Film Review

Film Review - Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves


The role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” has been around for nearly 50 years, and Hollywood has certainly tried to capitalize on the popularity of the brand name over the decades. Perhaps the most notable was a charming, violent Saturday morning cartoon that began a two-year run in 1983, and the most notorious offering was a 2000 feature, which merged mid-budget extravaganza with the comedy stylings of Marlon Wayans. Hoping to reestablish a new cinematic realm for the tabletop experience is “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” with co-writers/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein aiming to bring a more respectful adaptation to the screen while still playing in a big-budget sandbox that requires some level of accessibility for the mass audience. “Honor Among Thieves” is at its best in adventure mode, with the helmers delivering visual gymnastics and plenty of fantasy components, but the pair often favor their funny bone, which isn’t nearly as enjoyable as wild encounters with strange creatures and perilous environments. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lost King


“The Lost King” hopes to illuminate an otherwise forgotten bit of recent British history, sharing the story of Philippa Langley and her quest to locate the remains of Richard III, endeavoring to dig through rumor and research to achieve a seemingly impossible goal. It’s a fascinating tale of obsession, handed a smooth dramatic ride by screenwriters Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan (adapting Langley’s book, “The Search for Richard III”), who strive to focus on the woman’s journey through the darkness of doubt and rejection, forced to rely on belief to achieve desired results. Director Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “Philomena”) helps to keep the feature on the move, settling on a semi-Hitchcockian tone for the picture, which is both unexpected and most welcome. “The Lost King” has ideas to share on inequality and historical inaccuracy, and the writing successfully balances the human drive of the story with the details of the hunt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Sentinel


If the story of the “Last Sentinel” was the basis for an episode of television, it could work, dealing with a short run time and more focus on achieving a certain level of suspense with fewer dramatic moves. However, this is not T.V., but a movie from writer Malachi Smyth and director Tanel Toom, and they’re not in a hurry to generate any sort of nail-biting viewing experience with an endeavor that inexplicably runs for nearly two hours. The material has some ambition to detail the habitual cycles of destruction found in humanity, and there’s some interest in replicating a chain-of-command thriller, where duty and survival are forced to battle it out. “Last Sentinel” is a confusing picture, showing no interest in screen movement despite taking on a plot that has the potential for a more active sense of danger, leaving the audience with very little to rile up the senses as one comatose scene after another fills up a painfully overlong run time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shazam! Fury of the Gods


2019’s “Shazam!” was an attempt by the DC Cinematic Universe to open the door for more fringe players in the superhero game, building up the brand with fresher faces used for cinematic adventuring. The picture wasn’t exactly a screaming success, but it managed to inspire a sequel, with “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” arriving four years later, ready to return to the might of Billy Batson and his transformation into the powerful Champion, Shazam. Returning screenwriter Henry Gayden (now joined by Chris Morgan, from the “Fast & Furious” franchise) and director David F. Sandberg are certainly enthusiastic about a second go-around with cutesy heroes and Greek myth-inspired villainy, but there’s nothing really different about “Fury of the Gods,” which suffers from the same tonal issues as the original feature, and Sandberg cranks up the noise to make an epic, relying on visual effects, not story, to wow viewers in this bland follow-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boston Strangler


2007’s “Zodiac” is largely considered to be one of the great films about an investigation into the horrific acts committed by a serial killer. Director David Fincher summoned an incredible mood for the movie, playing to his strengths with style and storytelling patience, striving to conjure real suspense with the workings of newspaper journalism. “Boston Strangler” has the same idea, with writer/director Matt Ruskin setting a Fincher-esque tone with the feature, which examines the drive of two female reporters in the 1960s to make sense of a murderer in Massachusetts who targets vulnerable women, sending messages to the public with the discovery of each victim. “Boston Strangler” has a special feeling of dread, and the first half of the picture captures the intensity of analysis and suspicion, with stars Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon offering appealingly steely work as the two brilliant minds looking to crack a particularly gruesome case. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inside


If there must be a movie about a man stuck inside a lavish apartment with no hope of ever escaping, slowly going crazy as the days pass and resources dry up, it should star Willem Dafoe. “Inside” scratches a lot of itches in this regard, giving the iconic actor a fresh shot at depicting extreme boredom as it gradually melts into madness, delivering a performance that not only has to support the entire endeavor, but manages to as well. It’s a strange project from director Vasilis Katsoupis and writer Ben Hopkins, who attempt to rethink the prison picture, only here the confines are cavernous, putting Dafoe’s character in the middle of luxury living in New York City. “Inside” is something of a survival story as well, but the production mostly remains on the frayed ends of sanity, generating a highly specific viewing experience for more adventurous filmgoers, but fans of Dafoe get the full show when it comes to the actor’s love of playing psychologically shredded people. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game


“Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game” is an unusual story about an unlikely hero, at least for those who enjoy arcade time, especially in New York City. The picture tells the story of Roger Sharpe, an obsessive fan of pinball who worked to overturn an NYC ban of the game in 1976, pulled into a legal fight to prove that pinball wasn’t just for gambling. Writer/directors Austin and Meredith Bragg look to spotlight a strange story of fandom and determination, offering a faux docudrama approach to generate a special spirit for the production, which touches on the allure of pinball and the ups and downs of Sharpe’s love life. “The Man Who Saved the Game” has its low-budget limitations, but it works as a study of a life pulled in unexpected directions, with lead Mike Faist (who was very impressive in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”) providing an enjoyable performance as the unlikely instrument of change. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Magician’s Elephant


“The Magician’s Elephant” is an adaptation of a 2009 Kate DiCamillo novel, with screenwriter Martin Hynes out to rework the author’s ways with magic for an animated movie. It’s a fantasy feature, but one aiming to hit the heart with some force, following the trials of a young boy searching for a way to make contact with an elephant that’s been mysteriously pulled into a remote kingdom, desperate to return the confused creature to its home, also hunting for the location of his missing sister. As with most literary-based endeavors, there are plenty of characters and motivations to go around, with director Wendy Rogers doing a satisfactory job of tonal management and family film ambiance, giving the effort a few nice pops of action during the material’s ultimate quest to be endearing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Supercell


1995’s “Twister” was an enormous hit, becoming the second highest-grossing feature of the year, delivering screen voltage to viewers with its tale of reckless storm chasers and the tornados they hunt across the Midwest. While plans materialized time and again over the decades, a sequel never arrived (Hollywood is currently trying again), leaving the door open for other pictures to explore this world of adrenaline and science addicts. Again, nothing of note was created, giving co-writer/director Herbert James Winterstern a shot to add to the nature-gone-mad subgenre with “Supercell,” which returns to the open land of America and the threat posed by brewing storms. Some expectations are in place for another “Twister,” but Winterstern doesn’t head in that creative direction, eschewing a pulse-pounder for something more character-based and sensitive, breaking up the study of a young man trying to connect with his late father with periodic brushes with danger. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moving On


Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin apparently enjoy working together. Especially in recent years, with the “9 to 5” co-stars dealing with the demands of a television series in “Grace and Frankie,” and the pair recently disrupted Super Bowl happenings in the comedy “80 for Brady.” Fonda and Tomlin return to the screen with “Moving On,” joining writer/director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy,” “Little Fockers”) for a tale of getting older and angrier, detailing a friendship that confronts a deeply disturbing incident from their past. “Moving On” as a few light-ish moments to maintain some friendliness, but Weitz mostly goes dark and occasionally heavy with the feature, which is much more of a drama than the film’s marketing suggests. As to be expected, Fonda and Tomlin are compelling and emotional, but Weitz can’t master the murky tone of the endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wildflower


“Wildflower” has a lot on its plate. The screenplay by Jana Savage examines a particularly overwhelmed teenager fighting to handle all that’s asked of her, facing demands from her education, a new love, a best friend, and her intellectually disabled parents. The writer generates a series of volatile scenes, with the main character’s arc following her stressful experiences, studying her response to such responsibility. There’s something interesting about such a lifestyle, but “Wildflower” doesn’t handle chaos carefully, dipping into melodrama at times, limiting the emotional potential of such an unusual odyssey involving an especially abrasive character. Director Matt Smukler doesn’t aim for subtlety with the feature, which frequently comes across as a television movie, unable to manage the various moods Savage pursues, creating a rocky and unfulfilling viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Money Shot: The Pornhub Story


As a brand, Pornhub has come a long way, with the company working to keep itself as the top destination for adult entertainment videos, offering a staggering database of visual offerings for consumers to pore through, reaching all corners of sexual interests. It seemed harmless enough for a few years, but times have changed, and the inner workings of the site have been exposed to all, with a turn in 2020 triggering the company’s downfall in some aspects of business and reputation. Director Suzanne Hillinger examines just what happened to the Canadian corporation, endeavoring to grasp the separate concepts of sex trafficking and sex worker in “Money Shot: The Pornhub Story,” which takes an unusual look at the business of pornography, especially in the internet age, when everything is available to users, but few care to deal with the prospect of controlling it in some way, preferring to strictly profit from it instead. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Company of Wolves


1984's "The Company of Wolves" is co-writer/director Neil Jordan's ode to the sinister business of fairy tales. Inspiration is presented by author Angela Carter (who co-scripts), who supplies entry into a strange world of dreams and nightmares, also paying close attention to the power of storytelling with this immersion into dark woods, unreal threats, and burgeoning sexuality. Jordan teases a level of lustfulness with the endeavor, but he's mostly consumed with achieving a specialized look for the film, using a modest budget to build a fantasy land for the characters to explore. "The Company of Wolves" has a remarkable visual presence at times, with Jordan in pursuit of a cinematic journey. Pacing doesn't quite matter to the helmer, who's deeply committed to mood, keeping the picture from acquiring the dramatic authority and elegant creepiness it hopes to deliver. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Breaking


"Breaking" takes its inspiration from a 2018 article (written by Aaron Gell) about the saga of Brian Brown-Easley. An ex-military man struggling with financial issues while dealing with the Department of Veteran Affairs, Brian reached the end of his rope, looking to trigger a reaction from a system that continually ignored his concerns. He achieved this by entering a Wells Fargo location, threatening to blow it up with an explosive device in his backpack, only demanding the money promised to him by the system. It's a true story handed a dramatic reworking in "Breaking," with John Boyega tasked with creating a human being beyond the headlines, capturing Brian's boiling frustrations as he reaches for extremity to solve some of his problems. Co-writer/director Abi Damaris Corbin (co-scripting with Kwame Kwei-Armah) tries to make something cinematic with the endeavor, amplifying tension and focusing on powerful performances. She also hopes to work in reminders of systemic failures and humiliations, using Brian's story to identify how those who've been promised help are often left behind, forced to deal with the impenetrability of bureaucracy, adding another layer to this tale of a mental breakdown. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - I Think We're Alone Now


Jeff Turner and Kelly McCormick are fans of the singer Tiffany, who scored major pop radio hit in 1987 with her cover of "I Think We're Alone Now," catapulting her to superstardom for a brief moment in time. Of course, a lot of people were fans of Tiffany back in the day and a few remain so as she keeps working on her music career, but for Turner and McCormick, the red-headed performer of sugary tunes aimed at a teenage audience isn't just someone they admire, but a woman they both want to possess. "I Think We're Alone Now" is a 2008 documentary from director Sean Donnelly, who dares to spend time with two people gently ignoring their severe mental health issues, following a path of delusion as they hope to make contact with Tiffany, pledging their eternal love for the singer, dreaming of a day when she becomes a permanent part of their lives. Whether this involves Tiffany being dead or alive is up to viewers to decide. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Good Book


1997's "The Good Book" presents a dystopian vision of a future where humankind is controlled by the internet, with a Big Brother-like organization keeping close tabs on the population. In 2022, this isn't such a far-fetched vision of reality, but director/co-writer Matthew Giaquinto is making a shot- on-video endeavor, limiting the reach of his messages on media control and isolation. And he's trying to make something of a horror film with "The Good Book," which dabbles in religion and ruin, hoping to provide a slightly more intellectual viewing experience while still tending to B-movie nonsense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chang Can Dunk


The trials of being an adolescent are explored in “Chang Can Dunk,” which examines one teen’s battle to understand popularity and physical might after years of being viewed as a lesser individual. It’s the feature-length directorial debut for Jingyi Shao (who also scripts), who focuses on the business of being a kid in today’s world of social media clout and online harassment, juggling such pressure with a study of domestic woe featuring a distant mother and her wounded son. There’s a lot to “Chang Can Dunk,” more than the picture initially reveals, and Shao has the challenge of balancing the spirited ways of a sports film and the heartfelt moves of a family movie. Pacing takes a beating in the endeavor as two different plots compete over the run time, but Shao has something special with the cast, as charm and confidence jumps off the screen, keeping the viewing experience inviting as the story hits occasional turbulence. Read the rest at

Film Review - 65

65 1

Screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are often billed as the minds behind the “A Quiet Place” franchise, representing the greatest success in their careers as a filmmaking team. Directorial efforts haven’t been quite as special, with the pair recently in command of 2019’s lackluster “Haunt.” They receive a shot at the big leagues with “65,” a sci-fi actioner that carries a substantial budget and features a starring turn from Adam Driver, returning to a galaxy far, far away after years playing Kylo Ren in the “Star Wars” sequels. Beck and Woods have a premise worth paying attention to in “65,” which sets up a prime opportunity for a slam-bang survival movie featuring dinosaurs, fantasy tech, and a race against time. However, there’s something a bit off about the endeavor, finding Beck and Woods often downplaying thrill ride elements to explore character pain and burgeoning relationships, adding a lot of unnecessary pauses to the Big Chase, throttling the excitement factor of the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scream VI


2022’s “Scream” was a sequel to 1996’s “Scream,” with the release meant to revitalize a franchise horror fans lost interest in. The effort paid off at the box office, bringing the Ghostface killer back to pop culture prominence, and the producers weren’t about to let time get in the way of momentum, quickly ordering another chapter of the series. Just over a year later, “Scream VI” (we’re back to numbered installments now) is out to pick up exactly where the last feature ended, with returning directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, hired to maintain the same atmosphere and tempo of “Scream” while continuing to dig deeper into the ongoing saga of Woodsboro hellraising, coming up with another series of chases, stabbings, and exposition dumps in a quickie follow-up that does very little with changes in location and urgency. “Scream VI” is more of the same, and perhaps that’s exactly how fans want it to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - Champions


They were once the Farrelly Brothers, but directing duo Peter and Bobby have gone their separate ways. Peter found his way to Oscar gold with “Green Book,” getting a taste of Hollywood regality in the process (promptly burning off all goodwill with “The Greatest Beer Run Ever”), but Bobby isn’t as interested in serious storytelling, remaining in full Farrelly Brothers mode with “Champions,” which is a remake of a popular 2018 Spanish picture. Peter looks to change how viewers understand racism, while Bobby stays with the fart jokes and manipulative ways that made him a millionaire, taking solo control of story that combines heart, sports, and comedy, hoping to make a crowd-pleaser. Such mass appeal might work for some audiences, but it’s difficult to get excited about “Champions,” which doesn’t stray from formula and doesn’t feel particularly endearing, getting by on soft humor and paint-by-numbers screenwriting by Mark Rizzo. Read the rest at