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November 2018

Film Review - The Possession of Hannah Grace


The title alone doesn’t inspire much hope for the film. “The Possession of Hannah Grace” initially seems as though it will follow in the footsteps of dozens of other horror efforts focused on the brutality of an exorcism, and the feature actually opens with one, presenting a familiar sight of battered, trembling priests trying to pray their way to a full demon extraction in a large, dimly lit location. The first ten minutes of the movie do not inspire confidence that screenwriter Brian Sieve knows what he’s doing, offering sameness for a genre that’s fully addicted to trends. However, “The Possession of Hannah Grace” soon settles down into something slightly different. Nothing radical, but there’s just enough of a tweak concerning characterization that keeps it engrossing, at least until horror demands return to dominate the viewing experience. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Mercy


The story of Donald Crowhurst and his attempt to circle the globe on a trimaran of his own design has been examined throughout all types of media, with film adaptations common, even found last year in “Crowhurst.” “The Mercy” has an advantage in star power, bringing in Colin Firth to embody the ambitious family man, while Rachel Weisz portrays Donald’s wife, Clare. This casting alone secures much of the viewing experience, with fine actors contributing excellent work in meaty parts that touch on emotional extremes and psychological imbalance. Director James Marsh (“The Theory of Everything,” “Man on Wire”) does well with the material too, able to extract suspense and confusion from a strange tale that’s already been substantially documented. “The Mercy” doesn’t always uncover important details, but the journey is understood, creating involving drama as big dreams erode into something distressing and undefinable. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Mirai


“Mirai” is presented as a fantasy, but it contains an enormous amount of authentic human behavior. It’s the latest work from writer/director Mamoru Hosoda, who takes a long look at the ways families interact, especially from the perspective of a child who’s not ready to watch his small world expand with the addition of a baby sibling into his life. Hosoda eventually launches a bizarre tale of time travel to help give the material something more to do than live in the moment, but “Mirai” is more skilled with understanding, and animating, young behavior at its most feral and unbreakable. The strange magic of the movie has its appeal, with Hosoda generating his own take on a genealogical dig, but the feature really captures something unique when it concentrates on pure reaction from children, showing remarkable awareness of frustrations and fears as attention suddenly splits to siblings in need. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Renegades


With the likes of Michael Bay and Peter Berg doing their best the make the American military machine look as sexy and fearless as possible, it’s now time for Europeans to give such jingoism a shot. “American Renegades” (originally titled “Renegades” before someone, somewhere panicked about the feature’s VOD potential in the U.S.) is a production from Europa Corp, the once mighty studio co-owned by Luc Besson (who co-scripts with Richard Wenk) that’s dedicated to churning out mid-budget actioners. They’ve fallen on hard times recently, and “American Renegades” isn’t helping the cause. Instead of delivering a gritty take on service and heroism, the picture plays with extreme blandness, and while the large budget encourages big mayhem, the movie doesn’t have the inspiration to do much more than deal with cliché, and as passively as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chef Flynn


The first image we see in “Chef Flynn” is the star of the documentary, Flynn McGarry, walking, almost frolicking, through a forest. He looks young, making playtime understandable, showcasing a juvenile spirit as he treks through greenery. However, unlike most youngsters connecting with nature, Flynn quickly turns around, spying some plants he’d like to add to a dinner dish, snapping out of his leisurely haze to focus intently on a piece of his culinary puzzle. It’s a curveball moment from director Cameron Yates, and the last he’s willing to throw at the audience, preferring to stay in a journalistic comfort zone with “Chef Flynn,” which only aims to celebrate the subject and his incredible talents, not challenge his impressively bizarre life. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Rich Man's Wife


Branded a star on the rise in the 1990s, Halle Berry graduated quickly to major studios roles, with Hollywood spending the better part of the decade figuring out just what to do with the actress, who achieved some visibility in "Boomerang," "Jungle Fever," and "The Flintstones." I'm not sure Berry was ready to carry her own movie with 1996's "The Rich Man's Wife," and the production basically agrees, with writer/director Amy Holden Jones left with little thespian oomph as she tries to manufacture a classic thriller for a modern age. Berry is limp here, backed by several key miscastings, leaving Jones with little room to take something traditional and give it significant personality, helping to up what are weirdly low stakes for a thriller. "The Rich Man's Wife" is a drag, but one with potential, working half-speed on a few promising ideas, only to have Jones weighed down by the actors and the feature's increasing reliance on ludicrousness to connect the dots.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mac and Me


There have been many movies trying to cash-in on the success of 1982's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," but few have been quite as obvious as 1988's "Mac and Me." The producers are determined to replicate Steven Spielberg's box-office-busting success, coming up with a slight variation on the formula of the lonely boy and his lost alien pal. However, instead of using creativity, money, and magic to shape the feature, co-writer/director Stewart Raffill marches forward with a highly bizarre rip-off that's hanging on for dear life, throwing anything at the screen to see what might appeal to the target demographic of young kids. "Mac and Me" is awful and infamously so, with longstanding cult appeal helping to cushion the crushingly bad ideas found in the endeavor.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami


Grace Jones has been a recording artist and general pop culture figure for over 40 years, but those who've stood outside her fame would probably find it difficult to identify what makes the icon tick. "Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami" isn't a career overview or a very in-depth biographical investigation, but director Sophie Fiennes makes it a priority to deliver a seldom seen side of the artist as she approaches the age of 70, following her as she records a new album, dominates the stage, does the promotional rounds, and pays a visit to her family in Jamaica. "Bloodlight and Bami" offers outstanding concert sequences to refresh appreciation for Jones's talents and blazing sense of style, but it's also an intimate study of temperament and trauma, with the subject unafraid to showcase her impatience with world as she quests to realize her art. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Deep Rising


1998's "Deep Rising" didn't have an easy time finding an audience during its initial theatrical release. It came out a year after "The Relic" (which delivered a similar monster-in-a-contained-area premise), a month after "Titanic" (which satiated audiences hungry to see a massive ship endure a slow destruction), and two weeks after "Hard Rain" (which also enjoyed some Jet Ski action in tight hallways). The planets didn't align for writer/director Stephen Sommers, but this noisy ode to B-movies of the past eventually found something of a following on home video and basic cable, and it's not hard to see why, with the helmer arranging plenty of mayhem, quips, and gore to delight those in the mood for something violent but cheeky. Though the true comedic value of "Deep Rising" is up for debate. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Christmas Chronicles


Kurt Russell has the ability to elevate any film he appears in. It’s his charisma, this magical capacity to create characters and find the spirit of any production. And when that fails, Russell becomes the spirit of the production. With “The Christmas Chronicles,” Russell is offered a chance to play Santa Claus, and he takes on the acting challenge with complete commitment, which is impressive, especially when considering what the screenplay (from Matt Lieberman) asks of him during the run time. While “The Christmas Chronicles” keeps a tight grip on a holiday movie checklist, it does have Russell, and he’s oodles of fun to watch, accepting the challenge of embodying Christmas magic with real verve and comfort, selling the stuffing out of everything Lieberman dreams up for this latest attempt to create a cinematic perennial for the yuletide season. Read the rest at

Film Review - Creed II


There were few expectations for 2015’s “Creed.” It seemed like such an unnecessary production, seemingly created to squeeze a few more bucks out of the “Rocky” franchise, even bringing in Sylvester Stallone reprise his most famous character to help audiences accept a new series lead in Adonis Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan. And then the film was released, and it was magnificent. Credit goes to co-writer/director Ryan Coogler, who made a choice to take the work seriously, using inspiration from the original “Rocky” to create a meaningful, exciting new chapter, helping to reinvent the series with one of its best chapters. With surprising box office success comes a sequel, a business decision Stallone knows all too well. And yet, “Creed II” manages to hit high expectations this time out, finding a way to rehash without losing heart, also doing something compelling with a potentially ridiculous plot. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Ralph Breaks the Internet


2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph” was a feature steeped in nostalgia. It was about a video game character from the 1980s trying to survive in a new frontier of hyperactive arcade options, finding much needed friendship along the way. It’s a delightful movie, aided in great part by flavorful voice work from an eclectic cast, and there’s the fun factor of seeing beloved video game icons brought to life, often for irreverent purposes. A sequel wasn’t necessary, but more time with this group would always be welcome, leading to the creation of “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” which trades the boundaries of cabinet life for the endless ocean of information found in the online world. Nostalgia has been muted this time around, with “Ralph Breaks the Internet” more determined to find its own footing as an animated adventure, with sheer noise and formula providing a bit too much temptation for the filmmakers, who are visibly stretching to fill this second round.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Long Dumb Road


“The Long Dumb Road” isn’t about plot or major character arcs. It’s the about time shared during an especially active road trip with two people who probably shouldn’t be riding together in the same car. Co-writer/director Hannah Fidell doesn’t want much more than to live in the moment, enjoying the volatility of the pairing and the unpredictability of bad decisions, trying to squeeze some laughs out of misfortune. “The Long Dumb Road” isn’t profound, but it does have a wily sense of humor and nice handle on travel chaos, also giving actor and podcast staple Jason Mantzoukas a vehicle for his specific screen energy, often found single-handedly powering the feature when Fidell isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do with the premise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Becoming Astrid


“Becoming Astrid” is a bio-pic about author Astrid Lindgren, who became a worldwide literary obsession with her work on “The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.” It’s a Swedish production from co-writer/director Pernille Fischer Christensen, and a production that’s very protective of Lindgren’s personal life, making sure to downplay any bright kid-lit spirit to focus on the horrible times she endured while trying to survive her twenties, facing numerous trials of the heart and mind. Perhaps this is the best way to get into the thick of Lindgren’s experience, with “Becoming Astrid” largely skipping the routine of individual character introduction to focus on her personal bruising, and how such trauma would eventually inspire unusually observant and mature books about the juvenile experience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Write When You Get Work


“Write When You Get Work” is the first picture from writer/director Stacy Cochran in 18 years, and the first interesting movie she’s made since 1992’s “My New Gun.” It’s strange to have Cochran back on the scene, with her initial work tied to the indie film movement of the 1990s, and now she’s facing quite a different atmosphere for low-budget endeavors. Perhaps trying to avoid getting crushed by the competition, the helmer adds a little sugar to her dramatic vegetables, giving this study of character and class some wish-fulfillment to help encourage audience participation. “Write When You Get Work” is well-made with appealing performances, with Cochran laboring to retain as much feeling and history as possible while still tending to the expectations of a crime story that’s blended with little bits of unresolved love.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Robin Hood (2018)


The legend of Robin Hood has been explored on film on many occasions, with most ventures quite successful when it comes to reimagining the specifics of the tale to suit the demands of a new generation of moviegoers. This familiarity frightens the new “Robin Hood,” which aims to rework known elements, hoping to appeal to a wider audience by saving the highlights of the saga for the sequel, preferring to achieve its own special origin story as a way of launching a new franchise. Mixing elements of Guy Ritchie, Baz Luhrmann, and dozens of nondescript actioners, “Robin Hood” relies on formula to avoid formula, emerging as a slightly confounding, utterly empty take on the famous outlaw, leading with a dulled sense of big screen adventure, romance, and villainy. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Love Me Deadly


Love can be a complicated thing, especially when it involves dead people. Necrophilia is not a common subject for a horror film, but there are a few notable examples, including 1987's Nekromantik," but "Love Me Deadly" doesn't play the fetish for scares, instead offering a soap opera take on a woman's relationship with the deceased, rooting the illness somewhere personal, avoiding pure shock value for something slightly softer. Director Jacques Lacerte seems to be on mission to make a slightly more accessible tale of unimaginable trauma, but his restraint doesn't mesh well with the feature's assortment of half-realized ideas and B-movie construction. "Love Me Deadly" isn't ghastly or enlightening, it's just slow and silly, working itself into a lather as a way to display some level of emotional value for a picture that's essentially about a woman who turns to the touch of the dead to deal with childhood issues. Now where's the fun in that? Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - John From


The whimsy and fixation of the teenage heart is explored in 2015's "John From," a production from Portugal which eschews American obsessiveness for something a little weirder. Co-writer/director Joao Nicolau picks a focal point in his main character, an adolescent girl, and remains there for the duration of the feature, investigating the daily experience of the age and personality, with the rituals of a summer crush seeping into the deceptive normality of this average existence. "John From" is deliberate, which takes some getting used to, but Nicolau's observational instincts are strong, finding ways to address normal teen habits and tweak them with oddity, burrowing deeper into a casually obsessive mind.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Frank McKlusky, C.I.


In 2002, Jim Carrey wasn't entirely interested in being the Jim Carrey audiences wanted him to be. By this time, he was branching out with dramas like "The Truman Show" and "Man on the Moon," beginning to leave behind a career in broad comedies, requiring Hollywood to scramble like mad and find a new guy to make a proper big screen mess. The suits at Disney settled on Dave Sheridan, an unknown actor who generated some interest with turns in "Bubble Boy" and "Ghost World." Sheridan wasn't Carrey, but that wasn't going to stop the Mouse House from trying to pull off a successful makeover, fitting Sheridan for a wacky character in "Frank McKlusky, C.I." Carrey certainly made his share of duds, but he's never been involved in something this atrocious, finding Sheridan lost at sea trying to make a DOA script (by Mark Perez) and clueless direction from Arlene Sanford resemble something functional. While there are plenty of curious additions to the movie (which offers a supporting cast that includes Dolly Parton and Chyna), there's not nearly enough oddity to aid digestion of this cruelly unfunny disaster. It's one thing to mimic a Carrey comedy, it's another to completely misunderstand why people loved the star in the first place.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Green Book


Being part of the Farrelly Brothers today just isn’t what it used to be. The directing duo once churned out hits (“Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary”), but the last decade has been rough on the siblings (“The Three Stooges,” “Hall Pass,” and “Dumb and Dumber To”), and now they’ve split for the time being, with Peter Farrelly searching for some respectability, finding a potential redirection in reputation with “Green Book,” a period piece about racism, friendship, and overeating. Farrelly isn’t turning into Spike Lee here, maintaining concentration on mainstream storytelling, with hopes to provide a tidy viewing experience that’s easy on the senses and tight on the heart, trying to understand American ills with a television movie that’s somehow made its way into multiplexes. Read the rest at