Film Review

Film Review - Senior Year


2019 was a busy year for comedian Rebel Wilson, who appeared in four movies intended to send her career soaring. It didn’t quite work out that way (one of the offerings was “Cats,” which didn’t make magic for anyone involved in the production), and Wilson soon disappeared, taking the next three years off from filmmaking. She’s back with “Senior Year,” which is built to play to her sellable strengths of improvisation, dancing, and goofball antics, remaining in line with pretty much every picture she’s made during her career. Unsurprisingly, “Senior Year” is sincerely lacking a developed sense of humor, with the screenplay trafficking in millennium nostalgia and R-rated raunchiness, occasionally stopping the effort to deal with tender feelings. It all feels very programmed and unimaginative, and it keeps Wilson front and center, with producers once again asking her to carry a feature without thinking things through, and she barely puts in an effort to do anything different here. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Innocents


Writer/director Eskil Vogt (who previously collaborated on efforts such as “The Worst Person in the World” and “Thelma”) looks to update the “Bad Seed” formula with “The Innocents.” It’s a story about four children who each deal with certain mental powers, giving them the thrill of discovery and the challenge of self-control. There’s a certain graphic novel atmosphere to the endeavor, which largely remains a silent study of behavior and choices, occasionally dipping into some pitch-black events involving sudden violence. Vogt remains in observational mode with “The Innocents,” which gives it tremendous cinematic power, forcing viewers to process the strange magic and antagonism that emerges from these young characters, which provides some of the finest suspense sequences of the film year. Read the rest at

Film Review - Operation Mincemeat


“Operation Mincemeat” is based on a book by Ben Macintyre, who explored the story of a secret World War II mission to provide a “deception plan” used to help the Allies invade Sicily in 1943. It’s an extraordinary tale of teamwork and talent, and there’s a special addition to this slice of wartime history, with author Ian Fleming part of the planning, using his military knowledge to help inform the eventual creation of his most famous character, James Bond. The saga of Operation Mincemeat has been explored in previous productions (including 1956’s “The Man Who Never Was”), but screenwriter Michelle Ashford (“The Pacific”) brings a more immediate sense of suspense to the endeavor, working with the strange details of the mission and the inner lives of the players in the game, while director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) brings a tight pace to most of the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pleasure


Co-writer/director Ninja Thyberg originally shot “Pleasure” as a short film in 2013, helping to attract attention to her burgeoning career with a look at the technical ways and psychological damage of the adult film industry. Returning to the material, Thyberg looks to expand the experience for the lead character, depicted here as a young Swedish woman hoping to break into the business doing whatever she can to score gigs. Thyberg increases the run time and ups the graphic content, but there’s little dramatic expansion for “Pleasure,” which plays with a certain bluntness, but any emotionality is difficult to find. The troubling details of life in X-rated entertainment is what holds attention here, as Thyberg doesn’t have much in the way of characterization, presenting a simplistic take on the deadening arc of a pornography participant. Read the rest at

Film Review - Monstrous


Director Chris Sivertson is best known as the helmer of 2007’s “I Know Who Killed Me.” It was a financial and critical disaster, but established Sivertson’s love of genre entertainment that deals with the violence of psychological pain and unresolved personal issues. He returns to the realm of brain-bleeders with “Monstrous,” which is being sold as a creature feature detailing one woman’s struggle against a mysterious monster from a nearby pond. The screenplay by Carol Chrest uses horror as a way to grab audience interest, but the film explores different areas of mental health and domestic unrest, helping to create an unsteady tonality where the first half of the picture wants to frighten viewers, while the rest of the endeavor hopes to make them cry. “Monstrous” isn’t a mess, just ill-conceived, and Sivertson (joined by a whopping 38 producers) isn’t a strong enough storyteller to generate a compelling understanding of a prolonged emotional breakdown. Read the rest at

Film Review - Marmaduke (2022)


“Marmaduke” has been around for a very long time, originally debuting as a newspaper comic strip in 1954. It’s still around today, charming readers with its depiction of life with a Great Dane and all the impulse control issues such an existence offers. It’s paneled slapstick for a family audience, and Hollywood has tried their luck bringing the character to the screen before, with a 2010 endeavor using Owen Wilson to voice the oversized character. The feature wasn’t a complete debacle, but it failed to provide a reason why Marmaduke should be turned into a movie star. Producers have returned to the material, this time going the CGI-animated route with “Marmaduke,” which hires Pete Davidson to portray the pooch, while directorial duties are handled by the guy who made 1997’s “Spawn.” So yeah, this whole thing is a little weird. Read the rest at

Film Review - Juniper


One doesn’t need many reminders when it comes to the power of Charlotte Rampling, with the actress often gravitating to greatly dramatic roles, especially during the last decade, playing characters of power and influence (including fine turns in 2021’s “Dune” and “Benedetta”). “Juniper” initially appears to be another opportunity for Rampling to showcase her skills with quiet stoicism, and there are moments like this in the film. However, writer/director Matthew J. Saville (a longtime actor making his feature-length helming debut) is more interested in the slow cracks of emotion, giving Rampling a part of unusual depth and history, trusting her to flesh out what appears to be a role of simple coldness. “Juniper” has many modest surprises to share, including Rampling’s performance, with Saville constructing a gentle understanding of sadness and human connection, finding little bits of life that add up to an impressively observed picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shepherd


“Shepherd” opens with a quote from Dante’s “Inferno,” which is meant to act as an introduction to the feature and identify what type of experience writer/director Russell Owen is preparing for his audience. He’s created an intensely atmospheric picture that surveys the lasting sting of grief and the corrosive ways of secrets, using a supernatural horror story to explore a deeper understanding of emotional processing. It’s a spooky film with familiar working parts, taking viewers into the mystery of remote Scotland and the confusion of the unreal. Owen makes an initial effort to craft a brain-bleeder, offering strange visuals without much explanation, and “Shepherd” is more engrossing when completely bewildering. When the answers eventually come, in one way or another, Owen can’t handle the burden of explanation, showing more confidence when establishing this foggy realm of sorrow. Read the rest at

Film Review - Escape the Field


Screenwriters Sean Wathen, Joshua Dobkin, and Emerson Moore (who also makes his feature-length directorial debut) aren’t presenting an original concept with “Escape the Field,” delivering a strangers-in-dangers tale that’s been explored repeatedly in television shows, adding a puzzling element that’s very close to the recent “Escape Room” films. They do have the mysteries of a maze inside an infinite cornfield, but that sense of unknown danger in the middle of nowhere was examined in 2019’s “In the Tall Grass” (which was based on a Stephen King and Joe Hill novel). Frankly, there’s little originality to “Escape the Field,” which should motivate Moore to really push the suspense factor of the production, giving viewers a wild ride when storytelling isn’t at its freshest. Unfortunately, screen tension is limited in the endeavor, with the writers trying to taffy pull their small ideas for confusion and paranoia into an 80-minute movie that doesn’t amount to much. Read the rest at

Film Review - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


As a character, Doctor Strange has been very busy recently, making a mess of the multiverse in 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” also dealing with apocalyptic battles in the last two “Avengers” sequels. In “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the Master of the Mystic Arts finally receives a sequel to call his own, following up his introductory adventure from 2016. Change is inevitable, but the production team from the original picture isn’t around for the next chapter, with director Scott Derrickson stepping away from a series he helped to launch, replaced by the legendary Sam Raimi, who hasn’t helmed a feature since 2013’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.” Raimi once created a fierce hero in “Darkman” and crafted some of the best “Spider-Man” movies, making him a natural fit for the material, and writer Michael Waldron gives him a meaty comic book journey to realize. “Multiverse of Madness” improves on its predecessor, and while there are many more dramatic knots to untangle here, there’s some premium Raimi-ness to shake up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, presenting them with their first horror-tinged story that actually feels frightening at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Corrective Measures


With a low budget, several producers credited, and a supporting turn from Bruce Willis, expectations for “Corrective Measures” are limited at best. We’ve been down this B-movie avenue before, as the material deals with the violence and relationships of prison life involving a handful of aggressive characters. What’s slightly different here is inspiration, as the picture is an adaptation of a graphic novel created by Grant Chastain and Fran Moyano, and the director is Sean Patrick O’Reilly, who’s previously worked in animation, helming cuddly offerings such as “Panda vs. Aliens” and “Go Fish.” He’s not the obvious choice for this sort of hard-edged endeavor, and that’s probably why “Corrective Measures” is a bit more palatable than the competition. It’s no revelation, but as junky, low-tech entertainment goes, O’Reilly is ready to show his stuff, giving the feature occasional bits of personality and performance as the sci-fi concept periodically rises to the occasion, providing a few stretches of excitement. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fortress: Sniper's Eye


There’s a special requirement for viewers sitting down to watch “Fortress: Sniper’s Eye.” It’s a challenge unlike anything I’ve come into contact with before, and I hope innocent souls out there don’t have to experience what I have been through. That’s right, I was forced to recall exactly what happened in the original “Fortress.” The feature came out five months ago, and from all accounts, it was universally rejected by audiences, at least those who took the time to sit through an unbearable display of bad acting and worse direction (credited to James Cullen Bressack). There was barely a story, and characterization was even less important to the production, which was mostly interested in showcasing dreary conflicts between blank personalities. “Fortress” was awful, and now it has a twin, with “Fortress: Sniper’s Eye” essentially a remake of the original picture, offering fans(?) another slow ride into pure tedium. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crush (2022)


Screenwriters Kirsten King and Casey Rackham make their professional debut with “Crush,” which seeks to update the classic American teen comedy for 2022, getting some help on matters of adolescent mishaps from co-producers Chris and Paul Weitz, who, a very long time ago, also worked over the subgenre with “American Pie.” “Crush” strives to make things a bit more current and positive with its depiction of romantic entanglements and sexuality, looking to reach an older teenage audience with some sweetness and silliness, tracking the lead character’s efforts to attract her object of desire’s attention while stumbling into various sticky situations along the way. King and Rackham keep the endeavor mild but appealing, trying to secure the heart of the story to the best of their ability. Director Sammi Cohen offers breezy work, out to preserve sensitivities and comedy, with the latter proving to be a bit of a challenge to the production as melodrama becomes more compelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hatching

HATCHING - Still 2

“Hatching” is the feature-length directorial debut for Hanna Bergholm, who establishes her creative strengths with an unflinching look at the strange ways of a girl breaking under the pressure of her everyday life. Screenwriter Ilja Rautsi creates a realm of extreme stress to explore the main character’s evolution, using horror to help reach viewers with ideas on the toxicity of social media and parental expectations. There’s also a monster loose in the picture, giving the endeavor a good amount of suspense and weirdness as it details a potent psychological profile. “Hatching” is odd and effective, providing all the gruesomeness one wants from genre entertainment, but it also possesses an appealing dark side that touches on the reality of today’s world, and all the faux perfection it requires. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Aviary


“The Aviary” was produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering small production demands to writer/directors Jennifer Raite and Chris Cullari, who create a tale that’s performed by a handful of actors, shot mostly with exteriors positioned far away from the general public. Scale isn’t the goal here, with the screenplay aiming to provide an intense psychological study of frayed characters confronting their mental decline, hoping for liberation as they’re pulled into possible insanity. “The Aviary” analyzes the ways of cult control, and it’s a fascinating topic, but Raite and Cullari don’t have a feature-length concept to develop here. They have a short film instead, noticeably struggling to dream up conflicts and turns of plot that gets the endeavor to a 90-minute run time. Leads Malin Akerman (also one of 21 producers on the project) and Lorenza Izzo try to work themselves into a frenzy, but the effort’s thinness and lack of juicy surprises keep the picture middling at best. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Northman


Director Robert Eggers enjoys making bleak films about the madness and magic of the world. With “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse,” Eggers was able to bring his vision to the screen with the help of small-scale productions, keeping budgets and expectations low. For “The Northman,” the helmer is offered significant resources to make his dream of a Viking epic come true, enjoying the visuals big money can buy, along with colorful casting. However, Eggers doesn’t stray far from his cinematic interests, returning to the muck and blood of heightened conflict. He sets out to craft a period picture that respects elements of history and embraces the fury of mythology, working with co-writer Sjon to make “The Northman” a major moviegoing event, but on his terms (to the best of his ability). It’s violent, loud, and unafraid to get ugly, trying to remain in a state of psychological unrest for 135 minutes, which is a task that taxes Eggers as he labors to shape a brutalizing viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bad Guys


“The Bad Guys” is a children’s book series created by Aaron Blabey, who’s managed to transform his original idea into a wildly popular franchise, with 2022 welcoming the 15th installment of the series. Blabey brings an enjoyable sense of humor to his work, and now DreamWorks Animation tries their luck transferring good-natured silliness to the big screen. “The Bad Guys” is directed by Pierre Perifel (making his helming debut) and scripted by Etan Coen (“Get Hard,” “Holmes & Watson”), and while they don’t put a lot of thought into the story, the filmmakers do capture an engaging energy to the endeavor, which speeds along for its first hour before formula kicks in, slowing things down. It’s a spirited feature at times, offering interesting visuals and strong voice work, trying to reach the fan base with a colorful caper that respects the literary characters and their complicated relationship with goodness. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent


Nicolas Cage’s career has been weird for a long time now. He’s been working almost non-stop for the last decade, participating in projects that promise a big payday for a limited time commitment, churning out some rather dismal pictures in the process. There have been a few gems as well, such as last year’s “Pig” and “Willy’s Wonderland,” but Cage’s overall taste in screenplays hasn’t inspired his usual magic. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” challenges Cage to play himself, albeit a slightly more amplified version of the real man, who’s newly stuck in a troubling situation when a money gig in Spain goes wrong on multiple levels. Co-writer/director Tom Gormican has a deep love for Nicolas Cage, and he’s ready to share it with the world in “Massive Talent,” but he stops just short of making a farce with the endeavor, which stops just short of becoming an exuberant celebration of Cage’s special ways with comedy, action, and self-loathing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Duke


Director Roger Michell enjoyed a lengthy career filled with critical darlings (“Venus,” “The Mother,” “Enduring Love”) and a genuine smash hit (“Notting Hill”). He passed away last year, and his final film, “The Duke,” showcases his strengths as a helmer, managing character lives and tremendous performances in an unexpectedly spirited movie about an extraordinary situation orchestrated by a charismatic man. “The Duke” is based on a true story, but Michell gives it a jazzier sense of dramatic engagement, offering mild comedy and strange moments of suspense while putting his faith in leads Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, who give the material a rich sense of emotional life, helping to deepen a tale of thievery that, in other hands, could’ve been played for simple laughs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Unplugging


“Unplugging” is a timely tale about a couple drifting apart, getting more comfortable with their devices than with each other. There’s a dramatic version of this story to be made, but screenwriters Brad Morris and Matt Walsh (who also stars) attempt a comedic take on the problem of excessive screen time, hoping to find humor in the efforts of two people trying to remain connected everywhere they go. It’s a small-scale offering of domestic disturbance from director Debra Neil-Fisher (a longtime editor, with credits including “Dr. Giggles,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”), who tries to make something happen with very little from the writers, who are more interested in creating personalities than cinematic events. “Unplugging” is amusing, with a few laugh-out-loud moments, and I’m sure some viewers will be able to relate to at least a few of its ideas. Consistency is punted away in the third act, but there’s an hour of enjoyable mildness with performances aiming to please, meeting the production’s modest creative goals. Read the rest at