Film Review - The Foreigner


As with any Jackie Chan release, there’s hesitation. He’s not one to mix things up as an actor, often playing the same heroic roles or, more recently, mystical forces, working with his limited range with healthy dollops of humor. “The Foreigner” doesn’t require a cheery Chan, asking the action star to go stone cold sober, for the most part, for this terrorism thriller. Chan’s committed to doing something a little different for director Martin Campbell (returning to screens six years after nearly destroying his career with the artistic and financial failure of “Green Lantern”), but hope for a somber, shuffling Chan is soon dashed, as “The Foreigner” quickly returns the star to his element, dodging weapons and flipping around bad guys. There’s something compelling here in the ugly details that peeks out periodically, but Campbell doesn’t always know the type of film he wants to make, keeping the effort unsteady and frustratingly unrealistic.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Our Souls at Night


“Our Souls at Night” represents the fourth acting collaboration for Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Their partnership dates back 50 years, crossing paths over the decades in pictures such as “The Chase,” “The Electric Horseman,” and most famously, 1967’s “Barefoot in the Park.” The pairing doesn’t always receive the accolades it deserves, but that should change with “Our Souls at Night,” which provides perhaps the finest example of their honeyed, frighteningly comfortable interplay, put to terrific use in this adaptation of a Kent Haruf novel. Director Ritesh Batra (“The Lunchbox”) knows exactly how to encourage mood and stay out of the way when dealing with two industry icons, permitting the duo to conjure exquisitely understated performances in a tender, but not saccharine feature. It’s simple and just lovely.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Better Watch Out


It took someone long enough, but co-writer/director Chris Peckover is finally the person asking the all-important question: What would “Home Alone” be like if Kevin was truly treated as the terror he is? “Better Watch Out” presents itself as an R-rated evolution of the 1990 Christmas classic, meeting a new generation of wise pre-teens and their ability to act defensively in the face of crisis. There are secrets buried in the picture, which end up saving the viewing experience, as Peckover and co-writer Zack Kahn concoct a fairly thin and aggressive movie, but one that genuinely surprises with its nastiness, which is often mistaken for cleverness. “Better Watch Out” is blessedly short, but it remains memorable, delivering a punchy cinematic experience and a holiday rug burn for those who felt “Home Alone” played it too safe.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Swing Away


There’s very little in “Swing Away” that’s going to surprise viewers. It’s not the type of film that’s interested in extremity to make an impression, reaching to shock people with a particular sense of mischief. It’s comfort food cinema from director Michael A. Nickles (who portrayed Jim Morrison in “Wayne’s World 2”), who offers a mild sports dramedy that’s less about the minutiae of golf and more about The Hang in Greece, where gorgeous locations are everywhere and the story politely details a rejuvenation of spirit. “Swing Away” is light, perhaps too light for some, but for those in the mood for a charming tale of community interaction, Greek soulfulness without the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” amplification, and golf, the feature delivers exactly what it initially promises. It’s not a major endeavor, but it goes down easy enough.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Overdrive


If there must be a rip-off of “The Fast and the Furious,” why not have it star an actor already part of the blockbuster franchise? In a strange career move, Scott Eastwood threatens to bite the hand that feeds him by appearing in this obvious knockoff in the same year as his turn in “The Fate of the Furious.” Perhaps it’s a case of poor timing or a sign of professional protest, but Eastwood joins a smaller ensemble for another round of speeding cars and heist shenanigans, and, admittedly, it’s kind of nice to not have Vin Diesel around. It’s damning the feature with faint praise, but “Overdrive” is more entertaining than most of “The Fast and the Furious” series. It’s definitely not a strong picture, but as brainless, witless junk food cinema goes, director Antonio Negret has a few flashy stunt sequences to share and a few Euro locations to visit, striving to deliver the essentials of race-and-rob subgenre, led by an actor with some valuable production experience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Amityville: The Awakening


Anytime a film misses a release date, it’s usually a bad sign. “Amityville: The Awakening” missed a whole bunch of them, kicked like a rusty can around the years as the studio worked up the nerve (or financial means) to slip the picture in front of audiences. Shot three years ago and teased with posters and trailers ever since, it’s finally time to witness the rebirth of the “Amityville” brand name, which was last seen on screens in a 2005 remake, starring Ryan Reynolds. Clues pointing to disaster were all there, and “Amityville: The Awakening” is happy to meet lower expectations, offering no real scares and even less common sense for a chiller. Writer/director Franck Khalfoun tries to be a little bit clever with the effort, frosting the endeavor with self-awareness, but what he really needs are effective frights and less predictability in this, the latest chapter in a weirdly enduring franchise.  Read the rest at

Film Review - M.F.A.


The timing for the release of “M.F.A.” couldn’t be better, presented to filmgoers during a difficult time of debate and frustration over the subject of sexual assault, especially pertaining to the silencing of victims for the betterment of assailants. New frontiers of understanding have been achieved though efforts such as Kirby Dick’s “The Hunting Ground,” and “M.F.A.” certainly has focus when it comes to the depiction of shame and fear facing those who’ve been brutalized and have no path to justice. Screenwriter Leah McKendrick and director Natalia Leite (“Bare”) shape a provocative story of simmering rage and encroaching depression, but they make a deliberate choice to transform the endeavor into an exploitation movie, using graphic depictions of revenge to offer some level of catharsis. It doesn’t always feel like the right choice for an otherwise clear-eyed view of systemic suppression.  Read the rest at

Film Review - 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain


Last week, there was “The Mountain Between Us.” This week, there’s “6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain,” making October a big month for survival films featuring desperate people stuck at high altitudes in the snow and bitter cold. Where “The Mountain Between Us” was a highly fictional romantic saga about strangers growing close in a crisis, “6 Below” recounts the true life horrors that visited hockey player Eric LeMarque, who, in 2004, became lost in the Sierra Nevada wilderness while on a snowboarding adventure. What’s promised is a frightening story of personal endurance rooted in fact, but the movie doesn’t deliver that tension. Instead, the feature goes the inspirational route, with director Scott Waugh trying to depict the internal churn of a man who’s not just facing death, but an expiration pounded into place by guilt, addiction, and fear, forcing Eric to dig within to live another day. Read the rest at

Film Review - Demons


One year ago, I reviewed “The Hollow,” the second directorial endeavor for Miles Doleac, who also scripted and starred in the movie. I wasn’t a fan, finding the film slow and dramatically unrewarding, while editorially, the picture needed to be slimmed down, with Doleac showing some indulgence with an unnecessarily permissive run time. He’s back in action with “Demons,” which, thankfully, is a shorter feature and slightly stronger representation of his creative interests, which mainly reside in characterization and the contrast of human concerns against seemingly supernatural forces. “Demons” ultimately comes up short, but Doleac goes down swinging, working to braid timelines and temperaments as he makes what initially appears to be an exorcism effort, only to slowly transform into a domestic drama.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Road to Rio


For their fifth "Road" picture, 1947's "Road to Rio" doesn't actually make much time for terra firma, keeping stars Bob Hope (playing trumpeter Hot Lips Barton) and Bing Crosby (as nightclub singer Scat Sweeney) on a boat, with Rio more of a destination than a playground for their latest adventure. Keeping up with their customary charms and wit, along with plenty of musical numbers to help win over audiences, "Road to Rio" is a largely successful installment of the comedy series, keeping Hope and Crosby busy with shenanigans that make the most of their individual gifts, while keeping things relatively casual to encourage the franchise's cocktail hour ambiance. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Kingdom of the Spiders


1977's "Kingdom of the Spiders" is not a particularly original film, but it does have specificity of threat, selecting one of the more powerful phobias shared by millions. Sure, sharks and birds don't provide the most peaceful imagery, but there's something about spiders that hits right at the heart of horror. Director John Cardos doesn't have much of a budget to do something epic with "Kingdom of the Spiders," but he values his tiny stars, keeping crawly things motoring along as the cast and a substantial number of extras explore levels of panic. It's not polished work, but it's mostly fun and filled with cheap thrills.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hell in the Pacific


Returning for duty with his "Point Blank" star Lee Marvin, director John Boorman cuts to the heart of war in 1968's "Hell in the Pacific," which boils down World War II conflict to the adventures of two soldiers (one American, one Japanese) stranded on a remote island. Boorman ditches dialogue and throttles incident with "Hell in the Pacific," wisely investing in pure physicality to communicate ideas both large and small, allowing Marvin and co-star Toshiro Mifune to play out their scenes in a feral manner, which makes for riveting cinema. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary


Director Gay Dillingham wants to accomplish a few goals with the documentary "Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary." Part of the picture delivers a biography of its subjects, tracking their life experiences, especially the ones that helped to shape their future as gurus of sort, with both men taking command of the psychedelics movement of the 1960s, finding Leary's more radical vision for brain-altering odysseys matching well with Dass's spiritual hug. "Dying to Know" also explores the mystery of death, asking fascinating questions about the journey to the other side, with both men seeking out ways to comfort those who refuse to embrace the finality of life. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Mountain Between Us


There has to be a reason why fine actors such as Kate Winslet and Idris Elba were drawn to “The Mountain Between Us.” There’s no professional challenge to the project, which tonally resembles a Lifetime Movie, presenting the stars with a tale of unexpected love emerging from a traumatizing survival challenge. Director Hany Abu-Assad has done fine work before, with “Paradise Now” and “Omar,” but he’s wrapped up in the nothingness of the picture as well, pretending that the sudsy elements of the screenplay (an adaptation of a 2011 novel by Charles Martin) are soulfully meaningful. “The Mountain Between Us” is a silly feature, but there’s no sense of such awareness from the production team, who plow ahead with a tedious, shallow soap opera that wastes the time of everyone involved. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blade Runner 2049


1982’s “Blade Runner” started off life as a box office disappointment in a particularly lively summer release season. Its reputation and influence developed radically over the decades, taking the Ridley Scott film on a wild ride of reappraisal and celebration, building a protective fandom who championed the construction of multiple cuts and numerous home video releases. Keeping up with trends of the day, there’s now a sequel, released 35 years after the original picture, hoping to give the faithful the cathedral tour they’ve been requesting for the decades now. The good news is that “Blade Runner 2049” is a sensational movie, loaded with outstanding technical accomplishments and revelatory performances. Even better, the follow-up manages to line up with the pure cinematic glow of the Scott endeavor, with helmer Denis Villeneuve paying careful attention to homage and narrative extension as he attempts to pull off what’s long been considered to be an impossible task. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Gerald's Game


After a rocky start this year, Stephen King adaptations are having a thrilling autumn. After the shocking success of the recent “It,” which has gone on to break box office records and rescue a grim moviegoing year, “Gerald’s Game” arrives on the scene. It’s a smaller production than “It,” but just as twisted, with an endless appetite for the macabre and the grisly, bringing King’s vivid imagination to the screen, seemingly unmolested by outside interference. After scoring creative hits with “Hush” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” co-writer/director Mike Flanagan returns to his horror interests with this wicked tale of imprisonment, refusing to let the smallness of the story get in the way of its potential to unsettle. “Gerald’s Game” is not a slam-bang genre exercise, but a slow descent into psychological depths, keeping Flanagan busy as he attempts to visualize a tale that largely takes place inside one panicked woman’s mind.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Barracuda


“Barracuda” is a homecoming tale in a way, opening as a story of a reunion between sisters before it develops into so much more. It’s set in Austin, Texas, and keeping the film sufficiently weird are directors Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin, who invest in a slow-burn sensation of discovery, asking audiences to be patient with a movie that gradually evolves from a relationship saga to a horror endeavor, but not in an obvious, blood-and-guts way. “Barracuda” is sinister stuff, smartly conceived and executed by the helmers, who conjure darkness without announcing it, using the power of folk music to disarm viewers while the characters are carefully positioned for more macabre, distressed reveals. It starts small, but the picture escalates magnificently.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One


Co-writer/director Shane Abbess has something planned with “The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One.” He’s attempting to go big with a sci-fi epic, but doesn’t have the necessary funds to truly indulge his franchise fantasies, requiring not just invention, but complete confidence to piece together an homage to B-movie escapism without a major push of financial comfort. Abbess doesn’t iron out all the kinks, but “The Osiris Child” is an engaging actioner with some striking visuals and a tireless need to entertain, making something about of next to nothing. The production hopes to disrupt expectations with a non-linear storytelling approach, mixing things up dramatically, but the picture comes through with periodic clarity, with urgent performances, appealing visual effects, and a sense of genre love coming together to create an energetic, pulpy feature, with Abbess succeeding where many other have tried and failed.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The King's Choice


The endlessly unfolding saga of World War II on the big screen takes a visit to Norway for “The King’s Choice.” It’s a historical film, detailing the plight of King Haakon VII as he confronts growing Nazi interests in his country, forced to deal with the encroaching threat when it finally reaches his front door. It’s a story of contemplation and debate, with periodic bursts of warfare, but director Erik Poppe isn’t entirely interested in detailing the visceral elements of combat. He’s made a theater piece in a way, concentrating on verbal jousting and acts of intimidation as Norway faces a German future. Poppe crafts a talky picture, but also a compelling one, understanding the internal unrest of a man who’s trained to be a royal ornament, only to find himself with a direct opinion on the arrival of an enigmatic enemy.  Read the rest at

Film Review - My Little Pony: The Movie


31 years ago, there was the first “My Little Pony” feature, created to cash in on the surprising success of the Hasbro toy line, giving fans a long-form version of the thing they love, expanding the world and the potential of the brand name. After a long breather from the multiplex, Hasbro returns with “My Little Pony: The Movie,” which is meant to amplify the very strange but sincere success of the “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” universe, which helped to make magical ponies relevant again and spawned an intriguing subculture hauntingly known as “Bronies.” “My Little Pony: The Movie” doesn’t generate an epic march for its big screen graduation, but it tries to open the world up in smaller ways, bringing in a hero’s journey plot and celebrity voicing to reach beyond the core demographic and offer family audiences something colorful, empowering, and semi-silly to enjoy together.  Read the rest at