Film Review

Film Review - Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark


“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” were a series of popular books from the 1980s, with author Alvin Schwartz doing his best to traumatize young readers and raise the ire of parental groups in a ban-happy mood. They predate the “Goosebumps” series by a decade, but the film adaptation is only materializing now, taking its time to hit screens. The delay doesn’t exactly help the production, as the two “Goosebumps” movies basically offered the same idea of literary monsters coming to life, only those pictures were meant for a family audience. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” aims more for sinister business, with co-producer Guillermo del Toro keeping the endeavor in line with his previous works, protecting director Andre Ovredal as he attempts to realize tales of horror that are largely celebrated for their descriptive power. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kitchen


“The Kitchen” is an adaptation of a DC Vertigo comic book from a few years ago, bringing an adult-oriented crime story to highly artful pages detailing a female perspective to a typical 1970s organized crime tale. In the original creation, there was time to develop ideas and perfect visuals. The film version has trouble making sense out of mostly everything it presents. Screenwriter Andrea Berloff (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Blood Father”) makes her directorial debut with “The Kitchen,” and I’m sure somewhere in the WB vaults there’s a hard drive with a three-hour-long cut of the feature. In its current state, Berloff only has 100 minutes to work through a saga that involves dozens of characters and takes place over the course of two years. Intermittent scenes come to life, but the rest of “The Kitchen” feels gutted and frustratingly random. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Art of Racing in the Rain


For the latest offering of dogsploitation in 2019 (following “A Dog’s Journey” and “A Dog’s Way Home”), “The Art of Racing in the Rain” attempts to merge cute pooch shenanigans and wizened canine authority with a television melodrama, hoping to hit viewers right in the sweet spot with its assembly of manipulation and fantasy. We’ve been here before, especially when the material starts discussing the possibilities of dog reincarnation, but director Simon Curtis (“Goodbye Christopher Robin”) doesn’t seem to mind, moving forward with material that has no connection to human behavior. It’s a tear-jerker, and not an especially effective one, as this adaptation of Garth Stein’s 2008 novel loves to play by its own rules of interpersonal relationships, coming up with a broad approximation of drama, not an incisive understanding of one pet’s journey of observation. As with many of these coarse, clumsy endeavors: not every book needs to be a movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ode to Joy


Currently in theaters is “The Farewell,” which was inspired by a story on the radio program, “This American Life,” and now there’s “Ode to Joy,” which is also pulled from the catalog of tales on the Ira Glass-produced show. The summer of 2019 is slowly forming the “This American Life” Extended Universe, with Glass its Nick Fury figure, bringing oddball tales of family and relationships to art houses everywhere. “Ode to Joy” isn’t as measured as “The Farewell,” but the features share quirks and curiosity about human behavior, only the former is a bit more sitcom-ish in delivery, with director Jason Winer endeavoring to protect the picture’s approachability while it deals with serious medical challenges. It’s not a particularly compelling movie, but it does have certain charms, with the cast working very hard to keep the effort bright and amusing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mike Wallace Is Here


There have been many retrospectives about the life and times of Mike Wallace, but director Avi Belkin submits “Mike Wallace Is Here” during a very provocative time in American journalism. The timing of the documentary is no accident, talking a reasonably extensive look at Wallace’s career in television and his commitment to the producing of news pieces and interviews that went above and beyond the norm to offer audiences true insight into his subjects. It’s certainly a glossy endeavor, but Belkin manages to cut a little deeper than most, endeavoring to understand what drove Wallace to become a revered and feared reporter, isolating his intensity but also his vulnerability, examining many of the tragedies and doubts that fueled his rise to international fame, bringing real news to the world, with a customary dash of tightly-suited showmanship. Read the rest at

Film Review - Otherhood


Just in time for…Labor Day(?) comes “Otherhood,” a Mother’s Day comedy meant to celebrate the unheralded work women put into child-rearing. It’s an adaptation of a 2008 William Sutcliffe novel, but it plays like a sitcom from the 1990s, with stars Angela Bassett, Patricia Arquette, and Felicity Huffman participating in one-dimensional antics as their characters learn a thing or two about life, love, and the wonders of urban distractions. Director Cindy Chupack is a veteran of “Sex and the City” and it shows here, delivering a similar experience of escapism and heartache with tedious, self-involved personalities, while attention to genuine humor is missing from the endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Madness in the Method


Jason Mewes is Jay. And he will always be Jay, the profane, dim-witted half of Jay & Silent Bob, standing strong as the stoner heroes enjoy a lengthy run in pop culture awareness, with writer/director Kevin Smith even preparing their latest adventure for release later this year. In "Madness in the Method,” Mewes no longer wants to be Jay, growing tired of typecasting as he tries to score different roles, hoping to expand his career. There’s a definite autobiographical touch to the feature (scripted by Chris Anastasi and Dominic Burns), but Mewes decides to transform his directorial debut into a farce of rapidly dwindling effectiveness, calling in all favors to turn a simple idea into a snowballing take on fame, acting, and murder. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw


Perhaps it was a real beef or maybe just a publicity stunt, but Dwayne Johnson seemed like he didn’t enjoy sharing the screen with Vin Diesel in the last “Fast & Furious” sequel. In fact, they barely did, with the screenplay pairing Johnson’s Hobbs with Jason Statham’s Shaw, giving the big screen tough guys their own subplot, which happened to be the highlight of numbing picture. Pulled out of “Fast & Furious” circulation, the duo is gifted a spin-off in “Hobbs & Shaw,” which tries to turn something that was mildly amusing for 30 minutes into a feature that runs 135. Oof. The director of “Deadpool 2,” David Leitch seems to know what fans want with this first field trip away from Diesel’s bosom, maintaining the sheer ridiculousness, noise, and wretched banter the brand name is known for. “Hobbs & Shaw” has no interest in experimentation, keeping with the basics, only out to delight audience members who need a shot of the old boom, boom, bang. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Skin


“Skin” has the benefit of timing, put into production during a hectic time in American history, with the country experiencing an uptick in exposure to hate groups and crimes, with near daily reminders of unrest brewing across the U.S. Writer/director Guy Nattiv doesn’t shy away from the plain danger of such an uprising, but he’s interested in drilling to the core of the neo-Nazi issue, finding the true story of Bryon Widner to dramatize, giving an impressive tale of evolution a semi-suspenseful approach. “Skin” is frightening, especially when examining how organized hate is managed and unleashed, but the picture isn’t offering an overview of a movement. It’s much more intimate, with Widner’s tale working through tight situations of survival, emerging as an understanding of awareness expanding under impossible living conditions. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Score to Settle


It’s very strange that it’s August, and “A Score to Settle” is the first Nicolas Cage release of 2019. This is an actor who works constantly, nearly coming out with new movies monthly in 2018, barely giving himself time to breathe before diving into the next project, though most of these creative choices were sadly of lesser quality. The streak continues with “A Score to Settle,” which arrives promising a sort of one-man-army routine for Cage, who’s skilled at portraying acts of dead-eyed vengeance, but ends up more a dramatic creation, offering the lead a chance to detail a character who’s heavy with regret, pained by horrible choices in his life. Cage gives what he can to the low-budget endeavor, but director Shawn Ku (“Beautiful Boy”) can’t shake the stiffness of the effort, which buries a few of its better ideas with crude filmmaking and lackluster casting. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Operative


As spy games go, “The Operative” is pretty light on suspense. That approach seems to be the intent of writer/director Yuval Adler, who’s not interested in mounting chases and near-misses, instead aiming to extract a psychological profile in the midst of international alarm. The screenplay adapts a 2016 novel by Yiftach Reicher Atir and tries to retain a literary mood, using deliberate pacing and layered characterization to find something different in the midst of recognizable subgenre construction. Fans of John le Carre should receive a mild charge out of “The Operative,” which strives to be an intelligent understanding of espionage and the dangers emotional ties bring to the ways of government-sponsored spying. Read the rest at

Film Review - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


After the claustrophobic experience of 2015’s “The Hateful Eight,” writer/director Quentin Tarantino returns to the open air with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” It’s a valentine to a time and a place, taking viewers back to Los Angeles in 1969, where free love was taking shape and the old ways of the studio system were coming to an end, while on Cielo Drive, a young woman named Sharon Tate was about to be murdered by the Manson Family. It’s a cocktail of nostalgia and unrest Tarantino loves sip until his lips bleed, going hog wild with his latest endeavor, which is a picture of extraordinary detail and run time, as the helmer isn’t content to merely recreate 1969, he wants to live there once again. Tarantino’s vision remains as potent as ever in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” but his unwillingness to judiciously edit his footage also returns, creating a feature that’s undeniable fun, but also unnecessarily lengthy, playing up bad habits that’ve been plaguing him since 2012’s “Django Unchained.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Astronaut


In 1977, actor Richard Dreyfuss starred in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which detailed the developing urge within an average man to experience the unknown with help from alien visitors. In 2019, Dreyfuss returns with a similar tale of an indescribable need to visit space, only this time with the aid of people-powered engineering. The stories aren’t an exact match, but it’s interesting to watch Dreyfuss revive a long dormant sense of longing and wonder for “Astronaut,” where he plays a senior citizen inching close to the possibility of spaceflight. Writer/director Shelagh McLeod has the wonders of the cosmos in her sights, but she remains on Earth with decent dramatics, striving to create a community of lived-in personalities while the tale surveys a seemingly impossible task of endurance, ultimately aiming to be a touching film, not an awe-inspiring one. Read the rest at

Film Review - Polaroid


Well, there was a once a movie about a killer bed, so a killer camera isn’t a complete reach. “Polaroid” offers audiences a haunting via obsolete technology, trying to cook up some scares with evil that pursues a collection of teenagers who don’t fully understand the dark power of instant photography, trying to decode this oddball threat to their lives. The director of the recent “Child’s Play” remake, Lars Klevberg isn’t exactly aiming high with the production, which is pointed at pre-teens who aren’t used to the wilds of the horror genre, presented a mild PG-13 chiller with easily telegraphed scares and nondescript characters. There’s the whole Polaroid camera premise, which is unusual, but the rest of the film is a strictly paint-by-numbers affair, likely to bore seasoned genre admirers. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Mountain


It’s not easy to sit through a Rick Alverson film. He’s an artist without interest in structure or storytelling, electing create cinematic voids that seem to exist slowly to test viewer patience, delivering inscrutable bits of dark humor and grim psychology. With “The Comedy” and “Entertainment,” Alverson has gone his own way, and there’s something admirable about his defiance, making movies that aren’t meant to be decoded, but simply endured. Such nonconformity doesn’t translate to compelling cinema, and with “The Mountain,” he’s dangerously close to self-parody, once again dragging audiences into a particular stillness that doesn’t reward attention, reviving his fascination with mental illness and pure experience in yet another glacial endeavor. It’s certainly Alverson’s most well-produced effort, and also his greatest disappointment. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Farewell


“The Farewell” was initially included as a segment on the radio show, “This American Life.” It’s easy to see why, as the story includes a somewhat strange premise coated in the honey of idiosyncratic human behavior, offering a few mild twists and turns to keep listeners glued to their speakers, wrapped up in the details of this offering of pure culture. Turning her tale into a feature proves to be a bit more difficult for writer/director Lulu Wang, who’s tasked with taking intimate thoughts and turning them into screen dramatics, trusting actors to carry feelings previously held deep within. “The Farewell” isn’t quite the emotional ride it initially promises to be, but Wang isn’t committed to making a tearjerker, showing more interest in the ways of Chinese life and the pains of an outsider who once belonged. It’s a searching picture, not a spongy one, with Wang impressively detailing culture shock with a cast of capable performers. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Supervized


29 years ago, director Steve Barron guided the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen for their very first live-action feature. The film was part of the initial wave of darker comic book adaptations after the monster success of 1989’s “Batman,” with the helmer tapping into superhero mania with his own idiosyncratic take on sewer-based heroism. In 2019, Barron returns to the heaviness of caped crusaders with “Supervized,” which takes a look at problems brewing within a retirement community created specifically for humans with special powers. Youthful violence and tomfoolery has been replaced with cantankerous characters and diminished abilities, with Barron working hard to make “Supervized” into something energetic and satirical. The movie gets out of control far too easily, but the weirdness of it all is reasonably compelling, watching Barron return to the genre that secured his career, locating a different corner of comic book destruction to explore. Read the rest at

Film Review - Iron Sky: The Coming Race


There was a time and place for 2012’s “Iron Sky.” It was a nutty creation from director Timo Vuorensola, who mounted an elaborate fantasy with limited coin, placing focus on visual effects and a farcical plot that had Earthly forces encountering the wrath of Moon Nazis, leading to all-out war. It was cheeky, making fun of easy targets with help from its alternate timeline plot, and the helmer also enjoyed a chance to pants taboo subjects, including power plays from a space bound Third Reich. “Iron Sky” wasn’t sharp but it was amusing, a showy trifle made for cult movie appreciation. There was no need for a sequel, but nobody explained that to Vuorensola, who returns with “Iron Sky: The Coming Race,” which attempts to double down on absurdity and CGI while lacking a crucial sense of surprise. The follow-up is noisy and unfunny, still pawing at the same obvious political targets while expanding its capacity for mayhem, hoping to wow viewers instead of tickle them with relentless absurdity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Three Peaks


“Three Peaks” is a film that requires a tremendous amount of patience from the viewer. It’s a slow-burn affair, populated with only three characters working around a remote setting, dealing indirectly with potent but ill-defined issues of guardianship and family. Writer/director Jan Zabeil takes the long storytelling road, but unlike many of his contemporaries, he’s actually going somewhere with the material, locating a way to surprise the audience as domestic unrest turns into a fight for survival. “Three Peaks” doesn’t find physical peril until the final act, with Zabeil more interested in brewing tension and disappointments, leading with domestic disturbances before heading into a more extreme conflicts that take advantage of natural dangers in the middle of nowhere. Read the rest at

Film Review - Into the Ashes


Writer/director Aaron Harvey has a lot of competition in the marketplace for his revenge thriller, "Into the Ashes.” Tales of men folding inwards after suffering through tragedy or facing dire circumstances are popular these days, with the efforts trying to tap into the messiness of wounded masculinity and lost purpose, examining family ties and gender roles with a heaping helping of violence to secure some sense of finality. “Into the Ashes” goes by the same playbook, with Harvey arranging big screen hostility with bloody results, only to pull back some when it comes time to assess the true motivation for vengeance. This slight deviation from the norm helps to support a picture that’s not particularly packed with incident, as the helmer is more interested in the big stew of choices and mistakes, not simple fury. Read the rest at