his writing, Sorkin finally graduates to the director’s club for “Molly’s Game,” which details the coke-rush lifestyle of Molly Bloom, the “Poker Princess” who accumulated and lost a small fortune arranging backroom high-stakes card games for the elite and the corrupt. If there was ever a perfect match of material and helmer, it would be “Molly’s Game,” with Sorkin firing on all cylinders as he works through the pressure points in the subject’s life and technical particulars of poker, clearly having a blast shaping player personalities and potent psychological trials for Molly.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Greatest Showman


“The Greatest Showman” is not a bio-pic of P.T. Barnum. Instead, the production uses his accomplishments and failures as a father, husband, and businessman to inspire a Broadway-style movie musical, hoping to capitalize on the rising interests in genre, even employing “La La Land” songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul to create the soundscape of the picture. There’s a lot to be done with Barnum, and other stage and screen efforts have had their way with the controversial figure, but “The Greatest Showman” is only interested in the surface details of the subject, cherry picking his hunger for success and financial achievement to tell a tissue-thin tale of corruption and redemption. The material remains more of a stage show than a movie, and while the music is appealing and blessedly energetic, the storytelling presented is frustratingly fractured, speeding through life events without explanation, overly simplifying a life that was filled with enticing complexity.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Downsizing


Alexander Payne has made a few quirky films during his career, but “Downsizing” is a whole new level of idiosyncrasy for the co-writer/director. After experiencing a black and white world with 2013’s “Nebraska,” Payne goes big with color and scale for his latest endeavor, making a fantasy that’s also something of a romance but sort of a warning siren for the end of the world. “Downsizing” is a whole bunch of movies competing for screen time, and a few of them are quite nifty, but the overall strength of Payne’s vision is lacking this time around, with the feature representing his first real misfire. Not that the effort is a mess, but the production aims big with themes and arcs of enlightenment that grow tiresome before they become profound, finding Payne (and co-writer Jim Taylor) uncharacteristically constipated when it comes to securing the whimsy and potent dramatic undercurrent of the material.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Beyond Skyline


2010’s “Skyline” was a low-budget alien invasion endeavor from the directors of “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” (Greg and Colin Strause) It wasn’t intended to be much, but the film soon found itself picked up by Universal and offered a wide release, trying to tap into audience interest in all things kaboomy and apocalyptic. “Skyline” was met with vicious reviews and toxic word-of-mouth, but it was slightly profitable, assuring that the producers would likely take another chance on an iffy brand name. That it took seven years for “Beyond Skyline” to materialize is somewhat surprising, but there’s a unique challenge tied to the creation of this sequel: how does one make a follow-up to a movie that few people actually liked? The Brothers Strause have been demoted to producer status (they haven’t actually made another feature since “Skyline”), clearing way for Liam O’Donnell, the co-writer of the original effort, to make his directorial debut, and he’s determined to craft a simpler, more action-oriented, and slightly less stupid picture, trying to offer an apology for the mess he co-created years ago. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hangman


I get that Al Pacino just wants to work, keeping a career that’s enjoyed unparalleled critical success going for as long as it can. However, some professional choices have been difficult to understand, beyond the usual paycheck explanations. Joining the likes of “88 Minutes,” “Jack and Jill,” and “Misconduct” is “Hangman,” which is a serial killer story that uses the famous guessing game to energize a tale of murder and mystery, inching moviegoers to the real possibility of a Tic-tac-toe screen adaptation in the future. The screenplay, credited to Charles Huttinger and Michael Caissie, creates a grim mood of “Seven”-style police work, dealing with a macabre villain, but suspense is in short supply, with more tension created by Al Pacino’s overacting than the central quest to bring down a baddie who deals exclusively in elaborate crime scenes.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Pottersville


Michael Shannon plays a lot of villains, currently in theaters as the heavy in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” He also gravitates toward the mentally unstable, enjoying consistent employment portraying various men experiencing a crack in their sense of reality. Rarely does Shannon get to play a nice guy, which makes the overall disappointment with “Pottersville” all the more painful. Here’s a chance for Shannon to appear in a Capra-influenced fable about small town redemption, and director Seth Henrikson doesn’t have any idea what to do with the actor and the overall movie, which would rather linger on a character defecating in the woods than crank up the feelgoods. “Pottersville” is moronic and unfunny, leaving Shannon with nothing to do as he figures out how to portray a milquetoast man for a change. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Love with the Proper Stranger


The real question of 1963's "Love with the Proper Stranger" isn't a will they/won't they situation concerning marriage, but are the filmmakers capable of making a feature that highlights extended conversations about abortion seem warm and cuddly by the end credits? The answer is no, but there's plenty of charm to enjoy and two strong lead performances from Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, who supply vivid takes on young opposites forced to make critical decisions about their lives when a one-night stand makes plans to bond them forever. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tobor the Great


Atomic Age cinema offers one for the kiddies with 1954's "Tobor the Great." It's a giant robot picture, but instead of inducing paranoia and posing a threat, the titular creation is more of a pal to all, especially to a special boy who needs a mechanical buddy. Dropping an intimidation factor, "Tobor the Great" is mischief in a minor key, gradually softening period fears of metal destruction to play a lukewarm spy game with mediocre characters and plenty of padding.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Krakatoa: East of Java


As many publications have already mentioned, the volcanic island of Krakatoa is actually west of Java. Oops. It's the first of many mistakes encountered during "Krakatoa: East of Java," a strangely titled disaster effort from 1969 that was reportedly built backwards, with producers completing work on special effects before they had a script, requiring the writing to fit the needs of spectacle. The strain of such creative madness shows throughout the feature, which is incredibly dull when it isn't blowing things up, unable to connect as a melodrama despite a fine cast trying their best to look vaguely interested in their characters.  Read the rest at