Film Review

Film Review - Becky


“Becky” is being sold as the dramatic debut for comedian Kevin James. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, as I saw “Grown Ups 2” on opening night in a half-full auditorium, and nobody was laughing. But who am I to get in the way of marketing? The great news is that James tries to be steely and humorless here, and he does a fantastic job playing a menacing character. Even better, “Becky” is an absolute blood-drenched joyride of a film; a revenge picture that’s lean, mean, and unexpectedly interested in the bodily harm a 13-year-old kid can inflict on the Nazi goons looking to destroy everything she holds dear. Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion don’t pull any punches with their endeavor, offering a nightmarishly graphic descent into feral outbreaks of grief, going wild with B-movie rampaging from an unlikely source of rage. Read the rest at

Film Review - Judy and Punch


Perhaps the most surprising aspect of “Judy and Punch” is writer/director Mirrah Foulkes’s interest in returning to the past to examine a different origin story for a famous puppet show. Offering a feminist take on the saga of Punch and Judy, the feature winds back 400 years to a time of male dominance, religious fearmongering, and desperation for entertainment. Foulkes has something original with “Judy and Punch,” and something angry too, with the picture delivering an impressive level of violence to go with its pitch-black sense of humor and horror. It doesn’t always connect as it should, getting a little lost when it comes time to form a resolution, but Foulkes makes an impressive debut with the macabre endeavor, and while she’s not dealing in real history, her imagination is big enough to reconsider the state of art and gender balance during a chaotic time period. Read the rest at

Film Review - You Don't Nomi


1995’s “Showgirls” has experienced a true roller coaster ride of appreciation. When it was initially released in theaters, sold as a sinful NC-17 viewing experience, it was promptly dismissed by critics as unforgivable trash. Audiences were initially curious, bur horrible word-of-mouth spread fast, killing the picture in its second weekend. And then it was gone. All that hype and promotion was over just like that, sending the effort to the VHS afterlife, destined to live the rest of its days as a cinema curio from Paul Verhoeven, a mighty director. And then something happened to “Showgirls.” Around 2000, it started finding an audience, and one that responded to the extremity of the endeavor with absolute delight, giving the box office bomb a second wind on home video and around the world as a midnight movie oddity. “You Don’t Nomi” is fairly late to the party with its offering of admiration and deconstruction, but for those with a profound love for the production, director Jeffrey McHale strives to present an understanding of what went right, and what went oh-so-wrong. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shirley


“Shirley” isn’t a bio-pic of writer Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” It’s an adaptation of the 2014 book by Susan Scarf Merrell, who used her admiration for Jackson’s work in psychological horror to create her own homage to the writer, imagining a complicated, almost parasitic relationship between Jackson and a pregnant woman who comes to lives with her for a significant amount of time. There’s a twinge of disappointment that the material isn’t more interested in history, with screenwriter Sarah Gubbins aiming to make more of a chiller, combining Merrell’s material, Jackson’s reputation, and her own dramatic interests to construct an unnerving exploration of mental illness, literary inspiration, and obsession. Read the rest at

Film Review - The High Note


Just last summer, director Nisha Ganatra delivered “Late Night,” a study of power and gender within the talk show circuit. It was meant to be a big thing, but it ended up a very small thing when it was finally released, ignored by audiences, who couldn’t quite find their way into a mediocre picture. Ganatra is back with more vanilla in “The High Note,” this time exploring the ways of power and gender in the music industry, with a young, naďve woman struggling to navigate the anxieties of a powerful, older woman trying to compete in a cutthroat business. Okay, so she’s basically made the same movie twice, and “The High Note” is equally bland but not entirely unpleasant. It’s the rare film where most of the supporting characters are more interesting than the main players, and while Ganatra is skilled at creating softness, she’s lost with dramatic urgency, allowing the feature to slowly evaporate. Read the rest at

Film Review - Survive the Night


Just six months ago, director Matt Eskandari and star Bruce Willis were working on their VOD game with “Trauma Center.” It wasn’t an inspired feature, with plenty of lackluster filmmaking and casting choices, but it was marginally better than what’s typically made for the home video market, dialing down hyperactive action antics to try its luck as a thriller. Eskandari is back with “Survive the Night,” reteaming with Willis for a home invasion chiller that’s big on keeping costs down, containing most of the action to a basic household setting. Willis continues down his career path of picking roles that require the least amount of standing, and though the picture doesn’t provide an extended run of screen tension, Eskandari does relatively well for the first hour of the endeavor, especially with lowered expectations for a brisk display of antagonism and family issues. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Clear Shot


“A Clear Shot” is “inspired by” the true story of a 1991 Sacramento hostage crisis, where a group of four armed Vietnamese men stormed into a Good Guys electronic shop, demanding strange ransoms and immediate satisfaction. Writer/director Nick Leisure doesn’t have the budget to deal with the chaos of the day in a satisfactory manner, offering a low-budget version of the events, spruced up with more active characterizations and charged encounters between gunmen and hostages. Leisure has a few ideas he wants to sell on the immigration experience in America, but he doesn’t have much of a game plan to achieve his vision. “A Clear Shot” emerges as weirdly ambitious in some areas and far too low wattage in others, with Leisure unable to reach any noticeable levels of suspense as he wages war with limited budgetary coin. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Vast of Night


On the IMDB page for “The Vast of Night,” under the trivia section, someone has added a list of film festivals that passed on the feature as it was making its rounds. As with anything on the website, it’s difficult to tell if this informational addition is either a source of shame or a point of pride. However, such rejection makes sense with this endeavor, which is meant to play like a tribute to television from the 1960s, and is often executed like a podcast, more interested in telling tales than showing them. “The Vast of Night” marks the directorial debut for Andrew Patterson, and it’s clear he has talent, as the effort showcases a sure moviemaking approach. It’s the overall urgency of the feature that’s more in doubt, with the slow-burn viewing experience strictly reserved for those already interested in the art of oral storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Villain


The poster for “Villain” promises a blistering action viewing experience. There’s star Craig Fairbrass in full brutalizer pose, clutching a gun while walking away from a wall of flame and scattered sparks. Gotta have those sparks. The marketing for the feature is presenting a distinct image for revenge cinema, so it comes as something of a surprise to find out that “Villain” isn’t anywhere near the bone-breaker offering initially imagined. Writers Greg Hall and George Russo keep their distance from displays of aggression, with the story concerning the emotional toil of a life of crime, with the lead character spending his hours trying to pick up the pieces after experiencing a stint in prison, locked away while the world changed. Promotional efforts want to sell some slam-bang entertainment, but this movie is far from that, offering a compellingly emotional journey, boosted by a terrific turn from Fairbrass. Read the rest at

Film Review - Military Wives


In 1997, Peter Cattaneo directed “The Full Monty.” The little picture about working class blues and male nudity became a big deal, enjoying critical acclaim and sizable box office, also starting a trend of sorts, with studios suddenly ordering their own tales of miserable people overcoming great odds through peculiar hobbies. Cattaneo couldn’t capitalize on the hit film (bottoming out with the awful 2008 comedy, “The Rocker”), and now he’s attempting a similar viewing experience 23 years later. “Military Wives” is based on the true story of female choirs who pour their heart and soul into song while their significant others are away on duty, and the premise is ripe for feel-good entertainment, observing emotionally wounded people coming together for a greater good. While the whole thing seems unbearably contrived, Cattaneo actually locates a pulse for “Military Wives,” finding a sincere way to approach pure cliché. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inheritance


Two years ago, director Vaughn Stein delivered “Terminal.” It was his attempt at a stylish crime thriller, boosted by star power from Margo Robbie and a rare turn from Mike Myers, but the feature was seriously underwhelming, falling apart long before it reached its crescendo. Stein returns with “Inheritance,” which happens to peak way too soon, delivering an intriguingly twisted premise from screenwriter Matthew Kennedy (making his debut) before it doesn’t do anything of note with it. Stein once again provides a dearth of thrills with his twists and turns, and his feel for casting is way off this time around, finding the wrong people in the wrong roles trying to make a tepid, anticlimactic tale of dark secrets connect on some level. If “Terminal” was slow-burn stroll into tedium, “Inheritance” is in a hurry to get there, making a series of poor creative choices on the way down. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lovebirds


Fighting a fledgling directing career, Michael Showalter scored a hit with 2017’s “The Big Sick,” impressing many with his ability to balance frightening elements of medical uncertainty with silliness, going for big heart with a side of wackiness. Showalter also turned comedian Kumail Nanjiani into a leading man, as viewed in last year’s bomb, “Stuber.” The pair reteam for “The Lovebirds,” though sensitivity is really the last priority for the production, which intends to play as more of a farce, with brief elements of romance to preserve the date movie appeal of the picture. “The Lovebirds” doesn’t possess any noticeable depth, and its sense of humor is seriously lacking, with Showalter in more of a coaching position, cheering on Nanjiani and so-star Issa Rae as they stumble through terrible improvisations, trying to cover for the lack of a complete script. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scoob!


“Scoob!” marks the return of the “Scooby-Doo” franchise to the big screen (at least that was the original release plan), arriving after 2004’s “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” failed to match the gross of its 2002 predecessor. However, there’s been no shortage of “Scooby-Doo” entertainment over the years, with Warner Brothers mining the brand name for everything it’s worth, churning out DTV animated movies (where the Mystery Machine gang has paired up with pro-wrestlers, Batman, and KISS) and television shows, making sure there’s a Scooby-themed offering for every star in the sky. And now there’s “Scoob!” Instead of ordering up a uniquely spooky adventure for the characters, the producers have decided to launch the Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe, blending known cartoon personalities to help give Scooby-Doo and Shaggy the big-budget formula to inspire future sequels and spin-offs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Capone


After scoring a commercial success with 2012’s “Chronicle,” director Josh Trank lost almost all of his critical and industry goodwill with his follow-up endeavor, the disastrous “Fantastic Four” do-over. While such a public flameout would kill most careers, Trank has managed to hang on to his employability by his fingertips, returning five years later with “Capone,” a much smaller picture for the helmer. While there was a lot of speculation as to who was really behind the colossal failure of “Fantastic Four,” “Capone” basically underlines Trank’s shortcomings as a storyteller, getting lost in his own unpleasant whims with the feature, which gradually becomes a prison sentence for viewers as it tracks the steady decay of Al Capone -- a tale nobody asked for, especially from Trank. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wrong Missy


Adam Sandler has a major deal with Netflix to create films for himself and his friends, and nobody seems to be benefiting more from the arrangement than David Spade. After appearing in Sandler-starring endeavors such as “The Ridiculous 6” and “Sandy Wexler,” Spade graduated to co-star status in 2016’s “The Do-Over.” He was presented with his own starring opportunity in 2018’s “Father of the Year,” which paired the actor with director Tyler Spindel, and they made one horrible movie. Trying their luck again, Spade and Spindel return with “The Wrong Missy,” which is another collection of gross-out gags, tired references, and buddy-buddy connections to the Sandler Cinematic Universe. And guess what? They’ve made another horrible movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time Volume 2: Horror & Sci-Fi


Cult movies aren’t born, they’re made by audiences willing to put in the time and money to celebrate features that either died while trying to be mainstream, or never stood a chance when offered for universal acceptance. Cult entertainment is a topic that’s been explored repeatedly in all forms of media (it’s bread-and-butter content for podcasts), but director Danny Wolf hopes to provide expanse and access with “Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time,” which is a three-part examination of cinematic offerings that’ve become a secret language for some, creating legacies few could predict but millions adore. Next up is “Volume 2: Horror & Sci-Fi,” which visits a corner of fandom where the thrills are greater and nightmares are formed, exploring genre efforts that’ve managed to survive initial financial failure and critical dismissal to find popularity, with a few titles going on to be considered some of the greatest features ever made. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blood and Money


There’s something about the idea of finding a bag of money in the middle of nowhere that excites filmmakers. The plot has been explored on multiple occasions, perhaps most effectively in Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan,” and it receives the low-budget treatment with “Blood and Money,” which takes the discovery of missing cash to the far reaches of Maine, giving suspense a wintry snap. Writer/director John Barr makes his debut with the feature, and he doesn’t bite off more than he can chew with the material, arranging a straightforward story of survival in a harsh environment, adding parental guilt and bad guys to the mix. “Blood and Money” isn’t a stunning endeavor, but the basics are appealing, finding Tom Berenger appropriately cast as a grizzled, pained man coming into contact with a discovery that changes his life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Castle in the Ground


Addiction dramas are plentiful, but more and more recent productions have taken a closer look at the opioid crisis, presenting a current examination of broken lives as more powerful drugs take hold of seemingly innocent lives. “Castle in the Ground” is a Canadian production that isn’t interested in preaching to the audience, with writer/director Joey Klein offering a dire immersion into the world of pharmaceutical submission, plunging to the depths of grief and confusion to track one character’s struggle for clarity as he’s clouded by hopelessness. “Castle in the Ground” isn’t an easy sit, and it’s not a complete one either, as Klein prefers to offer a wandering sense of dramatic direction for his characters, electing to examine moment-by-moment choices instead of sticking to a grand arc of deterioration. Read the rest at

Film Review - Valley Girl (2020)


When is a remake not exactly a remake? I give you “Valley Girl,” which is a reworking of the 1983 cult hit. What was once a gentle but textured look at a developing romance between opposites in L.A. (a riff on “Romeo and Juliet”) has now been turned into a jukebox musical that’s all about soundtrack hits, candied cinematography, and broad performances. To bring “Valley Girl” back to the screen, the producers have made several changes to the tone and approach of the original film, aiming to reach a much younger audience with a simplified tale of love as it works through cultural and social challenges, and is frequently expressed through song. Director Rachel Lee Goldenberg (a veteran of The Asylum) isn’t trying to find dramatic grit with her vision, she’s striving to generate a party atmosphere for sleepover audiences, delivering a pleasingly fluffy, high-energy offering of teen exuberance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spaceship Earth


I think most people, if they recall the saga of the Biosphere 2 experiment, remember it as a media-driven curiosity, finding the science of it all pushed away in favor of emphasizing the weirdness of the endeavor. In 1991, a group of trained “Biospherians” elected to seal themselves off from the rest of the world, living inside an Earth system research facility located in Oracle, Arizona for two years, put in charge of various biomes as a way of experimenting with early plans to transfer people to other worlds to live. It was years of build-up and promotion, and the result was a messy collection of mistakes, putting the pure science of the mission in jeopardy as money men and analysts feasted on the shortcomings of the project. Nearly three decades after its debut, director Matt Wolf makes a return to Biosphere 2 for “Spaceship Earth,” a documentary that searches for the true story behind the mystery of the event, with special attention paid to those who put the project together, spending decades of their lives devoted to a vision of environmental exploration. Read the rest at