Film Review

Film Review - Trigger Point


Older action heroes have been created with Liam Neeson and Keanu Reeves, and now it’s Barry Pepper’s turn to throw bits of blue steel around the frame while taking out numerous bad guys. In “Trigger Point,” Pepper portrays a disgraced CIA agent out to clear his name, racing around upstate New York, taking time to engage in shootouts and charged confrontations. Screenwriter Michael Vickerman is tasked with generating a world for “Trigger Point,” creating a fresh franchise for Pepper that’s intended to carry on in multiple sequels. Trouble is, the first installment isn’t all that inspired, with director Brad Turner trying to do something with tight COVID-19 filming restrictions (the movie was shot six months ago), ordered to manufacture some mayhem with writing that doesn’t have interest in such a mood, while Pepper’s hard focus eliminates any personality, making the endeavor glum, with only a few lively elements to keep it passably engaging. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jakob's Wife


The trials and tribulations of a longstanding marriage are filtered through genre filmmaking in “Jakob’s Wife.” It’s a pairing of domestic disappointment and vampirism that gives the material a special twist, with writers Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, and Travis Stevens (who also makes his directorial debut) doing something inventive with horror formula and marriage therapy, coming up with an oddball chiller that attempts to offer a little heart before it sucks it dry. Terrific performances from star Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden carry the endeavor, which isn’t always confident with tone, losing its way at times. However, the movie is memorable and periodically wicked, managing to bring something different to screens as the story examines common relationship problems while keeping things drenched in blood. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rookies


Chinese comedies can be very odd, and “The Rookies” is no exception. It’s an action film with heavy doses of slapstick, trying to merge the worlds of Michael Bay and Jerry Lewis for an extravaganza that’s simply out to entertain, nothing more. Of course, when one considers a freewheeling adventure with wacky personalities getting into all sorts of scrapes, a scene that details one character getting her legs cut off doesn’t seem like a natural fit for the picture that hopes to be hilarious, but this is how “The Rookies” works. The spy movie deals in all sorts of extremes, including casting, with Milla Jovovich collecting a big payday to appear in a few scenes, adding some western star power to an eastern endeavor that’s primarily about grand chases and scenes of silliness. Well, not the dismembering part, but the rest is eager to please. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vanquish


I’m not sure who’s funding this next generation of VOD films, but they’ve developed a soft spot for George Gallo. Forever billed as the screenwriter of “Midnight Run” and “Bad Boys,” Gallo has recently revived his dormant directorial career, trying to make a noir-ish mystery with 2019’s “The Poison Rose” and make some funny with 2020’s “The Comeback Trail” (which is currently awaiting a U.S. release). For 2021, Gallo teams with writer Samuel Bartlett for “Vanquish,” which is meant to be a lean, mean actioner following an enforcer as she endures dangerous situations to help retrieve her kidnapped child. What’s really going on in “Vanquish” is absolutely nothing. Gallo doesn’t have the first clue what to do with material he co-wrote, pumping in acidic stylistics and clumsy stunts to give the effort some edge, but it doesn’t take. The feature is a complete bore, marching from one dim-witted scene to the next, almost coming across as an attempt from Gallo to win a wager for the world’s most inert movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - For the Sake of Vicious


“For the Sake of Vicious” is a collaborative effort from writer/directors Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen. The twosome attempt to live up to the promise of the title, but there’s something of a story to work out before the carnival of pain begins, with the filmmakers showing less interest in dramatic development. The picture isn’t a striking example of low-budget imagination, finding an already thin plot stretched awkwardly to a short 76-minute-long run time, but once “For the Sake of Vicious” starts to get mean, it perks up substantially, wisely doing away with the demands of screenwriting to create a rough revenge tale featuring the repeated slicing, hammering, and blasting of participants, making the feature much more effective as a visceral viewing experience with limited dialogue exchanges. Read the rest at

Film Review - In the Earth


The big selling point of “In the Earth” is the story of its creation. Feeling restless during the first few waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, writer/director Ben Wheatley decided to keep marching forward with his filmmaking career, electing to bring a small crew and group of actors into the deep woods to realize a horror movie about the damaging effects of isolation and the mysteries of nature. “In the Earth” plays into the whole iffy idea of a COVID-19 picture released during COVID-19, and I’m not sure there’s going to be much of an audience for the endeavor, but timing is the least of feature’s problems. After attempting to broaden his career with last autumn’s “Rebecca,” Wheatley’s back to his usual helming habits with his latest effort, trying to summon a brain-bleeder with moments of extreme violence, laboring to transform the world around us into a blistering cinematic threat. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Banishing


It’s difficult to label “The Banishing” as an unnerving horror movie, but it’s an effective one with periodic moments of successful unease. What writers David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines do particularly well is avoid predictability within a premise that’s been seen hundreds of times before. The material deals with the serpentine ways of the Catholic Church and the dark corners of a haunted house, yet “The Banishing” doesn’t surrender itself entirely to formula, with the screenplay working smartly with known quantities to manufacture a descent into Hell that doesn’t go exactly how one expects it to. Director Christopher Smith (“Black Death,” “Detour,” and “Severance”) also has the benefit of a talented cast doing a fine job capturing the Hammer Films atmosphere of the endeavor, giving the drama some needed authority to sustain audience interest. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thunder Force


It’s been established that writer/director Ben Falcone and actress Melissa McCarthy enjoying working together. The real-life married couple recently collaborated on last November’s “Superintelligence,” and now they’re back with “Thunder Force,” which is their fifth film together. It’s been a problematic partnership, with Falcone a permissive helmer and McCarthy a devout improviser, and while they seem to have the best intentions with their endeavors, it’s been difficult to cheer on the twosome as they consistently create underwhelming pictures. “Thunder Force” is no different, this time putting Falcone and McCarthy in charge of a superhero comedy that’s big on visual effects and limited when it comes to laughs. There’s something to the concept of fortysomething women saving Chicago, but the writing isn’t alert, with Falcone too busy chasing DOA bits instead of mounting a thrilling-but-silly adventure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Voyagers


To create his latest film, writer/director Neil Burger finds inspiration in the 1954 William Golding book, “The Lord of the Flies.” The novel has been reworked and reimagined many times over the decades, but Burger has the idea to take mounting tensions between young people into space, creating a sci-fi take on power plays and situations of survival. It’s an interesting way to refresh the concept, giving the helmer a different approach to a familiar story, with Burger’s take more about primal adolescent behaviors running wild inside a spaceship. “Voyagers” isn’t as taut as it could be, but the production has a captivating first half, examining the slow unraveling of order as control involving kids is lost, creating chaos in a confined setting. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Unholy


“The Unholy” is being sold as a Sam Raimi production, offering that tantalizing brand name to genre fans hungry for something scary and perhaps even a little bit insane. Sadly, Raimi’s influence isn’t detected in the picture, which is credited to Evan Spiliotopoulos, the co-writer of the tedious “Beauty and the Beast” live-action remake and the needless sequel, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” He’s not exactly a fountain of fresh ideas, and as the writer/director of “The Unholy,” Spiliotopoulos delivers a routine examination of good and evil, using the mysteries of miracles and the deviousness of the Catholic Church to inspire a tepid exploration of faith and fear. It’s an impossibly dull feature at times, with the helmer unwilling to get crazier with his central idea, allowing the endeavor to enjoy a grander sense of threat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Every Breath You Take


The semi-erotic psychological thriller was a major box office draw in the 1980s and early 1990s, as audiences were in the mood to watch damaged people deal with manipulators and murderers, with occasional trips to the bedroom to work on different urges. There’s really no place for the subgenre now, but that’s not going to stop “Every Breath You Take,” which plays like something Richard Gere would’ve made during his heyday. The screenplay by David Murray (making his professional debut) doesn’t offer an original approach to the pains of a family ripped apart by a malevolent outsider, and it’s not inspired work, presenting a sluggish take on dangerous mistakes and mental chess, also lacking a level of sexuality that usually fuels cheap thrills. It’s just dull, and director Vaughn Stein does little to energize the endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Tunnel


While Hollywood remains obsessed with producing big-budget superhero entertainment, Norway has been taking care of disaster movies since 2015, finding creative success with “The Wave” and “The Quake.” The films were trying to bring a little American noise to Norwegian audiences, but the writing aimed to be more human, constructing a realistic level of danger and sacrifice while still playing up the big screen appeal of mass destruction. And now there’s “The Tunnel,” which isn’t connected to the previous two pictures, and features a great deal less violence. The idea here is helplessness in the middle of a claustrophobic setting, with director Pal Oie searching for suspense in survival and rescue efforts highlighting characters dealing with the immediate danger and the gradual suffocation of a tunnel fire. “The Tunnel” isn’t chaotic, but it’s suspenseful, with Oie carefully escalating the central crisis, paying attention to personal relationships, not visual effects, along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Honeydew


Devereaux Milburn makes his feature-length directorial debut with “Honeydew,” and boy howdy, he’s eager to show his stuff with the movie. Blending the backwoods horror and appetites of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” with modern trends in mannered terror, Milburn offers a familiar tale of a lost couple looking for shelter where they shouldn’t, working to generate a fright experience that’s primarily sold through specific cinematography and excessive editing. “Honeydew” is as self-conscious a filmmaking introduction as they come, offering viewers a tedious examination of style and stillness, while the writing asks the audience to spend time with two main characters who, even by genre standards, have no working brains, happily marching into obvious danger because Milburn needs them to. The helmer’s trying to throw a ghoulish party with this endeavor, but the showiness of it all is wearying. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hollow Point


Daniel Zirilli likes to direct movies, and he’s made a large amount of them in recent years, with nondescript titles such as “Acceleration,” “Invincible,” and “The Asian Connection.” He’s a VOD helmer trying to make a career out of action endeavors, with his latest being “Hollow Point,” which intends to offer viewers a critical look at the police and justice system of Los Angeles, but primarily offers quickie fight choreography and shootouts around the empty spaces of the city. It’s not without some low-wattage thrills, but “Hollow Point” isn’t the intellectual exercise it initially positions itself to be, finding the screenplay inching away from challenging ideas on law and order, more comfortable with snoozy scenes of confrontation. It’s an offering of vigilante cinema, but certainly not gonzo enough to make a lasting impression. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Power (2021)


“The Power” initially presents itself as a ghost story with a unique time period and location, taking viewers to East London, 1974, where the city is enduring evening blackouts, making the first night on the job for a young nurse most difficult. The feature isn’t simply about low-lit frights, with writer/director Corinna Faith trying to develop the material as something more than just a parade of things that go bump in the night. She’s successful for the most part, but “The Power” is overly concerned about reaching a 90-minute-long run time, with Faith adding an enormous amount of padding to the effort, which throttles overall pace. There’s atmosphere to enjoy here, and performances capably summon a fear factor, but the slow-burn approach sometime puts the movie into park, leaving the viewing experience uneven despite obvious production accomplishments. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shiva Baby


Emma Seligman makes an impressive filmmaking debut with “Shiva Baby,” managing to tap into a mounting sense of panic in a way that rivals seasoned helmers. The writer/director doesn’t go big for his first feature, taking viewers into the pressure cooker environment of a funeral gathering, with Jewish families coming together to mourn, but also catch up on gossip and personal achievements, leaving the central character to manage all sorts of judgmental attitudes while dealing with a potentially life-changing reveal of her secretive employment. Offered a house filled with itchy personalities, and Seligman transforms “Shiva Baby” (an adaptation of her 2018 short) into a remarkable suspense picture that’s loaded with amazing performances and turns of plot, keeping the endeavor riveting and also darkly comedic. Seligman does a lot with very little here, showcasing a gift for subtle behaviors and broad confrontations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Assault on VA-33


The “Die Hard” formula still has life in it, but it requires the leadership of filmmakers willing to put in the effort to create a suspenseful ride of askew heroism, keeping the story moving, allowing for plenty of action to command attention. “Assault on VA-33” is the latest subgenre offering, and it underwhelms in a major way, taking the showdown to a Buffalo, New York veterans affairs medical center, which is an unusual location for this type of VOD mayhem. Director Christopher Ray and screenwriter Scott Thomas Reynolds (who last collaborated on “2nd Chance for Christmas,” which starred Vivica A. Fox, Jonathan Lipnicki, Tara Reid and Mark McGrath – more of a warning than a cast list) don’t push hard enough to generate a thrill ride with the feature, showing more interest in dreary plot specifics and drab supporting characters as the movie gradually slows to a full stop. The “Die Hard”-ness of the material is missing, replaced with a steady stream of tedious conversations and a half-baked plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - French Exit


It takes a special viewer curiosity to find the mood of “French Exit,” which is intended to be a dark comedy about powerful feelings. Actually, it’s more of an endurance test, but an intermittently flavorful one from director Azazel Jacobs (“The Lovers,” “Terri”), who’s constructing something mannered to best support the material’s sense of humor and mystery. Jacobs creates a pretty picture, enjoying the sights and sounds of European living, but his effort to decode Patrick deWitt’s screenplay (an adaptation of his own 2018 book) isn’t entirely successful, finding the feature cold to the touch. “French Exit” definitely has moments of psychological clarity to keep it passably compelling, but every time the endeavor starts to dabble in eccentricity, it stumbles, laboring to find its footing again. Read the rest at

Film Review - Godzilla vs. Kong


It’s taken a little time to reach this point. The MonsterVerse began with a great deal of hope in 2014’s “Godzilla,” which found a sizable audience hungry for a big-budget take on the famous kaiju. Attempts to turn the hit picture into something grander and interconnected continued in 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island” and 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” with the producers gradually working their way to a big screen showdown between cinema’s most famous towering beasts of destruction. And now there’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which is meant to be a payoff for such blockbuster patience, finally delivering on a massive showdown, giving the monsters time to rumble after years spent establishing backstory and motivation. And director Adam Wingard delivers a major event with “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which isn’t just the best chapter of the MonsterVerse, it also delivers on expectations, with plenty of smashmouth sequences featuring the titular opponents, while the human element manages to remain appealing and sparingly used, leaving enough room for a main event meant to fuel playground debates for years to come. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Trip


Mockumentaries, or prank films, aren’t a new addition to the cinematic landscape. However, after the success of “Borat” and “Bad Grandpa,” a different form of mischief has been popularized, with productions trying to offer some level of storytelling to go with all the shenanigans. Last year, “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” endeavored to share a hybrid viewing experience, and now there’s “Bad Trip,” which brings basic cable troublemaker Eric Andre to screens, offering his wildly divisive sense of humor to the masses. Helping the cause is “Bad Grandpa” co-creator Jeff Tremaine, who joins the effort as a producer, using his expertise to help Andre and director Kitao Sakurai manage a feature-length demonstration of the comedian’s appeal, sending him into the wild with co-star Lil Rey Howery to test the patience of the American public with a series of strange and shocking antics that supplement a threadbare road trip picture. Read the rest at