Previous month:
August 2021
Next month:
October 2021

September 2021

Film Review - Venom: Let There Be Carnage


In 2018, “Venom” tried to right a few wrongs when it came to the comic book character, giving the alien symbiote a more appropriate cinematic vehicle than “Spider-Man 3,” dialing up the insanity of the creation (but still keeping it accessible to all audiences with a PG-13 rating). The feature managed to make an absolute fortune, charming viewers with a darkly comedic picture featuring an uncharacteristically loose Tom Hardy, who did everything he could to sell the destructive dynamic between Venom and his host, Eddie. It wasn’t an amazing endeavor, but it worked with a difficult premise, finding laughs and elastic action, and now there’s a sequel, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which presents a showdown between two major monsters in the Marvel universe. Director Andy Serkis is put in charge of the follow-up, which plays to his strengths of highly animated chaos and exaggerated bodily movement, and the helmer delivers an entertaining ride, and one that’s refreshingly straight to the point. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Time to Die


For the 25th installment of EON’s James Bond franchise, the production is tasked with closing things out for star Daniel Craig, with this is last performance as Ian Fleming’s superspy. Unlike most chapters in the series, Craig’s tenure has focused on serialized storytelling, with 2006’s “Casino Royale” sending 007 down a rabbit hole of secret organizations and personal betrayals, which culminated in the reveal of iconic adversary Blofeld in 2015’s “Spectre.” There’s no one-off mission for Bond this time around, with “No Time to Die” specifically out to introduce some finality for the character, working to pay off all the subplots, pairings, and supporting characters developed over the previous four films. EON is determined to go out on an epic note of heroism and closure for Bond, and the scale of the endeavor is certainly massive, highlighting a story of global terror, with director Cary Joji Fukunaga trying to pack in as much nostalgia and threat as possible while the writers tend to loose ends and longstanding arcs. It’s a huge undertaking, and while “No Time to Die” is visually impressive, it’s chained to the haphazard storytelling that’s been reworked over the last 15 years, finding the effort most concerned about relationships that never meant much to begin with. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stop and Go


Covering movies about the COVID-19 experience hasn’t been pleasant, with these features tending to revel in the agony of a sick world inhabited by destructive people unable to manage their mental illness. Who really wants to sit through that? While a grim subject matter involving real-world suffering, the universe of COVID-19 is due for a comedic appraisal, with “Stop and Go” taking the first bold step forward, offering audiences a cathartic viewing experience that examines the insanity of March, 2020, when everything suddenly became very weird and dangerous for everyone. Writers Whitney Call and Mallory Everton (who also star in the movie) assess a world of the unknown for two women on a road trip across America, creating an enjoyably broad overview of risks and bonding that deals with familiar physical and mental health challenges. Against all odds, “Stop and Go” is hilarious, finding wonderful ways to deliver absurdity without becoming unspeakably bleak, with Call and Everton’s goofy sense of humor the perfect distraction during dire times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Old Henry


Writer/director Potsy Ponciroli has a specific western tale to share with “Old Henry” that’s wrapped in layers of enigmatic behaviors and obscured personal history. The story concerns a farmer in a precarious situation with a trio of outsiders, and it lines up perfectly with classic cowboy tales of outlaws and lawmen, and seems tailor-made for an aging Clint Eastwood, as it plays to the icon’s sense of stillness and ways with glaring. However, Eastwood wasn’t recruited for the part, finding Tim Blake Nelson claiming the role of an aging father fighting the ways of his past. Nelson’s already played his fair share of southern characters. In fact, that’s pretty much all the Oklahoma native plays, but he’s skilled at bringing these personalities to life, and “Old Henry” fits the star like a glove. Nelson is exceptional here, bringing pure grit to the production, helping to escalate a slow-burn endeavor from Ponciroli. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Guilty (2021)


Arriving a week after the release of “My Son” is “The Guilty,” which is another straight remake of a European thriller, this time taking its inspiration from a 2018 Danish production. The original film, directed by Gustav Moller, was sensational, remaining a small-scale suspense piece with generous helpings of drama and tension, working as both a character study and a nail-biting experience set inside the pressure cooker environment of an emergency services station. The Hollywood remake is handled by Antoine Fuqua, who reworks (with screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto) the central crisis into a tale of Los Angeles destruction and police combustion, giving star Jake Gyllenhaal basically the entire picture to showcase his command of tightly wound frustration, staying close on the actor as he grinds through a range of emotions. The new take on “The Guilty” doesn’t have the same gut-punch as the Danish version, but it’s hard to screw up the source material, which gives Fuqua guide rails to achieve extreme screen tension. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mayday


Writer/director Karen Cinorre gets very close to making a point with “Mayday,” but doesn’t reach many of her storytelling goals. And perhaps this is intentional with this dream-like picture, which analyzes situations of powerlessness and empowerment through a fantasy premise. “Mayday” has strong technical credits and a desire to share something about the female experience as it exists under siege from male predators. Cinorre offers a different type of “Alice in Wonderland” with the feature, but she loses the potential of the project by playing coy with the details, determined to make an art-house effort, getting lost in a hazy sense of enlightenment. It’s a frustrating sit, especially when great ideas for gender and behavioral examination are left to rot while Cinorre pays closer attention to her filmmaking interests, which often leaves the movie cold to the touch. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Comeback Trail


Director George Gallo has been busy, recently seen on screen in last spring’s “Vanquish,” which also happens to be one of the worst films of the year. Gallo fares a little better with a remake of 1982’s little-seen “The Comeback Trail,” co-scripting (with Josh Posner) a farce about the Hollywood B-movie industry, which is something the helmer knows plenty about. Armed with over 50 producers(!) and a cast of iconic dramatic actors hungry for a paycheck, and Gallo submits his most tolerable endeavor in years. That’s not to suggest “The Comeback Trail” is a good movie, as it repeatedly falls short in the comedy department despite its farcical intent. It’s just not a painful sit, with Gallo generating enough manic energy to keep the feature moving forward with plenty of silly business. It’s not another “Vanquish,” which is as close to praise one can muster for a Gallo endeavor these days. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Scanner Cop II


"Scanner Cop" introduced the character Sam, a cop with scanner abilities trying to find some balance between duty and his telepathic powers. For "Scanner Cop II," Sam is still trying to deal with his history and power, but the screenplay is only marginally paying attention to emotional development. The sequel wants to put on a major show of force when it comes to scanners and their destructive ways, setting up a war of minds that allows for plenty of gore zone visits and intense staring contests from the actors. The loss of an interesting story is a shame, but "Scanner Cop II" delivers more genre highlights, with director Steve Barnett aiming to win viewers over with a grislier take on the "Scanners” universe. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Scanner Cop


David Cronenberg wasn't pursuing a franchise opportunity when he created 1981's "Scanners," but he managed to inspire the creation of one, without his involvement. Executive producer Pierre David labored to transform the original feature into a series of DTV sequels, achieving some success with 1991's "Scanners II: The New Order" and 1993's "Scanners III: The Takeover." Instead of marching into a fourth installment with the same old telepathic warfare, David elected to slightly change the situation, taking directorial control of 1994's "Scanner Cop," which turns the whole brain- popping concept into a detective story, almost playing like a pilot for a syndicated television show. "Scanner Cop" isn't a major reorganization of the premise, but it tries to merge supercop events with horror happenings, finding some inspiration when it creates a mess with the characters and their squishy minds. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Walking the Edge


1985's "Walking the Edge" plays an unexpected game of switcheroo with its lead characters. The story is initially presented as a revenge tale spotlighting one woman's mission to murder the punks who killed her husband and son, but the material quickly gives up on that, transitioning to a not-so-innocent bystander, who quickly becomes the focus of the endeavor. There's confusion with this creative choice, which doesn't do the feature any favors, but director Norbert Meisel and writer Curt Allen seem to believe they're making the right decisions to best serve their B-movie. What the production does achieve is smart casting, bringing in Nancy Kwan as the initial gunwoman, while Robert Forster portrays the fringe player-turned- gunman, giving his best effort to make "Walking the Edge" burn with intensity and fear, adding some kooky thespian energy to the film. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Embattled


It's been a long time since actor Stephen Dorff delivered an alert performance. He's been working the B-movie circuit for some time, flirting with a few softer diversions (including Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere"), but he's mostly stuck with playing hardened guys in criminal situations. For "Embattled," Dorff is once again tasked with portraying a nasty human being, but the screenplay by David McKenna ("American History X," "Blow") doesn't permit the character to act as flypaper for cliches, putting in the effort to create dimensions for a seasoned MMA fighter struggling with ego and anger issues, gradually recognizing the emptiness of his life. The role is a perfect fit for Dorff, who gives one of his finest performances, and it's a strong film overall, exploring forms of violence and neglect, but also taking a look at the true formation of masculinity and family. There are plenty of hard hits and trash talking, but "Embattled" goes beyond the sport's aggression to grasp the wounded hearts in play. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Nest


After making a critical splash with 2011's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," writer/director Sean Durkin finally finds his way to a follow-up with 2020's "The Nest." It's a period picture, and one that looks beyond the decorative aspects of the 1980s to understand the decade's particular lust for greed and social standing, following the disintegration of a seemingly happy family. Durkin retains the coldness of "Martha Marcy May Marlene," giving "The Nest" space to examine the souring of personal relationships and the corruption of responsibility. This particular chill doesn't inspire a hypnotic viewing experience, but it does permit the actors an opportunity to find their characters with their own timing and emphasis. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Legend of Hei


It's important to understand that "The Legend of Hei" is a prequel to a Chinese animated show, with the production working backwards to explore certain characters as they once were before the series began, giving fans a chance to experience an origin story with cinematic scale. If one isn't aware of any connection to an ongoing tale of spirits and humans, "The Legend of Hei" is probably going to lose the average viewer once major world- building begins in the feature's second half. Backstory is plentiful in the endeavor, but when subplots and exposition grow wearisome, the movie does offer a visually compelling understanding of different worlds and odd characters, while the action is surprisingly intense, keeping things agreeably violent and destructive to help outsiders stay invested in what appears to be China's attempt to manufacture a Ghibli-esque take on ways of colonization and the power of magic. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dear Evan Hansen


The musical “Dear Evan Hansen” made its debut in 2015, earning a sizable fanbase and eventual Broadway domination with big-hearted songs from Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (who also achieved success with tunes for “The Greatest Showman”) and a story that took audiences on a ride of emotions, tracking one teen’s mistake as it blossoms into a movement. It was earnest work about a dark subject, but the production managed to become a major event. And with all major events, a film adaptation is inevitable. “Dear Evan Hansen” didn’t wait long for a cinematic adaptation, but time was ticking for star Ben Platt, who won a Tony Award for his performance as a confused teenager in 2017, and returns to the role for director Stephen Chbosky, working hard to recapture the innocence and anxiety that made such a positive impression on theater audiences. He succeeds, giving his all to a picture that doesn’t have answers for most of the questions it poses, but it’s appealingly sincere when it comes to depicting the needs of the adolescent heart. Read the rest at

Film Review - This Is the Night


If you must see one movie this year with a dramatic arc and character redemptions tied completely to the 1982 release of “Rocky III,” well…this is probably your only option. “This Is the Night” is the latest offering from writer/director James DeMonaco, who’s been quite busy in recent years, creating and guiding “The Purge” and its four sequels, highlighting his interest in the crumbling of American society and the financial rewards a big screen franchise delivers. DeMonaco had a career before “The Purge,” but nobody pays much attention to that, and he wants one after the brand name is retired, with “This Is the Night” his attempt to branch out again and tell different stories about human beings, not just masked ghouls. Sticking with the low-budget route to creative control, DeMonaco offers a coming-of-age tale with semi-autobiographical touches, using the fever for all things Rocky Balboa to inspire a period dramedy about conquering fears in the middle of New York hostility. Read the rest at

Film Review - Surge


Ben Whishaw has always been a talented actor in search of interesting roles to play, but in recent years, he’s been enjoying a higher profile due to his lovely voice work as the eponymous bear in the impossibly good “Paddington” series, and he’s brought something unusual to the iconic role of Q in the last two James Bond adventures. He’s a bigger name these days, but Whishaw is still taking risks, and it’s hard to imagine a more polarizing film for 2021 than “Surge.” Screenwriters Rupert Jones, Rita Kalnejais, and Aneil Karia (who also directs) present a grim look at the outbreak of mental illness, tracking one man’s burst of manic behavior as he confronts the dead-end nature of his life. The production isn’t content to stand back and study the sudden decline, electing to get as close as possible to Whishaw without obstructing his mesmerizing performance, creating a suffocating, head-spinning viewing experience that’s kept alive by his commitment to the jagged edges of physical expression. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Son (2021)


Two years ago, the French production, “My Son,” finally found its way to a North American release, offering audiences a taut overview of a father slowly driven to extremes when dealing with his child’s disappearance. It was a spare offering of suspense, but highly effective, with director Christian Carion keeping trouble coming for the lead character. A remake arrives with “My Son,” and Carion returns to duty, reworking the original script (co-written with Laure Irrmann) to enhance the thriller aspects of the story, without losing its gut-punch approach. The tale is moved from France to Scotland, and James McAvoy stars as the desperate parent, providing a gripping performance for the helmer, who doesn’t change much when resurrecting “My Son” for an English-language redo, preserving the material’s areas of agony and suspicion with a slightly bigger budget and more concentration on nail-biting elements of discovery. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Starling


“The Starling” is a strange film, and that doesn’t appear to be screenwriter Matt Harris’s intent with the material. He’s out to capture hearts with the project, which investigates emotional wounds caused by tremendous personal loss, examining the power of therapy and self-help during the journey. And yes, it’s also about a territorial bird that drives a woman crazy, threatening her with attacks. Director Theodore Melfi has a distinct tonal challenge with “The Starling,” which explores some of the worst experiences a human being can endure, and it’s also something of a fall-down-go-boom Melissa McCarthy picture. These are polar opposite moods that Melfi fails to blend with care, aiming for a schmaltzy endeavor instead, which weakens the power of profound feelings Harris is trying to identify between comedic detours. Again, it’s all so odd, and it doesn’t come together, but Melfi has a cast willing to work hard to make their moments count, which almost keeps the effort upright. Read the rest at

Film Review - Intrusion


Screenwriter Chris Sparling has built his career with low-wattage thrillers, making a name for himself with 2010’s “Buried,” which provided a claustrophobic ride with its buried alive concept. He’s also responsible for B-movies such as “ATM” and “Down a Dark Hall,” recently scoring some mainstream success with “Greenland,” finding ways to do a few things differently with the predictability of a disaster film. “Intrusion” finds Sparling back to his low-budget ways, constructing a thriller about a husband and wife and all the problems that arrive after they move into a mansion located in the middle of nowhere. “Intrusion” is basic, pursuing simple thrills and chills while a mild mystery develops, but Sparling tries to give the endeavor some dramatic textures along the way, and director Adam Salky does what he can with style and pace, keeping things passably engaging in this serviceable effort. Read the rest at