Film Review - The Last Manhunt


“The Last Manhunt” reconsiders the story of Willie Boy, a young man in 1909 who was put in a difficult position, trying to begin life with his love, Carlota, with the couple soon on the run after the accidental murder of the girl’s father. It resulted in one of the longest manhunts in American history, and was turned into a 1969 picture, “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here,” starring Robert Redford, Katherine Ross, and Robert Blake. Screenwriter Thomas Pa’a Sibbett (“Braven”) hopes to deliver a more historically accurate and less Hollywood-y take on Willie Boy’s run with “The Last Manhunt,” paying careful attention to Native American interests and concerns for this overview of endurance, while adding some potent commentary on the insidious nature of faux journalism. Director Christian Camargo has something quite interesting to work with, as the film dissects a strange western myth, but he’s in no hurry to bring tension to the endeavor, instead choosing to replicate the Terrence Malick experience, which repeatedly brings the feature to a full stop. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fisherman's Friends: One and All


2019’s “Fisherman’s Friends” (released in the U.S. in 2020) was a thick slice of feel-good cinema, looking to charm a wide audience with its version of an origin story for the folk group, who won over listeners with their lively versions of classic sea shanties. The picture was easy on the senses, and it wasn’t a runaway hit by any means, but some level of profit must’ve been reached, because now there’s “Fisherman’s Friends: One and All,” a sequel that continues the saga of the group as they deal with fame, behavior, and performance ambition. Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcraft were co-writers on the original feature (with Piers Ashworth), and they return for the continuation, taking co-directorial control of the production, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, simply wants to recreate the approachability of the 2019 endeavor. “One and All” doesn’t quite match the previous effort’s likability, with the material clearly struggling to figure out how to come up with a fresh story, often turning to sitcom-ish events to do so. Read the rest at

Film Review - Taurus


Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) has been working on his acting career this year, already appearing as a stoner in “Good Mourning” and a criminal-on-the-run in “One Way.” He even made a cameo in “Jackass Forever.” For “Taurus,” Baker attempts a much more dramatic role, working with writer/director Tim Sutton (“Donnybrook”) to bring elements of his real life to a story of a music star and his battle with drugs, fame, and mental illness. We’ve seen this saga before (many, many times), inspiring Sutton to return to his habitual shapeless moviemaking ways, hoping to approach the sameness of privileged misery with an art-film take on the downfall of a wounded soul. “Taurus” certainly takes time to depict the messiness of addiction, but Sutton remains too detached from the main character, failing to connect to whatever humanity Baker is aching to find in his performance. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sampo


After exploring a world of folktale and spectacle in 1956's "Ilya Muromets," director Alexander Ptushko attempts to go deeper into an artful representation of fantasy with 1959's "Sampo," which was transformed into "The Day the Earth Froze" for its American release, arriving with 24 minutes of cuts, neutering the original version. The Blu-ray release of "Sampo" delivers Ptushko's initial vision for the feature, with the helmer delivering an impressive offering of cinematic imagination, once again showing outstanding commitment to a widescreen experience that's filled with magic, emotions, and surreal imagery. Read the review at

Blu-ray Review - FernGully: The Last Rainforest


In the early 1990s, environmental education was beginning to take hold in both schools and pop culture, with a particular emphasis on the plight of the rainforest, largely viewed as a core problem for Mother Earth's woes. "FernGully: The Last Rainforest" emerged as a sensitive call to arms from a major movie studio (debuting two months after Disney's deeply flawed but interesting rainforest adventure, "Medicine Man"), hoping to entertain family audiences while emphasizing a harsh message of deforestation and pollution threatening to destroy the magic of the world. The feature was met with some success, but didn't exactly create awareness the producers hoped for, reaching a sizable but not astronomical collection of young minds looking for a little guidance on the issue of planetary protection. Three decades later, the endeavor has managed to hang on to relevance by its fingernails, growing into a cult hit with thirtysomethings raised on repeated VHS screenings, now introducing the animated production to their own kids. Thankfully, "FernGully" retains its power and magical might all these years later. While the craftsmanship is a little rough around the edges, the effort to bring a vivid message of destruction is appealing, captured with a lively voice cast and the creation of a colorful pint-sized world for viewers to explore. Read the review at

Blu-ray Review - High Desert Kill


In the fading days of the television movie industry, Universal was still cranking out product for the small screen, with 1989's "High Desert Kill" presented as a genre exercise in line with an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone," offering a low-stakes mystery with touches of sci-fi. Director Harry Falk has the unenviable task of trying to make an extremely small budget work for a slightly ambitious idea, putting his faith in the cast to sell the pressure points of hunters in the wilds of New Mexico discovering that something not exactly human has joined them. If "Predator" went to therapy, that would be close to the tone of "High Desert Kill," which spends most of its screen time dealing with tough emotions and cartoony male bonding before slowly switching over to a more generic situation of survival. Read the review at

Blu-ray Review - Jack Be Nimble


Director Gareth Maxwell (sharing a co-writing credit with Rex Pilgrim) attempts to bring a little bit of Dario Argento to New Zealand in 1993's "Jack Be Nimble." It's an extremely bizarre endeavor about abuse, psychic powers, and revenge, with Maxwell making a distinct effort to strip away formula when dealing with combustible characters on a mission of rage. He creates a stylish, gothic picture, but not always the most compelling one, getting a little lost with his big ideas, trusting the hysteria of the material will help support the viewing experience. Read the review at

Film Review - Spirited


“Spirited” is a strange film. It’s the umpteenth take on “A Christmas Carol,” though it has a distinct mission to become the next “Scrooged,” hoping to hip up the material with a modern take on lost hearts and regrets. It’s a musical featuring a cast not known for their singing prowess (or their ability to sing at all), working the Auto-Tune team so hard, they should be eligible for a special Academy Award. And the feature is written by John Morris and Sean Anders (who also directs), with the duo in charge of comedy, coming off their work on “Daddy’s Home” and “Daddy’s Home 2.” “Spirited” has major a creative mountain to climb, and the production just doesn’t have the stamina to make the journey, relying on routine performances from Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell and big Broadway energy to work through this 127-minute-long lump of coal. It’s a noisy, unfunny mess of moods, and while Anders delivers choreography and holiday sentiment, he’s not making a movie here, he’s chasing one. Read the rest at

Film Review - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever


2018’s “Black Panther” wasn’t just a hit film. It truly reached inside viewers, hitting highs of empowerment and representation few superhero movies will ever achieve. It became a phenomenon, performing way beyond expectations while transforming star Chadwick Boseman into an icon, going on to reprise the role of T’Challa in subsequent “Avengers” adventures. Alas, a true “Black Panther” sequel was not meant to be, with Boseman passing away in 2020, leaving producers without a lead character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe without one of its mightiest warriors. This is the challenge for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which has to figure out a new path for the brand name, with co-writers Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler (who also directs) attempting to modify franchise plans, hoping to find some form of a future for a series that lost its most prized participant. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paradise City


“Paradise City” is being sold as a grand reunion between actors John Travolta and Bruce Willis, who last co-starred in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” Only the feature isn’t really about reuniting the stars, who only appear in a few scenes together, instead using this marquee value to lure audiences into a tepid tale of crime and punishment. Indeed, this is no major production, but another streaming-ready special from co-screenwriters Corey Large and Edward Drake, who’ve been pumping out wretched Willis films for years now (most recently in the instantly forgettable “Detective Knight: Rogue”), and they return with “Paradise City,” this time with director Chuck Russell (“The Mask”), who hasn’t made a thrilling movie since the Clinton Administration. Travolta and Willis are certainly in the picture, just not for very long, with the rest of the screenplay devoted to younger characters and their exploration of Maui, which is the setting for this investigative tale of bad guys doing bad things around glorious tropical locations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bar Fight

BAR FIGHT! - Still 1 (4)

What “Bar Fight” initially promises to be and what it eventually becomes are two wildly different things. Such tonal instability is not easy to endure during the film, which opens with some hope that a farce could potentially break out, dealing with a war between ex-lovers and their attempt to secure separate visiting rights to their favorite watering hole. Writer/director Jim Mahoney makes his feature-length helming debut with the endeavor, and he’s trying to throw a screen party with the effort, offering some pleasant shenanigans with a variety of characters. However, “Bar Fight” makes a critical error in judgment, losing steam as it begins to believe viewers are here to fall in love with these personalities. That’s not the case, leaving the picture severely underwhelming, skipping on sustained laughs to pretend there’s some kind of heart at the core of this cartoon. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sam & Kate


Nobody likes to speak about nepotism in Hollywood, but here’s a film that’s hoping to entice viewers with its casting of real-life parents and their children. “Sam & Kate” brings together Dustin and Jake Hoffman, and Sissy Spacek and Schuyler Fisk, with the foursome tasked to play dramatic interpretations of intimate relationships, and perhaps some degree of biographical influence is in the mix as well. Writer/director Darren Le Gallo highlights the sometimes troubling, sometimes kind interactions between generations, also massaging in a small-time love story about shattered people trying to find their footing again. “Sam & Kate” has a mild form of stunt casting to call attention to the production, but the performances are genuine, and the screenplay offers some raw emotions to communicate. It’s not the most compelling picture, but Le Gallo has a way with softer moments and harsh realities, working to limit the coziness of the endeavor as much as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Father's Dragon


For their fifth production, animation studio Cartoon Saloon continues their streak of filmmaking excellence with “My Father’s Dragon,” which follows such masterpieces as 2020’s “Wolfwalkers” and 2014’s “Song of the Sea.” However, the company slightly changes their artistic vision for their latest creation, heading in a Disney-ish direction with the endeavor, which is a loose adaptation of a 1948 book by author Ruth Stiles Gannett. Typically drawn to slightly more serious tales of life and death, Cartoon Saloon offers a bouncier feature with “My Father’s Dragon,” which highlights high adventure for a boy trying to cling to life as he once knew it, entering a fantasy land of wild creatures. Director Nora Twomey (“The Breadwinner”) oversees a mighty animation effort for the picture, which is absolutely gorgeous and deeply charming, whipping along with storytelling speed, giving the production company another creative triumph to go with the rest of their gems. Read the rest at

Film Review - Weird: The Al Yankovic Story


It’s fitting that a bio-pic of “Weird Al” Yankovic doesn’t contain a single authentically biographical moment from his life. “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” isn’t out to deliver an honest overview of the subject’s life and times, it’s a “Funny or Die” co-production, presenting not just an exaggerated take on Yankovic’s career, but a complete farce concerning the twists and turns of his existence. It’s in the tradition of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” delivering a parody of bio-pics for the master of song parodies, turning his experiences into an operatic understanding of career determination and the intoxication of ego. “Weird” is often hilarious and always on the prowl for silly business, with director Eric Appel (who co-scripts with Yankovic) really going wild with this examination of one man’s quest to win the world over with his accordion and love of wordplay, facing incredible odds against his success and physical threats from Pablo Escobar. Read the rest at

Film Review - I'm Totally Fine


“I’m Totally Fine” examines the difficulties and the pleasures of friendship, approaching the subject from a sci-fi/dramedy angle. It highlights the interests of an alien who’s arrived on Earth to study a human, emerging in the form of a recently deceased friend, which greatly complicates the scientific experience for both of the characters. There’s a lot of the John Carpenter masterpiece “Starman” in the screenplay by Alisha Ketry, but director Brandon Dermer (a music video veteran) is making a different kind of love story, using an amusingly strange situation to explore relationships and the complexity of longtime unions. “I’m Totally Fine” does a terrific job managing silly and serious business, and leads Jillian Bell and Natalie Morales provide outstanding performances, keeping the movie relatable and real while still going for laughs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Armageddon Time


Writer/director James Gray is not known for making films that elicit an emotional response. He’s a technical moviemaker who always seems to enjoy the process of production more than the urgency of storytelling, but he’s made some wonderful pictures during his lengthy career. He was last seen on the Moon in 2019’s “Ad Astra,” a space adventure that explored the strange ways of fathers and sons, and he returns to Earth for another round of patriarchal influence in “Armageddon Time,” which takes viewers to the bleak days of 1980, when Ronald Reagan was about to assume control of the United States and privileged moneymen of the country were teaching the youth that hard work and integrity were the only keys to success. “Armageddon Time” is typical Gray in many ways, exploring family ties and crises of conscience, but he offers a more tender understanding of growing up and growing aware, reaching a little deeper within to connect with viewers. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Banshees of Inisherin


Writer/director Martin McDonagh typically makes very small pictures about darkly comedic events, embracing opportunities to surprise viewers with deep character work. His last feature turned out to be a very big deal, with 2017’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” overcoming indie film expectations to become one of the best movies of the year, eventually riding success to major box office and Oscar gold for two of its actors. Suddenly, McDonagh was exposed to the bright industry light and all the temptations that come with it. It’s heartening to see the helmer refusing to give in to big-budget ideas with his follow-up, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” with his latest perhaps his grimmest effort yet, asking audiences to be patient with a tale of a broken friendship and the unusual forms of violence it generates. It’s a small-scale understanding of troubled relationships, brought to life with exemplary performances and sharp screenwriting, keeping the bleak tone of the endeavor approachable in a way that’s pure McDonagh. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nocebo


Two years ago, director Lorcan Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley collaborated on “Vivarium,” putting together a highly weird picture that handled with “Twilight Zone” energy, exploring a special unreality tied to the demands of domesticity and relationships. It worked to a certain degree, with the duo putting together an unusual feature with a distinct visual approach, enjoying the creation of a cinematic puzzle for more adventurous viewers. Shanley and Finnegan are back with “Nocebo,” and they haven’t shaken their storytelling interests, returning with another mystery of motivation and possible insanity with this tale of a medicinal journey involving two shattered women. “Nocebo” shares many of the shortcomings that kept “Vivarium” from greatness, but there’s much here to appreciate, including an original take on menace and discomfort, and performances are always compelling, adding to a sense of threat the production occasionally struggles to maintain. Read the rest at

Film Review - Causeway


For quite some time, Jennifer Lawrence had a white-hot career. She starred in respected indie films, carried a blockbuster franchise in “The Hunger Games” saga, and collected an Academy Award for her performance in 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” Lawrence was everywhere, developing a reputation for committed performances and screen charm, but she mostly dropped out of sight after 2019’s superhero disaster, “Dark Phoenix,” finally taking a break from the business (save for a part in the ensemble-driven "Don't Look Up") after working steadily for nearly a decade. Lawrence returns in “Causeway,” eschewing a grandiose role for something small in an extremely modest picture about the weight of guilt and the healing ways of friendships. There’s no major swing of importance from director Lila Neugebauer, who keeps things calm and introspective for the endeavor, which does well with Lawrence and co-star Brian Tyree Henry, but doesn’t aim much higher than a simple study of characters trying to sort through the buried pain in their lives. Read the rest at

Film Review - On the Line


Mel Gibson’s career as of late hasn’t inspired a lot of faith in his ability to pick scripts tailored to his talents as an actor. There was one notable exception in 2020’s “Fatman,” but the last few years have been strange for the performer, as he’s mostly pursuing forgettable parts in mediocre-to-terrible films, looking to make big bucks for a minimal amount of effort. There’s nothing technically wrong with paycheck gigs, but it’s been disheartening to watch Gibson flounder with crummy projects. “On the Line” initially promises to be more of a thespian challenge for the star, tasked with playing a curdled radio host dragged through a torturous evening by a mystery tormentor, and the first hour highlights an alert and eager Gibson, who seems invested in the material. Writer/director Romuald Boulanger doesn’t reward such dedication, pursuing a specific conclusion to “On the Line” that’s guaranteed to irritate most viewers, offering little reward after a reasonably tense introduction. Read the rest at