Film Review: The Cute & Innocuous “Luca”

The journey through adolescence is one of the most popular themes in cinema. From Harry Potter to The Iron Giant, Harold and Maude to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it sometimes seems like everyone in the movies is just trying to grow up. Even Pixar’s Toy Story franchise is about Andy’s gradual coming-of-age journey across the four films of the phenomenally successful series. The theme’s no stranger to Pixar’s other films either, from Finding Nemo…Read More

Film Review: Fun, Indie Action Film “The Misfits”

From the classic film Topkapi (1964) to Ocean’s 11 (the original 1960 version or the terrific 2001 remake) to Mission Impossible and the Fast & Furious mega-franchise, a motley crew of criminals teaming up to take down an even bigger criminal has long been a staple of action cinema. It’s no surprise, though; between them, the Fast & Furious and Mission Impossible films alone have generated billions in box office and ancillary revenue. The formula’s…Read More

Film Review: Scary, Intense “A Quiet Place Part II”

One of the great changes to the horror genre over the last few years is the increased speed of the monsters. Gone are shambling zombies that you could outwalk while enjoying an ice cream cone and a blob that oozes down the street at an amusingly glacial pace. Because of improvements in visual effects, monsters are bigger, faster, and much more intense. Jumpscare, meet terrifying visage! And yet, the buildup is part of what makes…Read More

Film Review: The Endlessly Weird “Undergods”

Film is all about metaphor. We know that they’re actors, we know that there’s a cameraperson pointing a lens at the actors, a sound person holding a mic above their heads, a director telling them when to start and stop the action, and an editor chopping up the scenes to establish a certain tone, rhythm or emotional response. We happily ignore the technical in our desire for a good story. The dead can resurrect, people…Read More

Film Review: Half-Baked Thriller “86 Melrose Avenue”

Films can profoundly impact our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, but to really work their magic, the best subtly weave their message into a compelling story. People prefer watching a robot run amok to a scientist standing in front of a whiteboard, lecturing about the dangers of robots. Indeed, sharing a well-told story is a profoundly human experience. And that’s the core problem with the new indie thriller 86 Melrose Avenue; writer/director Lili Matta has so…Read More

Film Review: Almost Watchable Sci-Fi Actioner “Enhanced”

The challenge with any genre film is to avoid bouncing from trope to trope. Add in banal dialog, flat performances, and an incoherent plot and you have the makings of a very definite B-movie. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the latest sci-fi action thriller Enhanced. Director James Mark comes from a background as a stuntman so it’s no surprise that the film bounces from fight to fight with some semi-coherent exposition between. You don’t have to guess…Read More

Film Review: Depressing Cold War Thriller “The Courier”

I’m a sucker for historical films that are “based on a true story”. Add excellent actors Rachel Brosnahan and Benedict Cumberbatch and I was definitely interested in the Cold War spy thriller The Courier. It’s based on the true story of English businessman Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) who was recruited by the British spy agency MI6 during the early 1960’s. He acted as a go-between, a courier, continually meeting up with Russian source Oleg Penkovsky (Merab…Read More

Film Review: The Family Friendly “Raya and the Last Dragon”

After dozens upon dozens of successful animated features, it certainly seems like Disney has a playbook for its family-friendly fare. Subtract a parent, add some pathos, include a few cute babies or animals, and drop it all into the context of a prototypical modern hero’s journey. Raya and the Last Dragon is the latest in a long line of films that showcase just how well it all works and the result is a great success….Read More

Film Review: Chinese War Epic “The Eight Hundred”

When the historical war drama The Eight Hundred was released in China last year, it did incredibly well at the box office, even in the midst of a pandemic. It’s not hard to see why: With top-notch production values, it retells the story of a pivotal 1937 battle from the Second Sino-Japanese War when the Japanese were invading Shanghai, China. The Japanese troops had possession of all Shanghai except for Sihang Warehouse, defended by a…Read More

Film Review: The Fantastical “A Writer’s Odyssey”

Let’s get the name thing out of the way first: This film has a terrible name. In fact, it started out with the English-language name The Red Assassin but changed to A Writer’s Odyssey just before release into the North American market. The Chinese name is 刺杀小说家 (literally, Assassinate the Novelist, which is actually a better name). Both English names are poor and the new name really doesn’t convey anything at all about this fun and…Read More

Film Review: WWII Horror Adventure “Shadow in the Cloud”

While WWII is a popular era for horror films, with perhaps the greatest example being the surprisingly good 2018 film Overlord [read my review], it’s usually because Nazis are such easy bad guys and such a lazy source of monster makers. The new film Shadow in the Cloud, however, runs with an entirely different evil; conscience and morality, as embodied not in a cute cricket – sorry Pinocchio! – but in a malevolent gremlin. Structured…Read More

Film Review: Disappointing “Wonder Woman 1984”

I really wanted to love the new Wonder Woman movie. After all, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is a fun and engaging character, particularly in her super-powered Wonder Woman guise. She’s a superhero with heart and compassion, quick to stop the bad guys but just as likely to help a child regain their lost soccer ball or favorite toy. The first film, 2017’s Wonder Woman, was mostly great fun with General Ludendorff (Danny Houston) a suitably…Read More

Film Review: Goofy, Hilarious “The Croods 2: A New Age”

When Dreamworks released the nutty animated film The Croods in 2013, my family loved it. Endlessly inventive, great visual eye candy, frenetic action and a parade of daft caveman era jokes added up to one of the funniest movies of the year. Since then, The Croods has always been a go-to film for my kids over quite a few other possible animated features. The story is of a tight-knit neolithic family having to leave their safe…Read More

Film Review: Creepy Indie Horror film “Toys of Terror”

Ask any teen and they’ll tell you, there’s just something creepy about dolls. Pixar reminded us with its tremendously popular Toy Story franchise that toys might just have lives of their own. Hopefully not like Chucky from Child’s Play, Annabelle from the series of the same name or the violent little dolls from the terrific Puppet Master series. But what if the dolls and toys are actually animated by evil intention, not the love and…Read More

Film Review: Amateur Sci-Fi Thriller “Monochrome: The Chromism”

For far too many people, ethnicity and the color of someone’s skin means more than individual identity. Whether it’s shallow, fearful stereotypes or just plain ignorance about someone different, much of human history revolves around skin tone, and people are too often assigned groups with negative characteristics based on their color. That’s the obvious basis of the interesting, albeit amateurish indie sci-fi thriller Monochrome: The Chromism. Filmed primarily in black & white, Monochrome takes place…Read More

Film Review: Heavy, Ponderous Horror “Don’t Look Back”

You can be excused if you’re confused about the title of this film; there are over 100 movies on IMDb with the name Don’t Look Back! Apparently it’s a very popular name for a movie. Who knew? This 2020 film is a very contemporary horror tapped into the “Karen”-in-the-park bystander zeitgeist. It revolves around a group of people who witness an assault in New York City’s Central Park but don’t do anything about it, just…Read More

Film Review: Daft Zombie Sequel “Train to Busan 2: Peninsula”

I really enjoyed the surprise 2016 Korean horror hit Train to Busan. It’s a simple, straightforward and somewhat violent South Korean horror thriller that involves a group of zombie apocalypse survivors trying to board a train heading from Seoul to the sanctuary city of Busan. Like World War Z, the zombies in Train to Busan don’t shamble along, they sprint and climb over each other in their mindless lust for living flesh, and it’s pretty…Read More

Film Review: Sly Art World Thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy”

Fundamentally, all films are based upon lies and deception. We are expected to believe the stories that the actors tell and see the character they portray, not the actors, sets, cameras and microphones involved in creating a movie. We accept this deception as a foundational aspect of cinema. We see James Bond risking his life on the screen in Skyfall, not Daniel Craig pretending to be the fictional spy in a carefully scripted story. The…Read More

Film Review: Gorgeous Chinese Gangster Movie “Shanghai Triad” (1995)

Some of the very best films have a slow and gradual story reveal, a narrative buildup that rewards patient viewers. These are the films that you were tempted to turn off after 10-15 minutes, but when you stuck with them, suddenly realized that they were powerful movies well worth your time and attention. The classic 1968 horror film Rosemary’s Baby is just this sort of movie, where it starts out as a tale of a…Read More

Review: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction

The science fiction genre has always fueled our imagination, from the earliest fiction of Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to its important role in the history of cinema. One of the very first films was a sci-fi adventure movie: 1902’s Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon), directed by illusionist Georges Méliès. Liberally borrowing from both Verne and Wells, it features a group of explorers who are shot out of a…Read More

Film Review: The Prescient Sci-Fi Thriller “Volition”

Time travel is hard to portray, whether it’s in film, a book or even just in a conversation. Which doesn’t stop lots of writers from using time travel as a story element. But if I can go back in time, can’t I change things that would affect my very existence, which then negates my ability to go back in time and make that change in the first place? Not to mention jumping into the future!…Read More