Film Review

Film Review - Jacob's Ladder (2019)


Shot three years ago, “Jacob’s Ladder” is finally seeing the light of day after spending time gathering dust on a shelf. Of course, we’ve been here before, as the picture is a remake of a 1990 Adrian Lyne movie, and one of his better ones too, offering viewers a nightmarish glimpse of limbo, tackling the ravages of war, the deception of government, and the private pain of one man battling his eroding reality. It’s an outstanding feature. The 2019 do-over isn’t, far from it, putting David M Rosenthal (“How It Ends”) in charge of reworking a challenging premise for a modern audience used to jump scares and CGI-laden freak-outs. While certain plot elements have been changed to add some freshness, the majority of the endeavor is the same. If you’ve seen the original “Jacob’s Ladder,” you already know what’s going to happen. If you’ve never seen “Jacob’s Ladder,” why on earth would you start with this version? Read the rest at

Film Review - I Am Patrick Swayze


The “I Am” documentary series doesn’t have it easy, offered less than 90 minutes to cover the entire lives of their subjects, with many of these people in possession of incredible personal histories. After installments such as “I Am Richard Pryor” and “I Am MLK Jr.” comes “I Am Patrick Swayze,” which arrives on the 10th anniversary of his death. With Swayze, there’s plenty of ground to cover, with the man a dancer, a cowboy, a singer, and an actor, filling a full life of achievements and desires. Director Adrian Buitenhuis (“I Am Paul Walker,” “I Am Sam Kinison”) encounters yet another challenge of storytelling, faced with the enormity of Swayze’s accomplishments and the lasting magic of his presence. While it’s unfortunate there’s not more time to dig into the details of Swayze’s experience, Buitenhuis gets most of the way there, supporting his picture with engaged and emotional interviews with family, friends, and co-workers who have a lot to say about the late star. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Angel Has Fallen


It wouldn’t take much for “Angel Has Fallen” to become the best installment in a most unlikely franchise. The adventures of Mike Banning, powerhouse Secret Service agent, began in 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” and continued with 2016’s “London Has Fallen,” with the pictures primarily out to create a cartoon realm for the heroic character, keeping him battered but never broken, always ready for a rah-rah-America pose to light up the crowds. The series has found its audience, but anything resembling a creative achievement has been missing. “Angel Has Fallen” isn’t a complete break from the “Fallen” formula, but the writing isn’t obsessed with jaw-pumping acts of aggression, preferring, for the first time, to treat Mike as a human being between scenes of bodily harm. There’s something more interesting going on in the movie, which provides a decent adrenaline shot of action while still managing some tender areas of fragility. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ready or Not


With their last feature, 2014’s “Devil’s Due,” directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet were chasing a trend, assigned to create a found-footage movie that was a pure paint-by-numbers affair. The partners seemed to be surviving that one just to get a picture made in Hollywood. With “Ready or Not,” the duo might be starting a trend, finding a semi-fresh avenue to explore when it comes to cinematic frights, bringing an especially violent round of Hide and Seek to the multiplex, courtesy of screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy. Learning from their mistakes, the helmers avoid playing expected notes of horror, instead working very carefully to keep “Ready or Not” unpredictable as it samples bodily harm and family antagonisms. The third act isn’t as sturdy as it could be, but the movie is dynamite sicko entertainment, having a blast with ghastly events and demented characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - After the Wedding


Writer/director Bart Freundlich once worked with actors Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup repeatedly, boosting the thespian potential of offerings such as “The Myth of Fingerprints,” “World Traveler,” and “Trust the Man.” The helmer took a little break from these collaborations for recent efforts such as “The Rebound” and “Wolves,” but Freundlich has returned to his senses, reuniting with Moore and Crudup for “After the Wedding,” which is a remake of a 2006 Susanne Bier picture that starred Mads Mikkelsen. These are big shoes to fill, but Freundlich has the power of his performers (joined by Michelle Williams), who help to carry a somewhat overstuffed drama that takes on more painful events than it can comfortably handle. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Peanut Butter Falcon


Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz dare to turn “The Peanut Butter Falcon” into semi-sweet picture, ending up in comforting areas of friendliness despite delivering a plot that encounters plans of revenge and broken spirits. There’s a crowd-pleasing element to much of the movie, which details an unexpected partnership, but the helmers don’t dunk the endeavor in syrup. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” earns much of its sentiment, with Nilson and Schwartz riding excellent casting and evocative locations to a satisfying sit. The title promises unrelenting quirk, but the film isn’t lost to a case of the cutes, earning emotion with a sensitive understanding of friendships and loss to go with its periodical offerings of oddity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Burn


Making his feature-length directorial debut, Mike Gan (who also scripts) returns to a source a major employment and criminal woe in cinema: the gas station. “Burn” examines an overnight shift for a particularly disturbed employee, who’s forced to deal with her own psychological limitations as she’s confronted with a violent situation, and Gan is tasked with using a tight location to explore an unfolding nightmare for all involved. The premise is familiar, but Gan scores big with suspense for the first hour of the movie, creating appealing agitation and intimidation as a small criminal idea expands into a hellish survival situation. There’s a lot of confidence to “Burn,” and a smart casting find in lead Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who carries the picture with exceptional commitment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tone-Deaf


Writer/director Richard Bates Jr. enjoys making dark comedies. He’s presented his fandom in “Suburban Gothic,” and showed real imagination with 2016’s “Trash Fire,” his last picture. Returning to the range of bloodshed and satire, the helmer aims for millennial rage with “Tone-Deaf,” which surveys an older generation growing weary of American youth and all their issues, while a twentysomething tries to find her comfort zone in a world that relishes any chance to deprive her of stability. Bates Jr. can’t stick the landing, but “Tone-Deaf” is devilishly hilarious for the first two acts, diving into murky psychological waters to trigger some spooky and surreal stuff for genre fans, but also retaining a defined sense of humor, with amusing amplification of common generational issues, having a good time poking a stick at people of all ages. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hot Air


“Hot Air” hopes to tap into current frustrations with partisan politics and cultural divide by telling the story of a conservative radio host who finds himself while dealing with a family emergency. Unfortunately, screenwriter Will Reichel isn’t making a satire or a particularly pointed take on the nature of media manipulation, instead going all ooey gooey with material, which is just short of a Disney movie. There should be more of an edge to the endeavor, which surveys intentionally broad personalities and the nature of show business when it comes to the selling of political discourse, but Reichel aims to make something very soft, eschewing laughs and reality to create a tale about a hard man confronting his traumatic past with help from a young woman. “Hot Air” makes an early promise for comedy, but doesn’t stay interested in farce for very long. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sextuplets


Perhaps it’s friendship or blackmail that keeps them together, but actor Marlon Wayans doesn’t make a move without his primary collaborator, director Michael Tiddes. In six years, the duo has made four features together (“A Haunted House,” “A Haunted House 2,” “Fifty Shades of Black,” and “Naked”), which is an impressive professional run. It’s only a shame none of them are any good, with most of these efforts Ten Worst List-worthy, hammering audiences with some of the laziest comedy around, working to sell Wayans as some type of master physical comedian. The pair returns to duty with “Sextuplets,” which adds to their cringe-inducing filmography and continues their formula of pinching ideas from other movies/comedians, this time lifting from Eddie Murphy with this light riff on his multi-character “Nutty Professor” world. Read the rest at 

Film Review - 47 Meters Down: Uncaged


Two years ago, “47 Meters Down” enjoyed a movie release miracle, rescued from a DTV fate by Entertainment Studios, who purchased the film on the day of its DVD debut, with the company trying to cash in on shark fever at the cinema. The plan worked, with “47 Meters Down” managing to find an audience, keeping the subgenre alive for another season. This summer, the real aquatic action remains with alligators (from July’s excellent thriller, “Crawl”), but the suits aren’t about to leave money on the table, returning to the deep with “47 Meters Down: Uncaged,” which has nothing to do with the first picture, merely taking its title and sharks for another underwater joyride. Co-writer/director Johannes Roberts returns as well, newly empowered to dump character work and suspense, focused primarily on making a cheap scare machine that’s brainless and joyless, sticking with limp exploitation basics. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gwen


“Gwen” isn’t a horror film, but it’s one of the most unsettling pictures of the year. Writer/director William McGregor mounts a Welsh nightmare of poverty and instability, taking the titular character down a dark path of responsibility in the period piece. The feature isn’t something that jumps out at the viewer, it’s a slow-burn affair that details the gradual destruction of land and sanity, only McGregor has defined dramatic goals for the work, refreshingly trying to tell a story, not simply submerge the audience in extended, shapeless agony. “Gwen” is small in scale but quite effective, vibrating with a dark energy that keeps it on edge, while lead performances know exactly what to do when depicting dire circumstances, keeping characterizations alive. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Good Boys


Writer/directors Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg have their special approach to comedy, and they’ve stuck with it throughout their career, crafting a bomb in “Year One,” and finding surprising success with “Bad Teacher.” They like the crude stuff, avoiding the fine-tuning of jokes to have characters endlessly curse or deal only in sex jokes, recycling their two ideas ad nauseam. However, these patience-testers usually deal with adults working through rowdy content. “Good Boys” brings the world of R-ratedness to three 12 year olds, gifting them opportunities to…endlessly curse and deal only with sex jokes. The helmers aren’t aiming high with their latest endeavor, with “Good Boys” a sloppy collection of bad ideas sold haphazardly, with the production mostly aiming to be as vulgar as possible, hoping hilarity is found in the idea that pre-teens are delivering all the naughtiness. That concept works for a minute, but Stupnitsky and Eisenberg still have to fill the remaining 89. Read the rest at

Film Review - Luce


Director Julius Onah didn’t exactly win over a nation of film fans with his last picture, “The Cloverfield Paradox,” delivering a muddled, tiresome chapter in a developing sci-fi world, making sure to disappoint as many people as possible. It was a significant whiff with a hotly anticipated title, so perhaps the stripped down, theatrical presentation of “Luce” is a deliberate move back to basics, putting his camera into rooms, not the far reaches of space, to best examine guarded behavior slowly chipped away by painful truths. “Luce” (co-scripted by Onah and J.C. Lee, adapting his play) is a provocative study of parental protection and racial realities, staying tight on difficult situations of accusation, unearthing suspense much like a traditional thriller, only Onah stays with dialogue exchanges and subtle ways of acting, finding a fascinating rhythm of unease from unlikely sources. Read the rest at

Film Review - Driven


In the grand tradition of “A Bug’s Life” and “Antz,” “Finding Nemo” and “Shark Tale,” and “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” comes “Driven,” which is the second movie detailing the life and times of John DeLorean to find release in 2019. In fact, just last month there was “Framing John DeLorean,” a strange hybrid of fact and fiction that strived to unearth the subject’s complex personality through interviews and visual evidence, but also included dramatic recreations to help find the drama in the flow of information. “Driven” isn’t a bio-pic, but it covers essentially the same ground, exploring John’s gargantuan ego as he tries to make an automotive dream a reality, only to stumble mightily, ending up in in front of a jury. Writer Colin Bateman attacks the DeLorean saga from a different angle, but he largely whiffs on creating tension, trying to a make a thriller out of inherently mundane tale of a rich man trying to buy nobility to cover his own insecurities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blinded by the Light


In a summer season that’s already celebrated the music of The Beatles through fantasy (in June’s “Yesterday”), it seems only natural to make way for Bruce Springsteen and his working class perspective for “Blinded by the Light,” a tale of fandom in the 1980s and something of a bio-pic for writer Sarfraz Manzoor, whose book, “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll,” has inspired the screenplay. The film isn’t explicitly a jukebox musical working through Springsteen’s ample discography, but it certainly threatens to become one. Co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) is making a coming-of-age drama, but guitar spirit often takes command of the feature, which is even more of an audience-pleaser than “Yesterday,” even while working with far more sobering tunes. “Blinded by the Light” doesn’t know when to quit, but it’s loaded with charm and always attentive to heart, offering viewers the ride of life in motion, backed by the rock poetry of The Boss. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Angry Birds Movie 2


Three years ago, there was “The Angry Birds Movie.” It was a film nobody asked for, meant to cash in on a brand that was on the decline, and it managed to do some business during the summer season. Not exactly Disney numbers, but enough to keep the Rovio Entertainment corporate dream alive for a few more years. And now there’s “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” which doesn’t have a prime summer release date, but seems more energized to make sure audiences walk away from the picture satisfied with frenzied cartoon antics. The reality is the sequel is an improvement on the uninspired original effort, but that doesn’t automatically turn it into quality entertainment. The approach has been tightened, challenges are easily identified, and animation is more elastic, but 90 minutes of noise is still 90 minutes of noise, even when it’s brightly decorated and supported by celebrity voices. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dora and the Lost City of Gold


In 2000, “Dora the Explorer” made its debut on Nickelodeon. The show was aimed at preschoolers just getting their bearings with language, with the titular host offering mild look-and-find adventures with help from her monkey pal Boots, various items of survival gear, and Spanish. Perhaps trying to age up the material to reunite with the original generation of viewers, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” brings the character into her teenager years, replacing simple tasks with more sophisticated adventure puzzles and real-world struggles of acceptance. Dora’s pluckiness hasn’t been sacrificed in the transition, with star Isabela Moner delivering a pitch-perfect performance as the grown-up version of the animated character, helping to secure the lively, silly spirit constructed by director James Bobin (“The Muppets”), who does an impressive job redefining Dora for older audiences. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Light of My Life


“Light of My Life” does have an issue with derivativeness, resembling Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” in more ways than one. Call it influence or homage, but writer/director Casey Affleck is clearly aiming for the same sense of unfolding countrywide illness with his feature, his first helming effort since 2010’s “I’m Still Here.” Similarities aren’t a problem for Affleck, as he’s very respectful towards “The Road” and its nearly overwhelming grimness, shooting for a more intimate study of parenthood as it exists in a post-apocalyptic setting. “Light of My Life” has its charged moments of conflict and paranoia, but it’s a small-scale affair that’s more invested in the lives of a father and his daughter than the evil facing them. It’s certainly not in a hurry to get anywhere, but Affleck has a vision for guardianship that’s realistic and heartbreaking, remaining on the little trials of communication as the world falls apart. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nekrotronic


In 2015, “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead” found a U.S. release. The Australian production was nuts, but in a good way, delivering a blend of “Evil Dead” and “Mad Max,” with writers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner dedicated to offering as much mayhem and gore as possible, turning their endeavor into a proper genre extravaganza. The sugar rush of macabre events helped to keep “Wyrmwood” moving along at top speed, and the siblings try to tap into that same energy with “Nekrotronic,” which represents their effort to merge “Ghostbusters” with “The Matrix.” The duo (Kiah is assigned directorial duties) have no shortage of enthusiasm for their supercharged look at the ultimate battle between necromancers and a surging demon plague, but instead of supplying constant thrills, “Nekrotronic” feels like homework, with the final cut roughly 80% exposition and 20% ultraviolence. Read the rest at