Film Review

Film Review - Secret Headquarters


“Spy Kids” was released 21 years ago, and it remains a powerful influence over family entertainment to this day. The Robert Rodriguez film was a delight, mixing decent acts of slapstick and silliness with a plot concerning the empowerment of children, turning them into superheroes. It found an audience and was promptly transformed into a brand name, and now “Secret Headquarters” is basically trying to tell the same story, only with a more Marvel-y approach and the use of a single set to house most of its property damage. Co-writers/directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost are tasked with making a lively adventure with junior high Avengers, and the first half of “Secret Headquarters” has the right tone and sense of exploration to keep it at least mildly interesting. The back nine of the production doesn’t sustain any fun factor, with the endeavor becoming too heavy with conflict and dreadful acts of comedy, bringing the feature to a halt long before it concludes. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Princess


What’s left to be said about Diana, Princess of Wales? Since her death in 1997, she’s been the subject of countless news reports, books, and all sorts of media endeavors. Recently, the life and times of Diana were turned into a high-profile feature (2021’s “Spencer”), and the difficult realities of her life were transformed into a Broadway-ready theatrical event in “Diana: The Musical.” Her story has been dissected in every possible way, feeding what appears to be an endless appetite to revisit the details of her time as a member of the Royal Family, and her eventual departure from such British order, becoming a pop culture figure. “The Princess” is a documentary that tracks Diana’s days from her time as a teenager to her death in Paris, but director Ed Perkins seems aware of the fatigue such a saga could potentially trigger, aiming to explore the decades strictly through film and video of Diana, with media reports serving as commentary. There are no stuffy interviews with “experts,” and no crude recreations, just the footage itself, superbly edited by Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira, who assemble a rich understanding of public turbulence and internalized emotion, allowing the highlights and horror of Diana’s experience to lead the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Emily the Criminal


“Emily the Criminal” is out to capture this particular moment in time. In an age of financial instability and fear, here comes writer/director John Patton Ford with a tale of one woman’s quest to free herself from the bondage of debt, student debt to be specific. It’s a topic that’s commanded attention and debate over the last few years, and Ford is trying to make such a personal struggle easily understood for audiences, using an underworld journey to best identify the pressures of payments in an age of growing poverty. Ford is on to something different with “Emily the Criminal,” which has a crisp understanding of frustrations and anger tied to the loan business, providing a universal sense of stress, which makes for powerful cinema. The rest of the feature isn’t that well-observed, with Ford turning to formula to connect the dots with his character study, which doesn’t bring much texture to the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fall (2022)


“Fall” is an exploitation movie that has a deep desire to be taken seriously as an offering of drama and suspense. Co-writers Jonathan Frank and Scott Mann (who also directs) come up with a decent exercise in thriller cinema, sending two twentysomething women up a T.V. tower for a social media adventure, soon stranding the pair on top of the rusted structure, leaving them to deal with all sorts of challenges to their safety. It’s a simple recipe for cheap thrills, but those expecting a cool 75-minute-long ride of danger and disaster are instead offered 107 minutes of iffy screenwriting choices and melodrama. There’s not nearly enough tension to support the limited scope of “Fall,” which sets up a dire situation of endurance in an unusual location, but doesn’t have a large enough imagination to really bring it to life, content to slog through banal interpersonal issues and predictable near misses. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rogue Agent


“Rogue Agent” is a very generic title for a highly specific story about a sociopath and his intense efforts to destroy the minds of his female victims. For some, the name Robert Freegard might trigger faint memories of headline news (there was even a Netflix series about his misdeeds), but I’m sure most viewers probably haven’t heard of the man, giving screenwriters Michael Bonner, Adam Patterson, and Declan Lawn (the latter two accept directorial duties) a chance to surprise their audience with a lengthy exploration of Freegard’s case. “Rogue Agent” has the structure of a twisted thriller, and one with a heavy psychological component that allows for some extended displays of sinister behavior. Patterson and Lawn don’t meet the potential of the story, preferring a more glacial take on developing evil, but they achieve a level of unease crucial to the tale, and they have Gemma Arterton, who delivers a fine performance as the lover who decides to try and break Freegard’s criminal activities. Read the rest at

Film Review - WifeLike


“WifeLike” plays like an episode of a limited series, bringing viewers into a futureworld of on-demand spouses that’s plagued with issues concerning disposability, freedom, and control. There’s enough exposition to power at least eight episodes, and the ending sets up a conflict for the next season. It’s low-budget sci-fi with a few provocative ideas, but writer/director James Bird goes the big screen route with “WifeLike,” and the picture often doesn’t stand up to cinematic standards. Bird aims to make a thriller with the material, working to sweeten mystery and survival elements, but he’s also saddled with explaining large concepts of dreamscape visitation and some basic world-building for this nation of robotic women and the men who seek to possess them. Excitement isn’t valued by the helmer, who creates a flat, uneventful look at what initially seems like a promising idea for genre activity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Easter Sunday


August is a strange month to release “Easter Sunday,” but it’s easy to recognize a studio punt with the project, which is meant to turn comedian Jo Koy into a leading man. He’s not a seasoned film actor, and this much is evident in the picture, which finds Koy struggling to become charming in a completely laugh-free viewing experience. “Easter Sunday” aims to say something about the chaos of family life, and doing so with a Filipino-American focus, hoping to use the culture and its broad personalities to prop up a DOA endeavor directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, who has a rough track record when it comes to making funny movies (offerings include “The Dukes of Hazard,” “Super Troopers,” and “The Babymakers”). Wacky behaviors can’t save the effort, which doesn’t do anything fresh with humor, and it’s a terrible holiday feature, failing to find the warmth of a domestic gathering, putting a lot of pressure on Koy to make anything here appealing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prey (2022)


1987’s “Predator” is an action cinema classic, merging worlds of violent excess and sci-fi cinema into a tightly constructed ride of survival, dripping with testosterone. Producers have attempted to match it for over 30 years, and while a few follow-ups have been fine, the original Schwarzenegger-ian magic hasn’t been recaptured. That was supposed to change with 2018’s “The Predator,” but the big-budget reworking was a major creative whiff, failing to restore excitement and surprise to the franchise, almost coming close to killing the brand name with its ineptitude. Four years later, and now there’s “Prey,” which is a prequel to “Predator,” with screenwriter Patrick Aison taking the adventure back to 1719, introducing Native American characters as targets for an alien hunter that refuses to back down from a fight. “Prey” has the novelty of its setting, which is a refreshing change of pace, and director Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) oversees some effective suspense sequences. It’s not an especially different take on the central human vs. hunter concept, but it’s definitely an improvement over “The Predator.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Bullet Train


Director David Leitch has built a career out of hardcore action movies, dealing directly with elaborate choreography and bloody messes in films such as “Atomic Blonde,” “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” and his biggest hit, 2018’s “Deadpool 2.” For “Bullet Train,” Leitch isn’t interested in taking any creative detours with this adaptation of a Japanese novel, preferring to Americanize the material with plenty of bruising, slicing, and blunt force trauma, recycling the “Deadpool” formula of irreverent comedy and hard-R brutality, as the features are basically the same, even down to the actors involved. However, “Deadpool 2” had a defined sense of humor and some interesting ways with action. “Bullet Train” is a graceless, unfunny endeavor that’s hell-bent on being the most aggressive picture of the year. Leitch puts his faith in the “more is more” way of thinking, content to bash viewers over the head with the cartoonish ways of the material, trying to sell a joke that doesn’t have a punchline. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Love My Dad


While it carries a friendly title, “I Love My Dad” is a dark comedy about parental extremes, with writer/director/star James Morosini taking viewers on quite a ride with the material, which is shaped from a true story. The helmer spotlights the bad instincts and big heart of a father who doesn’t understand right from wrong, generating an exploration of askew guardianship from a desperate man doing anything, I mean anything, to spend some time relearning how to engage with his emotionally fragile son. “I Love My Dad” hits a few farcical highs and some profoundly emotional lows, and while Morosini doesn’t always maintain command of the feature’s tone, he takes some interesting storytelling risks with the picture, which results in some major laughs and plenty of wincing along the way, making for one of the stranger films of 2022. Read the rest at

Film Review - They/Them


In 1980, actor Kevin Bacon was a cast member of the hit slasher film, “Friday the 13th.” The picture helped to change the industry, inspiring countless knockoffs and a passionate fanbase, but Bacon has never celebrated his participation in the endeavor, possibly troubled to be associated with an unsavory feature. For “They/Them,” Bacon finally returns to the deep woods for this effort, which places him in a camp setting where a killer is on the loose, hacking up victims. It’s cause for celebration for some, but writer/director John Logan isn’t making a horror movie with “They/Them,” more interested in a study of young people dealing with the turbulence of their lives. Macabre events periodically occur, but Bacon isn’t back to basics here, playing a supporting part in a heartfelt examination of confusion and shame, but it’s a lousy genre offering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Luck (2022)


Skydance Animation is the latest company created to get in on the profitable ways of family entertainment. Their debut feature is “Luck,” and the company hopes to acquire some of the good stuff with the hiring of John Lassiter, the once mighty Pixar Animation honcho who left the company for controversial reasons. Lassiter is here to help secure a hit for the studio, with the man who helped develop “Cars” and “Toy Story” staying strictly within his comfort level with “Luck,” which takes zero creative chances during its run time. It’s also one of the most exposition-packed animated pictures in recent memory, with director Peggy Holmes (“The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning”) desperately overseeing an often absurdly elaborate exercise in world building that’s meant to be explored in additional media, should the initial outing reach its audience. Such an outcome seems unlikely, leaving viewers with the burden of keeping up with the laborious screenplay, which is mostly tell and very little show. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thirteen Lives


“Thirteen Lives” is a dramatization of the Tham Luang cave rescue, where 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach were trapped inside a cave for 18 days, inspiring an operation to retrieve them that required precise physicality and an untested medical leap of faith. The story was also explored in the 2021 documentary, “The Rescue,” but now director Ron Howard gets his shot with the tale, which plays to his career interests in the procedural workings of an unthinkable situation and his love of hope. “Thirteen Lives” doesn’t have a fresh perspective on the event, but Howard does provide a solid you-are-there approach, getting to understand the details of the rescue, the divers in charge of pulling off a perilous journey into the cave, and the team on the other side, who have no concept of the major effort in place to make sure they come out alive. Howard aims for a cinematic understanding of risk, and he achieves it with this mostly riveting feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - DC League of Super-Pets


Live-action comic book features are everywhere these days, presenting vivid displays of fantasy action with enough CGI work to technically qualify as cartoons. “DC League of Super-Pets” goes fully animated, with the team behind “Scoob!” and “The Lego Batman Movie” bringing the exploits of superhero animals to life. Family audiences are the target demographic for the endeavor, but directors Sam Levine and Jared Stern don’t skimp on the epic action, giving the effort a few major set pieces to dazzle viewers while also tending to the comedic possibilities of the premise and its colorful characters. “DC League of Super-Pets” has its issues, but it remains a very entertaining picture with periodic explosiveness, keeping one eye on the kid film playbook and the other on the DC universe, trying to give fans a bit of goofy fun to go with all the high-flying activity expected from the brand name. Read the rest at

Film Review - Resurrection (2022)


Writer/director Andrew Semans manufactures an intense tale of psychological warfare with “Resurrection,” exploring the gradual implosion of a woman losing her grip on reality when triggered by the return of an abusive boyfriend from long ago. Semans has thespian might in lead Rebecca Hall, who’s typically drawn to characters on the verge of complete physical and mental collapse, and he has select scenes of unnerving menace, playing up a sick game of control where the rules are extremely bizarre and invasive. Early scenes promise a more direct character examination, but “Resurrection” isn’t that tidy, with the material blurring reality, growing darker as it goes, and Semans prioritizes his writing, creating a battle of monologues that becomes a bit wearisome as the story unfolds, limiting overall suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vengeance (2022)

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B.J. Novak is a celebrated comedian, author, and a cast member on “The Office,” which, according to the internet, is the greatest television show of all time. He’s hunting for a new challenge with “Vengeance,” making his directorial debut with his take on American characters and podcast culture, also working in a murder mystery at times. Novak also writes and stars in the feature, accepting an enormous amount of responsibility to deliver a tightly constructed whodunit with heavy presence of a Texas insanity. Novak gets most of the way there with “Vengeance,” which pieces together rather cleanly for its first two acts, delivering a rich sense of personality and dramatic purpose, even when the story is uncomfortably similar to the hit show, “Only Murders in the Building.” The helmer can’t stick the landing, but Novak offers amusingly exaggerated observations and behaviors with the film, which remains an engrossing sit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Not Okay


Making fun of social media influencers is easy, with this world already flooded with such extreme personalities, it doesn’t take much to identify the cartoonish ways of the subculture. “Not Okay” could go for simple laughs, but writer/director Quinn Shephard hunts for a darker tone with the picture, exploring the depths of self-delusion and desperation required to make it big with followers, freebies, and access. She has a sharp idea for extremity, following a character’s evolution when a white lie develops into a major change of status, taking her on a journey of exposure and admiration she’s never earned. There’s a roller coaster ride of black comedy for the taking in “Not Okay,” but Shephard isn’t committed to making a barbed film, instead looking for a more emotionally driven study of a fragile mind coming into contact with authenticity that’s alien to her experience. Such an approach supports dramatic intentions, but Shephard is much better off poking fun at the excesses and vanity of the ego-driven universe. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sharp Stick

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Lena Dunham made an impression with her 2010 movie, “Tiny Furniture,” joining the indie film scene with her version of a Woody Allen picture, examining the neurotic and unwell with her own sense of humor and love of awkwardness. Dunham went on to create the television show “Girls,” keeping her busy for many years, but now she’s back on the screen with “Sharp Stick,” which carries a similar atmosphere as “Tiny Furniture,” but remains more focused on shock value and strange behaviors. The new endeavor, her first feature-length directorial outing in 12 years, certainly has the vibe of a creator unsure what to do with the material, presenting a series of unfinished thoughts with “Sharp Stick,” which delivers a few moments of fascinating mental health disasters, but not much else. Read the rest at

Film Review - Anything's Possible


Billy Porter is a force of nature. He’s found incredible success in front of the camera, recently stealing scenes in “Cinderella,” and now he’s taking his energy behind one, making his directorial debut with “Anything’s Possible.” Porter’s habitual flamboyance is injected into a teen movie written by Ximena Garcia Lecuona, and one that rides the line between an average study of adolescent love during the pressures of senior year performance and a look at the caution that arises when it comes to the complications of attraction. “Anything’s Possible” isn’t interested in a melodramatic examination of gender and hallway power plays, with Porter trying to capture the thrill of attraction and all the challenges it requires. The material attempts to represent a more inclusive vision of romance and relationships, and while formula is often present to get from one side of the story to the other, Porter and Lecuona stay positive and respectful with this examination of self-esteem. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nope


Jordan Peele has a particular way of making a movie. He’s scored commercial and critical hits with his previous endeavors, “Get Out” and “Us,” beguiling viewers with his vision for strange experiences happening to real people. He’s working with genre entertainment to deliver his take on the world and its residents, showing the most interest in the black experience. With “Nope,” Peele inches away from social commentary, playing more with the bewitching magic of filmmaking itself, digging into history and technology as he returns to the comfort zone of the unknown and the threatened. Much like his other two efforts, “Nope” has moments of greatness, but the picture struggles to get past Peele’s directorial fetishes, keeping the endeavor unsteady as it shares an interesting and unusual study of the traditional flying saucer feature. Read the rest at