Film Review

Film Review - PG: Psycho Goreman


As a director, Steven Kostanski keeps making strikingly odd features, working with impossibly low budgets and deep genre cuts to come up with remarkably inspired mayhem, often sold with a healthy sense of humor (including “Father’s Day,” “The Void,” and “Manborg”). He aimed for more visible work with 2018’s “Leprechaun Returns,” put in charge of doing something with a DOA franchise. He managed to generate some excitement along the way, returning viewers to the ways of practical make-up effects and gory encounters. Leaving horror brand employment for something that plays more to his strengths, Kostanski takes command of “PG: Psycho Goreman,” a horror comedy that provides a major jolt of creativity, welcoming viewers into a highly amusing, blood-soaked adventure with a frustrated alien and the kids who love to control him. “Psycho Goreman” is a hilarious picture and the most charmingly violent effort found in years. It’s a Gwar concert with huge laughs and fascinating production textures, giving Kostanski another winner for his impressive filmography. Read the rest at

Film Review - Our Friend


Screenwriter Brad Ingelsby (“The Way Back,” “Run All Night”) faces a considerable creative challenge with “Our Friend,” hired to transform a 2015 magazine article by Matthew Teague into a feature-length movie about the writer’s struggle to deal with life and love while watching his wife slowly succumb to cancer. The focus isn’t entirely on pain, as Teague was eventually joined by his longtime pal for the experience, teaming up to support a woman they both loved. While it reads like a sitcom, “Our Friend” isn’t lighthearted in the least, going into dark corners of depression and despondency to best replicate Teague’s headspace during the ordeal. Ingelsby injects some intriguing ideas on the challenges of marriage and partnership into the script, but director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (“Blackfish”) doesn’t know when to quit with the film, unwilling to end the endeavor until every viewer is left in a fetal position. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brothers By Blood


Writer/director Jeremie Guez doesn’t take the easy route with “Brothers By Blood” (a.k.a. “The Sound of Philadelphia”). It’s an adaptation of a 1991 Peter Dexter novel, covering the troubles of two cousins born into the mob lifestyle, with one young man embracing his rise in the ranks, while the other deals with unimaginable grief as privately as possible. The material appears prepped and ready to become a sprawling crime saga about family and territory, but Guez bites off more than he can chew with “Brothers By Blood,” which visibly struggles with dramatic exchanges, and miscastings provide a constant reminder that the production didn’t think things through when it came to the execution of the picture. Guez goes where many filmmakers have gone before with the endeavor, showing little interest in doing something different. Read the rest at

Film Review - The White Tiger


“The White Tiger” is an adaptation of a 2008 novel by Aravind Adiga. It was a respected debut offering for the writer, and the film version is handed to Ramin Bahrani, who achieved early career praise with indie fare such as “Man Push Cart” and “Goodbye Solo” before his transition to a Hollywood guy, making mediocre pictures like “At Any Price,” “99 Homes,” and 2018’s “Fahrenheit 451” reworking. As well-intentioned as he is at times, Bahrani isn’t a strong moviemaker, with “The White Tiger” his attempt at an epic, focusing on the journey of a lowly young man in India as he begins to recognize his disposability, considering options to help find his dignity. Adiga’s ideas on self-actualization remain intact, but the rest of the feature lumbers through subplots and characters, eventually reaching a conclusion that feels like the midway point of the story. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Man's Land


“No Man’s Land” begins in a Texas border town on the edge of the Rio Grande, but it largely plays out on the other side of river, in Mexico. This blurring of border and culture inspires parts of the screenplay, credited to David Barraza and Jake Allyn, who labor to build some level of suspense around a central ideal of understanding between fragile communities. It’s an immigration story explored from a different perspective, and if “No Man’s Land” remained there, providing a strange education for its characters, perhaps the picture might’ve been meaningful. Barraza and Allyn don’t trust such softness of feeling, injected a tedious revenge subplot into the feature, which torpedoes much of its honest intent to study the bitter realities and karmic dangers of intolerance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Caged


“Caged” is a story about solitary confinement. Viewers remain close to the lead character as he experiences life in a Segregated Housing Unit (an S.H.U., which was the original title for the picture), slowly grasping how hope dwindles and insanity increases during a lengthy stay in a concrete box. Co-writer/director Aaron Fjellman eventually reveals his message of concern at the end of the feature, but it’s an extremely hard sit before such clarity is provided. This is 75 minutes of a man brought to his breaking point by a system that desires to hurt him and memories of domestic strife that haunt him. I’m not sure who the target demographic for the film is. It’s competently acted and its mission is understood, but Fjellman doesn’t provide a strong enough reason to make the journey with him, as much of “Caged” seems constructed to satisfy the helmer, not viewers. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Marksman


“The Marksman” is co-written and directed by Robert Lorenz, a longtime Clint Eastwood collaborator who last helmed “Trouble with the Curve” for the screen icon. It makes sense that his follow-up would be “The Marksman,” with star Liam Neeson currently experiencing an Eastwood-style career stretch filled with action pictures of limited distinction, keeping himself employed by playing seasoned tough guys who find themselves in difficult situations. Neeson was last seen in the recent “Honest Thief,” and he basically makes the same moves here, portraying a flawed but noble man put in charge of the protection of innocents. The material commences with a study of Mexico/U.S. border complications, but once free of mild politics, Lorenz keeps the endeavor formulaic, leaning on Neeson to hit beats of anger and paternal warmth, which he is more than capable of achieving, and with little effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Locked Down


Last month there was “Songbird.” It was a tale of lovers separated by the continued devastation of COVID-19, offering viewers a look at the near-future where things remain horrible around an increasingly policed and hostile world. It was the first major offering of pandemic exploration during a pandemic, and it was a terrible film. Now there’s “Locked Down,” which isn’t a slice of dystopian misery, but an in-the-moment take on COVID-19 habits and relationship realizations, with writer Steven Knight (“Serenity,” “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”) basically mounting a play about the pressure cooker environment of cohabitation during a time of inescapable living situations. Director Doug Liman is known for his restless style and tight storytelling abilities, but he can’t get past the inherent heaviness of “Locked Down,” which tries to play brightly, at least passably so, but it’s dealing with grimness, and not well, with Knight offering scattered ideas and characters existing in a global health situation that still has yet to take a defined shape. Read the rest at

Film Review - Outside the Wire


A famous film nanny once sang, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” This Disney line is the general idea driving “Outside the Wire,” which delivers big, bruising action sequences and tense chases featuring a good amount of CGI while trying to deliver a story about American military terrors, underlining the cruelty of drone technology used in far off places. It’s a big message handled by Mikael Hafstrom, the director of “1408” and “Escape Plan,” who tries to mask the feature’s inherent darkness with some highly choreographed violence and broadly written ideas on moral redemption. The production delivers a diverting endeavor with pleasingly smashmouth encounters and a driving plot. It’s not something to be taken seriously, but Hafstrom sweats to sustain his overall message, and his dedication is laudable. Read the rest at

Film Review - Monster Hunter


Paul W.S. Anderson like to direct movies based on video games and work with his wife, Milla Jovovich. The couple had a thing going there for quite a while, churning out features based on the “Resident Evil” franchise, with Anderson personally in charge of four installments, turning heavy CGI and nonsensical plotting into a family business. He became very skilled at disappointing audiences. After 2016’s “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” failed to interest American audiences, it seemed as though the collaboration was over. Enter “Monster Hunter,” another video game title that’s been transformed into celebration of Jovovich’s action hero capabilities, only this time the story’s been simplified and the enemy turned into behemoths. “Monster Hunter” is an improvement on most of the “Resident Evil” sequels, but Anderson stays within his interests as a filmmaker, preferring the creation of eye candy over telling an exciting story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stallone: Frank, That Is


Director Derek Wayne Johnson is a fan of the iconic 1976 feature, “Rocky.” Sharing that love seems to be an obsession in recent years, creating “John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs,” which celebrated the career of the “Rocky” helmer. Last year, Johnson constructed the documentary short, “40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of the Classic,” which showcased rare behind-the-scenes moments from the 1976 shoot. Running out of topics when it comes to all things Rocky Balboa, Johnson finally turns his attention to Stallone. Well, Frank Stallone. It’s a bit a stretch to give the singer/actor his own documentary, but Johnson isn’t easily defeated, piecing together “Stallone: Frank, That Is,” which is more of a loving tribute to the career resiliency of the subject than a gritty examination of a life lived in the shadow of his brother, Sylvester. The idea is to present Frank as more than just a famous last name, and while Johnson doesn’t cut too deep with the effort, he does present an appreciation for a man who’s been hustling his entire life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Some Kind of Heaven


“Some Kind of Heaven” is a documentary that often plays like a scripted film. It’s the feature-length directorial debut for Lance Oppenheimer, a South Florida native endeavoring to explore the weirdness of The Villages, a Sunshine State retirement community that’s experienced a population explosion over the last three decades. With its various activities, community interaction, and promise of Floridian paradise, The Villages is a ripe topic for screen exploration, with Oppenheimer achieving access to the strange personalities who populate the place. He also takes a chance on storytelling, presenting an unusual balance of mockery and sensitivity with “Some Kind of Heaven,” which remains focused on the unusual lives it’s capturing, but also becomes a Christopher Guest movie at times, with the helmer occasionally unsure how to approach off-beat personalities living in a plastic wonderland. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Tell a Soul


Writer/director Alex McAulay goes small scale with “Don’t Tell a Soul,” which partially takes place in the woods, where a nervous teenager converses with a security guard he accidentally led into an open well during a foot pursuit. It’s a premise that’s built for low-budget filmmaking, giving the viewing experience over to heated exchanges and surging emotion due to dwindling energy. It’s a static feature, but it’s not sluggish, with the helmer working on ways to open up the psychological scope of the picture without spending precious cash on the production. “Don’t Tell a Soul” eventually gives in to the demands of thriller cinema, but for the first two acts, McAulay offers enough reasons to stick around, carefully developing his characters while adding necessary strangeness to the central survival plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rock Camp


There’s a place one can go to experience the ultimate music escape. It’s called Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, and ever since its debut in 1997, it’s been the subject of playful mockery. There’s something about the idea of amateur musicians paying a small fortune to play with successful rock stars for a few days that leaves itself open for jokes, with commercials, media commentary, and even “The Simpsons” poking fun at the event. “Rock Camp” is a documentary that hopes to illuminate the process for outsiders, with directors Renee Barron and Douglas Blush permitted access to the experience, allowed to detail the rehearsals and camaraderie of the Camp as it heads to Las Vegas. There’s a bit of a promotional vibe to “Rock Camp,” which is inevitable with this type of escapism, but the helmers do a fine job getting to the heart of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, capturing the joy of performance as the campers make time with the rock gods and work on their own contributions to the event. Read the rest at

Film Review - Flinch


“Flinch” is a crime story that’s built with parts from other crime stories. Writer/director Cameron Van Hoy primarily lifts from the work of Michael Mann and Nicolas Winding Refn, attempting to shape a kissing cousin to the 2011 film “Drive” with this hot neon, deep synth take on the psychological struggles of a small-time crook with a growing heart. Derivativeness is a problem in “Flinch,” as much of the movie is routine, with Van Hoy having a difficult time trying to make his tormented characters more interesting than they actually are. Style helps the feature, which depicts underworld happenings in Los Angeles, but there’s little more to the effort, which loses forward momentum the more it relies on recycling to fill the run time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Horizon Line


It’s difficult to tell why “Horizon Line” was pushed into production, but I’m sure a feature like 2016’s “The Shallows” and its tremendous success helped the cause. While the new film doesn’t have a shark threat, it does detail a situation of tropical island survival that largely takes place inside an airplane, focusing on immediate crises and longstanding pains of the heart. It’s meant to be close-quarters panic with battered and overwhelmed characters, but “Horizon Line” isn’t the pulse-pounder once expects it to be. Director Mikael Marcimain delivers straightforward entertainment, bringing a mild amount of tension to the skies, but the screenplay (by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, “10 Cloverfield Lane”) doesn’t have much of an imagination for this type of disaster movie, dealing with banal relationship issues while halfhearted performances can’t sell the urgency of the moment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shadow in the Cloud


“Shadow in the Cloud” has a difficult time deciding what kind of film it wants to be. The screenplay by Max Landis and Roseanne Liang (who also directs) is all over the place in terms of story and tone, with one side of the picture a study of the female military experience in World War II, while the other side is a monster mash highlighting a battle between panicky U.S. flight officers and giant bats hungry to feast on the innards of a massive B-17 bomber. While “Shadow of the Cloud” strains to be accepted a B-movie fun, Landis and Liang don’t have a viable game plan for big thrills, often resorting to cheap elements of suspense just to fill a 70-minute-long endeavor. The effort feels like a short stretched thin to meet feature-length requirements, and it’s awfully strange to watch Liang bend over backwards to transform the production into a celebration of womanly power in WWII while offering a completely fictional tale of survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - Skyfire


Simon West is the latest filmmaker to realize his career isn’t working out so well in Hollywood (his recent output includes duds such as “Stratton,” “Gun Shy,” and “Wild Card”), making a move to China to help boost his employability, bringing some western technique to eastern audiences (Renny Harlin made a similar relocation a few years ago). West’s debut endeavor for China is “Skyfire,” which pits scientists and businesspeople against a raging island volcano, revisiting a natural disaster scenario that overwhelmed multiplexes a few decades ago with the release of “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano.” West isn’t one to put his stamp on anything, and he goes through the motions on “Skyfire,” which hopes to dazzle audiences with grand spectacle and massive amounts of property damage, but offers little else worth paying attention to. Read the rest at

Film Review - Redemption Day


The screen needs new action heroes. Liam Neeson is clinging on to his standing as a senior brawler, still churning out thrillers where he’s bashed and bruised while on the hunt for justice. There really isn’t much more than that out there, leaving an open space for different types of good guys. While late to the party, actor Gary Dourdan (who achieved fame with his years on “C.S.I.”) offers steely stares and muscle flexing with “Redemption Day,” which presents him as a haunted military man out to rescue his kidnapped wife in the wilds of Algeria. The ingredients are there for old-fashioned escapism, but co-writer/director Hicham Hajji (making his helming debut) doesn’t necessarily want brawny chaos. He’s looking for political commentary, transforming “Redemption Day” into a series of conversations sold at half-speed, weirdly skipping excitement at almost every turn. Read the rest at

Film Review - If Not Now, When?


It’s always a positive thing to see performers taking control of their careers, pushing themselves to do something that represents their interests. Actresses Meagan Good and Tamara Bass elect to make such a move behind the camera, making their feature-length directorial debut with “If Not Now, When?” Intentions are pure, with the pair trying to secure something of a remake of “Waiting to Exhale,” giving them ample opportunity to act and provide material that explores the trials of women struggling to maintain their strength during turbulent relationships and personal issues. That it’s not a more inventive character study is incredibly disappointing, with Good and Bass playing an easy game of melodrama to get through the story, while the low-budget reality of the production tends to diminish its screen power. Read the rest at