Film Review

Film Review - Frozen II


Marketplace expectations were muted before the release of 2013’s “Frozen,” with Walt Disney Animation Studios trying to build on the success of 2010’s “Tangled” by ordering up another fairy tale musical, only with a more pronounced sense of family ties and empowerment. “Frozen” didn’t simply dominate the box office for weeks, it became a cornerstone of Disney entertainment, transformed into video games, theme park attractions, short films, toys and games, and, in 2018, a Broadway musical. The picture became an omnipresent event, with the anthem “Let It Go” becoming the most played song in the history of minivans. Now Disney wants another bite of the apple, delivering “Frozen II,” which doesn’t need to accomplish much to connect to its target demographic, but returning directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee aren’t interested in a cheery return visit to Arendelle, going darker with a sequel that’s trying to age-up with its audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


After the release of 2018’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” documentary, it’s clear we’re in the midst of a “Fredaissance,” with renewed interest in the life and teachings of Fred Rogers returning to view. Solidifying such a welcome movement is “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which isn’t a Mr. Rogers bio-pic, but a profound understanding of his mission to identify emotions and celebrate people. There’s no schmaltz here, as screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster approach the Rogers universe carefully, remaining respectful but honest about the PBS star, while showing precise attention to what turned him into a source of comfort for millions of viewers. There’s feeling flowing throughout “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” and there’s Tom Hanks, who ascends to new professional heights by playing Fred Rogers not as an icon, but a being of immense compassion and curiosity, avoiding caricature to absolutely nail the essence of a seemingly simple, but decidedly complex man. Read the rest at

Film Review - Charlie's Angels (2019)


“Charlie’s Angels” has been banging around pop culture for the last 43 years, and will probably continue for another century. There’s something about the mix of female spies and costuming potential that keeps producers coming back for more, and now the brand name returns to the big screen after a 16-year-long absence, with writer/director Elizabeth Banks trying to reignite the flames of fandom with…well, “Charlie’s Angels.” It’s a new world of big missions and bad men for the Angels to conquer, and Banks is an unlikely choice to guide a mid-budget actioner. She aims for expected style and attitude, but whiffs big time with the rest of the endeavor. Instead of a rousing bruiser that pays tribute to those who’ve Angel-ed before, the production offers a wooden empowerment experience with the kind of drab cinematic chaos one might expect from the helmer of “Pitch Perfect 2.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Line of Duty


Steven C. Miller hasn’t enjoyed the most creatively fertile career, recently managing a string of VOD projects with basically the same title (“Submerged,” “Marauders,” “Arsenal,” “First Kill”), while his last endeavor, 2018’s “Escape Plan 2: Hades,” was recently disowned by its star, Sylvester Stallone. Excitement isn’t really Miller’s specialty, but he does have an interest in violent encounters, finally connecting to a story in “Line of Duty” that demands a little more emphasis when it comes to bodily harm. Miller (not to be confused with colleague Brian A. Miller, who gifted the world “Vice,” “Backtrace,” and “Reprisal”) seems alert with “Line of Duty” (which, amazingly, doesn’t star Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage), assembling a slightly energizing bruiser that’s heavy on the stunt work and blessedly limited in scope. It’s not a career rejuvenator, but it has a pulse, and that’s good enough to pass. Read the rest at

Film Review - Noelle


Now that 2003’s “Elf” has become a holiday classic and a merchandising behemoth, Disney has finally come around with their own version of the elf-out-of-water tale. With “Noelle,” writer/director Marc Lawrence is determined to follow the “Elf” structure, constructing a holiday odyssey where a marginalized member of the North Pole community is tasked with entering human society, experiencing all possible awkwardness and cultural collisions. Instead of Will Ferrell, Lawrence brings in Anna Kendrick, eager to use her chirpy personality to embody the Christmas spirit as it’s newly challenged by family fear and Phoenix heat. “Noelle” is harmless fluff, but it’s definitely no “Elf,” missing any sizable laughs and delightful mischief, with Lawrence missing opportunities to craft a blazing comedy, electing to make a bland one instead. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Good Liar


Whatever happens in “The Good Liar,” it always has the skill of master thespians Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren to support through anything the plot delivers. It turns out, the story delivers quite a bit, but the film waits patiently to unleash its bizarre turns of plot, with director Bill Condon providing a solid hour of character work and intriguing clues before he’s forced to truly attack the structure of Nicolas Searle’s book, adapted here by Jeffrey Hatcher. “The Good Liar” is about the gamesmanship of secrets, and the picture does an impressive job hiding its true form, taking things one way when it ultimately heads in a completely different direction. This curveball is too ambitious for the scope of the movie, but, again, there’s the magic of McKellen and Mirren, with the pair making the material absolutely soar at times, often more interesting than the feature they’re starring in. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lady and the Tramp (2019)


Disney’s interest in creating live-action remakes of animated classics isn’t dissipating any time soon, especially after last summer’s “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” do-over collected a fortune at the box office, inspiring the company to crank out more of these problematic productions. Their latest offering is “Lady and the Tramp,” which updates the beloved 1955 original, aiming to hook a modern audience with a CGI-enhanced event that basically replicates the previous feature, but loses troubling racial stereotypes and dynamic hand-drawn artistry. While it refuses to be anything more than a copy of what’s come before, “Lady and the Tramp” plays more like a “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” sequel, presenting a lifeless adventure that doesn’t take any chances or offer much personality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Radioflash


Writer/director Ben McPherson is trying to put his own stamp on the end of the world, with “Radioflash” examining the power of analog life when the digital universe ceases to exist. It’s not really a horror movie, but the helmer does try to inject some fright into the endeavor. It’s not exactly a thriller, but a few chases and heated showdowns remain. As a relationship picture, McPherson has something compelling with his overview of a family fighting to stay together during a troubling time. “Radioflash” wants to be a lot of things, but never really comes together, with McPherson overwhelmed by his subplots, struggling to find a story here worth following from start to finish. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer


While it’s been in the tabloid business since 1953, only now is a moviemaker brave enough to assemble a documentary on the ways of the National Enquirer. Mark Landsman (“Thunder Soul”) steps up to examine just how the publication came to be, tracking the rise of its influence and the depths of its reporting, presenting a film about unscrupulous behavior in a day and age when such a thing has become daily bread for us all. Mercifully, “Scandalous” comes prepared, with Landsman assembling an impressive roster of interviewees and visual evidence to help fill out what’s really a string of political and pop culture highlights, following the paper’s efforts to be valued as entertainment and as an example of journalistic integrity. The picture is a bit wobbly when it comes time to challenge these personalities, but Landsman constructs a reasonably smooth ride of outrageous events and professional exposure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ford v Ferrari


Director James Mangold has spent a substantial amount of time on comic book-inspired cinema in recent years, finding success with 2013’s “The Wolverine” and 2017’s “Logan,” which also represented a special kind of victory, managing to turn a hard R-rated superhero endeavor into a major hit. While “Ford v Ferrari” returns Mangold to reality, approaching the story behind the 1966 Le Mans race, it also keeps him in the realm of super-powered people, dealing with larger-than-life personalities and their roaring automobiles, communicating a sense of scale that rivals most MCU or DCEU productions. “Ford v Ferrari” isn’t built for nuance, Mangold wants a full-throttle viewing experience with broad highs and lows instead, achieving a major crowd-pleaser that’s packed with amazing actors and brought to life with extraordinary technical skill. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Christmas


Paul Feig is an earnest filmmaker, often in charge of crowd-pleasing entertainment, managing broad performances, juicy themes, and general wackiness. He took a break from intentional comedy with last year’s “A Simple Favor,” trying to steady himself with a tale of murder and obsession, but he couldn’t mute his bad instincts in full, remaining in a heightened state as he toyed with camp, showing little command of genres. He’s back in big eye mode with “Last Christmas,” which merges the demands of a feel-good holiday picture and the threat of a jukebox musical, with the screenplay (credited to Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings) adapting the lyrics of Wham’s 1984 hit, “Last Christmas,” into a feature-length endeavor, also employing tunes from George Michael, even if they don’t fit the yuletide mood. Feig has his work cut out for him with such a wafer-thin concept, but he’s never one to embrace subtlety, going full gush with habitually ridiculous “Last Christmas.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Primal


In this installment of “Nicolas Cage Doesn’t Say No to Anything,” attention turns to the arrival of “Primal,” which, from the film’s marketing efforts, appears to concern Cage’s character as he does battle with a cargo ship full of wild animals secretly released from their cages by a very bad man. Oh, dear readers, if that were the actual picture, what a state of B-movie bliss we’d all be in. The screenplay by Richard Leder (“Christmas on Chestnut Street,” “A Thousand Men and a Baby”) isn’t that bonkers, not even close. Instead of pure exhilaration as the hero(?) is forced to fight for his life against the animal kingdom, the production offers a prisoner escape feature instead, spending more time with a human protagonist. There’s no zoo-gone-mad aspect to “Primal,” but, as always, there’s Cage, and he’s in peak Cage-osity here, trying to give the blandness that surrounds him some much needed thespian spice. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crown Vic


Writer/director Joel Souza has a lot of competition when trying to mount an effective police thriller. Taking the “Training Day” route without the dramatic flourishes, the helmer offers “Crown Vic,” which takes a long look at a single evening in the lives of two cops, one a fatigued veteran while the other is an earnest newcomer to the L.A. patrol scene. Souza has a lot on his mind with the picture, tapping into current fears of overzealous, powermad police officers and their presence on volatile streets. He also wants to create a dramatic tale of professional duty as it faces impossible odds against criminals, taking a look at one man’s legal and moral crisis. “Crown Vic” isn’t involving enough as it details a range of unstable types the L.A.P.D. is forced to deal with every single day, but there are moments of inspiration, with the feature’s middle-ground when it comes to excessive force provocative enough to carry a tonally uneven endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gift


“Gift” endeavors to be a peaceful viewing experience about a turbulent issue. Director Robin McKenna takes her lead from the Lewis Hyde book, “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World,” attempting to translate the author’s ideas from the 1980s to today’s world of increasing acts of greed and territoriality. The picture takes a look at the concept of the “gift economy,” where individuals work to provide something of value to the world without expectation of payment, working to better the community through a shared experience. “Gift” follows a handful of people around the globe as they attempt to participate in various forms of art and communication, with McKenna exploring their physical labor and psychological state as they create something out of nothing, with hopes to transform lives in different ways with their separate visions of generosity and personal expression. Read the rest at

Film Review - Doctor Sleep


While 1980’s “The Shining” is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, time has slowly erased that reality, transferring ownership to director Stanley Kubrick, who worked extremely hard to make his own horror event out of King’s working parts. It’s one of those untouchable movies, with King even trying to challenge it with his own miniseries offering in 1997. To develop his literary world, the writer revisited Danny Torrance in the 2013 book, “Doctor Sleep,” finding King pushing the character into a new phase of power and understanding, endeavoring to revisit the events of the Overlook Hotel from a place of trauma and forgiveness. Writer/director Mike Flanagan (“Gerald’s Game”) has the unique opportunity to combine King’s vision with Kubrick’s fingerprints, mounting a screen version of “Doctor Sleep,” which masters such a creative tightrope walk, managing to play with “The Shining” in inventive ways while remaining a King-inspired ride of macabre events and tortured minds. Read the rest at

Film Review - Terminator: Dark Fate


Four years ago, “Terminator Genisys” was supposed to be the big return of the old “Terminator” magic. Coming after the dreary nothingness of “Terminator Salvation,” “Genisys” had the budget, the production enthusiasm, and the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to reenergize the brand name. However, it didn’t connect as it should’ve, straining to kick off a fresh series of sequels that could match the time-travel enjoyment of James Cameron’s first two installments of the franchise. Because the “Terminator” universe is too lucrative to let die, producers return with “Terminator: Dark Fate,” making sure they have some big guns to wow audiences, and they do, luring Schwarzenegger back to his most iconic role, while James Cameron provides story and producing support. Most encouragingly, Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, almost 30 years after the she last played the part. Her steely disgust is most welcome in “Dark Fate,” which is immediately boosted by her presence while director Tim Miller finds a reasonable blend of metal-mashing action and sci-fi that eluded the last two chapters of this unwieldy series. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jojo Rabbit


While working on a steady stream of idiosyncratic comedies, managing low budgets and bright ideas, writer/director Taika Waititi made a jump to the big time with 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” which not only was the best of the Thor movies, but one of the finest offerings in the rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking advantage of studio interest, Waititi quickly delivers “Jojo Rabbit,” which has the difficult challenge of being a semi-farce about Nazi Germany, with Adolph Hitler depicted in an almost purely clownish way. If there’s one person able to master the hacky sack dance of tonality such material demands, it’s Waititi, who scores laughs with “Jojo Rabbit,” but also respects the sobering reality of wartime loss, doing an impressive job committing to his wild ideas without losing the feature in full. Read the rest at

Film Review - Adopt a Highway


A working actor with credits such as “The Invitation,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and “Prometheus,” Logan Marshall-Green takes a short break from his on-camera duties to make his filmmaking debut with “Adopt a Highway.” Marshall-Green doesn’t overwhelm himself with screenplay ambition, manufacturing a small tale of a broken man trying to feel whole again, or possibly emote for the very first time. Modest in scale and execution, “Adopt a Highway” does have its aimless moments, but Marshall-Green is wise to bring in Ethan Hawke for the lead role, with the pleasingly aging actor handed the entire picture to work with, using his screen time to locate the inner life of the character while the production moseys from one scene to the next, slowly generating an understanding of motivation. Read the rest at

Film Review - In Fabric


In 2012, writer/director Peter Strickland created a tribute to the art of giallo in “Berberian Sound Studio,” and he returns to open fields of madness with “In Fabric,” which provides an even stranger viewing experience. Strickland is confident with style, going all-in on surreal imagery to best disturb his audience, this time assembling a chiller about a haunted dress and the lives it ruins in the most peculiar ways. “In Fabric” isn’t something to be approached casually, requiring a special level of patience with Strickland’s indulgences and curiosity with the material’s often inscrutable mysteries. It’s certainly gorgeous to look at, with lavish attention to cinematography, makeup, and costume design, and it carries its perversity well for an hour. It’s the second half of the picture that doesn’t come across as essential, weakening the spell Strickland is hoping to cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - Motherless Brooklyn


The last time Edward Norton directed a movie, Bill Clinton was president. It’s been ages since the actor stepped behind a camera, with his debut, “Keeping the Faith,” making some viewers wish he would never return to helming. He played it safe the first time around, making a romantic comedy for Disney, but now Norton is offering something with a little more meat on it, adapting the 1999 novel, “Motherless Brooklyn,” written by Jonathan Lethem. Instead of arranging mild slapstick, Norton toughens up with this detective story, paying tribute to the noir classics of old, creating a feature that’s rich with style and populated with irritable characters. The actual machine powering all the story’s intrigue isn’t completely beguiling, but the filmmaker has cinematic ideas he wants to share here, finding intermittent success with an overlong (144 minutes) saga of corruption and denial. Read the rest at