Film Review

Film Review - Devil's Revenge


There’s only one reason why anyone would want to see “Devil’s Revenge,” and his name is William Shatner. While he’s quick to take any work, Shatner doesn’t make too many film appearances these days, and this particular production is using the image of the 88-year-old actor armed with a shotgun ready to take on hellbeasts from below to sell the feature. The truth is that Shatner is barely in the movie, and while director Jared Cohn does present footage of the iconic actor blasting away demonic baddies, there’s a lot more to the endeavor than simple, campy delights. Cohn has a mess on his hands, though one that’s surprisingly confident with its offering of spelunking, Satanic armies, and generational contempt. Such certainty is welcome, but the effort goes wrong in several ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Death of Dick Long


Director Daniel Scheinert previously co-helmed 2016’s “Swiss Army Man,” delivering a semi-sincere offering of absurdity that believed in the distorted power of the human mind and the wonders of flatulence. Crazily, Scheinert returns to the mysteries of the rectum with “The Death of Dick Long,” which also endeavors to merge extremity with genuineness, this time moving away from fantasy to explore a small-town loss with a blend of humor and criminal investigation. “The Death of Dick Long” isn’t the film it initially seems to be, which is a good thing, as Scheinert successfully disrupts expectations throughout. Where it ultimately leads is going to be a matter of personal taste, and while the feature can be frustratingly sluggish at times, it remains compelling due to idiosyncratic characterization and moments of screwball law enforcement entanglements, gradually transforming into an Alabama version of “Fargo.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Judy


As we experience a full year of movies about musical artists, “Judy” has the distinction of being old news in many ways, as the life and times of Judy Garland has been thoroughly examined in books, magazine articles, documentaries, and a respected 2001 mini-series, “Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.” There has to be something fresh here to hold attention, and screenwriter finds something of worth in Peter Quilter’s play, “End of the Rainbow,” which depicts the highs and lows of Garland’s five-week run of shows in London in early 1969. Director Rupert Goold (“True Story”) doesn’t have much room for an expansive understanding of Garland’s demons and talents, but he does reasonably well with “Judy,” which struggles some with repetition but contains a powerhouse performance from Renee Zellweger to keep it together, with the actress doing an incredible job becoming Garland with full-body immersion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Abominable


Yeti mania began with last September’s “Smallfoot,” which delivered big screen mischief featuring the mythical beast. It continued with last spring’s “Missing Link,” which also touched on Yeti business and featured a climax set in the Himalayas, taking the action way up high. And now there’s “Abominable,” which tries to summon excitement for another tale of a Yeti on the loose who needs to return to the Himalayas. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in charm, as “Abominable,” while exceedingly formulaic, is the most charming of the three monster endeavors, with writer/director Jill Culton (“Open Season”) focusing on pace for her grand adventure, keeping the effort on the move, with mild jokes and a big heart making sure the picture remains with viewers long after it’s over. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Sound of Silence


“The Sound of Silence” is a very intimate picture about the bigness of the world around us. Co-writer/director Michael Tyburski shows some stretch marks while trying to expand his short film into a feature-length endeavor, but he presents numerous ideas on the potency of sonic disorder and emotional denial in the drama, giving what becomes a tale about two people figuring each other out some sophistication and necessary tension. “The Sound of Silence” is short and doesn’t build up many dramatic challenges, but Tyburski displays confidence with what he has, leaning on star Peter Sarsgaard to articulate the frustration of a man who’s uncovered an aural code to the city, but can’t escape his own shortcomings as a vulnerable human being. Read the rest at

Film Review - Between Two Ferns: The Movie


“Between Two Ferns” debuted in 2008 on Funny or Die, launching as a parody of public access talk show, with hosting duties assigned to comedian Zach Galifianakis. His job was to command a spare set decorated with the titular ferns, slyly roasting celebrity guests with invasive questions and inappropriate comments. The shorts were sporadically released, but they managed to develop a cult following, soon attracting A-list stars such as Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, while former President Barack Obama elected to have some fun on the program, giving unexpected legitimacy to something that was never meant to be more than a big goof. Co-creator Scott Aukerman apparently wants something grander for the production, scripting and helming “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” which presents a cross-country adventure for Galifianakis and his special sense of humor, with the director trying to taffy-pull a one-note concept into a feature-length laugh riot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rambo: Last Blood


In the mid-2000s, Sylvester Stallone announced he was going to revisit his two most popular characters, Rambo and Rocky, in fresh sequels, returning to the source of his greatest successes to get his stagnant career moving again. The news was met with a collective yawn, but Stallone wasn’t messing around, delivering an unexpectedly emotional “Rocky Balboa” in 2006, and a shockingly visceral “Rambo” in 2008. Suddenly, both of these iconic fighters were relevant again, with the fourth outing for John Rambo an eye-opening descent into Burmese torture and mercenary braggadocio, leaving it up to the titular soldier to return to duty in a most merciless way. It was a glorious bloodbath with a definitive conclusion, but grosses were strong, inspiring Stallone to erase the full-circle beauty of the feature and return to the heavy-hearted bruiser once again for “Rambo: Last Blood.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Ad Astra


Writer/director James Gray always makes esoteric features, but often excellent ones, distancing himself from commercial success with recent efforts such as “The Immigrant” and “The Lost City of Z.” It’s rather surprising that something like “Ad Astra” even exists, but that’s the power of Brad Pitt, who’s managed to use his industry standing to help Gray get the movie made, with the lead role offering the actor a chance to play vulnerable and silent, often utilized only to react to the problems at hand. Gray isn’t making “Gravity” with “Ad Astra,” staying artful and insular with the production, which has its share of thrills, but remains meditative more often than not. It’s a stunning film, but not an easy accessible one, requiring a little more patience from its audience, giving Gray permission to gradually assemble his particular brand of cinematic concentration. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ms. Purple


After breaking through with his 2017 L.A. Riots drama, “Gook,” co-writer/director Justin Chon returns with “Ms. Purple,” which remains interested in violence, only here the struggle largely remains internalized. Observing the interplay and emotional processing occurring between two siblings dealing with their comatose father, Chon remains with a limited budget but strives to go as deep as possible, exploring pure behaviors from frustrated characters as they confront disappointment and shame, trying to keep up with the world while sinking into depression. “Ms. Purple” is a heavy picture but a satisfying one, with the production not out to deliver answers when it comes to the disappointments and mistakes of life, showing more interest in how the brother and sister process swarming thoughts, giving the feature a deeply soulful approach. Read the rest at

Film Review - Corporate Animals


There aren’t many comedies made about cannibalism. It takes a special filmmaking touch to blend unimaginable horror with jokes, and director Patrick Brice (“The Overnight,” “Creep”) gets most of the way there with “Corporate Animals.” While there are a few macabre events in the movie, the screenplay by Sam Bain is more of a workplace comedy, tapping into office irritations and resentments as a team-building exercise turns into a lengthy challenge of survival. “Corporate Animals” might be relatable for some, but it really wants to be silly business for all, and while Bain can’t dream up interesting setbacks for the cast of characters, he scores more often than not, while Brice manages to transform a static setting into a war of quirks, personal histories, and hunger pains. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bloodline


Seann William Scott’s professional output has been limited in recent years, hired to reignite dwindling interest in Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” television show, while making a few movies here and there, including the wonderful “Goon” and its less interesting sequel, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers.” A newly focused actor returns with “Bloodline,” which offers Scott a rare genre outing, challenged to play a serial killer with a conscience, targeting abusers, using his education in the ways of evil to deliver his own sense of justice. Scott is a good fit for co-writer/director Henry Jacobson’s vision, playing an emotionless void with enjoyable precision, while the production itself is teeming with ugliness, but it never feels exploitative. “Bloodline” slips into a coma in its final act, but Jacobson’s opening hour is engrossing, locating neat ways to disturb the audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Running with the Devil


The war on drugs receives a B-movie audit with “Running with the Devil,” which takes a look at the supply chain for cocaine as poison is born in Columbia and slowly but surely makes its way into America and Canada. Writer/director Jason Cabell isn’t invested in the deep, dark psychological spaces of the battle, but he’s pretty good with procedure, keeping things most interesting when the feature steps away from characterization, exploring the effort required to make a fortune in the drug business. “Running with the Devil” doesn’t keep a poker face for the whole picture, as Cabell has actors that need something to do, and he tries to concoct a screenplay that delivers passable motivation for all. The helmer is less successful with dramatics (after all, Cabell is competing with television shows covering the same subject matter), but the film has enough cross-country concentration to pass, highlighting levels of profits and paranoia. Read the rest at

Film Review - Auggie


2013’s “Her” tackled the issue of intimacy involving the presence of artificial intelligence, capturing how loneliness is tempted by emotional connection, even with a computer program. “Auggie” basically tells the same story, but in a much more realistic way, eschewing futurism to explore the average seduction of technology as it faces a newly retired man struggling to retain his identity while everything he holds dear is pulled away from him. “Auggie” isn’t profound, but it does offer a wonderful lead performance from Richard Kind, and co-writer/director Matt Kane has a few observations on marriage and companionship that support the material through times when it becomes slightly confused with tone and its ultimate assignment of guilt. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zeroville


While many movies go through release delays, picking up a little dust while the distributor tries to find a workable launch date, “Zeroville” has had a devil of a time seeing the light of day. Shot five years ago, the feature has struggled to lure in a company to release it, and after watching the film, it’s easy to understand why. It’s not a disaster, but this adaptation of Steve Erickson’s 2007 novel doesn’t make it easy on the audience, with director James Franco trying to capture the elusive oddity of the original work by reveling in his cinematic indulgences, laboring to remain stylish and enigmatic, which tuckers out the picture in a hurry. Boasting a cast of known actors, “Zeroville” declines most opportunities to become something interesting, more concerned with satisfying Franco’s ego than examining a riveting story set during a critical time in the evolution of Hollywood. Read the rest at

Film Review - 3 from Hell


Taking a break from being a rock star, Rob Zombie transitioned to filmmaking with 2003’s “House of 1000 Corpses.” It wasn’t exactly a stunning directorial debut, but it had plenty of style and even more Zombie-approved exploitation cinema chaos. He revisited the world of the Firefly Family in 2005’s “The Devil’s Rejects,” finding his helming groove with a spectacular ode to drive-in movies while packing in even more Zombie-fied madness, marrying real intensity to his customary dosage of R-rated, southern-fried horseplay. 14 years later, Zombie is back in Firefly country with “3 from Hell,” and the divide in time between installments shows throughout the endeavor, which doesn’t quite have the macabre highlights of “1000 Corpses” or the confidence of “Rejects.” The production has intermittent hellraising to share, but Zombie seems more fatigued for this go-around, often unable to overcome his severely limited budget and best the previous efforts with his game cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - Downton Abbey (2019)


“Downton Abbey” premiered in 2010, with creator Julian Fellowes attempting to return some old-fashioned class conflict to television, reviving the “Upstairs, Downstairs” formula to explore the world of the elite and those hired to serve them. The ITV series was a smash, inspiring a passionate fanbase and renewing the urgency of PBS programming in America, where the show managed to become a phenomenon. For 52 episodes, Fellowes guided viewers through the ups and down of life on a grand English estate, creating memorable characters and tastefully manipulative drama, relying heavily on refined production values and the sheer charms of the ensemble, who never failed the program. Four years after the series concluded, “Downton Abbey” is back, only now the saga of the Crawley Family has turned to the big screen for a suitable return, challenging Fellowes to pack in a season’s worth of mischief, manners, and longing into 120 minutes. He’s up for the task, and while “Downton Abbey” isn’t a revelation, it remains reliable entertainment, careful to deliver what the faithful expect from the brand name. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hustlers


Writer/director Lorene Scafaria previously scored creative successes with 2012’s “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and 2015’s “The Meddler.” She handled extraordinary circumstances and intimate relationships well, getting the features past cliché to truly understand human behavior during stressful times. Scafaria has difficulty finding the same sensitivity with “Hustlers,” which is something of a true crime tale, aiming to be a “Goodfellas” for the 2008 financial collapse. It’s “inspired by a true story,” but Scafaria isn’t entirely invested in delivering real-world concerns, making this strippers-seek-revenge saga more about surface psychology and cinematic style. It’s not without a few elements that dazzle, but the production fails to rise above simplicity, struggling to define these characters as more than one-dimensional empowerment figures. Read the rest at

Film Review - Memory: The Origins of Alien


There’s no shortage of media dedicated to the making of the 1979 masterpiece, “Alien.” Books, T.V. shows, website articles, podcasts, and DVD/Blu-ray documentaries have all ventured into the analysis realm, finding all possible corners covered when it comes to the creation of the picture and its lasting hold on audiences over the last 40 years. Saturation is real, but that doesn’t stop Alexandre O. Philippe (“The People vs. George Lucas”), who ventures back into the blood and guts of filmmaking with “Memory: The Origin of Alien,” on a mission to not simply chart the day-by-day progress of the shoot, but grasp the endeavor’s deeper meanings, symbols, and motives, going cerebral as a way to maintain distance from the glut of BTS information out there. His quest is noble, and “Memory” is informative with certain aspects of cinematic appreciation, but this isn’t a satisfying overview of the creative process, as Philippe doesn’t have the run time or level of known interviewees to truly sink his teeth into the layers of interpretation “Alien” has to offer. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Goldfinch


Not every book needs to be a movie. I’ve written that before and I’m repeating myself when it comes to “The Goldfinch,” which is an adaptation of a 2013 novel by Donna Tartt. It was lauded work, and it makes sense that Hollywood wanted in on it, as it explores the saga of a broken young man who grows into a corrupted adult, interacting with other lost souls as he tries to maintain stability through the comfort of lies and the use of drugs. It’s Oscar-bait right there, but in the hands of director John Crowley (“Brooklyn”) and screenwriter Peter Straughan (“The Snowman”), “The Goldfinch” falls asleep fairly quickly, not exactly working up the energy to transform Tartt’s work into a high drama. Tech credits shine, but there’s no urgency to the storytelling, which doesn’t communicate what seems to be an emotional viewing experience, rendered flat by ponderous subplots and messy editing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Edie


“Edie” has the appearance of a softer picture for an older audience. Indeed, it does have its soaring moments, hoping to extend some sense of joy and accomplishment to ticket-buyers, but simple triumphs aren’t the only thing the screenplay (credited to Elizabeth O’Halloran) is hoping to offer. There’s a deeper emotional current running just under the surface of the feature, with the writer touching on difficult concepts of regret and denial, instantly making the endeavor a bit more enlightened than many of its ilk. “Edie” has a firm grasp on kindness and delivers the occasional corny turn of character, but there are a few raw nerves worth paying attention to, giving lead actress Shelia Hancock something substantial to play as she works to the keep the effort from becoming a forgettable senior empowerment movie. Read the rest at