Film Review

Film Review - Saw X


“Saw” was released nearly 20 years ago, and sequels offered an annual celebration of death for quite some time. It became an event series for horror fans, who refused to ditch the franchise, even when it repeatedly played with retconning and logic-bending to take an idea for a single film and stretch it out over nine films. “Saw X” is the tenth chapter of the saga, with the production determined to win fans back after recent revivals of the brand name (including 2017’s “Jigsaw” and 2021’s “Spiral”) were met with a shoulder shrug. Director Kevin Greutert returns to duty after time on “Saw VI” and “Saw: The Final Chapter,” and he’s working with something the production has never managed to offer before: a somewhat interesting script (by Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg). Blood, guts, and loud suffering returns to “Saw X,” but also moments of basic humanity and motivation, giving lead Tobin Bell a little more to do than glare and growl, while the revenge plot definitely drives an involving study of pain, building a much more potent “Saw.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Creator


Director Gareth Edwards has only made a few films, and they’ve been very good, but none of them have been truly great. It’s this closeness to excellence that’s been difficult to watch, with Edwards managing to create interesting tales of large-scale problems in “Monsters,” 2014’s “Godzilla,” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (he actually had plenty of help on the latter effort). He generates incredible visuals and has a passion for genre storytelling, but the helmer usually manages to underwhelm at all the wrong moments. “The Creator” is another mild success for Edwards (who co-scripts with Chris Weitz), manufacturing a future world of runaway artificial intelligence, and how some seek to work with it, while others strive to destroy it. It’s a timely study of machines, with “The Creator” pulling from a long list of sci-fi classics to build its world, and Edwards has an endless appetite for scenes of destruction. It’s the rest of the picture that’s a little less inviting, as the production stumbles with a few clunky performances and a general commitment to repetition that takes the grandeur out of the epic Edwards is looking to make. Read the rest at

Film Review - Flora and Son


For most of his filmmaking career, writer/director John Carney has been obsessed with music. It’s become a focal point for nearly everything he’s done, with songs often becoming a lead character, usually guiding people in and out of love. He’s made “Once,” “Sing Street,” and “Begin Again,” and now “Flora and Son,” which also tracks the healing power of music as it finds its way into the hearts and minds of emotionally wounded people. In many ways, Carney is repeating himself with his latest endeavor, but peaceful feelings are welcome in the picture, which reaches intended intimacy and atmosphere, also becoming a showcase for lead Eve Hewson, who delivers an outstanding performance of prime itchiness and concern, handed a shot to really show her stuff as Carney crafts a gentle study of relationships soothed by musical expression. It’s nothing radical, but the feature is suitably heartening. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie


2001’s “Paw Patrol: The Movie” was an attempt by the producers to bring the popular animation franchise from T.V. to the big screen, giving kids raised on the adventures of these rescue dogs and their indefatigable dedication to helping those in need a proper cinematic extravaganza. Such a business move was complicated by a general release during miserable pandemic times with hesitant ticket-buyers, but “The Movie” did well, reinforcing the popularity of the brand name and the promise of feature-length storytelling to come. Two years later, “Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie” hopes to keep momentum going, with the heroes of Adventure City back to take on evil, newly armed with superhero powers but still interested in a slightly more explosive take on family entertainment, with action sequences once again capturing attention while the script for this follow-up is a little less thrilling. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kill Room


The worlds of art and crime connect in “The Kill Room,” which is largely being promoted as a reunion for stars Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson, who last acted together in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” A lot of time has passed since the release of the Quentin Tarantino film, but not everything has changed, as “The Kill Room” has Thurman portraying a rattled woman turning to drugs and dangerous men to keep herself distracted, while Jackson once again inhabits the part of an easily agitated, profane man caught up in a criminal situation that slips out of control. Slightly fatigued Tarantino-isms are certainly present in the screenplay by Jonathan Jacobson, intended or not, but the story launches with compelling oddity, highlighting the strange ways of art appreciation and manipulation, which is far more interesting than underworld entanglements that come to claim the effort’s second half. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nowhere


The Spanish production “Nowhere” is certainly not a film for those who are easily troubled by onscreen horrors. It’s a survival feature, primarily remaining on a single character as she battles to stay alive while trapped in a shipping container that’s been dumped into the middle of the ocean, left only with some supplies and her inner drive to live. It’s primarily a single-space study of endurance, with lead Anna Castillo pretty much the only actor in the endeavor, tasked with sustaining suspense as she portrays a desperate person stuck in an impossible situation. “Nowhere” doesn’t have a grand political statement to make about the refugee experience, with director Albert Pinto more about a growing sense of despair silenced by ways of empowerment, looking to take viewers on a rough ride of danger and panicky problem solving. Read the rest at

Film Review - Warrior Strong


It’s been a very strange experience to watch Andrew Dice Clay take on more dramatic parts over the last decade. The profane comedian, one of the more controversial people in the entertainment business during the late 1980s and early’90s, Clay is not typically known for his seriousness, generally pursuing funny business with previous acting work. “Warrior Strong” adds to the thespian rebuilding of Clay, who returns after parts in “Blue Jasmine” and “A Star is Born” to participate in a sports underdog picture, which is unlike anything he’s done before. And Clay is appealing in the feature, which doesn’t take many chances in the screenwriting department, but the movie has its heart in the right place, hoping to bring some feelgood storytelling to family audiences trying to find something suitable. It’s a nice turn for the once and future Diceman, who’s joined by a lively supporting cast aiming to make formula palatable in this study of high school basketball leadership. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Re-Education of Molly Singer


The state of the R-rated comedy in 2023 is fairly dire, with various releases looking to charm viewers with displays of crude humor and profanity, which is often an unwelcome substitute for actual considered dialogue. “The Re-Education of Molly Singer” is another misfire for the year, with the picture also going the raunchy route to deliver a good time for audiences, only the screenplay by Todd M. Friedman and Kevin Haskin doesn’t have much to offer besides a slightly promising concept for silliness, following a thirtysomething woman’s return to college after making a mess of her life. Something could be done with the idea, but the writing doesn’t go anywhere with it, while director Andy Palmer (“Camp Cold Brook”) switches to autopilot, putting little thought into the comedic potential of the feature (which was shot over two years ago), creating a dispiriting viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Head Count


Co-writer/directors Ben and Jacob Burghart make their feature-length helming debut with “Head Count,” which is an expansion of their 2014 short film. The original work only ran four minutes in length, requiring the siblings to dream a little bigger with their production, and they try to do some things with style and dark humor with the endeavor, which makes it to 75 minutes (sans end credits) before tapping out. It’s a Coen Brother-esque viewing experience, with some quirks and violence to manage, but missing from the effort is a sense of momentum. “Head Count” steps forward with a can’t miss premise, only to repeatedly lose focus with characterization that doesn’t connect as intended, and the writing plays too much with time, aiming to be clever and twisty instead of simply remaining compelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Reptile


“Reptile” is really all about Benicio Del Toro. The celebrated actor stars in the feature, but he also co-produces and co-scripts, taking some control over a picture that’s largely meant to celebrate his acting abilities. It’s a police procedural thriller with some mystery blended into the tale, and Del Toro gives the part as much as he’s capable of with a deeply internalized take on a haunted cop struggling with the details of his latest case. Music video helmer Grant Singer makes his narrative directorial debut with the endeavor, and he’s trying to be mysterious with the movie, which concentrates on police brotherhood developments and growing unease concerning a murder case. “Reptile” looks to be more measured with its chills, willing to go deep into character, but such dedication to drama doesn’t translate to a riveting sit, with long stretches of the effort going still instead of profound. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bottoms


One of the great surprises of the 2021 film year was the release of “Shiva Baby.” A claustrophobic dark comedy about snowballing mistakes and confrontations at a funeral gathering, the picture was hilarious and horrifying, announcing great talents in the making with writer/director Emma Seligman and star Rachel Sennott. “Bottoms” is the follow-up project for the pair, who reunite for something far less insidious, going broad with this satire of teen horndog cinema, taking on the staples of undersexed adolescents and their schemes to attract the attention of their crushes. “Bottoms” hopes to be a wild ride of silliness and strangeness, with Seligman (who co-scripts with Sennott) eager to put on a show of character liberation and pants John Hughes entertainment. When it goes wild, the feature is fun, showcasing imagination for relationship woes and craziness with violence and heartache. Seligman and Sennott don’t take their premise the whole way, leading to some disappointment, but they have something here that’s quite different at times, and uproarious when it wants to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - No One Will Save You


Writer/director Brian Duffield made an impressive helming debut with 2020’s “Spontaneous,” which explored human intimacy in the midst of exploding bodies, making for a highly unusual and absorbing viewing experience. He’s back on more familiar ground with “No One Will Save You,” which is an alien invasion story, going where many filmmakers have gone before as Earth is visited by strange beings most curious about the ways of human response. Facing formula, Duffield shifts course, crafting a bizarre survival story that employs almost no dialogue, hunting for a more primal feature that’s mostly built out of reactions from lead Kaitlyn Dever. “No One Will Save You” is slow-burn and protective of its mysteries, but the reward for such patience is a visually striking and periodically exciting chiller that heads in unusual directions, shaking off predictability early as the story finds ways to thrill and touch on the human condition. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spy Kids: Armageddon


The “Spy Kids” franchise has been very good to Robert Rodriguez, who’s turned the adventures of superspy families into a cottage industry, making movies in his home studio, often involving his children in creative decisions. The series hasn’t gone cinematic since 2011 (the unbearable “All the Time in the World”), sticking with animation offerings (2018’s “Mission Critical”) and similar endeavors (2020’s charming “We Can Be Heroes”), but Rodriguez has revived the adventure with “Spy Kids: Armageddon,” creating the screenplay with his son, Racer Max. The helmer isn’t too interested in taking creative chances with the picture, which plays like a remake of 2001’s “Spy Kids” and 2003’s “Game Over,” once again introducing a new round of family fighters and their battle against video game-inspired evil. “Armageddon” isn’t exactly fresh, but it’s fun to a certain degree, delivering lively entertainment for younger audiences while Rodriguez continues to explore his fascination with greenscreen production achievements, occasionally coming up with diverting visuals. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Expendables 4


“The Expendables” franchise has always catered to a specific taste in action cinema, offering fans of the genre a chance to see some big names return to screen glory, having fun with over-the-top violence and male posturing. 2010’s “The Expendables” and 2012’s “The Expendables 2” understood the assignment, with Sylvester Stallone leading the charge with R-rated, testosterone-laden ridiculousness, putting on a big show for loyal viewers. 2014’s “The Expendables 3” was a more divisive chapter for some (muting the roughness to a PG-13 rating didn’t help the cause), but it remained invested in the mood of the saga and its dedication to stunt casting. Box office returns took a hit with the last installment, but the brand name is back for “The Expendables 4” (or “Expend4bles,” but we can all pretend that’s not the official title), which looks to restart the series with a mix of young and old faces, definitely out to create new action heroes instead of finding classic ones (sorry, Jeff Speakman), while the screenplay remains weirdly flat, unable to cook up exciting sequences for the crew as they slowly assemble to take on a generic enemy in a sequel that’s nowhere near as entertaining as previous adventures. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shaky Shivers


A longtime actor, Sung Kang is best known as one of the stars of the “Fast & Furious” franchise. He portrays Han, a member of the “family” who has managed to evade death and significant weight gain from an enormous calorie intake. Fans love Han, but Kang is trying to figure out other avenues to his career, turning to direction for his debut, “Shaky Shivers.” The picture is out to charm with its broad displays of dark comedy, looking to merge wackiness with a few frights, but providing chills isn’t a priority to the production. Kung has a tiny budget to bring “Shaky Shivers” to life, and the effort is aided by his leads, Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen, who deliver big charm and appealing enthusiasm for the material, which definitely needs their spirit as the screenplay by Andrew McAllister and Aaron Strongoni takes a few extended breathers between on-screen incidents. Read the rest at

Film Review - Relax, I’m from the Future


Time travel is a topic covered by many movies, and “Relax, I’m from the Future” is no different, once again exploring the strangeness of a mystery man who emerges from another time, desperate to deal with issues in the present to secure a brighter tomorrow, or for him, yesterday. The premise began life as a short film, and writer/director Luke Higginson attempts to turn it into a feature, and one with the particularly strong opening that merges comedy and itchy energy, slowly developing the bewildering situation for a cast of characters. “Relax, I’m from the Future” doesn’t sustain initial oddity, offering exposition instead of following surprises, which adds unnecessary weight to the picture. Still, there’s star Rhys Darby, who brings his natural charm to the endeavor, providing a bright, amusing performance in an effort that’s much better with the actor on the move. Read the rest at

Film Review - Condition of Return


“Condition of Return” features elements of church, God and the Devil, and the deep guilt of Catholic sin. One might think they’re sitting down with a faith-based film, but the screenplay by John E. Spare doesn’t head in a more spiritual direction. Instead of being illuminated by heavenly light, “Condition of Return” is more of a Tyler Perry-style offering of campy melodrama, with Spare setting up a punishment routine for the main character while director Tommy Stovall cranks up the ridiculousness of it all, triggering many unintended (I think) laughs during the viewing experience. The movie begins with a severe act of violence, but the rest of the picture gets wild in a hurry, taking viewers on a ride of punishment and insanity. It should be fun, but it isn’t, and those coming to the endeavor expecting a kumbaya experience should prepare to sit through something far wackier than expected. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dark Asset


There is a moment in “Dark Asset” where a character sitting in front of a screen openly wonders, “What is this?” There were many moments while watching the film where I wondered the very same thing. Writer/director Michael Winnick looks to confuse his audience with this endeavor, which plays with time and allegiance in the hope to come off as sophisticated spy game entertainment. “Dark Asset” doesn’t reach many highs concerning matters of smarts and survival, with the entire feature heading in the wrong direction when it comes time to deliver a shot of thriller cinema. The material is strangely talky for a picture about conflict, and action beats are lukewarm, with the helmer barely putting up a fight against his own movie’s inertia. With a plot that involves brain chips, assassinations, and double crosses, there should really be more of a pulse to this thing than what Winnick manages to deliver. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Retirement Plan


Writer/director Tim Brown has a film in mind with “The Retirement Plan,” only his execution is too knotted to sustain a fun factor. It’s a B-movie from the helmer, who’s mostly dealing with villainous and violent happenings, tasking star Nicolas Cage to carry the endeavor with his typical enthusiasm for eccentric acting opportunities. He plays a former government assassin coming into contact with his past in “The Retirement Plan,” and Brown is trying to bring out the lighter side of this dark comedy, keeping Cage twitchy and the players on the move as the hunt for a special hard drive tries to intensify in the middle of paradise. Brown has a lot to do with this material, and he only gets halfway there, with the picture far better with set-ups than payoffs, resulting an increasingly crowded offering of half-speed action cinema. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dumb Money


“Dumb Money” dips back into recent history, examining the story of the GameStop Meme Stock scandal of 2021, where Reddit users and their indefatigable love of insanity worked to make a mess of an already corrupt Wall Street system. Director Craig Gillespie, joined by screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, strive to replicate the atmosphere found in Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” and David Fincher’s “The Social Network” (the film adapts Ben Mezrich’s book, “The Antisocial Network,” and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are listed as executive producers), looking to gift viewers some understanding of financial world scheming while replicating waves of hysteria found in the original event. There’s entertainment value in “Dumb Money,” but Gillespie is occasionally stuck between trying to be funny with the subject matter and hoping to reinforce a sobering level of fraud involving a community of characters. Such indecision doesn’t always make for an inspired take on the central crisis. Read the rest at