Film Review

Film Review - We Summon the Darkness


Just last month, director Marc Meyers helped to bring “Human Capital” to the screen. It was a somber look at pained relationships and grim secrets, with Meyers working to find emotional truth in the midst of a semi-soap opera, showing some hustle to keep the picture afloat. He’s back a few weeks later with “We Summon the Darkness,” which is a significant change in genres, leaving behind a faint sense of reality to make a small-scale horror romp featuring a cast of screamers and bleeders. Playfully using the Satanic Panic movement of the 1980s heavy metal scene to develop his own nightmare scenario, screenwriter Alan Trezza (“Burying the Ex”) offers initial cleverness before the feature becomes a showcase for panicky interactions. “We Summon the Darkness” doesn’t have a strong enough fear factor, but it’s a tidy presentation of evil behavior, with a few surprises to keep viewers glued to a story that’s big on prolonged scenes of suffering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sea Fever


“Sea Fever” doesn’t have the best release timing. It’s coming out a few months after “Underwater” failed to attract any attention at the box office, sharing a similar fondness for oceanic horror. And the screenplay details one character’s struggle to maintain a level of quarantine on an isolated ship while the rest of the crew is in a mad dash to return to civilization, capable of spreading a terrible disease. That’s a little too close for comfort as well. The good news is that “Sea Fever” isn’t exploitative or all that concerned with cheap scares, electing to do major character work instead, striving to find the personalities involved in a strange situation of survival instead of simply hammering on viewers with screen aggression. While it has some pacing issues, the picture is accomplished work, with writer/director Neasa Hardiman (a television veteran) looking to bend a genre offering in unusual ways, disrupting some expectations. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lost Husband


There’s a lot of competition for “The Lost Husband” out there. Aiming to appeal to a more sensitive audience with trials of the heart and mind, the feature’s premise seems pre-mixed for a Lifetime Movie, while its execution is more in line with a Nicholas Sparks endeavor, complete with tragedy, secretive pasts, and slow-burn romance. However, the material is based on a Katherine Center novel, with writer/director Vicky Wight tasked with adapting something that seems very familiar, left to find elements of the tale that might offer a little more emotional emphasis than the story is capable of delivering. Wight is moderately successful, but she does particularly well with casting, finding appealing actors willing to go where all this mildness leads. Read the rest at

Film Review - Why Don't You Just Die!


Writer/director Kirill Sokolov makes his feature-length debut with “Why Don’t You Just Die!” It’s one of those creative introductions that’s engineered to attract plenty of attention, and while Sokolov doesn’t make a horror film, he generates enough blood and bodily harm to best even the most potent scary movies. It’s a showy endeavor, delivering all sorts of technical gymnastics to keep the eye engaged, and it’s Russian to the core, offered as a slab of black comedy from a country that’s practiced in the tradition, with the writing getting extraordinarily dark at times. It’s the humor aspects of the endeavor that are debatable, as “Why Don’t You Just Die!” makes a distinct pass at being funny, but the jokes are strictly for those who find macabre games of power and intimidation amusing. It’s meant to be a cartoon, and one dripping with gore, but there are one too many moments where Sokolov is more attentive to cinematographic precision than inspired twists and turns. Read the rest at

Film Review - Coffee & Kareem


The directorial career of Michael Dowse has been difficult to follow. The helmer has made a few distinct impressions over the years, delivering the interesting “It’s All Gone Pete Tong,” and he built a genuine cult classic with the hockey comedy, “Goon.” He’s also had some duds, including last summer’s bomb, “Stuber,” which tried way too hard to be funny, ending up a laugh-less noise machine. Dowse’s sensitivity to silly business goes almost completely numb with “Coffee & Kareem,” which basically reheats the formula of self-aware action and riffing galore that ruined “Stuber,” only here the screenplay (credited to Shane Mack) falls apart right from the first scene. Profane and insipid, “Coffee & Kareem” is a bad title stuck with a worse film, making very little effort to become the semi-parody it wants to become, held back consistently by lame jokes, air horn performances, and Dowse’s inability to tighten the reins on the production and squeeze out some decent wackiness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Almost Love


Longtime actor Mike Doyle makes his feature-length directorial debut with “Almost Love,” concocting a small-scale relationship drama (he also scripts) that examines a collection of characters all experiencing relationship troubles in one way or another. Doyle plays to his strengths with the film, which is an actor-driven production that gives plenty of room to the ensemble to explore personalities and showcase their gifts in ways other helmers wouldn’t allow. While it has a tendency to lose focus on the group effort, “Almost Love” has feeling, with the writing and the performances going deep to examine the fragility of the human heart and the work required to make and sustain connections in the world. Sincerity certainly supports the endeavor while it slowly slides away from its initial concept of a community in distress movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clover


Jon Abrahams has been a working actor for a few decades now, with his most notable credits including “Scary Movie,” “House of Wax,” and “Meet the Parents.” Over the last few years, Abrahams has been taking back some control of his career, becoming a director with 2016’s “All at Once,” a post-9/11 drama, and now there’s “Clover,” which is a more direct shot at audience acceptance, delivering a mob movie for the Spring thaw. Screenwriting duties belong to Michael Testone, who’s seen his share of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Guy Ritchie endeavors, hoping to take the goodfellas subgenre for a spin, presenting a series of violent misunderstandings with “Clover,” keeping Abrahams busy as he tries to butch everything up. It’s not a tremendous distraction, but the helmer has the right idea for screen energy, keeping things on the move before the whole endeavor tries to aim for cleverness instead of directness. Read the rest at

Film Review - International Falls


To successfully examine lost souls struggling with a sense of emotional isolation, it makes perfect sense to visit Minnesota, with “International Falls” using the titular town to explore the wants and needs of characters dealing with heavy psychological burdens. A trip to the “Icebox of the Nation” proves to be an evocative choice from director Amber McGinnis, who’s gifted a seldom-seen location for her movie, while all the freezing temps, snowfall, and distance supports screenwriter Thomas Ward’s vision for personal connection in the midst of dire living situations. That’s not to suggest “International Falls” is a bummer, as McGinnis is careful to avoid such complete darkness, leaning on stars Rachael Harris and Rob Huebel to explore their characters with a sense of humor and atypical vulnerability for two actors used to playing more sarcastic personalities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Banana Split


There’s likely one reason while “Banana Split” is finding a release nearly two years after its initial film festival debut. While last summer’s “Booksmart” didn’t break box office records, it did find an appreciative audience who welcomed the feature’s sense of humor and respect for female relationships, with director Olivia Wilde managing to make something very funny and genuine when it came to characterization. And thank goodness for “Booksmart,” which has brought “Banana Split” into distribution, offering a similarly enjoyable tale of adolescent panic, decorated with distinct personalities, big feelings, and occasional blasts of silliness. Director Benjamin Kasulke finds the right rhythm for the picture, while writers Hannah Marks and Joey Power put in the effort to give the players in this game of maturation and romantic need a bright sense of confusion and camaraderie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vivarium


Director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley strive to create a major brain-bleeder with “Vivarium,” which presents a puzzle of isolation and antagonism that mixes elements of satire and sci-fi to come up with something supremely odd. There’s success with the production’s limited goals of disorientation, as the movie provides a decent ride into confusion and paranoia, offering viewers a sense of uneasiness similar to a “Twilight Zone” episode, only without the tidiness of television storytelling. Finnegan and Shanley come up with a terrific short film in “Vivarium,” conjuring a genuine sense of the unknown. It’s their efforts to transform the endeavor into a feature that proves to be problematic, as pacing eventually slows to a crawl and the core mystery loses appeal. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blow the Man Down


The first half of “Blow the Man Down” is as close to a replication of an early Coen Brothers effort as we’re likely to see in this day and age. Surprises are plentiful, violence is abrupt, and characters are thickly sliced, while the action takes place in a distinct setting few productions choose to explore. Writer/directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy don’t expand their tribute for the entire endeavor, electing to use such an appealing launch to develop their own take on crime and punishment, finding freshness with an original vision for community history and pressure. “Blow the Man Down” delivers an intriguing dramatic evolution during its run time, with Cole and Krudy (making their feature-length helming debut) proving themselves to be exciting storytellers and wise when it comes to assembling their cast of young actresses and seasoned players. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lost Transmissions


Making her directorial debut, Katharine O’Brien (who also scripts) appears to put a lot of personal experience into “Lost Transmissions,” or at least defined consideration to give the effort a sense of lived-in pain. The story examines the state of mental health when it’s denied care from a system built to deal with it, detailing the confusion and panic when such necessary support is lost, leaving the burden of supervision on those ill-equipped to handle it. There’s a lot of passion in O’Brien’s work that’s slightly torpedoed by the feature’s unwillingness to commit to a fully developed story, preferring to be a movie about experiences, keeping episodic. The viewing experience wavers, but core elements of concern are showcased with ideal sharpness, keeping O’Brien on a mission to communicate a feeling of helplessness from those actively searching for help. Read the rest at

Film Review - Human Capital


“Human Capital” is very reminiscent of the Oscar-winning 2005 feature, “Crash.” I know just the mere mention of “Crash” gets many a cineaste’s blood boiling, but the screenplay by Oren Moverman (adapting a book by Stephen Amidon and an Italian film from director Paolo Virzi) offers a look at the interconnected lives of desperate souls dealing with pain, shame, and loss, with a central event of violence acting as a sort of hub of mystery that permits examination of all the participants. Director Marc Meyes doesn’t aim for pretentiousness with his picture, but he does get caught up in few overcooked passions, striving to find a storytelling balance that periodically eludes him. “Human Capital” is very broad at times, but Moverman has interest in these individuals, and Meyes assembles an impressive cast capable of finding behaviors and feelings the production has trouble reaching. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hooking Up


“Hooking Up” offers a very dramatic premise, but the feature is more interested in surveying the comedic potential of the material. The writing presents troubling experiences involving two very anxious characters, both facing incredible attacks on their sanity and health as they try to keep things cool on a day-to-day basis. There’s a great deal of potential in tracking the challenges found in these lives. However, co-writer/director Nico Raineau isn’t comfortable remaining in the bubble of worry, searching for ways to make “Hooking Up” approachable, often going silly with the effort when there’s a distinctly sobering tone waiting to claim the picture. Thankfully, Raineau has his cast, with leads Brittany Snow and Sam Richardson adding enough charisma and timing to stabilize the tonal imbalance the helmer struggles with as he tries to find his way through murky psychological spaces. Read the rest at

Film Review - Swallow


“Swallow” appears intended to be a major showcase for the acting skills of Haley Bennett, who takes a producing role on the picture, gifting herself a little more control over the final product. It’s been a rocky road for the talent, who failed to breakout in efforts such as “The Girl on the Train” and “The Magnificent Seven,” with “Swallow” delivering a juicy leading part that’s completely focused on her abilities, offering a tonal challenge with strange material that deals uncomfortably with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. The good news about the movie is that it truly makes the most of Bennett’s screen appeal, and she delivers refreshingly alert work for director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, skillfully reaching some interesting psychological spaces as the feature conjures plenty of compelling darkness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bloodshot


As actors scramble to find their place in superhero cinema, Vin Diesel takes a chance on “Bloodshot,” a big-budget adaptation of the cult comic book character, trying to bring his sludgy charisma to a sci-fi tale about a super soldier on the loose. As with most Diesel endeavors, he’s the least interesting element in the production, but this take on the titular bruiser (who’s been around since the early 1990s) has a few surprises to share before it becomes another tepid actioner for the star. A sense of the unexpected is what “Bloodshot” needs more of, and additional mayhem would be nice too, as so much of the feature is devoted to expositional needs, keeping what promises to be a roller coaster ride of death and revenge into a largely talky effort that’s constantly attentive to explaining its complicated premise. The end result doesn’t do much for Diesel’s filmography, but at least the man still has Groot. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hunt (2020)


“The Hunt” was originally due for release last September before it was hastily shelved by Universal Pictures, who didn’t want to be responsible for the film at that time. Some blame real-world violence for the cancellation, while others suggest the charged political content found in Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof’s screenplay may have been the reason for its dismissal, with the studio unsure such material had a place in an increasingly divided country. Now, six months later, the movie is finally being released, or perhaps toss hastily into theaters, and while the project carries a certain air of danger, it’s mostly dreadful, offering an underwhelming sense of humor and horror, perhaps revealing that any delay wasn’t ordered due to fear, but out of growing shame. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Time Adolescence


Writer/director Jason Orley is trying to go a little softer with his take on bad influences in “Big Time Adolescence.” It’s a comedy, showcasing all sorts of tomfoolery from young men unable to grow up, but the screenplay is attentive to the sensitivities of the situation, striving to approach the reality of a corrupting presence in a teenager’s life without losing the entertainment value of the whole offering. “Big Time Adolescence” battles superficiality at times, but there are laughs to be had and hearts to be squeezed, as Orley understands the primary crisis of the movie, where a teenager is caught between the person he was raised to be and the toxic attention he receives from an unlikely source of friendship. It’s been done before, but the helmer provides dramatic stability to best understand the issues at hand. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wendy


Writer/director Benh Zeitlin made his big debut with “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a restless study of fantasy and childhood that managed to trigger a response at the box office and collect a handful of Oscar nominations. But that was 2012. It’s been quite some time since Zeitlin made a movie, building expectations for his follow-up, and he’s settled on the story of “Peter Pan” for “Wendy,” a reworking of J.M. Barrie’s beloved book and play, which once again returns the helmer to a restless study of fantasy and childhood. Content to repeat himself, Zeitlin uses “Wendy” to dig deeper into his favorite themes of youth and aging, working with an amateur cast to best summon a special level of excitement and raw emotion. The vision for the feature is there, but the execution is fatigued and familiar, straining to summon a dark magic with screen poetry we’ve seen before, and in a much better film. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Postcard Killings


In 2017, there was “The Snowman.” Intended to be the beginning of a detective series for the character Harry Hole, his initial outing was plagued with production and editing problems, turning an adaptation of a Jo Nesbo book into a bizarre mess. “The Postcard Killings” doesn’t have the same marketplace profile or notable cast, but it shares a cluelessness with “The Snowman,” trying to make something noteworthy from a book (titled “The Postcard Killers”) by James Patterson and Liza Marklund (who co-scripts with Andrew Stern), but nothing seems to go right for the production. Burdened by a severely limited cast, strangely self-destructive editing, and poor direction from Danis Tanovic, “The Postcard Killings” is quite tedious before it becomes unintentionally hilarious, with its drive to be a sincere serial killer mystery at odds with its poor execution. Read the rest at