Film Review

Film Review - Division 19


For “Division 19,” writer/director S.A. Halewood tries to extrapolate out current woes with celebrity and surveillance, taking viewers to the futureworld of 2039, where, according to the opening of the film, anonymity is a crime. We’re immersed in a society where everything is available for study, with consent or not, making daily life a commitment to voyeurism, which has turned into the national pastime. Halewood doesn’t go cute with the material, imagining a bleak community of submissive people and the rebellion that’s taking shape in the shadows. She has plenty there for a reasonably engrossing examination of government-branded consumerism and class divide, but “Division 19” doesn’t carry enough screen energy to bring such condemnation over the top. While primed for action, the feature isn’t interested in a visceral display of revolutionary interests, remaining talky with lukewarm dramatics. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Beach Bum


In the 1990s, writer/director Harmony Korine was an appealing disaster, feeling out the far reaches of his imagination to summon depictions of poverty, cruelty, and poetry, making arresting indie film messes. With 2012’s “Spring Breakers,” Korine made something nobody, including the helmer, saw coming: a hit movie. While failing to grow out of his mischievous urges, Korine crafted a polished picture for a change, taking in the wonders of Florida through the eyes of deranged and broken people. It was sun-drenched burlesque and borderline insufferable, but it found an audience, with “Spring Breakers” the career boost Korine was waiting for. So, how does he follow up his only profitable venture? By doing it all over again. “The Beach Bum” isn’t a sequel to his previous endeavor, but it’s close enough, this time highlighting Matthew McConaughey in Florida-funk mode, and the actor seems to adore this ride to nowhere, having a ball smoking weed and fondling extras while Korine pretends he’s making some sort of comedy. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Dragged Across Concrete


While he doesn’t make audience-friendly movies, writer/director S. Craig Zahler has managed to find his footing as a filmmaker. The man adores meaty male characters, preferably chewing on hard-boiled dialogue, and his latest, “Dragged Across Concrete,” delivers true submersion into neo-noir atmosphere, with sharp, cruel violence erupting periodically. While it’s not as precise as “Bone Tomahawk” and “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” “Dragged Across Concrete” does retain Zahler’s fascination with blunt force trauma and the sacrifice of characters who put themselves in harm’s way. It’s accomplished work from the developing helmer, and while Zahler gets a little crazy with a 160 minute run time, he does find ways to fill it, bringing in stars Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson to guide the viewing experience with steely, verbose performances to support an extended journey into criminal behavior. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Critters: A New Binge


There hasn’t been a new “Critters” adventure since the release of “Critters 4” all the way back in 1992. It’s a mini-monster franchise that weirdly hasn’t been touched over the decades, with a devoted fanbase left with little to enjoy beside the original films, and even those are problematic, with the quality of the last two installments nowhere near the B-movie delights of the first two chapters. Coming out of the blue is “Critters: A New Binge,” which isn’t a feature, but a streaming series consisting of eight mini-episodes (most clocking in under 10 minutes) meant to reintroduce the skin-tearing mischief of the Crites to the faithful and possibly make new fans along the way, with co-writer/director Jordan Rubin (“Zombeavers”) tasked with updating the showdown between an intergalactic menace and hapless humans, working to add fresh challenges to help kickstart a new franchise direction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shazam!


After the success of last December’s “Aquaman,” D.C. Entertainment continues the general brightening of the DC Extended Universe with “Shazam.” The character (also known as Captain Marvel, though not anymore for obvious reasons) dates back to 1939, with a movie serial from 1941 exploring the magic powers of Billy Batson and his special incantation, but the superhero hasn’t been explored much since, making this major motion picture the first blockbuster-style rendering of a character who doesn’t lend itself easily to cinematic storytelling. “Shazam” arrives with a big spirit and an impish sense of humor, but it’s an unwieldy feature, with director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out,” “Annabelle: Creation”) mismanaging tone as “Shazam” swings from silly business to mass murder. While loaded with good intentions, it’s an overlong, underwritten film with casting issues, giving Shazam a rocky introduction to the big screen world of costumed heroism. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dumbo (2019)


In a way, we have Tim Burton to thank for the current state of Disney business. The eccentric helmer elected to bring his wilder visions for fantasy entertainment to the company when they decided to transform their animated classic, “Alice in Wonderland,” into a live-action epic, trusting in Burton’s ability to conjure enough oddity to make the experiment interesting. The film was a dreary mess, but it connected with audiences, grossing a billion dollars worldwide, giving Disney the green light for additional live-action translations, including “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Jungle Book.” “Dumbo” is the latest hand-animated gem to be reworked, and the first of three productions the studio has planned for the year. Burton, needing a career boost, returns to duty with his take on the famous flying elephant, once again prizing style over substance, but here the visuals are amazing, almost making the bloated, oppressive viewing experience worth enduring. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Highwaymen


There have been many film and television projects covering the exploits of the outlaw couple, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Most famously in Arthur Penn’s 1967 picture, “Bonnie and Clyde,” and most recently in similarly titled 2013 television mini-series. There’s no shortage of interpretations and overviews of the duo’s criminal and romantic entanglements, but screenwriter John Fusco (“Young Guns,” “Hidalgo”) endeavors to provide a different perspective on the situation, exploring the manhunt that stretched across states and eventually brought the pair’s violent reign to a close. “The Highwaymen” tells the story of such dogged pursuit, inspecting the efforts of Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, two senior Texas Rangers, as they experience a return to the field and a reunion with death, urged to reexamine their past as they fight to prevent future loss of life. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Vigilante


While her taste in scripts leaves a little to be desired, it’s promising to watch Olivia Wilde participate in off-beat productions to vary her resume, making a clear effort to distance herself from simplified roles that require little from her. With “A Vigilante,” Wilde goes to the dark places within to portray a woman who’s been mentally shattered by domestic violence, channeling that rage to provide help for those who can’t fight for themselves. The role demands a lot from the thespian, who clearly relishes the chance to play raw emotions and blunt physicality. “A Vigilante” isn’t quite the bravely unhinged picture it initially appears to be, but Wilde turns in one of the best performances of her career, providing a reason to remain with Sara Dagger-Nickson’s screenplay, which veers from an unnerving understanding of true fear to something close to wish-fulfillment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Making Babies


“Making Babies” could’ve been a really smart, strong film. There’s a lot of dramatic ground to cover when taking on the plight of infertility and the race for parental status, giving writer/director Josh F. Huber a wide open field of emotions to detail, especially when dealing with a story about such marital frustration. Instead of sharpness, Huber goes dull with the effort, under the impression that audiences are craving yet another sitcom-style romp with sexual dysfunction, misunderstandings, and R-rated embarrassment. In the pursuit of stupidity, Huber misses all chances to create something meaningful, issuing yet another adult comedy that’s heavy with raunchy behavior, scattergun improvisation, and a misguided blend of third-act sincerity and slapstick. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Dirt


Rock bio-pics are all the rage these days, and after the massive success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen), “The Dirt” is the first to follow in its wake (Elton John’s “Rocketman” is due in May). However, instead of soaring ‘70s rock and the miracle of a singular voice, “The Dirt” chronicles the rise of Motley Crue, who were beloved musicians, but perhaps best known for their sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle, which they flaunted for the extent of the 1980s. While it’s an adaptation of the band’s 2001 book (written with Neil Strauss), director Jeff Tremaine (“Bad Grandpa”) only has so much screentime to work with while trying to wrap his arms around the group’s colorful history. It’s a bit of a narrative mess, but the spirit of Motley Crue remains in the picture, which is one of the only films that dares to open with a scene highlighting female ejaculation, taking on the challenge of topping such a visual with the rest of Motley Crue’s sordid history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Us

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In 2017, comedian Jordan Peele moved behind the camera, transitioning from a skit-based basic cable show to the big screen with “Get Out.” Scoring big with audiences and critics, Peele eventually collected Oscar gold for his genre-based study of race relations and paranoia, setting himself up for great expectations with any potential follow-up. He landed on “Us,” concocting another twisty chiller, this time dialing down the social commentary for a more straightforward freak-out, or at least as simplified as Peele gets, with the “Twilight Zone” fanatic (currently in charge of the show’s upcoming reboot) offering viewers as second round of weirdness and violence, with greater emphasis on chase sequences and extended exposition. “Us” is undeniably effective, but only when Peele settles into a groove of macabre events. Overall, it plays much like his previous effort, with spine-chilling developments chased by offerings of tepid comedy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Relaxer


In 2014, writer/director Joel Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge unleashed “Buzzard,” their tribute to the creepy fantasies of unmotivated individuals. It was a darkly comic picture, and shared a unique vision for strange characters and situations. The duo attempts to top themselves with “Relaxer,” an even more gruesome, idiosyncratic assessment of mental illness, taking the tale back in time to 1999, merging the relative innocence of a PlayStation world with the bottomless depths of depression. Once again, Potrykus and Burge strive to make something horrifying and often indescribable, with “Relaxer” a more defined attempt to deliver a Midnight Movie-style brain bleeder that still retains a sense of humor. It’s no improvement on “Buzzard,” but there’s a clear escalation of directorial bravery that’s interesting to watch unfold. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Invisibles


As filmmakers seek out corners of World War II history to dramatize, director Claus Rafle discovers a particularly interesting one with “The Invisibles.” Instead of making a picture about those who escaped Nazi Germany, Rafle details the unusual lives of Jewish citizens who elected to stay in the country during a time of genocide. “The Invisibles” is a docudrama, helping Rafle understand the exact moves of the people he’s chronicling, but there’s also a healthy amount of suspense and emotional pull to the feature, which tracks the danger of such a personal choice, with those embarking on this survival challenge electing to live free, but soon coming up against the reality of life in the shadow of Nazi rule. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase


The history behind the young detective Nancy Drew is vast, dating back to her literary debut in 1930. Every now and then, Hollywood endeavors to revive the franchise, with many television and film adaptations striving to update the character for modern audiences, giving old-fashioned sleuthing a trendy twist. “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” is no different. The production works to keep things current to best engage an easily distracted audience, and they have a special star in Sophie Lillis, who contributed greatly to the monster success of 2017’s “It.” Lillis picks up the flashlight and unstoppable curiosity for this fresh round of clue gathering, and she’s the brightest thing in the feature, which is best appreciated with lowered expectations, offering mildness for the target demographic, while Lillis comes ready to play. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Captive State


As alien invasion movies go, “Captive State” isn’t interested in destroying cities or filling the run time with combat sequences between space invaders and human defenders. It’s steelier than that thanks to director Rupert Wyatt, who managed to pull off a cinematic miracle with 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” creating a new direction for the franchise, and one with impressive technical achievements and a forbidding tone. Wyatt returns to sci-fi (after taking a break with 2014’s dismal remake of “The Gambler”) with “Captive State,” but he’s not going to indulge the obvious, taking a small-scale approach to an Earthly uprising, turning an occupation premise into a study of radicalization and defense, getting at least halfway there with suspense sequences and intergalactic conflict before running out of gas. Read the rest at

Film Review - Triple Threat


For VOD addicts, “Triple Threat” is a very big deal. It’s “The Expendables” with lowered star standards, bringing together notable tough guys from American and Asian cinema, with director Jesse V. Johnson in charge of managing this battle royal of fight styles, attitudes, and English-speaking abilities. Brutality is there, with the picture exploding with all sorts of violence, packing gun fights, martial arts, and car chases into the run time. The cast seems to be enjoying themselves as well, providing scowls, barking threats, and squeezing out some emotion when necessary. It’s the story that ultimately kneecaps “Triple Threat,” which presents a mix of too many action figures and hazy plot and character details, making the feature more about appreciating smashmouth choreography than strengthening dramatic pull. Read the rest at

Film Review - Woman at War


“Woman at War” asks a very important question about today’s world: where’s the line between protection and extremism? The Icelandic production tracks the experience of a woman caught up in a dangerous game of escalation with an ecological preservation effort, where a love of the Earth transforms into assumed knighthood, blurring the concept of nobility once violence enters the question. Co-writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson takes the story very seriously, but there’s a poetic quality to the work, which combines flashes of fantasy with sobering reminders of reality concerning the encroaching dangers of climate change. “Woman at War” is constantly surprising and sharply realized by lead Halldora Geirharosdottir, who matches the confidence of the filmmaking with an impressively animated performance, keeping the movie focused on a singular power of vigilante justice running into serious trouble. Read the rest at

Film Review - Five Feet Apart


Movies about teen romances and elongated disasters are usually inspired by YA fiction, where there’s never a shortage of tales about adolescent woe. “Five Feet Apart” has enjoyed a slightly different origin story, beginning life as a screenplay before it was turned into a novel (released last November). It’s a pleasant change of pace, offering screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis an opportunity to develop distinct subplots instead of trying to pack the vastness of a literary offering into a single picture. That doesn’t mean the feature is a memorable effort, but it’s a refreshingly direct one, finding the right balance of character and setting to give viewers a full understanding of motivation and longing. Such simplicity ends up frightening the filmmakers, but “Five Feet Apart” does connect as a something gentle, periodically invested in real feelings of frustration and attraction that sustain when the third act goes haywire with melodrama. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wonder Park


For their first animated project since 2015’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” Nickelodeon Movies decides to play it very safe with “Wonder Park.” Pinching elements from numerous pictures, the production endeavors to slap together a tale of imagination and dimmed spirits with the feature, which borrows most heavily from Pixar’s “Inside Out” and the 1984 fantasy gem, “The NeverEnding Story.” It’s hard not to be cynical with “Wonder Park,” which is a paint-by-numbers endeavor from screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec (2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”), who slather on emotional manipulation and summon feeble magic for a routine adventure, while the overall animated effort falls far below recent family film competition, supplying a pre-packaged viewing experience that will babysit just fine for 75 minutes, but probably won’t linger for very long with younger audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Yardie


Idris Elba is known as an actor, and one managing a career with some serious highs and lows. Endeavoring to try out some creative control, Elba makes his directorial debut with “Yardie,” pouring his energy into a Jamaican crime saga that proudly retains its cultural position. Taking cues and mood from helmers Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, and Perry Henzell, Elba attempts to fashion something sprawling, threatening, and distinctly Jamaican, taking viewers into the violent core of West Kingston before moving the tale to London for a more recognizable battleground. An adaptation of the book by Victor Headley, “Yardie” is skilled work from Elba, who’s eager to make an impression, loading the feature up with violent confrontations and revenge scenarios motivated by abyssal pain. Read the rest at