Film Review

Film Review - Munich: The Edge of War


It’s not easy to come up with suspenseful tales concerning World War II events these days. With so many shows and movies produced about the global conflict, it often feels like every topic has been covered, often repeatedly so. “Munich: The Edge of War” returns to the violence of Germany and British caution, but the production is no documentary, taking inspiration from a 2017 novel by Robert Harris, who’s well-versed in WWII history and filmmaking, with his books previously turned into features such as “Enigma” and “Fatherland.” Harris arranges a tale of spies and diplomatic pressure points, and director Christian Schwochow hits the highlights of anxiety and discovery, overseeing a lively understanding of the events leading up to The Munich Agreement, keeping the effort on the move and well-acted, helping to understand and appreciate another part of the wartime puzzle. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cyrano


Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, “Cyrano de Bergerac,” has been transformed for stage and screen numerous times, with many productions endeavoring to rework the aesthetic elements of the original material while preserving its emotional core, unwilling to surrender the near-miss love adventure of the plot. “Cyrano” is an adaptation of a 2018 musical by Erica Schmidt (who provides the screenplay), who also retains the core dramatic elements of Rostand’s work, updating the rest to fit the needs of modern musical theater. Helping the cause is director Joe Wright, who knows how to create wonderful imagery, offered an Italian playground to dream up his take on the famous story of unrequited love. His command of singing and sincerity is a little less confident, as “Cyrano” often feels like two different movies competing for screen time, keeping the film unsteady as it strives to be heartbreaking. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jockey


Movies about horse racing typically follow the heat of competition, focusing on animal training and the families in charge of finding and shaping winners. These productions have been successful in their own ways, including last summer’s “Dream Horse,” but “Jockey” isn’t interested in the process of industry participation. Co-writer/director Clint Bentley focuses on the inner turmoil of those who guide the process, creating a character piece about a jockey who’s facing the end of his career, examining how he deals with the final moments of the life he’s always known. “Jockey” goes deep but doesn’t reach for melodrama, as Bentley is much more interested in moments of introspection, trying to get inside the minds of those who choose to put their bodies at extreme risk, often for the benefit of others. It’s a rare picture about a seldom-understood topic, and Bentley offers material that feels deeply researched and genuine. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Matrix Resurrections


1999’s “The Matrix” was a true cinematic journey. It delivered on its “Alice in Wonderland” promise, creating a sci-fi world of action and intrigue, with Neo taking viewers on a hunt for power and purpose as writer/directors The Wachowskis turned the movie business upside down with their vision for rebellion and use of cutting-edge visual effects. “The Matrix” became pop culture for the next few years, and sequels were ordered into production, with 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” ambitious projects missing Neo as the audience surrogate, now transformed into the God-like figure. The follow-ups were flawed but undeniably exciting at times, with The Wachowskis focused on expanding their central idea into an epic war between the humans and machines, creating a massive conclusion to a saga that began with a simple question of identity. The franchise was put to bed, but nothing this profitable stays asleep forever, with “The Matrix Resurrections” arriving 18 years later to restart the cycle all over again, though this new chapter is definitely not as exploratory as “The Matrix,” instead serving as a continuation of “Reloaded” and “Revolutions.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Tragedy of Macbeth


The Coen Brothers are no more. A filmmaking team since 1984’s “Blood Simple,” Joel and Ethan Coen have generated a richly varied and respected career, delivering a few masterpieces along the way. Having worked together on titles such as “The Big Lebowski,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Raising Arizona,” and their last collaboration, 2018’s “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” the Coen Brothers have now gone their separate ways, ending a tremendous run. Joel Coen remains interested in the work, and he returns to screens with “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which he writes and directs, emerging as a solo act with this adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, “Macbeth.” Coen doesn’t come empty handed, helping his creative success with lead performances from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, and there’s renewed artistry with technical credits, which give the picture a stage-bound feel that dips into Bergman-esque visuals, yet feels entirely fresh for the dramatic challenge. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is striking and powerful, with Coen finding his own way with the feature, which emphasizes the madness and violence of the play, joined by a newfound level of claustrophobia. Read the rest at

Film Review - Licorice Pizza


For nearly two decades, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson went to a dark place. He dealt with corrosive, perverse characters in “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master,” “Inherent Vice,” and “Phantom Thread,” presenting grim conduct and bleak situations of domestic and psychological endurance. Anderson is back in a bubbly mood for “Licorice Pizza,” his return to the ways of idiosyncratic love and strange events, connecting to his time on “Punch-Drunk Love,” analyzing the weird ways of attraction and maturity. “Licorice Pizza” contains its fair share of oddity, as the helmer approaches the central relationship between a 15-year-old hustler and his 25-year-old object of desire from a variety of perspectives and tonal changes, detailing the craziness of impetuous behavior during the early 1970s. Anderson is attentive to the shaping of personalities, but his old impish ways make a return to the screen, delivering another cinematic triumph in a career that’s full of them. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fortress (2021)


“Fortress” is many things, but “good” isn’t one of them. It’s the newest release from producers Randall Emmett and George Furla (continuing their mission to resurrect the Cannon Films legacy), and it’s the second directorial undertaking in 2021 from James Cullen Bressack (“Survive the Game”), who’s more about quantity than quality. Also having a busy year is star Bruce Willis, with his latest offering of sit-in-chair acting his seventh of the year, making sure to say yes to anything that meets his quote. There’s nothing in “Fortress” that’s different than most VOD entertainment offerings, once again setting up a basic conflict between good and bad guys, with the film’s location someone’s backyard, offering open spaces for actors to run around and pretend to shoot one another. There’s a set and a hallway, and Bressack stays out of the way when it comes to performances, keeping the endeavor hideously overacted and absolutely ridiculous, simply here to make his days and move on to the next bottom shelf project. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mother/Android


Mattson Tomlin had a successful 2020. The screenwriter made an impression with two features, going the superhero route with “Project Power,” while “Little Fish” offered a prescient look at the world’s ruinous reaction to a public health crisis. Tomlin graduates to directorial duties for “Mother/Android,” which returns to the ways of a troubled planet, with the story exploring a new future that’s ruled by vicious robots on a mission to destroy humankind. It sounds like a wild ride of danger and destruction, but Tomlin’s writing connects to his “Little Fish” ideas, offering a moody, meditative understanding of dystopia and the power of love during the bleakest of times. “Mother/Android” is not a fan of pacing, often taking its sweet time to get where it’s going, but the production successfully updates the zombie genre with a new, metallic enemy, and the ultimate dramatic destination for the tale is satisfying, rewarding the sometimes extraordinary amounts of patience required to sit through the movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spider-Man: No Way Home


2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” did a sensational job creating excitement for the world of the eponymous superhero. Director Jon Watts found ways to freshen up the Marvel Cinematic Universe routine, making the character feel like a real teenager as Peter Parker juggles the demands of adolescence and bravery, with the two pictures generating a rich collection of personalities and action set pieces, making time with the wall-crawler irresistible. Such vibrancy of spirit is slightly diminished for “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which doesn’t choose to remain with Parker’s quest for identity, instead aiming to create “Avengers”-style event cinema with the ways of the “multiverse,” and all the chaos and franchise surprises it contains. “No Way Home” is definitely a big screen ride, out to delight hardcore fans of Spider-Man’s cinematic adventures, but after the sugar rush of “Homecoming” and “Far From Home,” the new installment is decidedly heavier in tone and ambition, trying to create colossal challenges that tend to distract from the core appeal of the earlier chapters. Read the rest at

Film Review - The King's Man


Creative progress was made in 2017’s “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” with co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn learning from mistakes made in 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” which often indulged his worst habits as a filmmaker. The sequel sharpened his vision, bringing out the cinematic thrills of the premise, with the spy game creating some crazy moments, but packed into a more consistent endeavor. Instead of moving forward, Vaughn goes the prequel way with “The King’s Man,” which explores the formation of the intelligence service during the dark times of World War I. Instead of being explicitly comic book in style, “The King’s Man” tries to be a bit more historical, playing with the political gamesmanship of the era to inspire a point of origin for the well-dressed team, though Vaughn, in his excitement, often fails to create a balanced picture, offering an occasionally rough ride of tonal highs and lows. Read the rest at

Film Review - Swan Song


“Swan Song” is about death, though it’s also about life. The screenplay by Benjamin Cleary (who also directs) has the quality of a sci-fi short story, offering a level of futurism as the writer explores the human experience from a fantasy point of view. Cleary doesn’t delve too deeply into matters of the unreal, simply using it to understand universal ideas on love and loss, working very deliberately with the slow-burn tale. “Swan Song” is heartfelt and heartbreaking, offering an ideal space for actor Mahershala Ali to showcase his gifts, tasked with bringing to life two characters who share the same body and mind, only divided by their mission to bring comfort to others. Cleary avoids cliché as much as possible with the picture, hoping to reach complex feelings instead with this challenging but engrossing endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Minamata


Johnny Depp is known for fully inhabiting the characters he portrays. It’s been his obsession since the 1990s, and it’s largely worked for him, turning in some amazing performances and a few uncomfortably showy ones along the way. For “Minamata,” the actor seeks to step inside the life of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, a respected but troubled professional who provided coverage of “Minamata disease” in the early 1970s, with mercury pollution destroying lives around a Japanese village located near a chemical plant. Depp tries to hide himself once again, and he successfully communicates the strange ways of Smith, who was a man of guilt and little self-control, but he had a gift with a camera, using it to provide the world with visions of life and hardships, with this particular case of unimaginable suffering allowing co-writer/director Andrew Levitas (“Lullaby”) to detail a greater understanding of industrial pollution and corporate malice. Depp is strong in “Minamata,” but it’s the larger story of suffering that’s most gripping. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rumble


Most animated endeavors are created to be heartwarming, looking to appeal to a wide audience with lessons on family and friendship, typically balancing high comedic energy with gooey scenes of tenderness. “Rumble” just wants to be entertaining, offering the kid-approved concept of a professional monster wrestling league that’s dealing with the presence of its newest, and least threatening, participant. It’s underdog cinema with lots of slapstick, giving “Rumble” an enjoyable pace and sense of cartoon engagement, never slowing down to deal with unnecessary melodrama. Simplicity is the idea here, and a lot of humungous bodies flying around wrestling rings, with the production understanding it’s not going to make it as a sensitive study of partnership. There’s warmth here, but more zaniness, giving young audiences an enjoyable break from the soul-stirring routine. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lost Daughter


After spending years as a respected actress, Maggie Gyllenhaal takes the next step in her career, making her feature-length directorial debut with “The Lost Daughter.” She handles screenplay duties as well, adapting a 2006 Elena Ferrante novel about a middle-aged woman wrestling with dark thoughts and stinging memories while taking a vacation on a Greek island. It’s not a tale that’s built for comfort, and it’s not a thriller either. Gyllenhaal rolls up her sleeves and digs into the ugliness and exposure of a mental health crisis, using Ferrante’s plotting to generate a striking character study. Gyllenhaal gets a little tripped up while trying to compact the book into a movie, but her instincts with casting and emotional wreckage are spot-on, creating a disturbing picture that sneaks up on viewers, also painting an unnervingly realistic portrait of motherhood and all the sacrifices it demands. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Novice


Lauren Hadaway has been working with dialogue and sound for the last decade, participating in productions such as “Justice League,” “Underworld: Blood Wars,” and “The Marine 4: Moving Target.” She makes the move to the director’s seat with “The Novice,” building on her 2017 short, “The Row.” It’s a story of a punishing collegiate rowing experience told with autobiographical touches, presenting Hadaway with some authority on the subject. She commits to the ugly details of the sport and the educational experience, offering a superbly lived-in screenplay that really digs into the experience of competition. “The Novice” remains riveting when sticking tight to the rowing odyssey, giving viewers a chance to understand physical exertion and psychological ruin. However, the helmer doesn’t remain within the shock of it all, working out unnecessary directorial flourishes and superfluous dramatics to show her stuff, which periodically weakens the fierce character study Hadaway is clearly capable of delivering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nightmare Alley (2021)


“Nightmare Alley” is based on a 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham, which was quickly adapted for the screen in 1947, with Tyrone Power taking on the central role of a pushy con man who gets in too deep with his grifting, trying to stay one step ahead of those he’s playing, sometimes unintentionally. Co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro returns to the source material to inspire a new vision for “Nightmare Alley,” which plays to his strengths with its collection of haunted characters and extreme cinematic textures. The helmer remains with his interests here, delivering a very del Toro-esque viewing experience with a tale that’s physically and psychologically violent, working to present period noir to modern audiences while still retaining all the fetishes and bodily harm del Toro loves to arrange. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Look Up


Writer/director Adam McKay used to make the same kind of comedies all the time (“Anchorman,” “Step Brothers,” “Talladega Nights”), and now he makes the same kind of social criticism and political movies all the time (“The Big Short,” “Vice”). With “Don’t Look Up,” McKay remains fixated on a semi-satiric take on American life and order, but he aims bigger with his latest project, which investigates the end of the world and all the madness that goes along with accepting the truth. “Don’t Look Up” tries to fashion something close to a farce with the material, but McKay enjoys a stickier sense of tone, delivering a picture that’s after big laughs with broad antics, and it’s also examining the reality of an extinction level event occurring in our screwball time, keeping behaviors accurate even when they go full cartoon. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Unforgivable


Sandra Bullock doesn’t act much anymore. She’s been increasingly selective in her parts over the last decade, trying to find a new direction to her career with more serious roles, ready to inhabit darker characters in disturbing situations of survival. After dominating pop culture with 2018’s “Bird Box,” Bullock stays severe with “The Unforgivable, which is an adaptation of a 2009 British television series. The material gives the actress another opportunity to play a frayed person, this time exploring the days of a parolee trying to put a few parts of her ruined life back together, and Bullock does quite well in the film. She’s raw yet reserved, happy to give others showier amounts of screentime. It’s the story of “The Unforgivable” that’s a little out of tune, with director Nora Fingscheidt submitting to warped turns of plot, allowing the feature to become absurd when, for about 90 minutes, it does simply fine being as real as possible. Read the rest at