Film Review

Film Review - The Favourite


As he ascends in filmmaking circles, director Yorgos Lanthimos has sharpened his vision for eccentricity, taking on dark projects that make the most of his strange vision for human (and inhumane) interactions. After coming to world cinema’s attention with “Dogtooth,” Lanthimos has found success with endeavors such as “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” retaining his delight with disaster while edging his way into bigger projects. With “The Favourite,” the helmer has the closest thing to a mainstream hit on his hands, returning to screens with a period piece that’s a bit like watching professional wrestling, offering broad performances, wild turns of fate, and hateful behavior. “The Favourite” is a black comedy, and one that benefits from Lanthimos’s particular world view, using his quirks and adoration for emotional instability to make a relationship picture where nobody possess even a spark of warmth. Read the rest at 

Film Review - They Shall Not Grow Old


Peter Jackson is no stranger to filmmaking technology. The driving force behind “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” and “King Kong,” Jackson has always managed to create CGI-laden adventures with extreme detail, going beyond the manufacturing of monsters to generate entire worlds for audiences to get lost in. While the concentration has been on fantasy and horror endeavors for the better part of his career, Jackson goes beyond his creative borders with “They Shall Not Grow Old,” which attempts to turn 100-year-old footage from World War I into a living, breathing immersion into a time and place traditionally viewed in scratchy black and white. Jackson’s team of moviemaking wizards have transformed brittle celluloid into flesh and blood, working with color, sound, and clarity to deliver a vision of WWI that’s not about flipping through pages of history, but providing 3D experiences from the men who were there. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clara's Ghost


For her directorial debut, Bridey Elliot has decided to make it a family affair. A third-generation performer in the Elliot household, the helmer turns to her famous relatives for assistance in bringing “Clara’s Ghost” to life, hiring father Chris and sister Abby for help, also encouraging her mother Paula, an acting novice, to take on the responsibility of the main role. Elliot also doesn’t stray far from home, literally using her family’s Connecticut residence as the setting for this specialized freak-out, which has the air of horror but the bitterness of therapy. “Clara’s Ghost” is definitely not for everyone, but those capable of weathering Elliot’s mixture of genre attacks and home movies are rewarded with a pleasingly odd endeavor that, if it doesn’t scare you, it will at least provide some insight into how the Elliot household works. Read the rest at

Film Review - Asher


The screenplay for “Asher” is credited to Jay Zaretsky, and he sets out to deliver a mournful, sobering take on the aging hitman subgenre. In many ways, the writing is similar to the 1997 classic “Grosse Pointe Blank,” but Zaretsky isn’t interested in having much fun with this story, electing to keep the concept of a killer suddenly targeted for death as serious as possible, striving for characterization, not action. “Asher” gets very dark at times, but it’s never far away from a commendable performance or intriguing study of the human experience, with director Michael Caton-Jones (“This Boy’s Life,” “Scandal”) maintaining impressive control over the tone of the movie, steering difficult material through difficult realizations about life and the cinematic panic of men with guns trying to pick each other off. Read the rest at

Film Review - Back Roads


As an actor, Alex Pettyfer has been extremely problematic. He’s struggled with emotive performances and American accents, trying to survive dreck like “Beastly,” “I Am Number Four,” and the “Endless Love” remake. Things have improved for Pettyfer in recent years (including turns in “Elvis & Nixon” and “The Strange Ones”), but with “Back Roads,” he really seems to be taking the possibilities of his career seriously, working to define himself as something more than a handsome man willing to take his shirt off for the camera. Pettyfer is so intent on doing something substantial here, he also makes his directorial debut with “Back Roads,” putting himself in charge of a frightfully lurid and pained family drama, giving himself a tonal challenge he manages to pull off with concentration on performances and a slowly rising tide of mental illness, careful not to overwhelm viewers with unsettling revelations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Swimming with Men


Rob Brydon is a famous Welsh comedian, rarely finding his way to American theaters, mostly stuck in supporting roles in recent fantasy films such as “Cinderella” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” Perhaps his most defined international offering is “The Trip,” a television series turned into movie for art-house release, where he joined co-star Steve Coogan for a restaurant tour of Northern England. A minor hit, there were two sequels (“The Trip to Italy” and “The Trip to Spain”), giving Brydon some presence outside of Europe, sharing his particular way with punchlines and celebrity impressions. With “Swimming with Men,” Brydon leads a large cast across familiar British comedy terrain, with this “Full Monty”-style romp utterly dependent on its star to weave magic with a screenplay that doesn’t welcome inventive silliness. “Swimming with Men” means to have heart and trigger smiles, but what it needs is writing worthy of Brydon’s talents, giving the main attraction a cinematic playground to explore, not a yellow line of cliché to follow. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boy Erased


While two films sharing the same idea released around the same time isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s not something that happens all that often with art-house fare. Last summer, there was “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” a searing tale of a teen forced to attend a gay conversion camp to purge her of “evil.” And now there’s “Boy Erased,” which also examines the panic of a young man reluctantly submitting to a system that’s created to destroy natural spirit. Bother features are vital for their analysis of horror that remains in place in many states today, attempting to paint a portrait of manipulation and even torture that exposes camp practices, with humiliations carried out in the name of God. One movie is an unsettling and deeply felt examination of identity and resignation, creating an unforgettable look at the dismantling of a human soul, and the other is “Boy Erased.” Read the rest at

Film Review - All the Devil's Men


“All the Devil’s Men” marks the leading man debut of Milo Gibson, who’s quickly climbed the industry ladder after making his acting introduction for his father, Mel, in 2016’s “Hacksaw Ridge.” While he looks the part, Gibson doesn’t necessarily have the stuff of a screen bruiser just yet, visibly struggling through “All the Devil’s Men,” which casts him as a CIA rogue with a kill first, ask questions later attitude, requiring him to project a lot of personality that otherwise isn’t there. Not helping the cause is writer/director Matthew Hope, who’s trying to put on a bad-ass display of boiling masculinity and world concerns about the growing threat of terrorism, only to make a picture that looks like a backyard production, unable to hide budget limitations, even while it delivers all kinds of violence and acts of intimidation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Possession of Hannah Grace


The title alone doesn’t inspire much hope for the film. “The Possession of Hannah Grace” initially seems as though it will follow in the footsteps of dozens of other horror efforts focused on the brutality of an exorcism, and the feature actually opens with one, presenting a familiar sight of battered, trembling priests trying to pray their way to a full demon extraction in a large, dimly lit location. The first ten minutes of the movie do not inspire confidence that screenwriter Brian Sieve knows what he’s doing, offering sameness for a genre that’s fully addicted to trends. However, “The Possession of Hannah Grace” soon settles down into something slightly different. Nothing radical, but there’s just enough of a tweak concerning characterization that keeps it engrossing, at least until horror demands return to dominate the viewing experience. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Mercy


The story of Donald Crowhurst and his attempt to circle the globe on a trimaran of his own design has been examined throughout all types of media, with film adaptations common, even found last year in “Crowhurst.” “The Mercy” has an advantage in star power, bringing in Colin Firth to embody the ambitious family man, while Rachel Weisz portrays Donald’s wife, Clare. This casting alone secures much of the viewing experience, with fine actors contributing excellent work in meaty parts that touch on emotional extremes and psychological imbalance. Director James Marsh (“The Theory of Everything,” “Man on Wire”) does well with the material too, able to extract suspense and confusion from a strange tale that’s already been substantially documented. “The Mercy” doesn’t always uncover important details, but the journey is understood, creating involving drama as big dreams erode into something distressing and undefinable. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Mirai


“Mirai” is presented as a fantasy, but it contains an enormous amount of authentic human behavior. It’s the latest work from writer/director Mamoru Hosoda, who takes a long look at the ways families interact, especially from the perspective of a child who’s not ready to watch his small world expand with the addition of a baby sibling into his life. Hosoda eventually launches a bizarre tale of time travel to help give the material something more to do than live in the moment, but “Mirai” is more skilled with understanding, and animating, young behavior at its most feral and unbreakable. The strange magic of the movie has its appeal, with Hosoda generating his own take on a genealogical dig, but the feature really captures something unique when it concentrates on pure reaction from children, showing remarkable awareness of frustrations and fears as attention suddenly splits to siblings in need. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Renegades


With the likes of Michael Bay and Peter Berg doing their best the make the American military machine look as sexy and fearless as possible, it’s now time for Europeans to give such jingoism a shot. “American Renegades” (originally titled “Renegades” before someone, somewhere panicked about the feature’s VOD potential in the U.S.) is a production from Europa Corp, the once mighty studio co-owned by Luc Besson (who co-scripts with Richard Wenk) that’s dedicated to churning out mid-budget actioners. They’ve fallen on hard times recently, and “American Renegades” isn’t helping the cause. Instead of delivering a gritty take on service and heroism, the picture plays with extreme blandness, and while the large budget encourages big mayhem, the movie doesn’t have the inspiration to do much more than deal with cliché, and as passively as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chef Flynn


The first image we see in “Chef Flynn” is the star of the documentary, Flynn McGarry, walking, almost frolicking, through a forest. He looks young, making playtime understandable, showcasing a juvenile spirit as he treks through greenery. However, unlike most youngsters connecting with nature, Flynn quickly turns around, spying some plants he’d like to add to a dinner dish, snapping out of his leisurely haze to focus intently on a piece of his culinary puzzle. It’s a curveball moment from director Cameron Yates, and the last he’s willing to throw at the audience, preferring to stay in a journalistic comfort zone with “Chef Flynn,” which only aims to celebrate the subject and his incredible talents, not challenge his impressively bizarre life. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Christmas Chronicles


Kurt Russell has the ability to elevate any film he appears in. It’s his charisma, this magical capacity to create characters and find the spirit of any production. And when that fails, Russell becomes the spirit of the production. With “The Christmas Chronicles,” Russell is offered a chance to play Santa Claus, and he takes on the acting challenge with complete commitment, which is impressive, especially when considering what the screenplay (from Matt Lieberman) asks of him during the run time. While “The Christmas Chronicles” keeps a tight grip on a holiday movie checklist, it does have Russell, and he’s oodles of fun to watch, accepting the challenge of embodying Christmas magic with real verve and comfort, selling the stuffing out of everything Lieberman dreams up for this latest attempt to create a cinematic perennial for the yuletide season. Read the rest at

Film Review - Creed II


There were few expectations for 2015’s “Creed.” It seemed like such an unnecessary production, seemingly created to squeeze a few more bucks out of the “Rocky” franchise, even bringing in Sylvester Stallone reprise his most famous character to help audiences accept a new series lead in Adonis Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan. And then the film was released, and it was magnificent. Credit goes to co-writer/director Ryan Coogler, who made a choice to take the work seriously, using inspiration from the original “Rocky” to create a meaningful, exciting new chapter, helping to reinvent the series with one of its best chapters. With surprising box office success comes a sequel, a business decision Stallone knows all too well. And yet, “Creed II” manages to hit high expectations this time out, finding a way to rehash without losing heart, also doing something compelling with a potentially ridiculous plot. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Ralph Breaks the Internet


2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph” was a feature steeped in nostalgia. It was about a video game character from the 1980s trying to survive in a new frontier of hyperactive arcade options, finding much needed friendship along the way. It’s a delightful movie, aided in great part by flavorful voice work from an eclectic cast, and there’s the fun factor of seeing beloved video game icons brought to life, often for irreverent purposes. A sequel wasn’t necessary, but more time with this group would always be welcome, leading to the creation of “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” which trades the boundaries of cabinet life for the endless ocean of information found in the online world. Nostalgia has been muted this time around, with “Ralph Breaks the Internet” more determined to find its own footing as an animated adventure, with sheer noise and formula providing a bit too much temptation for the filmmakers, who are visibly stretching to fill this second round.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Long Dumb Road


“The Long Dumb Road” isn’t about plot or major character arcs. It’s the about time shared during an especially active road trip with two people who probably shouldn’t be riding together in the same car. Co-writer/director Hannah Fidell doesn’t want much more than to live in the moment, enjoying the volatility of the pairing and the unpredictability of bad decisions, trying to squeeze some laughs out of misfortune. “The Long Dumb Road” isn’t profound, but it does have a wily sense of humor and nice handle on travel chaos, also giving actor and podcast staple Jason Mantzoukas a vehicle for his specific screen energy, often found single-handedly powering the feature when Fidell isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do with the premise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Becoming Astrid


“Becoming Astrid” is a bio-pic about author Astrid Lindgren, who became a worldwide literary obsession with her work on “The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.” It’s a Swedish production from co-writer/director Pernille Fischer Christensen, and a production that’s very protective of Lindgren’s personal life, making sure to downplay any bright kid-lit spirit to focus on the horrible times she endured while trying to survive her twenties, facing numerous trials of the heart and mind. Perhaps this is the best way to get into the thick of Lindgren’s experience, with “Becoming Astrid” largely skipping the routine of individual character introduction to focus on her personal bruising, and how such trauma would eventually inspire unusually observant and mature books about the juvenile experience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Write When You Get Work


“Write When You Get Work” is the first picture from writer/director Stacy Cochran in 18 years, and the first interesting movie she’s made since 1992’s “My New Gun.” It’s strange to have Cochran back on the scene, with her initial work tied to the indie film movement of the 1990s, and now she’s facing quite a different atmosphere for low-budget endeavors. Perhaps trying to avoid getting crushed by the competition, the helmer adds a little sugar to her dramatic vegetables, giving this study of character and class some wish-fulfillment to help encourage audience participation. “Write When You Get Work” is well-made with appealing performances, with Cochran laboring to retain as much feeling and history as possible while still tending to the expectations of a crime story that’s blended with little bits of unresolved love.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Robin Hood (2018)


The legend of Robin Hood has been explored on film on many occasions, with most ventures quite successful when it comes to reimagining the specifics of the tale to suit the demands of a new generation of moviegoers. This familiarity frightens the new “Robin Hood,” which aims to rework known elements, hoping to appeal to a wider audience by saving the highlights of the saga for the sequel, preferring to achieve its own special origin story as a way of launching a new franchise. Mixing elements of Guy Ritchie, Baz Luhrmann, and dozens of nondescript actioners, “Robin Hood” relies on formula to avoid formula, emerging as a slightly confounding, utterly empty take on the famous outlaw, leading with a dulled sense of big screen adventure, romance, and villainy. Read the rest at