Film Review

Film Review - Bad Boys for Life


Created as an action distraction for the spring of 1995, “Bad Boys” marked the directorial debut of Michael Bay, who took a low-budget project starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence and made it come alive, feeling out his helming powers with what would become his only movie made with some restraint. Returning to the brand name in 2003, Bay manufactured a hideously bloated and mean-spirited sequel, offered a chance to do whatever he wanted with the series, electing to squeeze all the fun out of it. After a long breather, Smith and Lawrence return with “Bad Boys for Life,” but Bay has chosen to sit this one out, passing the baton to Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, two untested filmmakers tasked with keeping up the Bay energy for the weirdly delayed second sequel. It’s nice not to have Bay around to make a mess of things, but the new kids on the block are just as interested in grotesque violence and sheer noise, unwilling to make “Bad Boys for Life” their own bulldozing creation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dolittle


It’s easy to see why the 1920 Hugh Lofting book, “The Story of Doctor Dolittle,” is a tempting adaptation opportunity for movie producers. While the literary offering spawned its own series of missions for the titular character, his central gift, born with an ability to speak to animals, is a concept that can go anywhere. And it has on a few occasions, most notably an epic 1967 musical that bombed at the box office, and most recently a 1998 comedy starring Eddie Murphy that trigged a string of sequels. Now there’s “Dolittle,” with co-writer/director Stephen Gaghan striving to make a big-budget, family friendly spectacle featuring gobs of visual effects, one of the highest paid actors in the history of Hollywood, and a supporting voice cast made up of various comedians, actors, and professional wrestlers. It’s a massive production, and yet “Dolittle” feels uncomfortably small, presenting a limited imagination for wonder and funny business, trying to win over audiences with eye candy instead. Read the rest at

Film Review - VHYes


Not so fast, 1990’s nostalgia, there’s still plenty of love for the 1980s out there. For director Jack Henry Robbins, the early days of video recording are lovingly recreated in “VHYes,” which gives audiences a chance to revisit the small thrills of documenting life and television during the wild west years of home electronics. Robbins doesn’t have a story to share here, manufacturing a viewing experience instead, calling in friends and family (including parents Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon) to recreate shows, films, commercials, and household interactions from 1987, creating a bizarre mix tape of comedy and surrealism, with nothing in the feature lasting for very long. It’s a stab at an old-fashioned underground movie, and “VHYes” secures a semi-consistent showcase of amusing performances and welcome silliness, playing up the technical limitations of equipment and satirizing the programming trends of the day to add something wonderfully oddball to the marketplace. Read the rest at

Film Review - Troop Zero


Writer Lucy Alibar has a fascination with the motor that keeps young minds running. She made her screenwriting debut with “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” adapting her stage play “Juicy and Delicious,” and she returns to theatrical inspirations for “Troop Zero,” which is based on her play, “Christmas and Jubilee Behold the Meteor Shower.” Alibar has an appreciation for free-range upbringings, and aims for a sweeter understanding of personal challenges with her latest effort. “Troop Zero” doesn’t stray far from underdog cinema formula, but Alibar keeps her material sentimental and empowering, trying to speak to the heart of pre-teen characters as they battle adults, the 1970s, and their own perceived limitations on a quest to communicate with the deepest reaches of space. Read the rest at

Film Review - Disturbing the Peace


Guy Pearce has accepted some roles he shouldn’t have over the years, but it’s difficult to understand why he said yes to “Disturbing the Peace.” Usually big money is the reason behind respected stars and their need to appear in VOD product, but even by those standards, Pearce is really scraping the bottom of the barrel with this feature. And amateurish production from director York Alec Shackelton (who previously helmed another lump, the Nicolas Cage-starrer “211’), “Disturbing the Peace” tries to be an urban western, pitting a troubled lawman against a pack of violent bikers, but there’s little appreciation for the building of tension, the technique of selling violence, and basic thespian skills. Pearce is the best thing about the picture, but that’s not saying much, as the veteran actor is simply here to make a few bucks and move on, putting in the least amount of effort possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wave


“The Wave” approaches ideas on conscience and karmic balance through the cinematic reverberations of psychedelic drugs. Director Gille Klabin is prepared to take the audience on a special mind-bending ride, armed with distinct visuals and doses of CGI, while instructing star Justin Long to capture the finer points of mental and physical alarm as his character is sent through time and space to deal with his issues as a human being in a dangerous position of power. “The Wave” has a simple message of personal inventory to study, and Klabin tries to capture audience attention through bursts of chaos, hoping to wind up the feature as a manic sprint through different realities. It’s not an especially ambitious production, and not entirely compelling either, but it does have a certain energy at times to keep it going, with Long working hard to communicate the inner melt of a troubled man. Read the rest at

Film Review - Like a Boss


Screen comedy hasn’t been living its best life in recent years, with trends in improvisation and lowbrow humor hurting funny business instead of helping it, finding filmmakers all too content to provide limited imagination. “Like a Boss” isn’t going to change the game, but it does have an interesting director in Miguel Arteta, helmer of “Cedar Rapids,” “The Good Girl,” and the recent “Beatriz at Dinner.” Arteta is far from infallible, but one can sense something trying to happen in “Like a Boss,” which possesses moments of pleasant silliness with two very game stars before it retreats back to numbing cliché, creating strange tonal extremes as Arteta tries to steady himself and create a bawdy, R-rated comedy that also touches on female empowerment and friendship issues. He doesn’t get there, but some mild effort helps. Read the rest at

Film Review - Underwater


There was a time when this type of movie was nearly released on a monthly basis. In the late 1980s, Hollywood wanted in on oceanic horror movies, with features such as “DeepStar Six” and “Leviathan” making a run for box office glory, only to find limited interest from ticket-buyers. 30 years later, there’s another attempt with “Underwater” (shot three years ago), which isn’t quite as monster intensive, but does restore the primal terror of being stuck at the bottom of the sea, facing off against a most determined foe. It’s the “Alien” formula, only with tighter spaces and lots of wetness. “Underwater” has the remote setting and some money for visual effects, but director William Eubank (who contributed effective work with 2014’s “The Signal”) is more interested in creating a chaotic viewing experience, not a terrifying one, shredding his invitation to make a claustrophobic nail-biter, preferring flat acting and cheap scares instead. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Informer


There have been many undercover snitch movies, and there will be a lot more to come. What separates these endeavors is depth of concern for characters in peril and overall suspense while watching conflicted personalities pushed to their breaking point. “The Informer” has no aspiration to be cinematic art, but director Andrea Di Stefano (“Escobar: Paradise Lost”) has steady command of tension when it comes to awful things happening to a wide variety of people, delivering a reasonably unsettling examination of panic in the world of secret lives. “The Informer” has pace and performances, and Di Stefano seems invested in making sure the feature is as gripping as possible before a few dramatic developments fall apart, keeping things compelling for a decent amount of time before the demands of audience-pleasing cinema begin to take over. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inherit the Viper


Anthony Jerjen makes his directorial debut with “Inherit the Viper,” which explores the ravages of opioid addiction and distribution in a small town, reflected in the lives of three siblings deeply involved with the problem. Formula isn’t denied by Jerjen, working with a screenplay by Andrew Crabtree, but concern for the inner lives of the characters remains, giving the production something to work with as it manages forgotten America woes. “Inherit the Viper” aims to go Shakespearean with its study of frayed family ties, and it achieves some of its creative goals, delivering a grim understanding of survival, legacy, and the deterioration of conscience as bad decisions mount, leading to all sorts of emotional and physical violence. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson


Director Daniel Farrands has a fetish for true crime tales. However, instead of exploring the facts of such cases, trying to work his way to the truth, he’s decided to distort minor witness testimony and police report oddities to inspire his own brand of lurid cinema. In 2019, Farrands issued “The Amityville Murders,” which returned to the DeFeo saga to detail the supernatural claims of the family murder. A few months later, there was “The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” which attempted to redress the Manson Family massacre as a downward spiral of psychic awareness, even toying with the outcome of the evening. And now Farrands is back with “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson,” which revisits the brutality of the 1994 homicide, with screenwriter Michael Arter taking O.J. Simpson’s 2006 suggestion of an aggressor named “Charlie,” and turning it into a feature-length theory that the ex-football star wasn’t the murderer so many people believe him to be. Why do we need a movie like this? Farrands never supplies an answer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Three Christs


While he made a promising directorial debut with 1991’s “Fried Green Tomatoes,” Jon Avnet hasn’t managed to match his initial creative and box office success. He’s worked primarily in television in recent years, but the lasting stench of disasters such as 2008’s “Righteous Kill” and 2007’s “88 Minutes” remains. “Three Christs” is meant to slip Avnet back into the warm waters of personal psychological problems, exploring one doctor’s quest to achieve a greater understanding of paranoid schizophrenia during a research project in 1959. The subject is interesting, exploring the depths of troubled minds trapped in an unforgiving care system. However, Avnet can’t get the material moving in any compelling direction, creating a disappointingly plodding endeavor that’s too concerned with melodramatic asides to get to the heart of mental illness. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Grudge (2020)


A long time ago, the “Ju-On” series was very popular. It began its pop culture reign in 2000’s “The Curse,” a Japanese production that eventually inspired numerous sequels and spin-offs while taking its act to America for 2004’s “The Grudge,” resulting in a major hit as the moviegoing public began to fall in love with features about ghostly children terrifying easily spooked adults. There were follow-ups to that endeavor as well, but the thrill eventually wore off. Sensing a chance to reboot a familiar brand name, Sony Pictures returns with the unimaginatively titled “The Grudge,” with writer/director Nicolas Pesce trying his luck with a J-Horror nostalgia piece, looking to freak out audiences with old suspense moves that were stale the first time around, coming up with a particularly snoozy offering of sinister business, only here he manages to waste a fairly capable cast on feeble frights. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cunningham


In 2011, director Wim Wenders created “Pina,” his celebration of dance choreographer Pina Bausch. Instead of merely documenting the life and times of Bausch, Wenders created an immersive world of movement, shooting the feature in 3D to bring dimension to different environments. Alla Kovgan has the same idea for “Cunningham,” with the helmer endeavoring to delivering a stunning document of beloved choreographer Merce Cunningham, who mastered challenging, brilliantly inventive dance performances. The documentary is presented in both 2D and 3D, but the pure majesty of Cunningham’s vision is the core experience of the picture, which connects as an understanding of the dancer’s history and a celebration of his life’s work, showcasing modern interpretations of his most famous achievements. Read the rest at

The Worst Films of 2019


VOD goes DOA, Harmony Korine needs a new dealer, a ham-handed theater haunting, return of the Shatnering, NASA team torment, another visit to Amityville, leave Sharon Tate alone, Tyler Perry arranges a funeral, Alec Baldwin and Salma Hayek need rehab, and a graphic novel assassin shoots himself in the foot.

These are the Worst Films of 2019.

Continue reading "The Worst Films of 2019" »

Film Review - Spies in Disguise


“Spies in Disguise” wants to provide a good time for family audiences, giving them a superspy story with a defined cartoon approach, merging James Bond and the animal kingdom to come up with something wacky. At least when it wants to. Directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno have a clear vision for exaggerated antics and action set pieces with the feature, but the screenplay (by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor) doesn’t have much of an imagination. Jokes aren’t sharp and satire is weak in “Spies in Disguise,” while the tonal swings are mighty in what initially appears to be a harmless romp, at least before a dead parent and the might of the American military-industrial complex arrives to shut down the limited fun factor of the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clemency


In one of those unfortunate situations of marketplace timing, there are two death row prisoner stories competing for audience attention right now. “Just Mercy” is more about a softer view of judicial doom, looking at the particulars of legal battles and the weariness of hope, presented in an Oscar-ready package that makes carful moves to be as audience-friendly as possible. “Clemency” is decidedly more powerful and direct about the experience of death row, delivering a gritty, introspective take on the mentality of those preparing to die and those in charge of taking lives. Writer/director Chinonye Chukwu earns all emotion in this compelling picture, making sure to preserve the realism of such an experience and how it’s processed by all involved personalities. “Clemency” has focus and insight the competition can’t muster, creating a profound understanding of the psychological battles that carry on during the cold process of prison procedure. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Rainy Day in New York


For his latest effort as a writer/director, Woody Allen returns to a comfortable creative space with “A Rainy Day in New York.” After fumbling around with melodrama in 2017’s “Wonder Wheel” and going period for 2016’s “Café Society,” Allen revisits the carefully curated highlights of NYC for his latest comedy, which transfers his usual areas of romantic anxiety and class neuroses to a much younger generation of actors, hoping to tap into fresh energy while remaining wrapped inside his artistic wooby. There’s nothing particularly distinctive about “A Rainy Day in New York” and, overall, it’s lesser Allen, lacking any sort of believability or amusing mischief to make it special. The helmer seems to be going through the motions here, which isn’t new to Allen’s filmography, but whatever spark about the Big Apple was there before has been snuffed out here. Read the rest at