Film Review

Film Review - All the Devil's Men


“All the Devil’s Men” marks the leading man debut of Milo Gibson, who’s quickly climbed the industry ladder after making his acting introduction for his father, Mel, in 2016’s “Hacksaw Ridge.” While he looks the part, Gibson doesn’t necessarily have the stuff of a screen bruiser just yet, visibly struggling through “All the Devil’s Men,” which casts him as a CIA rogue with a kill first, ask questions later attitude, requiring him to project a lot of personality that otherwise isn’t there. Not helping the cause is writer/director Matthew Hope, who’s trying to put on a bad-ass display of boiling masculinity and world concerns about the growing threat of terrorism, only to make a picture that looks like a backyard production, unable to hide budget limitations, even while it delivers all kinds of violence and acts of intimidation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Possession of Hannah Grace


The title alone doesn’t inspire much hope for the film. “The Possession of Hannah Grace” initially seems as though it will follow in the footsteps of dozens of other horror efforts focused on the brutality of an exorcism, and the feature actually opens with one, presenting a familiar sight of battered, trembling priests trying to pray their way to a full demon extraction in a large, dimly lit location. The first ten minutes of the movie do not inspire confidence that screenwriter Brian Sieve knows what he’s doing, offering sameness for a genre that’s fully addicted to trends. However, “The Possession of Hannah Grace” soon settles down into something slightly different. Nothing radical, but there’s just enough of a tweak concerning characterization that keeps it engrossing, at least until horror demands return to dominate the viewing experience. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Mercy


The story of Donald Crowhurst and his attempt to circle the globe on a trimaran of his own design has been examined throughout all types of media, with film adaptations common, even found last year in “Crowhurst.” “The Mercy” has an advantage in star power, bringing in Colin Firth to embody the ambitious family man, while Rachel Weisz portrays Donald’s wife, Clare. This casting alone secures much of the viewing experience, with fine actors contributing excellent work in meaty parts that touch on emotional extremes and psychological imbalance. Director James Marsh (“The Theory of Everything,” “Man on Wire”) does well with the material too, able to extract suspense and confusion from a strange tale that’s already been substantially documented. “The Mercy” doesn’t always uncover important details, but the journey is understood, creating involving drama as big dreams erode into something distressing and undefinable. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Mirai


“Mirai” is presented as a fantasy, but it contains an enormous amount of authentic human behavior. It’s the latest work from writer/director Mamoru Hosoda, who takes a long look at the ways families interact, especially from the perspective of a child who’s not ready to watch his small world expand with the addition of a baby sibling into his life. Hosoda eventually launches a bizarre tale of time travel to help give the material something more to do than live in the moment, but “Mirai” is more skilled with understanding, and animating, young behavior at its most feral and unbreakable. The strange magic of the movie has its appeal, with Hosoda generating his own take on a genealogical dig, but the feature really captures something unique when it concentrates on pure reaction from children, showing remarkable awareness of frustrations and fears as attention suddenly splits to siblings in need. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Renegades


With the likes of Michael Bay and Peter Berg doing their best the make the American military machine look as sexy and fearless as possible, it’s now time for Europeans to give such jingoism a shot. “American Renegades” (originally titled “Renegades” before someone, somewhere panicked about the feature’s VOD potential in the U.S.) is a production from Europa Corp, the once mighty studio co-owned by Luc Besson (who co-scripts with Richard Wenk) that’s dedicated to churning out mid-budget actioners. They’ve fallen on hard times recently, and “American Renegades” isn’t helping the cause. Instead of delivering a gritty take on service and heroism, the picture plays with extreme blandness, and while the large budget encourages big mayhem, the movie doesn’t have the inspiration to do much more than deal with cliché, and as passively as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chef Flynn


The first image we see in “Chef Flynn” is the star of the documentary, Flynn McGarry, walking, almost frolicking, through a forest. He looks young, making playtime understandable, showcasing a juvenile spirit as he treks through greenery. However, unlike most youngsters connecting with nature, Flynn quickly turns around, spying some plants he’d like to add to a dinner dish, snapping out of his leisurely haze to focus intently on a piece of his culinary puzzle. It’s a curveball moment from director Cameron Yates, and the last he’s willing to throw at the audience, preferring to stay in a journalistic comfort zone with “Chef Flynn,” which only aims to celebrate the subject and his incredible talents, not challenge his impressively bizarre life. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Christmas Chronicles


Kurt Russell has the ability to elevate any film he appears in. It’s his charisma, this magical capacity to create characters and find the spirit of any production. And when that fails, Russell becomes the spirit of the production. With “The Christmas Chronicles,” Russell is offered a chance to play Santa Claus, and he takes on the acting challenge with complete commitment, which is impressive, especially when considering what the screenplay (from Matt Lieberman) asks of him during the run time. While “The Christmas Chronicles” keeps a tight grip on a holiday movie checklist, it does have Russell, and he’s oodles of fun to watch, accepting the challenge of embodying Christmas magic with real verve and comfort, selling the stuffing out of everything Lieberman dreams up for this latest attempt to create a cinematic perennial for the yuletide season. Read the rest at

Film Review - Creed II


There were few expectations for 2015’s “Creed.” It seemed like such an unnecessary production, seemingly created to squeeze a few more bucks out of the “Rocky” franchise, even bringing in Sylvester Stallone reprise his most famous character to help audiences accept a new series lead in Adonis Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan. And then the film was released, and it was magnificent. Credit goes to co-writer/director Ryan Coogler, who made a choice to take the work seriously, using inspiration from the original “Rocky” to create a meaningful, exciting new chapter, helping to reinvent the series with one of its best chapters. With surprising box office success comes a sequel, a business decision Stallone knows all too well. And yet, “Creed II” manages to hit high expectations this time out, finding a way to rehash without losing heart, also doing something compelling with a potentially ridiculous plot. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Ralph Breaks the Internet


2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph” was a feature steeped in nostalgia. It was about a video game character from the 1980s trying to survive in a new frontier of hyperactive arcade options, finding much needed friendship along the way. It’s a delightful movie, aided in great part by flavorful voice work from an eclectic cast, and there’s the fun factor of seeing beloved video game icons brought to life, often for irreverent purposes. A sequel wasn’t necessary, but more time with this group would always be welcome, leading to the creation of “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” which trades the boundaries of cabinet life for the endless ocean of information found in the online world. Nostalgia has been muted this time around, with “Ralph Breaks the Internet” more determined to find its own footing as an animated adventure, with sheer noise and formula providing a bit too much temptation for the filmmakers, who are visibly stretching to fill this second round.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Long Dumb Road


“The Long Dumb Road” isn’t about plot or major character arcs. It’s the about time shared during an especially active road trip with two people who probably shouldn’t be riding together in the same car. Co-writer/director Hannah Fidell doesn’t want much more than to live in the moment, enjoying the volatility of the pairing and the unpredictability of bad decisions, trying to squeeze some laughs out of misfortune. “The Long Dumb Road” isn’t profound, but it does have a wily sense of humor and nice handle on travel chaos, also giving actor and podcast staple Jason Mantzoukas a vehicle for his specific screen energy, often found single-handedly powering the feature when Fidell isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do with the premise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Becoming Astrid


“Becoming Astrid” is a bio-pic about author Astrid Lindgren, who became a worldwide literary obsession with her work on “The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.” It’s a Swedish production from co-writer/director Pernille Fischer Christensen, and a production that’s very protective of Lindgren’s personal life, making sure to downplay any bright kid-lit spirit to focus on the horrible times she endured while trying to survive her twenties, facing numerous trials of the heart and mind. Perhaps this is the best way to get into the thick of Lindgren’s experience, with “Becoming Astrid” largely skipping the routine of individual character introduction to focus on her personal bruising, and how such trauma would eventually inspire unusually observant and mature books about the juvenile experience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Write When You Get Work


“Write When You Get Work” is the first picture from writer/director Stacy Cochran in 18 years, and the first interesting movie she’s made since 1992’s “My New Gun.” It’s strange to have Cochran back on the scene, with her initial work tied to the indie film movement of the 1990s, and now she’s facing quite a different atmosphere for low-budget endeavors. Perhaps trying to avoid getting crushed by the competition, the helmer adds a little sugar to her dramatic vegetables, giving this study of character and class some wish-fulfillment to help encourage audience participation. “Write When You Get Work” is well-made with appealing performances, with Cochran laboring to retain as much feeling and history as possible while still tending to the expectations of a crime story that’s blended with little bits of unresolved love.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Robin Hood (2018)


The legend of Robin Hood has been explored on film on many occasions, with most ventures quite successful when it comes to reimagining the specifics of the tale to suit the demands of a new generation of moviegoers. This familiarity frightens the new “Robin Hood,” which aims to rework known elements, hoping to appeal to a wider audience by saving the highlights of the saga for the sequel, preferring to achieve its own special origin story as a way of launching a new franchise. Mixing elements of Guy Ritchie, Baz Luhrmann, and dozens of nondescript actioners, “Robin Hood” relies on formula to avoid formula, emerging as a slightly confounding, utterly empty take on the famous outlaw, leading with a dulled sense of big screen adventure, romance, and villainy. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Green Book


Being part of the Farrelly Brothers today just isn’t what it used to be. The directing duo once churned out hits (“Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary”), but the last decade has been rough on the siblings (“The Three Stooges,” “Hall Pass,” and “Dumb and Dumber To”), and now they’ve split for the time being, with Peter Farrelly searching for some respectability, finding a potential redirection in reputation with “Green Book,” a period piece about racism, friendship, and overeating. Farrelly isn’t turning into Spike Lee here, maintaining concentration on mainstream storytelling, with hopes to provide a tidy viewing experience that’s easy on the senses and tight on the heart, trying to understand American ills with a television movie that’s somehow made its way into multiplexes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald


Two years ago, author J.K. Rowling decided to develop a second entrance into the Wizarding World she triumphantly explored in the “Harry Potter” series of films based on her novels. To some, it was a basic cash-grab, giving studio home Warner Brothers a chance to extract more coin from Potterheads looking for anything new to savor from Rowling. To others, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” admittedly lacked some snap, but remained a dense immersion into this vivid realm of wizards and monsters. The feature didn’t create the pop culture stir many were expecting, but it made a lot of money, encouraging Rowling to continue down the rabbit hole of Newt Scamander and his interactions with the dark side of the Wizarding World. She returns to screens with “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” which does nothing to correct tonal mistakes made in the first installment, with Rowling and director David Yates doubling down on mean-spiritedness to make sure their grim fantasy leaves a lasting mark.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Instant Family


After bringing “Daddy’s Home” and “Daddy’s Home 2” to box office heights, co-writer/director Sean Anders isn’t about to stop there. He’s created “Instant Family,” bringing Mark Wahlberg back for duty as a besieged parent, and reheating a comedic sense of domestic crisis for possible four-quadrant enjoyment during the holiday season. It all feels like the creation of the marketing department, but Anders swears there’s genuine heart here, emphasizing the importance of adoption as he details the highs and lows of guardianship. “Instant Family” has moments of cuteness, and stars Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are fully alert, giving the feature some much needed enthusiasm as it takes hits from dangerous levels of formula and product placement, while Anders also threatens his own creation by making this family film one of the hardest PG-13 releases of the year. Read the rest at

Film Review - Speed Kills


The last time John Travolta was seen in theaters, it was “Gotti,” the actor’s much-maligned (and rightly so) bio-pic of gangster John Gotti. For his latest endeavor, Travolta returns to the underworld for “Speed Kills,” which is a bio-pic of Donald Aronow, a struggling New Jersey businessman who relocated to Miami and became a famous designer of luxury speedboats. It’s an unusual subject matter, and Aronow is a complicated man to explore, but “Speed Kills” has no desire to be anything more than be a glorified television movie, spending as much time with boats as it does melodrama. Travolta grimaces his way through the picture, trying to be as serious as possible while basically reheating his “Gotti” performance, which demands little more from him than to stand still and act tough in a feature that doesn’t work.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Front Runner


Director Jason Reitman sets out to make a film about 1988 feel like a production from 1972, and he’s largely successful with his vision for a snappy, zoom-happy, roving-camera endeavor. “The Front Runner” is meant to evoke cinema form the past while telling a very modern tale of sensationalism, using the saga of Gary Hart’s failed run for the White House to establish a line crossed by journalists as candidate coverage turned into a character assassination game, and for good reasons. Reitman’s already made a gem this year with last spring’s “Tully,” and while his vision is clear for “The Front Runner,” his taste in screenwriting, wigs, and targets of derision is a little off. The Hart story is amazing, but the dramatic recreation doesn’t do enough to grasp the finer points of character and disgrace.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Welcome Home


As screenwriters search for new ways to conjure old fears, attention has turned to the community aspect of online life. There have been multiple social media/desktop thrillers and two rideshare chillers, and now writer David Levinson takes aim at Airbnb with “Welcome Home,” which imagines the invasions of privacy inside a rental home in Italy. Other features have preyed on the fear of hidden surveillance, with the addition here being the dream of the impossibly affordable getaway, serving up the young and the oversexed to older perverts everywhere. Problems arrive early in “Welcome Home,” which has the novelty approach to voyeuristic agitation, but lacks the thespian firepower to do something significant with all of its jealousy and paranoia.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Jonathan


“Jonathan” offers a sci-fi concept packaged as a meditative drama. It’s the first feature-length effort from co-writer/director Bill Oliver, who doesn’t push too hard on the cerebral aspects of the story, looking to generate a more emotional journey for a strange tale of fractured identity. “Jonathan” takes time to get where it’s going, and it’s debatable of the final destination is worth the journey, but Oliver achieves a level of introspection and askew gamesmanship that’s compelling, making the endeavor just bizarre enough to hold attention while he works on creating dimensional characters capable of sustaining a premise that, at any moment, threatens to turn into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  Read the rest at