Film Review

Film Review - Clean


It’s a “John Wick” world, and while the animal loving assassin gears up for another chapter in 2023, there are other actors who want a piece of the action movie pie. For “Clean,” Adrien Brody emerges as a new man of action, crafting his own journey of violence, sharing screenwriting duties with director Paul Solet. Brody hunts for a gritter take on a ruined man confronted with the ugliness of the underworld, looking to cut to the bone with the material, which deals with agonized individuals working through guardianship issues. “Clean” isn’t a consistent film, spending its first half in a psychological abyss before bloodlust begins, and while the endeavor gives the star his juiciest role in quite some time, the picture remains an uneven study of a broken man trying to do the right thing, eventually pulled back into a world of hurt he’s been denying for years. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rifkin's Festival


For his 49th and likely final feature film, writer/director Woody Allen pays tribute to the movies that moved him with “Rifkin’s Festival.” It’s a typical offering of neuroses from the helmer, who takes his act to the San Sebastian Film Festival, creating a tale of lust, marriage, and cinema while taking in the sights of the event and surrounding Spanish experiences. Allen doesn’t push too hard with the picture, delivering the basics of wit and style, with the cast asked to do most of the heavy lifting as the threadbare story wanders around the run time. There are no laughs in “Rifkin’s Festival,” not even a chuckle, but Allen’s attention to the travelogue aspects of the production are appealing, offering a tourism video for Spain and its inherent beauty, also working in a few digs at the underwhelming nature of modern day film festivals. Read the rest at

Film Review - The King's Daughter


In the era of COVID-19, movie release delays have become common. Studios are sniffing around for dates capable of delivering desired box office returns, holding on to valuable pictures until the timing is right. For “The King’s Daughter,” the situation is a lot more complicated, as the feature was originally shot in 2014, spending the last eight years in limbo after jumping around various studios, looking for a company brave enough to finally send it in front of audiences. The day has finally arrived for “The King’s Daughter,” which brings Vonda McIntyre’s 1997 novel to the big screen, presenting material that originally beat out “A Game of Thrones” for a literary prize. Unfortunately, the project has been handed to Sean McNamara, the director of “Cats & Dogs: Paws Unite!” and “Bratz,” and he’s not the kind of helmer who can do much with ambitious fantasy material. The best he can do is offer Pierce Brosnan as a French king and some iffy CGI, basically aiming the endeavor at sleepover crowds looking for an easily digestible take on love, empowerment, and mermaid vivisection. Read the rest at

Film Review - WarHunt


Co-writer/director Mauro Borrelli attempts to blend genre elements concerning witchcraft with meaty World War II action in “WarHunt.” The approach appears to mimic the pages of a graphic novel, where the real and unreal are permitted to coexist, as Borrelli introduces some macabre additions to boost the men-on-a-mission formula, giving the production a few surges of compelling violence. While the film deals with various versions of evil, both political and mythical, the real enemy to “WarHunt” is its limited budget, which prevents Borrelli from really indulging the extremes of the story, or offer the viewer more than basic forest locations, mixed with a few sets. The endeavor isn’t a washout, just hobbled by a lack of funds, keeping drama and action somewhat stagnant when this feels like a premise capable of absolutely rampaging with more generous financing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Tiger Rising


“The Tiger Rising” is an adaptation of a 2001 children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, who delivered 116 pages of dramatic development and characterization, focusing on the plight of two 10-year-old kids and their shared emotional frustrations. The film version tries to stretch the material into 100 minutes of soft melodrama, aiming to make an old-fashioned family movie with elements of sadness and fantasy, presenting an adventure from a child’s POV. “The Tiger Rising” means well enough, but writer/director Ray Giarratana grows too comfortable with the endeavor’s leisurely pace and broad performances, trusting in simple messages of friendship and forgiveness to carry the effort when DiCamillo’s source material clearly needs a more refined approach to bring it to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Redeeming Love


“Redeeming Love” is a faith-based movie from an evangelical Christian production company, and the material includes several scenes of sexuality and sexual violence. I have questions, you’ll have questions, and some of the answers are found in Francine Rivers’s 1991 novel, which is adapted for the screen by the author and D.J. Caruso (who also directs). Rivers has created a tale of one woman’s experiences with tragedy, studying how it leaves her dead inside until the right man comes along to show her the path of love. The picture is extremely strange, looking to sell acts of submission and superiority as some type of warm union between opposites, and Rivers has a vicious side, with horrible things happening to the characters, which doesn’t exactly encourage the warm fuzzies the feature hopes to end on. “Redeeming Love” has production polish, but not a great sense of what kind of story it wants to tell, and what kind of audience it’s hoping to reach. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Thing Mary Saw


“The Last Thing Mary Saw” has unfortunate timing. There’s clearly a drive to create an atmospheric film about religious oppression and supernatural events, with first-time moviemaker Edoardo Vitaletti putting primary emphasis on the slow creep of doom. He works with a small budget and limited lighting to arrange a creep-out capable of reaching its intended audience, offering small bites of horror for the most patient viewers. Vitaletti has good intentions, but he’s a little behind the curve with “The Last Thing Mary Saw,” beaten to the punch by dozens of similar endeavors that share the same tone and imagination for screen tension. Not helping the cause is the effort’s glacial pacing, which is meant to conjure a special sense of agitation, but doesn’t get the feature where it needs to be in terms of unease, keeping the picture in neutral as horrible things happen to characters, and it’s difficult to work up the interest in their punishment. Read the rest at

TV Review - El Deafo


“El Deafo” is an adaptation of a 2014 graphic novel by Cece Bell, who turned to the page to detail moments from her early life in the 1970s, where she dealt with the hardships of hearing loss. The book won accolades for its imagination and treatment of a delicate issue, and Bell now brings her story to television, with a three-episode animated series that seeks to support the author’s tender tale of traumatic experiences and empowerment. “El Deafo” was an incredible young adult literary achievement, and director Gilly Fogg and writer Will McRobb do everything they can to preserve Bell’s POV, including a creative use of sound to generate a specific listening experience for viewers, presenting an immersive understanding of hearing issues and a gentle overview of growing pains. “El Deafo” is simply wonderful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Parallel Mothers


Writer/director Pedro Almodovar reclaimed his artistic supremacy with 2019’s “Pain and Glory,” which reunited the helmer with frequent collaborator Antonio Banderas, working on a personal story concerning mortality. It was a gem, and now he’s back with another of his favorite performers, Penelope Cruz, for “Parallel Mothers,” with the pair returning to the turbulent ways of a Almodovar melodrama, this time examining the sacrifices of parenthood and the cruelty of history. The picture isn’t a puzzle, but it contains a significant amount of turns and challenging ideas on the nature of motherhood, blended with a feminine POV the helmer adores. “Parallel Mothers” enjoys depicting matters of the heart, but the material heads into some strange directions at times, keeping viewers glued to the wild developments Almodovar has prepared for his latest foray into the depths of doubt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Riverdance: The Animated Adventure


Just over 25 years ago, the show “Riverdance” premiered. It brought the world of Irish dancing to the world, with touring companies traveling around the globe, delighting audiences eager to experience the thrill of synchronized movement and the power of culture. And what better way to celebrate the stage extravaganza than to release an animated movie about fantasy deer with magical antlers who populate Irish rivers, becoming prey for a mythical predator who becomes real when a lighthouse goes dark. And there’s dancing too. “Riverdance: The Animated Adventure” is one of the weirdest family films I’ve seen in some time, but the oddity doesn’t always translate into ideal entertainment. There’s some fun to be had with the strangeness of it all, but the production doesn’t know what to do with itself at times, reaching a 73-minute runtime in mostly disappointing ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scream (2022)


When “Scream” debuted in 1996, little was expected of it. It was horror counterprogramming for the holiday season, eventually making its way to a sizable box office take while inspiring a trend in self-aware chillers featuring disposable teen characters. It launched a line of sequels that gradually lost audience interest (the last appearing in 2011), and eventually found its way to a television series that lasted three seasons on MTV and VH1. The franchise tires were soon deflated, the cash cow was milked dry, but now there’s another “Scream,” which is titled “Scream,” because that’s what studios do when they want to repackage material for a new generation. And this is exactly the approach of the new “Scream,” which takes the original’s fixation on genre movie rules and formula and updates it for the “re-quel” world of today. Screenwriters James Vanderbilt (“Independence Day: Resurgence,” “White House Down”) and Guy Busick (“Ready or Not”) take the concept of remakes quite seriously, mounting what’s basically a do-over of the original Wes Craven film, leaning into déjà vu to best appeal to longtime fans and newcomers to the stalking routine of the Ghostface killer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hotel Transylvania: Transformania


It was inevitable that another “Hotel Transylvania” sequel would be made. The last one, 2018’s “Summer Vacation,” managed to become the franchise’s biggest grossing and best reviewed installment, finally finding a semi-inspired way to deal with director Genndy Tartakovsky’s often manic vision for cartoon chaos. What’s surprising about “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is the absence of Tartakovsky, who elected to step down from helming duties, taking a co-writing credit instead. Also missing is star Adam Sandler, who weirdly retreats from the easiest gig of his career, allowing voice actor Brian Hull to take over as Dracula. Some elements have changed for the fourth chapter of the horror-themed series, but slapstick remains in full force for “Transformania,” which works extremely hard to match the energy of previous offerings, though the absence of key players is felt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sex Appeal


Screenwriter Tate Hanyok is out to challenge the teen sex comedy with “Sex Appeal.” It’s a movie for a new age of body and sex positivity, getting away from male-oriented adventures into lustful situations. Hanyok’s had enough of these perspectives, electing to create a female-centric study of carnal exploration, with emphasis on the journey of virginity featuring a character who’s prioritized academic achievements over an examination of pleasure. Hanyok has fun with the premise, delivering a mostly amusing endeavor that’s occasionally broad to help relax inherent tensions concerning the plot. She also offers a commendable female POV, helping to freshen up the teen horndog subgenre, updating its interests. “Sex Appeal” eventually battles a breakout of two different films competing for attention, but that effort to doing something different is commendable, and the picture remains quite entertaining. Read the rest at

Film Review - Borrego


Writer/director Jesse Harris wants to do something significant with “Borrego,” but there are two different films fighting for attention here. The feature is bookended with text detailing the harsh world of pharmaceutical drugs, where introductory doses of powerful painkillers can often lead to personal ruin, sending users on a journey they’re not prepared for. And then there’s the rest of the endeavor, which details various characters involved in a botched plan to fly drugs over the Mexican border into California, leading to violent events involving confused people. “Borrego” has an interesting start, but Harris isn’t necessarily making an anti-drug picture, trying to manage thriller mode for a film that’s more about silent study than tense confrontations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shattered


Screenwriter David Loughery has enjoyed a career resurgence over the last decade, going from studio work in the 1990s (“Tom and Huck,” “Money Train”) to low-budget thrillers that require extraordinarily little production effort, often set in a single location. He’s written “Fatale” and “The Intruder,” creating his own formula for cheap chills, and he’s back with “Shattered,” which doesn’t deviate from his to-do list of suspense moves. Mixing eroticism with a home invasion tale, Loughery does exactly what he normally does with the material, providing an unimaginative but affordable take on troubles for an innocent character faced with the actions of evildoers. Director Luis Prieto (“Kidnap”) doesn’t help the cause, stuck trying to manage dreary writing and weak performances, unable to get the picture going with any shock value or basic dramatic engagement. Read the rest at

Film Review - The 355

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With the return of James Bond and the ongoing “Mission: Impossible” series, there’s tough competition out there in the superspy genre. “The 355” intends to launch a new series focusing on a team of opposites learning to work with one another to achieve success while trying to prevent the end of the world, and it collects some of the finest actresses in the industry to do so, presenting a more dignified air while the screenplay assembles various missions for the characters. The material isn’t quite as advanced as one would hope with this kind of thespian talent, but “The 355” remains an entertaining actioner with a few effective scenes of conflict and pursuit. Director Simon Kinberg (the woeful “Dark Phoenix”) tries to maintain a global experience for the production, and he manages the speed of the effort well. Those used to more complex espionage puzzles might feel a bit disappointed with the writing, but the performances, and their commitment to the story, keep the production on the move. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Hero


Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is a celebrated storyteller whose emphasis on human tales of struggle and doubt have made him one of the finest helmers in international cinema. Farhadi took a break from the intimacy of his native Iran to work with bigger stars in 2018’s “Everybody Knows,” collaborating with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem on the Spanish-language mystery. The feature offered access to a wider audience, but Farhadi returns to local matters of suspicion with “A Hero,” which brings the helmer back to Iran to examine a knotted plan of innocence involving a character with a history of guilt. “A Hero” is familiar work, but that’s not a criticism, as Farhadi is highly skilled at this kind of small-scale, hard emotions screenwriting, working with local customs and personalities to detail larger themes of responsibility and self-preservation. The suspense generated here is surprising and sustained, with Farhadi generating a deep understanding of bad ideas inspired by desperate times. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Siege


Like a few other B-movie filmmakers, Edward Drake is currently in the Bruce Willis business. 2021 was their special year, with Drake delivering “Apex” and “Cosmic Sin,” trying to make action extravaganzas while working with an actor who’s not a big fan of physical movement these days, basically sleepwalking through the features. Willis had a rough 2021 (remaining still through seven pictures), and he kicks off 2022 with another inexplicable professional choice, staying with Drake for “American Siege,” where he portrays a cop (of course) who mysteriously vanishes for half of the endeavor. Those coming to see Willis will be disappointed once again, and Drake doesn’t have much to offer the curious, delivering a DOA mystery about a missing woman that offers weirdly little in the way of violent escapism. Read the rest at

Film Review - See for Me

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The home invasion thriller gets an interesting tweak in “See for Me.” The picture concerns a blind woman’s experience with criminals in the dead of night, and the part is played by Skyler Davenport, a visually impaired actor, giving the feature a certain realism to go with all the genre manipulations. Screenwriters Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue present an inventive take on such a dangerous situation, working to approach the usual serving of predator and prey from a slightly different perspective. There’s not a fully fleshed-out endeavor to devour, but “See for Me” has some nicely pressurized moments, and director Randall Okita finds ways to keep a movie that’s largely about stillness visually interesting, giving the movie some boosts of suspense as it works to rethink cliches and traditional sequences of violent confrontation. Read the rest at