Film Review

Film Review - Jungle Cruise


Disney struck gold with 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which proved to the studio that audiences were willing to line up for features based on theme park attractions. And it ended up being the only brand name to attract an audience (sorry “Country Bears”), putting the company in a position to relentlessly merchandise and sequelize the film, ending up with five Jack Sparrow cinematic adventures. Interested in a fresh I.P. to transform into a major movie event, Disney turns to a classic ride with “Jungle Cruise,” which has been operating in Disneyland for 65 years. There’s not much to the experience, with guests enjoying the sights of a cartoony jungle and the sounds of their wisecracking skipper, but that’s not stopping the screenwriters (Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa), who make a direct effort to revive the “Pirates of the Caribbean” atmosphere for “Jungle Cruise,” once again hitting the water with heroes, villains, and the cursed for a shockingly familiar viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ride the Eagle


There have been a few movies made about the COVID-19 global pandemic and, really, who wants to sit through that story right now? “Ride the Eagle” isn’t about a health emergency, but it represents what filmmaking is like these days, with co-writers Trent O’Donnell (who also directs) and Jake Johnson (who stars in the picture) working with the bare minimum in actors and events to create a tale of human beings in isolation striving to make connections previously thought to be impossible. There are no grand dramatic stakes in “Ride the Eagle,” and the production sticks close to interiors for much of its run time, but the screenplay creates an intriguing intimacy with lonely characters, while the production makes an interesting choice to be as broad as cinematically possible while dealing with a few real emotional challenges of life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Monuments


As the world awaits a new chapter in the Indiana Jones saga, set for release next year, fans might have to tide themselves over with “Monuments,” which has nothing to do with high adventure and big thrills, but writer/director Jack C. Newell is prepared to show his love for the film series throughout this unusual picture. The production has plenty of quirk to go around, but Newell mostly concentrates on the grieving process, creating a journey for the lead character as he confronts the pain of loss and the panic of sharing such an event with others. Mix in some psychological fracture and references to the cinematic odysseys of Henry Jones, Jr, and here’s one bizarre endeavor. Thankfully, “Monuments” is sold with a decent sense of humor, credible heartbreak, and sharp editing (from David Burkart), keeping this oddball effort on the move as Newell works to figure out just what kind of movie he’s ultimately making. Read the rest at

Film Review - Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage


The idea behind “Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage” is to better understand the disaster that developed during the troubled music festival. It was intended to be a celebration of music and art, and one that mirrored the original Woodstock experience, which occurred in 1969. That iconic counterculture gathering became part of Americana, playing up the wonders of the hippie generation and the unique community experience. Woodstock ’99 ended up a horror show of widespread violence, and director Garret Price (“Love, Antosha”) makes an early attempt to understand how promoters Michael Lang and John Scher couldn’t make perceived magic happen all over again, watching as their event was eventually transformed into a riot. “Peace, Love, and Rage” has the footage and the time to dissect the Woodstock ’99 nightmare, but Price is often distracted, straining to connect this experience to the world of 2021, not 1969. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Exchange


Director Dan Mazer has scored some creative successes over the years, helming “I Give It a Year” and “Dirty Grandpa,” but he’s best known for his work with Sacha Baron Cohen, becoming a consistent collaborator over the last 20 years. He’s participated in the making of “Ali G Indahouse,” the two “Borat” movies, and various television endeavors, including the recent “Who Is America?” It makes sense to find his latest effort, “The Exchange,” offering some Cohen residue, highlighting the strange adventures of a French exchange student as he studies North American life, with sexual ideas often clouding his mind. Mazer comes close to unleashing a new Borat, but “The Exchange” pulls back on unstructured comedy, having more fun creating absurdity and culture shock jokes, at least until formula creeps in to smother the spirit of the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nine Days


Edson Oda makes his directorial debut with “Nine Days,” and he picks quite a subject to study for his introductory feature. The film is about the ways of life and death, with Oda (who also scripts) offering a stylized look at the order of the afterlife. It’s not another “Soul,” but it’s about souls, examining the trials of spirits being prepared for the pure experience of living, with one man making tough decisions about potential. “Nine Days” goes poetic and deliberate with its existential exploration, with Oda mixing a little Malick and Gondry into his cinematic cocktail, which is filled with deep feeling and interesting ideas about how life is lived, sometimes in the shadows. It’s not an urgent movie in any way, but Oda has strange ideas and a strong cast of performers who work hard to make the helmer’s vision come through with clarity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Twist


Does the world need another adaption of “Oliver Twist”? Probably not, with the 1838 book by Charles Dickens repeatedly returned to through television, radio, theatrical, and film versions since the book’s publication date. A few of these offerings have become beloved (including 1968’s “Oliver!”), one was Disneyfied (1988’s “Oliver & Company”), and many have been simply tolerated. What “Twist” brings to the table is a modern-day take on a world of partnership and poverty, bringing Dickens to today’s London, with the subculture of graffiti inspiring a heist picture that’s also mildly obsessed with demonstrations of parkour. Director Martin Owen seems to have an update of 1995’s “Hackers” in mind with the endeavor, trying to stylize the misadventures of young people and criminal activity. “Twist” has a capable supporting cast, but it’s all empty calories and glossiness, forgetting to add interesting characters to a tale that’s been done to death. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Boy Behind the Door


Two months ago, writer/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell made a positive impression with “The Djinn,” a horror feature tracking a night of survival for a boy trapped inside an apartment with a malevolent spirit. For their second picture of 2021, “The Boy Behind the Door,” the helmers do away with supernatural interests to make a straightforward suspense endeavor about two boys trapped inside a house with malevolent people. It’s not a huge creative leap forward for Charbonier and Powell, who seem to have a tremendous fondness for tormenting innocent kids onscreen, but they also know how to create some viable thrills and chills. “The Boy Behind the Door” definitely has the dramatic goals of a short film, but Charbonier and Powell work hard to extend the tension of the movie, coming up with a few effective cat-and-mouse sequences to juice up a mostly static effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Masquerade


Home invasion movies can be made quickly and cheaply, which seems to be the motivation behind the creation of “Masquerade.” Writer/director Shane Dax Taylor isn’t trying to cook up his own “Panic Room” with the picture, merely working to slap together some low-wattage thrills with what appears to be an unfinished screenplay. Taylor really doesn’t have much to work with in “Masquerade,” which is playing the long game when it comes to surprises, and even then, the climax is not worth the wait. If extended scenes of house exploration and attic hiding are your thing, perhaps there’s something of worth here. For everyone else, the endeavor is perhaps most interesting as an example of independent film financing, with the producers putting their money behind a feature that has no polish, no tension, and carries visible stretchmarks as it tries to reach an 80-minute-long run time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins


In 2009, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” attempted to be the big-budget, live-action spectacle fans of the original cartoon series from the 1980s were waiting for. But something went horribly wrong in the execution, leaving the faithful befuddled with the overly CGI-ed mess that ended up on-screen. Producers attempted to apologize to loyal toy buyers with the more straightforward 2013 sequel, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” but that feature didn’t create the box office magic it was meant to, while audience response was tepid at best. Making a third attempt to get something going with the “G.I. Joe” brand name, the money men go the reboot route with “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins,” which shoos away the grand clash between the G.I. Joes and Cobra to explore a small story about a boy seeking revenge on his father’s murderer. It’s not hard to top previous adaptation attempts, but “Snake Eyes” goes flat instead of plastic, dealing with a bland leading man and a weird screenplay that isn’t sure if it wants to be a gritty study of global terrorism or a fantasy film, complete with a magic jewel and house-sized anacondas. Yo Joe? Read the rest at

Film Review - Hail to the Deadites


What director Steve Villeneuve is trying to do with “Hail to the Deadites” is create a tribute to the concept of fandom, which in this case applies to the continual support of the “Evil Dead” franchise. It started with a 1981 horror film from director Sam Raimi, who worked hard to pull together something nutso for fans of the genre, making his mark through a combination of genre fury and filmmaking creativity, putting one terrific B-movie out into the world. The minor success of “The Evil Dead” has only snowballed over the last 40 years, inspiring two sequels (1987’s “Evil Dead II” and 1993’s “Army of Darkness”), a television series (“Ash vs. Evil Dead”), a remake (in 2013), and countless fan films and assorted endeavors, while merchandising has been nonstop, finding companies everywhere looking to celebrate the world of screen icon, Ash Williams. It’s been quite a ride for the brand name, and while Villeneuve doesn’t have legal rights to analyze such franchise endurance, he does have access to those who love this stuff, with “Hail to the Deadites” his valentine to the faithful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Old


Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan experienced a miraculous career revival with 2016’s “Split,” which brought him critical acclaim and major box office returns, giving him a sense of empowerment after years guiding disappointing or downright terrible movies (such as “The Happening,” “After Earth,” and “The Last Airbender”). The payoff for such success was 2019’s “Glass,” which was meant to be Shyamalan’s magnum opus, offered a chance to revisit previous creative achievements with fresh confidence and proper funding, taking a victory lap with material many had been looking forward to seeing for nearly two decades. And, in the eyes of many, he blew it, fumbling with nonsense and self-importance. Licking his wounds, Shyamalan tries to return to low-budget horror with “Old,” which gives him a collection of crazed characters and the nightmare events of a day at a mysterious beach to work with. However, the helmer is up to his old tricks with the feature, presenting a stilted, lame offering of terror, keeping this film an M. Night Shyamalan experience when that clumsy approach has led to far too many underwhelming viewing experiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jolt


A few years ago, director Tanya Wexler found some success with “Buffaloed.” It was a story about a scam artist trying to make her way in the world, with terrible anger issues working against the woman, complicating her relationship with others. It’s awfully strange to see Wexler return to screens with “Jolt,” which takes the same premise of a woman with no self-control and gives it a graphic novel-style spin, with the helmer once again managing a tale of a raging personality going against rivals to get the job done. “Buffaloed” had humor and a bright lead performance from Zoey Deutch. “Jolt” is grim and features Kate Beckinsale, who’s making a return to physical filmmaking after her years in the “Underworld” franchise. Wexler’s challenge is to do something with material normally reserved for Paul W.S. Anderson, and while she tries to stay cheeky with the production, the writing’s shortcomings are impossible to conquer, even with savagery. Read the rest at

Film Review - Val


Val Kilmer has been an extremely popular actor, appearing in blockbusters, critically revered features, and a slew of indie pictures, amassing a large fanbase since he began his thespian journey in the early 1980s. Kilmer also has a bit of a reputation as a troublemaker, known to make life difficult for those working with him, with his antics helping to gradually eliminate job opportunities. Directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott look to alter perception of Kilmer’s enigmatic ways with “Val,” a documentary about the performer’s life and artful achievements. While a standard offering of biographical information, the endeavor has something amazing to work with: boxes of footage recorded by Kilmer over the years, who picked up a camera one day and never set it down. Documenting his experiences all over the world, Kilmer provides startingly intimate access to his days in “Val,” providing fans with a look at the inner workings of his existence, but also supplying evidence that behavioral extremity that fueled destructive gossip was born out of something primal within the professional as he stumbled his way through thick and thin. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mandibles


“Mandibles” presents the return of writer/director Quentin Dupieux, who’s been busy lately, with recent releases including “Deerskin” and “Keep an Eye Out.” The “Rubber” and “Reality” helmer is a blissfully mischievous moviemaker, and his latest is just as bizarre and silly as the rest of his work. “Mandibles” tells the story of two halfwits who discover a giant fly in the truck of their stolen car, learning to live with the creature, with hopes to train it. One might think the tale is meant to represent some type of political commentary or social statement, but no, it’s really about two dudes and their pet fly, which is about the size of a dog. As with anything Dupieux makes, a certain level of surrender is required, and he rewards viewers with several surprises and a dry sense of humor that triggers laughs throughout. Read the rest at

Film Review - Broken Diamonds


The concerns of sibling relationships are complicated by the presence of mental illness in “Broken Diamonds.” It’s the latest from “Camp X-Ray” director Peter Sattler, who’s joined by screenwriter Steve Waverly to help illuminate a feeling of powerlessness felt by the lead characters, who experience the world around them in different ways. It’s not a pounding drama about life and death, but the daily struggle of balance, with Waverly finding a few comedic beats while primarily creating an emotional story about the ties that bind, sometimes to a point of strangulation. “Broken Diamonds” isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it does carry a credible sense of pressure and pain, with stars Lola Kirke and Ben Platt putting in terrific performances that generate a sense of behavioral authenticity, which aids digestion of a somewhat formulaic plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Settlers


Viewer expectations need to be adjusted when sitting down to watch “Settlers.” It’s being sold as a sort-of sci-fi experience, with the story taking place on Mars, using such isolation to inspire a futureworld tale of human struggle. Making his helming debut is Wyatt Rockefeller (who also scripts), and he works extremely hard to create an atmosphere of threat and mystery with the picture, not interested in the genre potential of the premise. “Settlers” is almost a filmed play, concentrating on behaviors and troubling decisions, with the far away setting not especially important to the material. Those coming to the endeavor looking for an amped-up study of Martian survival are not going to be pleased with the feature, which remains a static viewing experience, with lots of pregnant pauses and hard stares. Rockefeller hopes to detail his dramatics in the dead air of this effort, coming up with something just short of interesting, though technical achievements are outstanding for an obviously low-budget offering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Midnight in the Switchgrass


“Midnight in the Switchgrass” marks the directorial debut for Randall Emmett. If you’ve been wondering who’s behind the gradual rise of VOD productions that basically all have the same titles and feature one or two former stars collecting a big paycheck, it’s Randall Emmett, who, along with partner George Furla, are responsible for productions like “Survive the Night,” “Force of Nature,” “10 Minutes Gone,” and “Out of Death.” Emmett apparently wanted to try filmmaking on for size, and he picks a real bummer of a project with “Midnight in the Switchgrass,” which plays like a particularly clueless “Silence of the Lambs” riff, mixing law enforcement procedural scenes with a developing tale of a serial killer’s love for tormenting women. There’s a whole lot of nothing going on in the movie, which barely puts in the effort to create psychological profiles for its characters, with Emmett getting more of a charge out of terrible dialogue and flat performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Joe Bell


“Joe Bell” dramatizes the heartbreaking story of Jadin Bell, a teen boy who was bullied mercilessly in small-town Oregon, with his enemies targeting his homosexuality as a reason to destroy him. His father, Joe, eventually took on the challenge of a cross-country walk to attract media attention to the subject of harassment, embarking on an arduous journey of self-inspection and physical exhaustion to feel something during an incredibly dark period of his parental experience. It’s a horrifying tale for many reasons, perhaps not meant for a big screen treatment, but screenwriter Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (“Brokeback Mountain”) strive to find some meaning in the bottomless abyss of grief, getting the endeavor a certain distance before formula and miscastings ultimately confuse the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Out of Death


“Out of Death” is a nonsensical title for a lazy film, and nobody stops to explain what exactly “Out of Death” means, as the movie is actually quite filled with death. The endeavor is the latest stop on the “Is Bruce Willis okay?” tour of VOD cinema, with the once mighty actor apparently offering the production a single day to complete his work on the picture. And what a day that must’ve been. Making his directorial debut is Mike Burns, who’s previously worked as a music supervisor on these immediately forgettable low-budget offerings, now finally offered a chance to make his own nonsense, with Willis popping up on occasion while an obvious body double does the rest of the work. “Out of Death” hopes to be a scrappy backwoods thriller, but Burns can’t make magic happen, basically reducing the feature to a series of shots of actors running through the woods, periodically stopping for ridiculous exposition dumps and, as the title wrongly states, death. Read the rest at