Film Review

Film Review - Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery


Attempting to steer away from the controversies that pursued his installment of the “Star Wars” saga, 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” writer/director Rian Johnson went to work on a smaller movie meant to return him to filmmaking basics, offering a murder mystery in 2019’s “Knives Out.” He collected a large cast and a twisty plot, but also retained much of his habitual impishness, aiming to be clever with an assortment of red herrings and quips, while star Daniel Craig happily took his position as a southern-fried master detective dealing with the deceptive ways of potential suspects. “Knives Out” had its limitations when it came to providing an entertaining ride, and it made a lot of money, inspiring Johnson and Craig to return to duty for “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” which reunites with Benoit Blanc and his dealings with untrustworthy types, only this time, Johnson is more relaxed, diluting the primary puzzle of the endeavor with stabs at humor that largely fall flat, and writing that doesn’t welcome audience participation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Strange World


Director Don Hall has been on an interesting creative winning streak, working his way around impressive Disney Animation achievements such as “Winnie the Pooh,” “Big Hero 6,” “Moana,” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.” He teams with writer/co-director Qui Nguyen for “Strange World,” which creates a journey to a special universe inspired by pulp magazines and fantasy novels, most notably the works of author Jules Verne. Hall and Nguyen manufacture a vivid viewing experience with “Strange World,” which features gorgeous animation and fascinating designs for otherworldly creatures and environments. It’s superb eye-candy, but there’s a lot more to Nguyen’s screenplay, which offers a graceful understanding of environmental issues and family relationships between adventure sequences that deliver impressive scale for big screen enjoyment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bones and All


Director Luca Guadagnino made a big impression on the cinematic scene with 2017’s “Call Me By Your Name,” finding ways to make an atmospheric, often intensely intimate movie about love. He followed his greatest critical and commercial success with a remake of “Suspiria,” exploring extreme genre darkness with an artful and excessively long take on the Dario Argento masterpiece. For “Bones and All,” the helmer hopes to combine his last two pictures into one epic concerning the fragile hearts of cannibals trying to feed and find themselves as they cross the American Midwest. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Camille DeAngelis, with screenwriter David Kajganich challenged to create a sincere examination of romantic chemistry while still maintaining a firm understanding of the horror the main characters create. “Bones and All” is a mixed bag with an indulgent run time, but it does offer some potent grisliness and feelings, with Guadagnino looking to transform the material into something quite serious while it leans toward “Twilight”-ness at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Devotion


“Devotion” is based on the true story of naval officer Jesse L. Brown, a black man who fought for his chance to join an aviation program, fulfilling his dream of flight. The feature is an adaptation of a 2017 book by Adam Makos, given a Hollywood makeover by screenwriters Jake Crane and Jonathan A. Stewart, who work to give a story of partnership and determination a certain slickness to help reach a wide audience. It’s a war film but also something tender, pulling some focus off Brown’s life story to understand his place in the military and his wingman relationship with Tom Hudner, mixing such intimacies with the horrors of the Korean War. “Devotion” doesn’t always choose subtlety, which diminishes some of its lasting impact, but it has its heart in the right place, aiming to share a study of honor and sacrifice from an underserved time in history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fantasy Football


“Fantasy Football” offers one of the stranger concepts in recent memory, offering a tale about a teenager capable of controlling her father on the football field via a video game, giving him the NFL advantage of his life. There’s some type of magic happening in the feature, but the production isn’t focused on making logic issues work. It’s simply out to entertain with a healthy serving of oddity, and those who can mentally get around the premise and the many questions it inspires are offered a mild but reasonably charming family film. “Fantasy Football” doesn’t contain many surprises, but there’s a certain spirit to the endeavor that’s engaging, especially when it deals with gaming control and time management. Formula rules here, leaving the overall picture to predictability, but the weirdness of it all isn’t unappealing, just tiring as the effort moves into a labored third act. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Night Oppy


It’s important to understand that the documentary “Good Night Oppy” is co-produced by Amblin Entertainment, the Steven Spielberg co-founded company that’s been involved in movies with mass appeal for decades. This is no nuts-and-bolts examination of the space program, but a crowd-pleasing overview of the Opportunity rover which was initially set to explore Mars for 90 days, but managed to hang on for 15 years, offering NASA an extraordinary opportunity to study the Red Planet in detail, providing the team with various challenges to keep “Oppy” on the move as the years passed. Director Ryan White (“Ask Dr. Ruth,” “The Case Against 8”) is working to turn the endeavor into a suspenseful, emotional viewing experience, and he goes big with “Good Night Oppy,” which provides stunning, big-budget (for a documentary) visuals and a rich sense of character from the gathered interviewees, who are charged up to discuss their connection to Opportunity. This enthusiasm is laid on fairly thick in the feature, pushing the effort into a few manipulative moments, but the core sense of wonder and inspiration remains potent. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Fabelmans


Steven Spielberg made his musical dreams come true in 2021’s “West Side Story,” taking command of a sweeping Broadway epic that showcased a revitalized filmmaker who’s still the tops when it comes to delivering a cinematic ballet. Spielberg looks to retreat from big screen electricity with “The Fabelmans,” which is meant to be his most personal work, turning (co-scripting with Tony Kushner) his formative years into a drama about family, dreams, and the disappointments that define our lives as we get older. The material is close to Spielberg, possibly a recreation of his most painful moments, but such intimacy isn’t easily managed by the helmer. “The Fabelmans” is an uneasy blend of sugared and sour memories, forcing the production to locate a special tonal balance that helps viewers to understand the lead character’s turbulent emotional ride. Spielberg has a lot of feelings to sort through, but his editorial instinct is dulled, making for a labored, episodic endeavor that doesn’t possess his usual moviemaking flow. Read the rest at

Film Review - Disenchanted


It’s been a long time since the release of “Enchanted.” The Disney film managed to charm audiences back in 2007 with its mix of live-action and animation, also delivering a slightly tart take on the company’s princess empire, led by a truly impressive performance by Amy Adams. She gave everything to the part, making a cartoon character feel alive in the real world, helping to boost a satisfying but periodically draggy picture that could’ve done with a tighter edit. “Enchanted” was a hit, developing a devoted fanbase over the years, but a sequel didn’t happen when it should have. Instead, “Disenchanted” arrives 15 years later, hoping to conjure a similar level of merriment and winky takes on Disney history, and while Adams returns to power in the follow-up, the rest of the movie is weirdly flat and joyless, perhaps reflecting a production that took too long to reach screens. Read the rest at

Film Review - The People We Hate at the Wedding


Claire Scanlon is a director who’s worked extensively in television comedies. She’s handled beloved shows such as “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Black-ish,” and “Glow,” and she’s commanded inspired programs like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and the little-seen “Mapleworth Murders.” It’s this T.V. training that’s difficult to shake, with the film “The People We Hate at the Wedding” missing a certain cinematic touch. Screenwriters Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin and Wendy Molyneaux share the task of turning a 2016 book by Grant Ginder into a workable feature, but they can’t master literary tonality, delivering an uneven understanding of acidic comedy, slapstick, and profound feelings, which all compete for screentime in the movie. “The People We Hate at the Wedding” falls flat, though it periodically comes alive, mostly through performers committed to doing something with dull writing that doesn’t color outside the lines. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Christmas Story Christmas


There have been a few attempts to sequelize the 1983 movie, “A Christmas Story.” In 1994, director Bob Clark returned with a new cast for “My Summer Story,” unable to recapture the same level of mischief and nostalgia with an update on the works of writer (and narrator) Jean Shepherd. And there was 2012’s “A Christmas Story 2,” a DTV offering that shamelessly rehashed everything from the original film, hoping to reach fans of the holiday classic with more of the same, minus competent cinematic execution. “A Christmas Story Christmas” is the first attempt at a follow-up with as much of the original cast as possible, including Ralphie himself, Peter Billingsley. Director Clay Kaytis (“The Christmas Chronicles”) has the unenviable task of reviving the acidic magic of the 1983 effort, but he manages to reconnect with that old Parker Family feeling, overseeing a continuation that expectedly rolls around in callbacks, but also returns viewers to the spirit of “A Christmas Story,” generating big laughs and warmth along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Menu


“The Menu” is a wonderfully demented, slow-burn study of insanity coming from surprising creative spaces. It’s elegant ugliness directed by Mark Mylod, who hasn’t made a movie in over a decade, and that feature (2011’s “What’s Your Number?”) didn’t exactly inspire confidence in his helming future. The deliciously macabre endeavor is scripted by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, who are primarily known for their contributions to television comedies, including time on “The Onion News Network.” Such command of tone and terror is a revelation, with the production team generating a timely understanding of class rage and culinary cartoonishness, constructing a darkly humorous but thoroughly disturbing odyssey into a single evening of dinner service that’s packed with turns and twists. “The Menu” rises above genre habits quickly, securing a perverse viewing experience that’s marvelously deranged and briskly paced. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mickey: The Story of a Mouse


We’re six years away from the 100th anniversary of the short “Steamboat Willie,” but now is as good as any time to explore the amazing history and cultural influence of Mickey Mouse. The character has been involved in pop culture for generations, and he’s basically responsible for the continued endurance of the Walt Disney Company, growing from a cartoon maniac to a corporate symbol, enduring all kinds of changes and challenges along the way. It’s up to director Jeff Malmberg (“Marwencol”) to make sense of all this history, and he gets most of the way there with “Mickey: The Story of a Mouse,” which hopes to deliver a sense of scale when it comes to the legacy of Mickey Mouse, going from doodles on a piece of paper to an untouchable icon representing different ideas to different people. “Mickey: The Story of a Mouse” is slickly made, but Malmberg fights for as much honesty as possible, touching on the light and dark sides of the character while three animators work out a way to address such longevity on film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Poker Face


While primarily known as an actor, Russell Crowe has dabbled in direction a few times during his career, most recently with 2014’s “The Water Diviner,” which attempted to deliver an epic story of family and loss in the shadow of World War I. Crowe doesn’t go as big with “Poker Face,” overseeing a largely intimate study of shock and friendship, mostly contained to a single living space and highlighting the anxieties of several characters. Those expecting hardcore card games and steely looks are advised to seek their gambling cinema kicks elsewhere, as “Poker Face” only devotes minutes of screen time to competition, with the rest of the endeavor split between moments of antagonism and anguish. While it opens with some concentration and the early formation of an interesting mystery, the material (scripted by Crowe) eventually falls apart, trying to be too many things at once, presenting the helmer with a narrative juggling act he can’t handle. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Manhunt


“The Last Manhunt” reconsiders the story of Willie Boy, a young man in 1909 who was put in a difficult position, trying to begin life with his love, Carlota, with the couple soon on the run after the accidental murder of the girl’s father. It resulted in one of the longest manhunts in American history, and was turned into a 1969 picture, “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here,” starring Robert Redford, Katherine Ross, and Robert Blake. Screenwriter Thomas Pa’a Sibbett (“Braven”) hopes to deliver a more historically accurate and less Hollywood-y take on Willie Boy’s run with “The Last Manhunt,” paying careful attention to Native American interests and concerns for this overview of endurance, while adding some potent commentary on the insidious nature of faux journalism. Director Christian Camargo has something quite interesting to work with, as the film dissects a strange western myth, but he’s in no hurry to bring tension to the endeavor, instead choosing to replicate the Terrence Malick experience, which repeatedly brings the feature to a full stop. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fisherman's Friends: One and All


2019’s “Fisherman’s Friends” (released in the U.S. in 2020) was a thick slice of feel-good cinema, looking to charm a wide audience with its version of an origin story for the folk group, who won over listeners with their lively versions of classic sea shanties. The picture was easy on the senses, and it wasn’t a runaway hit by any means, but some level of profit must’ve been reached, because now there’s “Fisherman’s Friends: One and All,” a sequel that continues the saga of the group as they deal with fame, behavior, and performance ambition. Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcraft were co-writers on the original feature (with Piers Ashworth), and they return for the continuation, taking co-directorial control of the production, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, simply wants to recreate the approachability of the 2019 endeavor. “One and All” doesn’t quite match the previous effort’s likability, with the material clearly struggling to figure out how to come up with a fresh story, often turning to sitcom-ish events to do so. Read the rest at

Film Review - Taurus


Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) has been working on his acting career this year, already appearing as a stoner in “Good Mourning” and a criminal-on-the-run in “One Way.” He even made a cameo in “Jackass Forever.” For “Taurus,” Baker attempts a much more dramatic role, working with writer/director Tim Sutton (“Donnybrook”) to bring elements of his real life to a story of a music star and his battle with drugs, fame, and mental illness. We’ve seen this saga before (many, many times), inspiring Sutton to return to his habitual shapeless moviemaking ways, hoping to approach the sameness of privileged misery with an art-film take on the downfall of a wounded soul. “Taurus” certainly takes time to depict the messiness of addiction, but Sutton remains too detached from the main character, failing to connect to whatever humanity Baker is aching to find in his performance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spirited


“Spirited” is a strange film. It’s the umpteenth take on “A Christmas Carol,” though it has a distinct mission to become the next “Scrooged,” hoping to hip up the material with a modern take on lost hearts and regrets. It’s a musical featuring a cast not known for their singing prowess (or their ability to sing at all), working the Auto-Tune team so hard, they should be eligible for a special Academy Award. And the feature is written by John Morris and Sean Anders (who also directs), with the duo in charge of comedy, coming off their work on “Daddy’s Home” and “Daddy’s Home 2.” “Spirited” has major a creative mountain to climb, and the production just doesn’t have the stamina to make the journey, relying on routine performances from Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell and big Broadway energy to work through this 127-minute-long lump of coal. It’s a noisy, unfunny mess of moods, and while Anders delivers choreography and holiday sentiment, he’s not making a movie here, he’s chasing one. Read the rest at

Film Review - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever


2018’s “Black Panther” wasn’t just a hit film. It truly reached inside viewers, hitting highs of empowerment and representation few superhero movies will ever achieve. It became a phenomenon, performing way beyond expectations while transforming star Chadwick Boseman into an icon, going on to reprise the role of T’Challa in subsequent “Avengers” adventures. Alas, a true “Black Panther” sequel was not meant to be, with Boseman passing away in 2020, leaving producers without a lead character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe without one of its mightiest warriors. This is the challenge for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which has to figure out a new path for the brand name, with co-writers Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler (who also directs) attempting to modify franchise plans, hoping to find some form of a future for a series that lost its most prized participant. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paradise City


“Paradise City” is being sold as a grand reunion between actors John Travolta and Bruce Willis, who last co-starred in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” Only the feature isn’t really about reuniting the stars, who only appear in a few scenes together, instead using this marquee value to lure audiences into a tepid tale of crime and punishment. Indeed, this is no major production, but another streaming-ready special from co-screenwriters Corey Large and Edward Drake, who’ve been pumping out wretched Willis films for years now (most recently in the instantly forgettable “Detective Knight: Rogue”), and they return with “Paradise City,” this time with director Chuck Russell (“The Mask”), who hasn’t made a thrilling movie since the Clinton Administration. Travolta and Willis are certainly in the picture, just not for very long, with the rest of the screenplay devoted to younger characters and their exploration of Maui, which is the setting for this investigative tale of bad guys doing bad things around glorious tropical locations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bar Fight

BAR FIGHT! - Still 1 (4)

What “Bar Fight” initially promises to be and what it eventually becomes are two wildly different things. Such tonal instability is not easy to endure during the film, which opens with some hope that a farce could potentially break out, dealing with a war between ex-lovers and their attempt to secure separate visiting rights to their favorite watering hole. Writer/director Jim Mahoney makes his feature-length helming debut with the endeavor, and he’s trying to throw a screen party with the effort, offering some pleasant shenanigans with a variety of characters. However, “Bar Fight” makes a critical error in judgment, losing steam as it begins to believe viewers are here to fall in love with these personalities. That’s not the case, leaving the picture severely underwhelming, skipping on sustained laughs to pretend there’s some kind of heart at the core of this cartoon. Read the rest at