Film Review

Film Review - One Life


“One Life” is based on the true story of “Nicky’s Children,” following the experiences of Nicholas Winton and his efforts to rescue Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War II. Why this tale may be of some familiarity is due to the spread of a viral video on social media channels, which provided a clip from the British show “That’s Life,” where the real Nichloas Winton was surprised to find himself sitting in an audience mostly comprised of the now-grown children he helped to save. It’s an emotional moment, perfect for bite-sized media consumption, and now it’s a feature-length film. Director James Hawes and screenwriters Lucinda Coxon and Nick Drake endeavor to inspect the tale in “One Life,” looking to understand what drove Nicholas to commit his life to the quest, and how he deals with memories of the time, caught up in recollections of what occurred and could’ve been during a grim period in world history. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Animal Kingdom


The world is changing, and co-writer/director Thomas Cailley is looking to take a form of evolution to an extreme in “The Animal Kingdom.” The French production examines a state of emergency involving the mutation of humans, with more and more people transforming into animals with nowhere to go, putting one parent and husband in a difficult position with loved ones. There’s plenty of dramatic potential in such a premise, and Cailley doesn’t head in a horrifying direction. He offers a sense of realism to emotional ties and survival challenges, with “The Animal Kingdom” also examining the stress of parental protection, even with such an incredible situation. Cailley creates an often riveting understanding of fear and belonging in the feature, also working with capable visual effects and a gifted cast to help secure the strangeness and universal feelings in play. Read the rest at

Film Review - Club Zero


With “Club Zero,” screenwriters Geraldine Bajard and Jessica Hausner (who also directs, last seen with 2019’s “Little Joe”) take on the ways of eating disorders and cults, along with a few other topics that also pertain to certain power plays people face every day. It’s a psychological study of submission involving a small number of private school students and their introduction to “conscious eating” via the new teacher in town, with such elevated thinking causing trouble for all. Hausner makes a peculiar chiller here, which recalls the work of director Yorgos Lanthimos and his strange ways with tone and terror. Unease takes its time to build in the movie, but “Club Zero” has an original take on influence and control, and it does very well with its large cast. This includes star Mia Wasikowska, who brings an unnerving sense of stillness to the picture, providing a central figure of concern the material enjoys developing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Behaviour


Alice Englert has worked her way through acting assignments over the last decade, but now she wants to direct. The calling makes sense, as her mother is celebrated helmer Jane Campion, perhaps setting some example for Englert and her creative drive. “Bad Behaviour” is her feature-length debut, and Englert is determined to get as messy as possible with the slightly anarchic picture. A study of parenthood, love, and the heavy burden of trauma, the endeavor (also written by Englert) steps into the world of therapy and details the rush of feelings, with two passionate characters, a mother and daughter, enduring severe highs and lows during parallel experiences in the wild. “Bad Behaviour” doesn’t amount to much, as Englert is primarily pursuing an acting exercise with the movie, but small moments of focus makes some difference, suggesting the presence of a stronger film buried beneath all the showiness. Read the rest at

Film Review - The New Boy


Cate Blanchett was last seen on screens in 2022’s “Tar,” where she delivered an exquisite performance in a difficult film, reinforcing her ability to handle all kinds of characters and moods. Before she goes the paycheck route with this summer’s “Borderlands,” Blanchett returns to challenging material with “The New Boy,” tasked with portraying a nun who witnesses a miracle occurring at a remote monastery, unsure how to process such an event. There’s a strange atmosphere to the feature, with writer/director Warwick Thornton looking to build a mystery with some supernatural elements, also delving into Australian history involving the collection and reprogramming of Aboriginal children. “The New Boy” isn’t always a well-balanced study of discovery, with its two-hour-long run time much too indulgent for the story it wants to tell. However, Thornton has an opening half that’s stocked with surprises, and there’s Blanchett, who creates a fascinating journey of faith and survival in this unusual picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jeanne du Barry


Maiwenn has been acting for decades, but she’s probably best known for her role in 1997’s “The Fifth Element,” portraying Diva Plavalaguna (a.k.a. the blue opera singer). In an already highly bizarre film, Maiwenn managed to be one of its weirder additions, but she made an impression. She’s also been stacking directorial credits during her run, helming such efforts as 2015’s “Mon Roi.” Maiwenn shows a little more career ambition with “Jeanne du Barry,” which is a costume drama concerning the drive of a poor French woman trying to find independence in a world that has no patience for such desire. Created with a sizable scope and attention to costume and production design detail, “Jeanne du Barry” doesn’t radically subvert expectations, but Maiwenn oversees capable performances and some appealing emotional escalation. She gives the feature a little more feeling than anticipated, helping to melt some of the inherent iciness that comes with this type of endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tyler Perry's Mea Culpa (2024)


Writer/director Tyler Perry does the one thing, and it’s made him a fortune. His particular love of melodrama has inspired everything he does, even when he made an effort to stretch as a storyteller with 2022’s “A Jazzman’s Blues.” The picture began with some promise, but ended up with the same messiness as all of the helmer’s projects. Perry sustains his fondness for unwieldly performances and poor plotting with “Mea Culpa,” which is the director’s attempt to make an erotic thriller from the 1980s, pitting a lawyer against pure temptation with an attractive client who may be a violent killer of women. “Mea Culpa” is ridiculous, but that’s the point of it, with Perry making the same film once again, giving viewers a look at irrational characters and tepid performances, while his writing feels like a first draft that was hastily brought to the screen, lacking basic logic, chilling turns, and a decent ending. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dune: Part Two


Hollywood isn’t big on taking risks, but they put their faith into director Denis Villeneuve, who wanted to bring Frank Herbert’s literary sci-fi epic, “Dune,” to the screen once again. Such ambition isn’t unheard of, but labeling the picture as “Part One” without a second chapter in the can was unusual, depending on audience response to trigger production on a sequel. The gamble paid off, with the success of “Part One” finally clearing the way for “Dune: Part Two,” which realizes the second half of Herbert’s novel, with Villeneuve returning to finish what he started a few years ago. Picking up where he left off, the helmer looks to increase the scale and depth of “Dune,” newly emboldened to dig into the fine details of this universe, examining its chess game of power while confronting the potency of authority as it bleeds into extremism. “Part Two” makes some curious moves in its final moments, but it remains as consistently enthralling as the previous chapter, and Villeneuve certainly puts on a visual show for fans, once again wowing with his technical achievements. Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Right Hand


Jonathan Easley makes his screenwriting debut with “Red Right Hand,” and he’s not chasing originality with the material. It’s another one-man-army feature, this time offering star Orlando Bloom his moment as a once aggressive man is brought back into the darkness when a criminal kingpin threatens the health and happiness of his family. Easley looks to shake up the norm by setting the tale in the deep south, with this level of isolation creating a war zone for the story. He also looks to flavor the writing with defined characters dealing with past sins, endeavoring to add some emotional weight to the effort. Directors Eshom and Ian Nelms (who previously helmed the enjoyable Santa actioner, “Fatman”) do their best to support the slow ride to revenge, embracing the theatrical qualities of Easley’s work. “Red Right Hand” could certainly use a tighter edit, but what’s here has occasional power and an appreciation for violent escalation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drive-Away Dolls


Joel and Ethan Coen are on a break. Maybe it’s a permanent one, who knows at this point, but the filmmaking siblings responsible for some incredible features during their decades of collaboration are currently operating solo. Joel went highbrow, taking command of 2021’s arty, stark “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” clearly out to flex his wings with a wildly different creative challenge. Ethan’s more interested in making a Coen Brothers picture, with “Drive-Away Dolls” basically tracing over tonal lines the siblings have previously drawn. It’s a dryly comedic, slightly madcap take on lovers-on-the-run cinema, and whatever Joel brought to the partnership is clearly missing from the endeavor. A labored exercise in zaniness, “Drive-Away Dolls” isn’t charming or funny, finding Ethan unable to cough up that old Coen magic in a movie that, well, he’s already made several times before. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ordinary Angels


“Ordinary Angels” is meant to be feel-good entertainment, providing a “based on a true story” tale concerning the kindness of strangers and the power of community support. It’s faith-based cinema from director Jon Gunn, who’s spent his career in the genre, last seen on screens with 2017’s “The Case for Christ.” Godly influence is a little less prioritized in the feature, as the story deals with a medical and fiscal crisis facing a widower trying to help his sick five-year-old daughter. There are a lot of buttons being pushed in this endeavor, but “Ordinary Angels” does make some effort to find nooks and crannies in characterization to explore. Screenwriters Kelly Fremon Craig (“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”) and Meg Tilly (yes, that Meg Tilly) work to bring some points of pressure to the film, locating a few realistic emotional struggles to go with all the honeyed ways of Christian storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bring Him to Me


Director Luke Sparke has spent a chunk of his career trying to launch his own sci-fi franchise, overseeing 2018’s “Occupation” and 2020’s “Occupation: Rainfall.” The franchise didn’t take the world by storm, and Sparke’s filmmaking imagination was limited at best, trying to make his tight budgets look epic. He’s back to more human concerns with “Bring Him to Me,” which follows growing tensions between two men on a long drive to certain doom, with the passenger unaware of what’s coming for him. It’s a talky offering from screenwriter Tom Evans, who hopes to tap into damaged characters and their battle to express the pain that powers them. “Bring Him to Me” is something of a crime movie as well, but Sparke is better off pursuing the gut-rot elements of the material, which are always more compelling than showdowns. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bob Marley: One Love


Before my showing of “Bob Marley: One Love,” there was a brief video message from Ziggy Marley, one of Bob’s sons, offering a quick word about the family’s pride in the picture. There’s nothing inherently wrong with such promotion, but with such estate approval comes some skepticism about the movie, as the production needs the cooperation of Marley’s relatives to use his music in the feature, which doesn’t bode well for at least a passably authentic bio-pic. Suspicions are confirmed in “One Love,” with four screenwriters remaining incredibly careful with the details of this existence, ignoring most of it to highlight a few years in the life of the iconic singer and his battles with marriage, management, and declining health. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (who also played loose with life details in 2021’s “King Richard”) is more interested in the aura of Bob Marley than the man himself, crafting a shallow understanding of behavior while emphasizing the music to please fans. Read the rest at

Film Review - Madame Web


Sony is determined to do something with their rights to the Spider-Man Universe, emboldened to explore the comic book space after the massive success of two “Venom” pictures, which managed to entice the fan base back into theaters. 2022’s “Morbius” had the opposite effect, with the feature dismissed and fully ridiculed, identifying that name recognition alone isn’t enough to tempt the faithful. Sony takes another swing with “Madame Web,” which also plays in the “Spider-Man” sandbox without actually including the web-crawler, offering an origin story for a character with limited superhero appeal in a movie that makes every conceivable wrong move. From script to screen, “Madame Web” is a dire endeavor, with co-writer/director S.J. Clarkson in over her head with this stunningly clumsy exploration of strange powers, motherhood, and villainy. The film won’t be the death of superhero cinema, but it’s a good reminder that greater care is required when bringing these strange worlds to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Land of Bad


We’ve had films about drone pilots before, and “Land of Bad” is in no mood to debate the moral and political choices involved in the service. Co-writer/director William Eubank (“Underwater,” “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin”) is in Michael Bay mode with the endeavor, which delves into a mission gone wrong, finding a surviving soldier depending on his drone support to help escape a deadly situation in a foreign land. It’s more of a B-movie than a thought-provoking thriller, but Eubank does try to keep the endeavor technical and emotional in some ways, retaining human qualities between explosions and gunfights. “Land of Bad” is suspenseful for its first half, as the screenplay creates a sense of personality and stakes before the helmer cranks up the explosions and villainous hostility, which eventually diminishes the feature’s unusual intimacy. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Way Up

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“No Way Up” is being marketed as a shark attack picture, which, no matter the quality, usually finds their way to a certain audience and their insatiable need to watch creatures of the deep devour humans. The feature has sharks in it, but predator experiences are exceedingly rare in the film, which is more focused on the survival event for a small handful of passengers stuck inside an airplane that crashes into the water, making its way to the ocean floor. Screenwriter Andy Mayson offers the usual in personalities and crises with “No Way Up,” but there’s not much of a budget in place to go wild with the premise, and director Claudio Fah is stuck trying to make a film about panicked people conversing feel exciting. The endeavor isn’t always static, but it definitely lacks a killer instinct when it comes to B-movie entertainment, feeling a little too slack when it comes to providing big thrills. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lights Out (2024)


Screenwriters Chad Law and Garry Charles aren’t going for originality with “Lights Out,” which carries a story that basically lines up with most VOD/streaming titles these days. There’s an ex-military man weighed down with heavy PTSD, an opportunity to prove himself in a physical way, and a community of dirty cops and bad dudes trying to shorten his life. It’s basic stuff handed to director Christian Sesma, who’s seasoned in the ways of disposable entertainment with generic names (previously helming “Take Back,” “The Night Crew,” and “Vigilante Diaries”), and “Lights Out” is certainly similar to many of these releases. And yet, there’s something wonderfully weird about the feature, which works very hard to be hostile and dramatic during its first two acts, almost achieving a real personality before the usual orgy of violence begins in the end. It’s not a terrible way to spend 90 minutes, especially for fans of B-movies and those capable of shutting off the film at the 60-minute mark. Read the rest at

Film Review - Players (2024)


“Players” was shot nearly three years ago, finally landing a Valentine’s Day release to help lubricate warm relationship feelings for viewers on the hunt for something soft to watch. However, the feature, scripted by Whit Anderson, doesn’t have much of a gooey center. It’s a sillier picture about hostile people lying their way into the pants of unsuspecting partners, with the main characters practiced deceivers, presented here as lovable scamps. For a movie about intense planning and foresight, “Players” doesn’t seem to understand its own unpleasantness, marching forward with comedy that doesn’t connect and character chemistry that never appears. It's a misguided shot of romantic vibes from director Trish Sie (who shot another film, “Sitting in Bars with Cake,” after this, which was released last year), who doesn’t bring a sense of gentleness to feelings, and she’s clumsy with funny business, pitching everything broadly in an effort to register the endeavor as “cute.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Bleeding Love


“Bleeding Love” tells the story of two very fragile people trying to make sense of their relationship while on a road trip to an unknown destination. The screenplay (by Ruby Caster, making her debut) sets up a troubled dynamic between a father and daughter dealing with the roughness of estrangement, and the production tries to maintain some performance reality with the casting of real-life relatives, Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor, who are tasked with portraying the strangeness and hostility of an unexpected reunion. “Bleeding Love” finds its rhythm with the stars, who nail occasional moments of behavioral clarity. The movie as a whole doesn’t quite work, finding the material a little too in love with the quirks of small-town America, and director Emma Westenberg (a music video vet) doesn’t trust her performers to communicate the horrors of addiction and abandonment, turning to distracting camerawork to sell such personal distortion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Out of Darkness (2024)


We don’t get many stone age stories on screen these days, giving “Out of Darkness” a bit of distinction as the production examines struggles from long ago, back when the Earth carried tremendous mystery and its inhabitants were fighting to understand their place in the world order. Though listed as a horror film, the endeavor isn’t really built to generate scares. Director Andrew Cumming goes intensely atmospheric instead, attempting to put the audience in the middle of a tribal fight for survival, where the characters are surrounded by pure darkness and unknown predators. “Out of Darkness” isn’t a thrilling sit, as Cumming takes his time with the effort, occasionally getting lost in his own moviemaking vision. But there are layers of storytelling in Ruth Greenberg’s screenplay that hold attention, creating a suspenseful study of behavior and survival. Read the rest at