Film Review

Film Review - Then Came You


Teen melodramas are big business these days, with Netflix finding ratings gold with tales of sad but snappy kids in problematic relationships, trying make sense of the world they’re inheriting. “Then Came You” joins the pack, presenting two characters handed the challenge of cancer survival to help complicate their still-forming lives, trying to capture the essence of youth while dealing with the crushing realities of mortality. Writer Fergal Rock isn’t breaking fresh ground with “Then Came You,” but he’s not trying to avoid formula either, presenting a clichéd take on friendship, longing, and loss, trusting the warmth and quirk of the endeavor will be enough to capture interest in the characters. He needs more than familiarity to get by, as the movie never rises above mediocrity, unwilling to put in the effort to make something special out of working parts already on view in dozens of other films. Read the rest at

Film Review - Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls


A film critic typically receives only one viewing to formulate a review. It’s a time when assessment is made with care and experience (hopefully), though sometimes a simple in-the-moment reaction is recorded, with certain pictures triggering a gut reaction, going against a reasonable response. 2006’s “The Benchwarmers” wasn’t a particularly well-made movie, and its cast was largely filled with unpleasant actors who really have no business in the world of comedy. But as a mild diversion with plenty of baseball action, its stupidity wasn’t as soul-crushing as expected, managing to be dumb fun with a long list of bad ideas. 13 years later, there’s a sequel, but “Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls” only invites one cast member to return to duty, giving the rest of this DTV production over to a new set of thespians who shouldn’t be near funny business in a continuation that’s late to the party, with little to add to what’s now the “Benchwarmers” Cinematic Universe. Whatever embarrassing pushover tingles I felt in 2006 are long gone in 2019. Read the rest at

Film Review - Piercing


A few ago, writer/director Nicolas Pesce made his filmmaking debut with “The Eyes of My Mother,” which display the helmer’s command of style and mood, along with his fascination with prolonged violent encounters. Instead of trying something different for his follow-up, Pesce returns to the land of grime and bloody with “Piercing,” attempting to adapt a 2008 novel by Ryu Murakami. Once again, Pesce doesn’t take it easy on his audience, delivering a picture that savors suffering and observes madness as its leaks out of the characters, often at the worst possible moments. “Piercing” boasts fine technical credits, but the feature’s quest for atmosphere is often more interesting than the actual story unfolding in slow-motion, finding Pesce too wrapped up in the particulars of Murakami’s world, keeping the viewing experience more about shiny surfaces and gaping wounds than macabre drama. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kid Who Would Be King


It’s hard to believe writer/director Joe Cornish has been away from screens since 2011, when his helming debut, the problematic “Attack the Block,” managed to capture cult attention, making him a creative force worth following. Screenplay work filled in the gaps (including “The Adventures of Tintin”), but Cornish has finally returned to theaters with “The Kid Who Would Be King,” which fulfills his initial promise as a storyteller. This is a wonderful picture, with Cornish turning Arthurian legend into an old-fashioned kid-centric adventure with bright performances and soaring spirit, returning to the concerns of children tasked with saving the world in their own special way. “The Kid Who Would Be King” takes wonder, character, and peril seriously, keeping the production searching for inventive ways to rework ancient conflicts, coming up with an endearingly exciting tale of knightly honor in a modern school-age battleground. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Polar


Jonas Akerlund is a respected director of music videos (including Madonna’s “Ray of Light”), but his cinematic pursuits haven’t made much of an impression. He stumbled through forgotten features such as “Horsemen” and “Small Apartments,” making his biggest film culture splash with his debut effort, 2002’s calloused, hyperactive junkie comedy, “Spun.” Akerlund, perhaps fearing he’s lost his touch, returns to the land of excess with “Polar,” which mimics “Spun” in style and sensorial hostility, and much like this previous work, there’s no drama or characters to hook into. An adaptation of a 2012 graphic novel, “Polar” is another case where not everything related to world of comic books needs to be a movie, finding Akerlund delighting in the material’s lust for carnage, and offering no attention to anything of substance. It’s zero-calorie hellraising and fantastically awful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Egg


In 2017, director Marianna Palka delivered “Bitch,” a strange and darkly comic vision of motherhood and marriage, featuring a main character who mentally transforms into a dog to disrupt all the depression that’s entered her life. Palka returns to the subject of female submission with “Egg,” joined by screenwriter Risa Mickenberg, who creates a theatrical observance of five people in crisis as they deal with the prospect of parenthood and the reality of pregnancy. Palka certainly has a subject she enjoys dissecting, and “Egg” does a fine job continuing her mission to tear feminine stagnancy into little pieces, capturing the erosion of complacency and the challenges of control. The material cheats a little to get from one side of the story to the other, but Mickenberg generates vivid personalities, and Palka pulls out strong performances, giving a possible static viewing experience some real tension. Read the rest at

Film Review - IO

IO 3

Science fiction doesn’t need to be flashy, but it’s always problematic when it’s inert. It’s difficult to understand why “IO” was turned into a picture when it seems perfectly suited to the world of literature, with screenwriters Clay Jeter, Charles Spano, and Will Basanta offered a book’s worth of room to explore the dystopian future setting and themes of isolation and longing. Folded into the shape of a feature, and the material comes across flat and unexciting, with no discernable tension created between the characters as they converse about survival and the end of the world. “IO” isn’t ambitious, but it’s still, positioned as more of a filmed play than a cinematic journey, watching director Jonathan Helpert linger on uninteresting details with glacial pacing, ending up with something best suited for off-Broadway than screens of all sizes. Read the rest at

Film Review - King of Thieves


There’s always room for a heist movie. It’s an evergreen genre that’s recently been tended to by the likes of “Ocean’s 8” and “Widows,” and now returns to theaters in “King of Thieves,” which offers an English take on heavily planned criminal endeavors. From the outside looking in, the picture seems to have it all, submitting a story that takes place around London’s diamond district, and the cast couldn’t be better, with Michael Caine leading an ensemble of older actors playing up age-related issues as their characters participate in an elaborate theft. At least half of the film seems to understand the feisty appeal of Grumpy Old Men dealing with a new world of surveillance and security, but “King of Thieves” (based on a true story) doesn’t stay lively long enough, suffering some dramatic balance issues as director James Marsh (“The Theory of Everything,” “Man on Wire”) peaks too soon with seemingly surefire material. Read the rest at

Film Review - Serenity


It’s easy to give writer/director Steven Knight the benefit of the doubt with “Serenity.” After all, his last helming effort was 2014’s “Locke,” a superbly structured and timed tale of one man’s breakdown during a long car ride in the middle of the night. It was one of the best films of the year, but lightning doesn’t strike twice for Knight, who swings for the fences with his latest endeavor, looking to set a Floridian Noir mood while actively disrupting all expectations for sex and murder with the feature. It’s one bonkers movie, but it doesn’t initially reveal its insanity, with Knight portioning out strangeness in small doses while losing control of the whole endeavor, tanking performances and his vision for something different. There are certainly few pictures like it, but such oddity can’t pull “Serenity” out of the tailspin it eventually finds itself in. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Hate Kids


It’s best not to expect much from director John Asher. He’s the man responsible for such execrable entertainment as “Dirty Love,” “Diamonds,” and 2015’s “Tooken,” and he’s determined to display his tone-deaf ways with comedy. After taking a brief break from funny business with his misguided Autism tale, “Po,” Asher is right back to badness with “I Hate Kids,” submitting a toothless take on parental responsibility, making a 22-minute-long sitcom that masquerades as a 90-minute-long film. “I Hate Kids” is terrible, but that’s expected. What’s surprising is how a few talented supporting actors were talking into appearing in this nonsense, doing their best to class up an utterly hopeless feature from a helmer who insists on making stupidity his top priority. Read the rest at

Film Review - Close


At first glance, “Close” seems to be trying to push Noomi Rapace into Liam Neeson territory, taking on a role that turns the talented actress into one-woman-army mode, confronting a series of villains in her own action vehicle. If co-writer/director Vicky Jewson was interested in something that simplistic, perhaps the picture would’ve gotten by on sheer force alone. Unfortunately, “Close” isn’t a bruiser bonanza, but something tamer with occasional blasts of gunplay and broken bones. Jewson endeavors to comment on the state of corporate greed and stock price fixation with the screenplay (co-scripted by Rupert Whitaker), leaving actual violence to intermittent flashes of rage. The rest of the feature plays out with all the urgency of a cable news special report, missing a shot at genre indulgence as the production chases meaning I doubt few viewers will care about. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Glass


The big reveal of 2016’s “Split” was its position as a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable.” It played like a Hail Mary pass from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, presenting a treat to his fanbase after they’ve years spent wishing for a proper continuation to his unusual take on iconic comic book formula. “Split” surprised many by becoming a sizable hit, managing to restore Shyamalan’s helming career in the process, and he’s spending his comeback bucks on “Glass,” which is, without disguise, the next chapter in the “Unbreakable” saga. However, Shyamalan isn’t one to give his audience exactly what they want, and “Glass” seems to exist solely to deny expectations. This isn’t a superhero blow-out paying off painstaking character mythos and pages of exposition, but another talky, low-energy endeavor that slowly stitches together the worlds of the previous chapters, with Shyamalan unwilling to do anything more with this universe than portion it out in small bites. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Bouncer


Jean-Claude Van Damme has played his share of heroes and villains, but rarely does the action star receive a chance to play an average fellow. At least a normal guy with the ability to clear entire rooms filled with armed goons. “The Bouncer” is Van Damme’s attempt at a sobering study of parental sacrifice and protection, trying to remain as small as possible on screen to play a character whose primary goal in life is not to be noticed. There are no superhuman feats of strength and no splits. There’s not even a wisecrack or a wink. “The Bouncer” keeps Van Damme restrained, which makes him a credible guardian and a decent threat in the feature, with director Julien Leclercq trying to showcase a different side to the veteran bruiser, presenting him with an acting challenge that doesn’t require the lead to reach beyond his grasp. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fyre


If there was ever a ripe subject for a documentary, it would be the 2017 Fyre Festival debacle. It was meant to be a concert experience with primary attention paid to lifestyle adventures for the social media age, welcoming guests to a Bahamian paradise to experience pure luxury and time with celebrities of dubious value. It was the dream of co-founders Billy McFarland and “hip hop mogul” Ja Rule, who promised the world to ticket-buyers, trying to establish the Fyre brand name as a new force on the scene. However, what really occurred during the spring of 2017 was a complete disaster concerning false promises, poor planning, and outright fraud. Director Chris Smith (“American Movie,” “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”) is right there to put together a puzzle of bewilderment and blame, emerging with “Fyre,” a superbly detailed overview of hubris and desperation that’s absolutely riveting to watch unfold. Read the rest at

Film Review - All These Small Moments


For her feature-length debut as a writer/director, Melissa Miller Costanzo selects a coming-of-age story to feel out her cinematic vision. She’s not reinventing the wheel here, offering a snapshot of New York City inhabitants working through troubled relationships and their own insecurities while they process the ups and downs of love, but there’s passion for the project, which helps to patch a few narrative potholes along the way. “All These Small Moments” lives up to its title, sharing private time with characters trying to understand how to communicate with one another, with Costanzo focusing on short, poetic events that fuel self-inspection. It’s graceful work and heartfelt, fighting back cliché to concentrate on universal feelings and primal needs, making it all wonderfully human. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Saint Bernard Syndicate


What a strange comedy “The Saint Bernard Syndicate” is. I’m not sure it’s even supposed to be funny, submitting a darkly humorous take on business dealings in a foreign land, also focusing on a growing medical crisis for one character, who’s experiencing the trip of a lifetime as he nears his expiration date. It’s all sold with a dry wit by director Mads Brugger (“The Ambassador”), with the Danish helmer using workplace comedy dysfunction and documentary-style visual touches to sell the random collisions of culture and personality that fill Laerke Sanderhoff’s screenplay. “The Saint Bernard Syndicate” is very funny at times, but also chilling and always interested in weirdness, giving it a unique take on familiar rhythms of improvisational acting and snowballing scenes of discomfort. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Laugh


Writer/director Greg Pritikin has the brave idea to cast Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss in a comedy, pairing two stars with a lengthy history of cantankerous behind-the-scenes behavior in what’s supposed to be a funny movie about funny business. I look forward to reading Pritikin’s book on the making of this feature one day, but for now, “The Last Laugh” does a reasonably fine job keeping Chase and Dreyfuss on target, unleashed on R-rated material that gives the actors sauciness to stir and punchlines to devour, using their own established personalities to boost the endeavor’s potential for unpredictability. Pritikin needs this element of surprise, as his screenplay often leans on cliché to get by, with hopes to make something heartfelt concerning the trials of aging and loneliness with two men who’d rather be launching insults than dealing with sincerity. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Standoff at Sparrow Creek


“The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” is basically an offering of filmed theater, but it wields its spare construction effectively, coming up with a novel way to rehash the Men with Guns subgenre. Writer/director Henry Dunham takes inspiration from Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” to fashion his own take on loquacious criminal behavior located in a single space, and while he comes up short with punchy dialogue, the helmer has a sharp sense of mood, creating a dark space for paranoia and anger to grow. “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” isn’t exactly the armrest-gripper Dunham has in mind, but it comes alive in fits, finding a way to make monologuing and dead stares compelling as connections between characters are discovered. Read the rest at

Film Review - An Acceptable Loss


Directorial careers can be a strange thing, and Joe Chappelle has experienced a wild one. He made his first real mainstream impression with 1995’s “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers,” and segued into 1998’s “Phantoms.” The genre launch pad didn’t ignite a hunger for his services, ending up helming “The Skulls II” before retreating from features all together, slipping into television to pay the bills. However, Chappelle managed to join shows such as “Fringe” and “The Wire,” sharpening his talents with quality programs, and now he’s back in theaters with “An Acceptable Loss,” working from his own screenplay. Newly empowered to make a timely tale of political deception, Chappelle puts in a noticeable effort with the movie, which makes it halfway to thematic clarity before formula kicks in. Still, some elements do connect as intended in “An Acceptable Loss,” displaying storytelling clarity where there wasn’t much before. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stan & Ollie


There’s really no need to recount the entire career of Laurel & Hardy, the premiere screen comedians who helped to define the possibilities of early Hollywood comedies with their practiced silliness and divine timing. Screenwriter Jeff Pope (“Philomena”) doesn’t even try, instead focusing on the twilight of their time together, moving away from the bustle of their most fertile years to examine a relationship breaking apart while strengthening at the same time. “Stan & Ollie” has nothing but reverence for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and such affection pours a sticky glaze all over the picture, which is impressively performed and paced, but also too schmaltzy to truly explore the duo and their unusual relationship of creative harmony and professional divide. Read the rest at