Film Review

Film Review - Close


At first glance, “Close” seems to be trying to push Noomi Rapace into Liam Neeson territory, taking on a role that turns the talented actress into one-woman-army mode, confronting a series of villains in her own action vehicle. If co-writer/director Vicky Jewson was interested in something that simplistic, perhaps the picture would’ve gotten by on sheer force alone. Unfortunately, “Close” isn’t a bruiser bonanza, but something tamer with occasional blasts of gunplay and broken bones. Jewson endeavors to comment on the state of corporate greed and stock price fixation with the screenplay (co-scripted by Rupert Whitaker), leaving actual violence to intermittent flashes of rage. The rest of the feature plays out with all the urgency of a cable news special report, missing a shot at genre indulgence as the production chases meaning I doubt few viewers will care about. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Glass


The big reveal of 2016’s “Split” was its position as a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable.” It played like a Hail Mary pass from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, presenting a treat to his fanbase after they’ve years spent wishing for a proper continuation to his unusual take on iconic comic book formula. “Split” surprised many by becoming a sizable hit, managing to restore Shyamalan’s helming career in the process, and he’s spending his comeback bucks on “Glass,” which is, without disguise, the next chapter in the “Unbreakable” saga. However, Shyamalan isn’t one to give his audience exactly what they want, and “Glass” seems to exist solely to deny expectations. This isn’t a superhero blow-out paying off painstaking character mythos and pages of exposition, but another talky, low-energy endeavor that slowly stitches together the worlds of the previous chapters, with Shyamalan unwilling to do anything more with this universe than portion it out in small bites. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Bouncer


Jean-Claude Van Damme has played his share of heroes and villains, but rarely does the action star receive a chance to play an average fellow. At least a normal guy with the ability to clear entire rooms filled with armed goons. “The Bouncer” is Van Damme’s attempt at a sobering study of parental sacrifice and protection, trying to remain as small as possible on screen to play a character whose primary goal in life is not to be noticed. There are no superhuman feats of strength and no splits. There’s not even a wisecrack or a wink. “The Bouncer” keeps Van Damme restrained, which makes him a credible guardian and a decent threat in the feature, with director Julien Leclercq trying to showcase a different side to the veteran bruiser, presenting him with an acting challenge that doesn’t require the lead to reach beyond his grasp. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fyre


If there was ever a ripe subject for a documentary, it would be the 2017 Fyre Festival debacle. It was meant to be a concert experience with primary attention paid to lifestyle adventures for the social media age, welcoming guests to a Bahamian paradise to experience pure luxury and time with celebrities of dubious value. It was the dream of co-founders Billy McFarland and “hip hop mogul” Ja Rule, who promised the world to ticket-buyers, trying to establish the Fyre brand name as a new force on the scene. However, what really occurred during the spring of 2017 was a complete disaster concerning false promises, poor planning, and outright fraud. Director Chris Smith (“American Movie,” “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”) is right there to put together a puzzle of bewilderment and blame, emerging with “Fyre,” a superbly detailed overview of hubris and desperation that’s absolutely riveting to watch unfold. Read the rest at

Film Review - All These Small Moments


For her feature-length debut as a writer/director, Melissa Miller Costanzo selects a coming-of-age story to feel out her cinematic vision. She’s not reinventing the wheel here, offering a snapshot of New York City inhabitants working through troubled relationships and their own insecurities while they process the ups and downs of love, but there’s passion for the project, which helps to patch a few narrative potholes along the way. “All These Small Moments” lives up to its title, sharing private time with characters trying to understand how to communicate with one another, with Costanzo focusing on short, poetic events that fuel self-inspection. It’s graceful work and heartfelt, fighting back cliché to concentrate on universal feelings and primal needs, making it all wonderfully human. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Saint Bernard Syndicate


What a strange comedy “The Saint Bernard Syndicate” is. I’m not sure it’s even supposed to be funny, submitting a darkly humorous take on business dealings in a foreign land, also focusing on a growing medical crisis for one character, who’s experiencing the trip of a lifetime as he nears his expiration date. It’s all sold with a dry wit by director Mads Brugger (“The Ambassador”), with the Danish helmer using workplace comedy dysfunction and documentary-style visual touches to sell the random collisions of culture and personality that fill Laerke Sanderhoff’s screenplay. “The Saint Bernard Syndicate” is very funny at times, but also chilling and always interested in weirdness, giving it a unique take on familiar rhythms of improvisational acting and snowballing scenes of discomfort. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Laugh


Writer/director Greg Pritikin has the brave idea to cast Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss in a comedy, pairing two stars with a lengthy history of cantankerous behind-the-scenes behavior in what’s supposed to be a funny movie about funny business. I look forward to reading Pritikin’s book on the making of this feature one day, but for now, “The Last Laugh” does a reasonably fine job keeping Chase and Dreyfuss on target, unleashed on R-rated material that gives the actors sauciness to stir and punchlines to devour, using their own established personalities to boost the endeavor’s potential for unpredictability. Pritikin needs this element of surprise, as his screenplay often leans on cliché to get by, with hopes to make something heartfelt concerning the trials of aging and loneliness with two men who’d rather be launching insults than dealing with sincerity. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Standoff at Sparrow Creek


“The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” is basically an offering of filmed theater, but it wields its spare construction effectively, coming up with a novel way to rehash the Men with Guns subgenre. Writer/director Henry Dunham takes inspiration from Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” to fashion his own take on loquacious criminal behavior located in a single space, and while he comes up short with punchy dialogue, the helmer has a sharp sense of mood, creating a dark space for paranoia and anger to grow. “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” isn’t exactly the armrest-gripper Dunham has in mind, but it comes alive in fits, finding a way to make monologuing and dead stares compelling as connections between characters are discovered. Read the rest at

Film Review - An Acceptable Loss


Directorial careers can be a strange thing, and Joe Chappelle has experienced a wild one. He made his first real mainstream impression with 1995’s “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers,” and segued into 1998’s “Phantoms.” The genre launch pad didn’t ignite a hunger for his services, ending up helming “The Skulls II” before retreating from features all together, slipping into television to pay the bills. However, Chappelle managed to join shows such as “Fringe” and “The Wire,” sharpening his talents with quality programs, and now he’s back in theaters with “An Acceptable Loss,” working from his own screenplay. Newly empowered to make a timely tale of political deception, Chappelle puts in a noticeable effort with the movie, which makes it halfway to thematic clarity before formula kicks in. Still, some elements do connect as intended in “An Acceptable Loss,” displaying storytelling clarity where there wasn’t much before. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stan & Ollie


There’s really no need to recount the entire career of Laurel & Hardy, the premiere screen comedians who helped to define the possibilities of early Hollywood comedies with their practiced silliness and divine timing. Screenwriter Jeff Pope (“Philomena”) doesn’t even try, instead focusing on the twilight of their time together, moving away from the bustle of their most fertile years to examine a relationship breaking apart while strengthening at the same time. “Stan & Ollie” has nothing but reverence for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and such affection pours a sticky glaze all over the picture, which is impressively performed and paced, but also too schmaltzy to truly explore the duo and their unusual relationship of creative harmony and professional divide. Read the rest at

Film Review - Replicas


Keanu Reeves has enjoyed a very tricky relationship with sci-fi entertainment. Of course there’s “The Matrix” and its towering influence on the genre, but Reeves also has titles such as “Johnny Mnemonic” on his resume, bringing down his batting average when it comes to wild stabs at futuristic complications. “Replicas” falls somewhere in the middle of his achievements, offering a mostly engrossing story of harrowing ethical choices and rash decisions before the whole things gives up and becomes a standard chase picture. It’s important to focus on the set-up of Chad St. John’s screenplay, which offers Reeves a meaty role of mad science panic, and also follows through on the complications that arise when the natural order of life is disturbed. “Replicas” finds its way early, which is almost enough to carry the entire endeavor, even when it plunges into silliness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pledge


The experience of pledging a fraternity has been used to power many tales of discomfort, horror, and humiliation. It’s a setting that permits numerous opportunities for excess and exploitation, encouraging a high level of screen chaos to accurately represent hellacious behavior from problematic personalities. In recent years, dramatic offerings such as “Goat” and “Burning Sands” have dissected the psychological fracture of hazing, examining the blurred lines of brotherhood, but “Pledge” doesn’t share the same delicate understanding of need. It’s a horror experience from director Daniel Robbins and screenwriter Zack Weiner, and one that delivers all types of torturous actions and survival panic. It’s a refreshingly short, straightforward nightmare that benefits from simplicity, generating a visceral viewing event that’s periodically interrupted by cartoonish extremes. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Vanishing


Gerard Butler hasn’t enjoyed the most artistically satisfying career in recent years. In fact, he’s toplined a lot of garbage, with such titles as “Gods of Egypt,” “Geostorm,” and “Hunter Killer” tarnishing what remains of his star power. He’s never had the best taste in screenplays, but Butler finally locates material that fits him well in “The Vanishing,” a Scottish dramatization of the Flannan Isles Mystery, where three lighthouse keepers vanished in 1900 during their six-week stint on the island. While Butler is asked to play up his natural burliness, there’s also emotional darkness to manage, becoming part of a hauntingly performed psychological study. It’s some of his best work, finally focusing on something more than Hollywood domination. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Dog's Way Home


The latest addition to the new wave of dogsploitation movies, “A Dog’s Way Home” receives its inspiration from the author that helped to reignite canine fever at the multiplex. Writer W. Bruce Cameron co-scripts this adaptation of his 2017 novel, which essentially crosses the same dramatic terrain as “A Dog’s Purpose,” his 2010 book that was turned into massively successful 2017 film (a sequel is due out later this year). Cameron has created a career out of tales of four-legged devotion, and while it does away with the mysticism of the previous effort, “A Dog’s Way Home” is not short on dewy depictions of animal relationships and the healing powers of pooch presence. What’s added here is a layer of darkness that’s unexpected, helping to dilute some of the saccharine storytelling most productions feel they need to connect the dots with this type of family entertainment. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Upside


“The Upside” is a remake of the 2011 French comedy, “The Intouchables,” which conquered the box office during its initial European release, but failed to find much monetary action in America. Perhaps this is why director Neil Burger has decided to try his luck with a do-over, tapping into the material’s audience-pleasing ways to deliver a perfectly mediocre version of a lukewarm dramedy. “The Intouchables” wasn’t high art, but it delivered flavorful performances without completely giving itself over to broadness. “The Upside” tries to show the same restraint, but Burger is stuck between delivering a thoughtful take on friendship and fear and giving the world yet another Kevin Hart comedy. There’s not much to bungle here, but Burger doesn’t push the material with any noticeable creative force. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Escape Room


The average escape room is meant to provide a fun ride for competitors, often used as a team-building exercise that requires a sense of camaraderie to help solve complex puzzles with tactile clues. Making a horror move out of the setting is relatively easy, and a few productions have already employed the tight confines and panicked sleuthing to fuel some nightmare scenarios. “Escape Room” is perhaps the highest profile offering of the bunch, putting pressure on the production to come up with something amazing to attract audiences already used to watching a perversion of gamesmanship. What “Escape Room” offers is repetition, atrocious editing, and screwy plotting, with director Adam Robitel (“Insidious: The Last Key”) not satisfied with the simplicity of frenzied people fighting to crack codes and scramble for objects. Instead, an epic is attempted, with the faint hope of a franchise-starter for a first chapter that never knows exactly what it’s doing. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Rust Creek


“Rust Creek” pulls a bit of a switcheroo on its audience. It’s being marketed as a nail-biter, offered up as a chilling tale of survival in the deep woods of the American south. There are sections of the picture devoted to such irresistible thrills, but the endeavor is content to leave the nerve-shredding stuff behind for long stretches of screen time. The screenplay (credited to Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard) is more interested in character-based entanglements than straight scares, which gives “Rust Creek” a more intriguing dramatic pull, juggling the needs of genre entertainment with a deep psychological inspection of the crisis at hand. It’s not a tightly constructed endeavor, which hurts it in the long run, but the movie has a vision for something different while still tending to expectations. Read the rest at

Film Review - State Like Sleep


Writer/director Meredith Danluck has some observations on the state of marriage and the depths of discovery when dealing with a loved one. She touches on grief and longing, self-absorption and confusion. “State Like Sleep” samples a bit of everything from its cinematic plate, but it never remains anywhere for very long. In fact, the feature feels very long, with “State Like Sleep” not just a title, but a description of the picture’s atmosphere, with Danluck dropping a dose of Ambien into her detective fiction, often making the viewing experience frustratingly inert while it deals with potentially fascinating details concerning cohabitational betrayal and the loneliness of love. Read the rest at