Film Review

Film Review - The Dirt


Rock bio-pics are all the rage these days, and after the massive success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen), “The Dirt” is the first to follow in its wake (Elton John’s “Rocketman” is due in May). However, instead of soaring ‘70s rock and the miracle of a singular voice, “The Dirt” chronicles the rise of Motley Crue, who were beloved musicians, but perhaps best known for their sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle, which they flaunted for the extent of the 1980s. While it’s an adaptation of the band’s 2001 book (written with Neil Strauss), director Jeff Tremaine (“Bad Grandpa”) only has so much screentime to work with while trying to wrap his arms around the group’s colorful history. It’s a bit of a narrative mess, but the spirit of Motley Crue remains in the picture, which is one of the only films that dares to open with a scene highlighting female ejaculation, taking on the challenge of topping such a visual with the rest of Motley Crue’s sordid history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Us

US 2

In 2017, comedian Jordan Peele moved behind the camera, transitioning from a skit-based basic cable show to the big screen with “Get Out.” Scoring big with audiences and critics, Peele eventually collected Oscar gold for his genre-based study of race relations and paranoia, setting himself up for great expectations with any potential follow-up. He landed on “Us,” concocting another twisty chiller, this time dialing down the social commentary for a more straightforward freak-out, or at least as simplified as Peele gets, with the “Twilight Zone” fanatic (currently in charge of the show’s upcoming reboot) offering viewers as second round of weirdness and violence, with greater emphasis on chase sequences and extended exposition. “Us” is undeniably effective, but only when Peele settles into a groove of macabre events. Overall, it plays much like his previous effort, with spine-chilling developments chased by offerings of tepid comedy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Relaxer


In 2014, writer/director Joel Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge unleashed “Buzzard,” their tribute to the creepy fantasies of unmotivated individuals. It was a darkly comic picture, and shared a unique vision for strange characters and situations. The duo attempts to top themselves with “Relaxer,” an even more gruesome, idiosyncratic assessment of mental illness, taking the tale back in time to 1999, merging the relative innocence of a PlayStation world with the bottomless depths of depression. Once again, Potrykus and Burge strive to make something horrifying and often indescribable, with “Relaxer” a more defined attempt to deliver a Midnight Movie-style brain bleeder that still retains a sense of humor. It’s no improvement on “Buzzard,” but there’s a clear escalation of directorial bravery that’s interesting to watch unfold. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Invisibles


As filmmakers seek out corners of World War II history to dramatize, director Claus Rafle discovers a particularly interesting one with “The Invisibles.” Instead of making a picture about those who escaped Nazi Germany, Rafle details the unusual lives of Jewish citizens who elected to stay in the country during a time of genocide. “The Invisibles” is a docudrama, helping Rafle understand the exact moves of the people he’s chronicling, but there’s also a healthy amount of suspense and emotional pull to the feature, which tracks the danger of such a personal choice, with those embarking on this survival challenge electing to live free, but soon coming up against the reality of life in the shadow of Nazi rule. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase


The history behind the young detective Nancy Drew is vast, dating back to her literary debut in 1930. Every now and then, Hollywood endeavors to revive the franchise, with many television and film adaptations striving to update the character for modern audiences, giving old-fashioned sleuthing a trendy twist. “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” is no different. The production works to keep things current to best engage an easily distracted audience, and they have a special star in Sophie Lillis, who contributed greatly to the monster success of 2017’s “It.” Lillis picks up the flashlight and unstoppable curiosity for this fresh round of clue gathering, and she’s the brightest thing in the feature, which is best appreciated with lowered expectations, offering mildness for the target demographic, while Lillis comes ready to play. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Captive State


As alien invasion movies go, “Captive State” isn’t interested in destroying cities or filling the run time with combat sequences between space invaders and human defenders. It’s steelier than that thanks to director Rupert Wyatt, who managed to pull off a cinematic miracle with 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” creating a new direction for the franchise, and one with impressive technical achievements and a forbidding tone. Wyatt returns to sci-fi (after taking a break with 2014’s dismal remake of “The Gambler”) with “Captive State,” but he’s not going to indulge the obvious, taking a small-scale approach to an Earthly uprising, turning an occupation premise into a study of radicalization and defense, getting at least halfway there with suspense sequences and intergalactic conflict before running out of gas. Read the rest at

Film Review - Triple Threat


For VOD addicts, “Triple Threat” is a very big deal. It’s “The Expendables” with lowered star standards, bringing together notable tough guys from American and Asian cinema, with director Jesse V. Johnson in charge of managing this battle royal of fight styles, attitudes, and English-speaking abilities. Brutality is there, with the picture exploding with all sorts of violence, packing gun fights, martial arts, and car chases into the run time. The cast seems to be enjoying themselves as well, providing scowls, barking threats, and squeezing out some emotion when necessary. It’s the story that ultimately kneecaps “Triple Threat,” which presents a mix of too many action figures and hazy plot and character details, making the feature more about appreciating smashmouth choreography than strengthening dramatic pull. Read the rest at

Film Review - Woman at War


“Woman at War” asks a very important question about today’s world: where’s the line between protection and extremism? The Icelandic production tracks the experience of a woman caught up in a dangerous game of escalation with an ecological preservation effort, where a love of the Earth transforms into assumed knighthood, blurring the concept of nobility once violence enters the question. Co-writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson takes the story very seriously, but there’s a poetic quality to the work, which combines flashes of fantasy with sobering reminders of reality concerning the encroaching dangers of climate change. “Woman at War” is constantly surprising and sharply realized by lead Halldora Geirharosdottir, who matches the confidence of the filmmaking with an impressively animated performance, keeping the movie focused on a singular power of vigilante justice running into serious trouble. Read the rest at

Film Review - Five Feet Apart


Movies about teen romances and elongated disasters are usually inspired by YA fiction, where there’s never a shortage of tales about adolescent woe. “Five Feet Apart” has enjoyed a slightly different origin story, beginning life as a screenplay before it was turned into a novel (released last November). It’s a pleasant change of pace, offering screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis an opportunity to develop distinct subplots instead of trying to pack the vastness of a literary offering into a single picture. That doesn’t mean the feature is a memorable effort, but it’s a refreshingly direct one, finding the right balance of character and setting to give viewers a full understanding of motivation and longing. Such simplicity ends up frightening the filmmakers, but “Five Feet Apart” does connect as a something gentle, periodically invested in real feelings of frustration and attraction that sustain when the third act goes haywire with melodrama. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wonder Park


For their first animated project since 2015’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” Nickelodeon Movies decides to play it very safe with “Wonder Park.” Pinching elements from numerous pictures, the production endeavors to slap together a tale of imagination and dimmed spirits with the feature, which borrows most heavily from Pixar’s “Inside Out” and the 1984 fantasy gem, “The NeverEnding Story.” It’s hard not to be cynical with “Wonder Park,” which is a paint-by-numbers endeavor from screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec (2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”), who slather on emotional manipulation and summon feeble magic for a routine adventure, while the overall animated effort falls far below recent family film competition, supplying a pre-packaged viewing experience that will babysit just fine for 75 minutes, but probably won’t linger for very long with younger audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Yardie


Idris Elba is known as an actor, and one managing a career with some serious highs and lows. Endeavoring to try out some creative control, Elba makes his directorial debut with “Yardie,” pouring his energy into a Jamaican crime saga that proudly retains its cultural position. Taking cues and mood from helmers Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, and Perry Henzell, Elba attempts to fashion something sprawling, threatening, and distinctly Jamaican, taking viewers into the violent core of West Kingston before moving the tale to London for a more recognizable battleground. An adaptation of the book by Victor Headley, “Yardie” is skilled work from Elba, who’s eager to make an impression, loading the feature up with violent confrontations and revenge scenarios motivated by abyssal pain. Read the rest at

Film Review - Starfish


Writer/director A.T. White attempts to craft a low-budget brain-bleeder with “Starfish,” his take on a creature feature where the odyssey of monsterdom is contained within. There are wild visions presented here, but as freak-out cinema goes, it’s not a picture for those with limited patience. White moves forward carefully with his psychological free dive, keeping up with trends in digital cinema that deliver more visual detail than dramatic lure, working to disturb the traditional viewing experience with concentration on imagery and mental distortion, keeping common storytelling away from the endeavor. White certainly knows how to put together a sharp-looking movie, and “Starfish” is ideal for those who enjoy meditative missions into the interpretive unknown. Dramatically, it’s intermittently compelling, but after about 30 minutes of this ambling effort, this very well may White’s intention with his feature-length helming debut. Read the rest at

Film Review - Finding Steve McQueen


Mark Steven Johnson has a very problematic filmography. He’s the director of “Ghost Rider” and “Daredevil,” with his last effort the little-seen “Killing Season,” starring John Travolta and Robert De Niro. He’s not someone that’s proven his skill behind the camera, struggling with dramas, comedies, and actioners, but “Finding Steve McQueen” seems to be his attempt to trying something softer for a change, helming an “Inspired by a true story” tale concerning the United California Bank Robbery, where a group of greedy men tried to steal 30 million dollars in Nixon re-election campaign contributions, hoping to use thievery to stop a thief. Johnson, along with screenwriters Ken Hixson and Keith Sharon, toys with the heist aspects of the tale, but the production is also attempting to make something sweet, taking the sting out of criminal behavior as love flows throughout the endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Triple Frontier


Writer/director J.C. Chandor was last found mining for Oscar gold with 2014’s “A Most Violent Year.” He made a fine film, but it didn’t reach the creative heights of the production that preceded it, 2013’s “All Is Lost,” a masterful exploration of classic dramatic conflicts with a powerful cinematic presence. Chandor’s been away for quite some time, but he returns with “Triple Frontier,” which reunites him with primal battles for survival in the middle of nowhere, but this time there’s a lot more male energy. Teaming up with “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Hurt Locker” writer Mark Boal, Chandor approaches “Triple Frontier” with full command of his helming potential, crafting a twisty nail-biter that only really stops to assess troubling situations of sanity, with the rest of the endeavor concentrating on a blistering pace and meaty displays of pained masculinity. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Captain Marvel


For the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the company tries to reposition the brand name for future big screen heroism with “Captain Marvel.” While the Avengers are off dealing with an apocalyptic situation of loss, the suits need a way to keep things going now that the major MCU stars have fulfilled their contractual obligations or, in some cases, have aged out of their roles. Enter Carol Danvers, an air force pilot experiencing an intergalactic journey with unimaginable powers, submitted as a fresh leader for careworn superheroes. “Captain Marvel” is meant to be a new vision for the 11-year-old MCU big screen journey, imagined as a mighty force for justice and leadership. Under the care of directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the movie only gets halfway to authority, with much of the endeavor playing too flat and careful in comparison with other Marvel powerhouses, finding the indie helmers out of their league when it comes to conjuring big-budget comic book wonderment. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Die Young


He’s battled robots, M. Bison, Dolph Lundgren (multiple times), and he almost, in the mid-90s, went head-to-head with the abominable snowman. And now Jean-Claude Van Damme is going after the MS-13 gang. It’s a sobering change of pace for the action star, as “We Die Young” intends to be a grittier endeavor, with a streetwise sense of horror from writer/director Lior Geller. Van Damme isn’t the traditional hero here, but a broken man barely clinging to life, inspired to stand between the street gangs that control America’s capital and the young lives threatened by violence. “We Die Young” isn’t going to blow minds with its offering of chases and intimidation, but Lior sustains credible peril while examining an urban fight for survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trading Paint


It hasn’t been the best professional time for John Travolta. The actor has never been known for his taste in projects, but recent turns in “Gotti” and “Speed Kills” have failed to attract accolades and audiences, keeping Travolta busy with bad movies that he can’t magically save with his charms. “Trading Paint” has the distinction of being the best film he’s made in a few years, but that’s damning the feature with faint praise. Travolta tries to inject some emotional life into a story about car racing and family, but cliches and rough editing eventually win out in the end. “Trading Paint” is short and makes a pass at being heartfelt, but it’s rarely permitted time to breathe, cycling through formula and races with increasing repetition, making any noticeable level of audience engagement difficult to find. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mapplethorpe


Co-writer/director Ondi Timoner has a great fascination with artists and rebels, with most of her career devoted to the chronicling of those who seek to disrupt the norm, putting personality and vision before controlled behavior (“Brand: A Second Coming,” “Dig!”). She’s found an ideal subject for “Mapplethorpe,” taking on the enormity of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s career, tracking its development and controversies during the 1970s and ‘80s. It’s a storytelling challenge in many ways, but the most pressing concern for Timoner how to find a way to make an unpleasant person interesting for 90 minutes, going beyond noted achievements in art to capture the essence of a man who seemingly lived to hurt others. Mapplethorpe was no prince, and this bio-pic doesn’t probe deep enough into the subject’s point of view, ending up a meandering study of photographic ability with occasional inspections of obsessions and ego. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Madea Family Funeral


Tyler Perry has declared “A Madea Family Funeral” to be the titular character’s last movie. Perry isn’t threatening retirement, but it seems age is catching up to the mogul, who’s ready to hang up the wig, muumuu, and swinging breasts that initially made him a fortune. There’s no way Perry is going to follow through with this promise, but let’s pretend for a minute that “A Madea Family Funeral” is truly the last cinematic at-bat for the wild personality, capping a big screen journey that’s been going on since 2005, spread out over ten features (and one DTV animated picture). Because if this is truly the last time Madea is going to raise hell on-screen, Perry has crafted an absolute airless dud to see her off, putting in as little effort as humanly possible as he switches to autopilot, letting the Perry brand of volume and nonsense carry the endeavor. It’s not that Madea deserves a royal sendoff, but surely an actual film would’ve been nice. Read the rest at

Film Review - Greta


Director Neil Jordan hasn’t enjoyed the most stable career, but he’s always been interesting. He was last seen on screens in 2013’s “Byzantium,” working very hard to make a modern vampire tale that thrived on weird, provocative imagery. The feature connected to a certain extent, but his latest, “Greta,” is a more straightforward endeavor, at least as mainstream as Jordan gets. He’s made some suitable thrillers years, but Jordan is not Hitchcock, and such finely tuned chiller instincts are missing from the picture, which peaks too soon and offers roughly five different endings, with the helmer making a play to toy with audience expectations, but timing, logic (even for this type of entertainment), and performances are deeply flawed, leaving “Greta” struggling to find traction as a nightmare machine, despite its well-worn stalker premise. Read the rest at