Film Review

Film Review - Halloween Kills


2018’s “Halloween” was more than just another installment of the long-running franchise. It was an attempt to get the brand name back on track, with co-writers Danny McBride and David Gordon Green (who also directed the effort) clearing away most character connections and pretzeled storylines, aiming to get back to basics with a follow-up to the original 1978 horror classic. “Halloween” struck gold at the box office, but it didn’t feel all that fresh as a movie, going through the motions of slasher cinema while star Jamie Lee Curtis clearly enjoyed a chance to reprise her role as the traumatized Laurie Strode. Stumbling into a major hit, McBride and Green (now joined by Scott Teems) suddenly have a chance to keep going with the series, resurrecting Michael Myers and his undying evil for “Halloween Kills,” which gets away from the solo flight of misery, out to examine mob mentality and the true source of wickedness in Haddonfield. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dune (2021)


Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, “Dune,” has been hailed by many as a master class on literary world-building, offering a sophisticated tale of war, family, and spice. It’s no surprise to see filmmakers chase the material for dramatic exploration, including a 2000 T.V. miniseries and, most famously, a 1984 extravaganza from David Lynch, who made a valiant attempt to make sense of Herbert’s details while offering mainstream audiences a potent dose of his artful insanity. The book has been adapted once again, this time for co-writer/director Denis Villeneuve, who aims to make a more faithful version of “Dune,” but still retain the bigness of the project, which visits multiple planets and oversees enormous battles. Scale is the selling point of the feature, with Villeneuve doing a masterful job bringing viewers into the heart of these conflicts. Storytelling remains a bucking bronco, but when this picture rears back and aims for widescreen glory, it actually achieves it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Needle in a Timestack


“Needle in a Timestack” is an adaptation of a short story written by Robert Silverberg, originally published in Playboy Magazine in 1983. The tale explores a world of tomorrow, where time travel is more than a common occurrence, it’s a source of sabotage, putting characters on a disorienting journey through the power of memory and the trouble of relationships. The futureworld has been updated by writer/director John Ridley (who collected an Academy Award for his work on “12 Years a Slave”), who dials down the strangeness of such a new reality, working his way underneath the gimmick to understand the tough feelings associated with friends and lovers. Unfortunately, Ridley is in no hurry with the picture, which is excruciatingly paced at times, but he does retain the strangeness of Silverberg’s central premise, achieving unusual intimacy with the paranoia and exhaustion of time manipulation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hard Luck Love Song


The screenplay for “Hard Luck Love Song” attempts to stretch the lyrics of a Todd Snider song to a feature-length movie. It’s not an easy process, as there isn’t enough material in the tune to fill a short film, but writers Craig Ugoretz and Justin Corsbie (who also directs) are determined to make it work, padding the effort with hard stares and pregnant pauses. The production also deals with the crusty edges of humanity, enjoying the process of working through troubled lives as characters fight to gain some clarity and freedom. It’s all meant to carry a certain cowboy poetry, but the film unfolds at a leisurely pace, making it difficult to remain invested in an endeavor that’s in no hurry to do anything besides stew in day-old soup with battered personalities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman

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Just last month, writer/director Daniel Farrands was in theaters with “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman,” which turned horrific details of suffering and personal loss into the helmer’s chance to make a “Halloween” sequel. It was a distasteful offering of genre entertainment, using the cover of a true crime tale to supply cheap thrills with an even cheaper production, watching Farrands fumble with the particulars of his no-budget endeavor. He’s an old hand with sleazy, clumsy efforts (including “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” and “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson”), and he returns with the awkwardly titled “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman,” which attempts to use the personal agony and burgeoning evil of the eponymous serial killer to inspire a sort of noir-ish take on troublemaking. As with other productions from Farrands, it’s a complete waste of time. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Duel


Director Ridley Scott loves his tales of masculinity run amok, achieving one of his greatest commercial and critical successes with 2000’s “Gladiator,” which explored the true price of honor and revenge. Scott returns to somewhat similar material with “The Last Duel,” which dramatizes the events leading to the “last legally sanctioned duel in France’s history,” following the development of an accusation as it grows bigger with years of resentment and launched with malice, creating a dramatic scenario where the audience is left with a “Rashomon”-style viewing experience to enhance the mystery at the heart of the story. “The Last Duel” is a long movie, far too long at times, but it does benefit from Scott’s practiced style and love of violence in many forms. There’s a vicious war between small men at the end of the feature, but there’s plenty more to the endeavor than the main event, offering a ride of humiliations and suspicion to those with patience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Survive the Game


“Survive the Game” is the latest release from producers George Furla and Randall Emmett, who recently brought titles such as “Out of Death” and “Midnight in the Switchgrass” to screens. The men specialize in low-budget entertainment for VOD providers, never going above and beyond when it comes to the quality of the work. “Survive the Game” (which doesn’t involve any sort of contest) is yet another offering of clumsy action and acting, with Bruce Willis once again appearing in an immobile supporting role, putting in zero effort while the rest of the cast tries to pretend they’re collaborating on a top-notch thriller. Director James Cullen Bressack has been here before, previously helming genere offerings such as “Beyond the Law,” “Blood Craft,” and “Alone,” and he’s not trying hard enough with his newest feature, which is basically a backyard production featuring a few chases, some gunplay, and a story that doesn’t go anywhere of interest. This is the Emmett/Furla way. Read the rest at

Film Review - V/H/S/94

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2012’s “V/H/S” was a low-budget attempt to restore a little unpredictability to the horror anthology film, offering a handful a moviemakers a chance to go wild with strange visions of violence and macabre events. It turned into a minor hit, inspiring two sequels (2013’s “V/H/S/2,” arguably the best in the series, and 2014’s “V/H/S: Viral”) and a spin-off in 2016’s “Siren.” There was a flurry of franchise activity for a few years, and then nothing, with the producers retiring their cinematic dreams for the brand name. Well, the time has come for “V/H/S” to rise from the grave, rebooted with “V/H/S/94,” which takes technology back to the heyday of video recording equipment, giving the feature a low-res resurrection that delivers big time on gory events and dark visions of death. As with the previous installments, not everything works, but the chapters that connect keep things interesting, supporting the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - South of Heaven


In 2013, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado collaborated on “Big Bad Wolves,” creating a hard-hitting revenge saga that genuinely disturbed, launching lofty expectations for their next feature-length project. It’s taken quite some time for the duo to figure professional opportunities out, but 2021 is their year, with Papushado taking command of last summer’s “Gunpowder Milkshake,” while Keshales delivers “South of Heaven,” which is a crime story about characters getting caught up in bad business, but remain more interested in confessional conversations. While Papushado contributes to the screenplay, “South of Heaven” is Keshales’s solo creative flight, using some of the darkness conjured for “Big Bad Wolves” for this periodically unsettling and somewhat leisurely endeavor, which tries to challenge expectations when it comes to tales of missing money, doomed romance, and men with guns. Read the rest at

Film Review - There’s Someone Inside Your House


Producers James Wan (currently in theaters with “Malignant”) and Shawn Levy (“Free Guy”) team up to bring “There’s Someone Inside Your House” to the screen. It’s an adaptation of a 2017 book by Stephanie Perkins, who delivers a YA-style story of teenagers struggling with their past while being hunted by a mysterious serial killer. The material deals with the power of secrets and the strangeness of relationships, but it’s also a slasher film directed by Patrick Brice, who puts in the work to create a passable threat level, which is periodically interrupted by rough acts of violence. “There’s Someone Inside Your House” is burdened by a large number of characters who need their backstories worked on, but when it comes time to deliver some brutality, Brice isn’t afraid to make a movie about youngsters that’s not for youngsters, delivering some forbidden fruit for the Netflix audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Addams Family 2


2019’s “The Addams Family” wasn’t a great financial risk for the producers, but it remained something of a creative gamble, working with source material that’s been kicking around pop culture since 1938. Without a Pixar or DreamWorks Animation budget, “The Addams Family” invested in weirdness, trying to capture the dark tone of Charles Addams’s original cartoon creation while amplifying broad antics for younger audiences of today. It did well with limited resources, brought to life with color, exaggerated character designs, and a committed voice cast who inhabited their creepy, kooky characters superbly. The picture found success at the box office, and the producers weren’t going to sit on the possibility of a sequel, returning to screens just two years later with “The Addams Family 2,” which tries to push the odd household dynamic into the everyday world, presenting a road trip premise that works well for these creations, combining interstate antics with weird science concerns. Read the rest at

Film Review - Venom: Let There Be Carnage


In 2018, “Venom” tried to right a few wrongs when it came to the comic book character, giving the alien symbiote a more appropriate cinematic vehicle than “Spider-Man 3,” dialing up the insanity of the creation (but still keeping it accessible to all audiences with a PG-13 rating). The feature managed to make an absolute fortune, charming viewers with a darkly comedic picture featuring an uncharacteristically loose Tom Hardy, who did everything he could to sell the destructive dynamic between Venom and his host, Eddie. It wasn’t an amazing endeavor, but it worked with a difficult premise, finding laughs and elastic action, and now there’s a sequel, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which presents a showdown between two major monsters in the Marvel universe. Director Andy Serkis is put in charge of the follow-up, which plays to his strengths of highly animated chaos and exaggerated bodily movement, and the helmer delivers an entertaining ride, and one that’s refreshingly straight to the point. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Time to Die


For the 25th installment of EON’s James Bond franchise, the production is tasked with closing things out for star Daniel Craig, with this is last performance as Ian Fleming’s superspy. Unlike most chapters in the series, Craig’s tenure has focused on serialized storytelling, with 2006’s “Casino Royale” sending 007 down a rabbit hole of secret organizations and personal betrayals, which culminated in the reveal of iconic adversary Blofeld in 2015’s “Spectre.” There’s no one-off mission for Bond this time around, with “No Time to Die” specifically out to introduce some finality for the character, working to pay off all the subplots, pairings, and supporting characters developed over the previous four films. EON is determined to go out on an epic note of heroism and closure for Bond, and the scale of the endeavor is certainly massive, highlighting a story of global terror, with director Cary Joji Fukunaga trying to pack in as much nostalgia and threat as possible while the writers tend to loose ends and longstanding arcs. It’s a huge undertaking, and while “No Time to Die” is visually impressive, it’s chained to the haphazard storytelling that’s been reworked over the last 15 years, finding the effort most concerned about relationships that never meant much to begin with. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stop and Go


Covering movies about the COVID-19 experience hasn’t been pleasant, with these features tending to revel in the agony of a sick world inhabited by destructive people unable to manage their mental illness. Who really wants to sit through that? While a grim subject matter involving real-world suffering, the universe of COVID-19 is due for a comedic appraisal, with “Stop and Go” taking the first bold step forward, offering audiences a cathartic viewing experience that examines the insanity of March, 2020, when everything suddenly became very weird and dangerous for everyone. Writers Whitney Call and Mallory Everton (who also star in the movie) assess a world of the unknown for two women on a road trip across America, creating an enjoyably broad overview of risks and bonding that deals with familiar physical and mental health challenges. Against all odds, “Stop and Go” is hilarious, finding wonderful ways to deliver absurdity without becoming unspeakably bleak, with Call and Everton’s goofy sense of humor the perfect distraction during dire times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Old Henry


Writer/director Potsy Ponciroli has a specific western tale to share with “Old Henry” that’s wrapped in layers of enigmatic behaviors and obscured personal history. The story concerns a farmer in a precarious situation with a trio of outsiders, and it lines up perfectly with classic cowboy tales of outlaws and lawmen, and seems tailor-made for an aging Clint Eastwood, as it plays to the icon’s sense of stillness and ways with glaring. However, Eastwood wasn’t recruited for the part, finding Tim Blake Nelson claiming the role of an aging father fighting the ways of his past. Nelson’s already played his fair share of southern characters. In fact, that’s pretty much all the Oklahoma native plays, but he’s skilled at bringing these personalities to life, and “Old Henry” fits the star like a glove. Nelson is exceptional here, bringing pure grit to the production, helping to escalate a slow-burn endeavor from Ponciroli. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Guilty (2021)


Arriving a week after the release of “My Son” is “The Guilty,” which is another straight remake of a European thriller, this time taking its inspiration from a 2018 Danish production. The original film, directed by Gustav Moller, was sensational, remaining a small-scale suspense piece with generous helpings of drama and tension, working as both a character study and a nail-biting experience set inside the pressure cooker environment of an emergency services station. The Hollywood remake is handled by Antoine Fuqua, who reworks (with screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto) the central crisis into a tale of Los Angeles destruction and police combustion, giving star Jake Gyllenhaal basically the entire picture to showcase his command of tightly wound frustration, staying close on the actor as he grinds through a range of emotions. The new take on “The Guilty” doesn’t have the same gut-punch as the Danish version, but it’s hard to screw up the source material, which gives Fuqua guide rails to achieve extreme screen tension. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mayday


Writer/director Karen Cinorre gets very close to making a point with “Mayday,” but doesn’t reach many of her storytelling goals. And perhaps this is intentional with this dream-like picture, which analyzes situations of powerlessness and empowerment through a fantasy premise. “Mayday” has strong technical credits and a desire to share something about the female experience as it exists under siege from male predators. Cinorre offers a different type of “Alice in Wonderland” with the feature, but she loses the potential of the project by playing coy with the details, determined to make an art-house effort, getting lost in a hazy sense of enlightenment. It’s a frustrating sit, especially when great ideas for gender and behavioral examination are left to rot while Cinorre pays closer attention to her filmmaking interests, which often leaves the movie cold to the touch. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Comeback Trail


Director George Gallo has been busy, recently seen on screen in last spring’s “Vanquish,” which also happens to be one of the worst films of the year. Gallo fares a little better with a remake of 1982’s little-seen “The Comeback Trail,” co-scripting (with Josh Posner) a farce about the Hollywood B-movie industry, which is something the helmer knows plenty about. Armed with over 50 producers(!) and a cast of iconic dramatic actors hungry for a paycheck, and Gallo submits his most tolerable endeavor in years. That’s not to suggest “The Comeback Trail” is a good movie, as it repeatedly falls short in the comedy department despite its farcical intent. It’s just not a painful sit, with Gallo generating enough manic energy to keep the feature moving forward with plenty of silly business. It’s not another “Vanquish,” which is as close to praise one can muster for a Gallo endeavor these days. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dear Evan Hansen


The musical “Dear Evan Hansen” made its debut in 2015, earning a sizable fanbase and eventual Broadway domination with big-hearted songs from Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (who also achieved success with tunes for “The Greatest Showman”) and a story that took audiences on a ride of emotions, tracking one teen’s mistake as it blossoms into a movement. It was earnest work about a dark subject, but the production managed to become a major event. And with all major events, a film adaptation is inevitable. “Dear Evan Hansen” didn’t wait long for a cinematic adaptation, but time was ticking for star Ben Platt, who won a Tony Award for his performance as a confused teenager in 2017, and returns to the role for director Stephen Chbosky, working hard to recapture the innocence and anxiety that made such a positive impression on theater audiences. He succeeds, giving his all to a picture that doesn’t have answers for most of the questions it poses, but it’s appealingly sincere when it comes to depicting the needs of the adolescent heart. Read the rest at

Film Review - This Is the Night


If you must see one movie this year with a dramatic arc and character redemptions tied completely to the 1982 release of “Rocky III,” well…this is probably your only option. “This Is the Night” is the latest offering from writer/director James DeMonaco, who’s been quite busy in recent years, creating and guiding “The Purge” and its four sequels, highlighting his interest in the crumbling of American society and the financial rewards a big screen franchise delivers. DeMonaco had a career before “The Purge,” but nobody pays much attention to that, and he wants one after the brand name is retired, with “This Is the Night” his attempt to branch out again and tell different stories about human beings, not just masked ghouls. Sticking with the low-budget route to creative control, DeMonaco offers a coming-of-age tale with semi-autobiographical touches, using the fever for all things Rocky Balboa to inspire a period dramedy about conquering fears in the middle of New York hostility. Read the rest at