Posts in 3 STARS
VINTAGE REVIEW: Simply Irresistible

The raunch-less love scenes of cooking, kissing, and dancing can initially seem to come from a different movie than a ’90s-era romantic comedy in the same year as American Pie. But then, with the dedication for the glossy showmanship never shrinking, you realize you’re exactly in a throwback. With a tweak of two of period adjustment and pacing, Simply Irresistible would fit either in the Pillow Talk genre of farces or the It Happened One Night-level screwball comedies.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Official Secrets

Most cinematic eras have their overuse of dramatic varnish in historical retellings as a means of painted shine for grabbing attention and producing supposedly heightened value. This writer will always contend that if a chosen story needs too much of that glitz, where it cannot compel or entertain with its own facts, it should not be made into a movie in the first place. Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets gives righteous treatment to such a worthy story and builds a stoic thriller by layering its merits with an eye for accuracy.

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SHORT FILM REVIEW: A Sisterhood of Signatures

One does not need millions of dollars to create an expression of personal passion. They need patience to see their vision through, a dedication to the project shared all involved, and the courage to put their work and themselves out there. Filmmaker Okema “Seven” Gunn harnessed all three of those values to make her short film A Sisterhood of Signatures and put them right back into the finished piece. She will proudly display her effort alongside the works of her inspirations and contemporaries as part of Chicago’s 25th Black Harvest Film Festival hosted by the Gene Siskel Film Center.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Neurotically charming, yet misshapen in many ways, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is wholly unique from the Texan and Hollywood outsider. The movie has the equal ability to disarm and disgust depending on your perspective or experience with the Maria Semple source material. Non-readers will float with the staccato blustering and the Antarctic kayak currents of fancy. Ardent fans will wonder where all the scintillating mystery went that gave merit to all the haphazard happenings.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Brian Banks

As simple and well-tuned as it is, Brian Banks absolutely works as a fitting and crowd-pleasing source engaging inspiration. This is director Tom Shadyac’s first feature film in 17 years and rare foray into serious fare after a career built as the man who launched Jim Carrey to stardom. There is a steady maturity of craft and tone here that suits this kind of story without heavy melodrama. The sports movie cliches are absent to examine the life of a person before the redemptive fame. The result is a timely film of worthy importance.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Surviving Confession

Now imagine you’re the priest in this exchange. You have to both witness and share this wrenching process and ordeal repeatedly, with every visitor on every occasion, and remain unflappable and restrained in doing so. Who has it harder now? Breaking the fourth wall and spilling waterfalls of internal monologue, Surviving Confession pokes and prods the person who is supposed to be the pillar of strength. The film debuted July 30th on VOD platforms.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Astronaut

Through the niches and comely library aisles of off-label modest independent cinema, talent can elevate material. Sometimes the material isn’t the best at this level. A high class performer can come in and buoyantly lift an effort that wouldn’t have a chance to register or resonate with less. Little movies like that are easy to root for and even better to discover and appreciate. Richard Dreyfus bringing his talented capacity to Astronaut is exactly one of those exemplars.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood

Slapping a “once upon a time…” to the title of his ninth film, Tarantino makes that label and its yarn of unlikelihood, misdirection, and heightened allure an upfront certainty. Following that classical starter with his chosen target of story setting, the director’s usual approach of homage becomes readily apparent. Making so many fairy tales with a fat creative license to revise whatever he wants, fancy, zeal, and style are never Quentin Tarantino’s problems. The tightness of his brand of chatty and meandering excessiveness is usually the hangup. This movie has some of the best of the former and still plenty of the latter for a dippy mix of sunny sauntering and tiresome puzzlement.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Into the Ashes

Restraint is not a common artistic or narrative characteristic in revenge films nowadays. We live in an explicit world where the louder and more outlandish outpourings of violence are what grab attention and audiences. The stern and sullen are taken as dull and tedious. Like its title, Into the Ashes resides in the crackling smolder instead of the bright flames. There is plenty of heat to burn and brand from that calmer temperature of cinematic coals. The movie debuts on July 19th in limited theatrical release and VOD outlets.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Lion King

Jon Favreau’s The Lion King stands as the biggest test to all of that progress and the attached criticism because of how little beyond the pristinely pixelated exterior is actually “reimagined.” So incredibly and, dare I say, unnecessarily much is nearly a shot-for-shot duplication of Disney’s most popular and most successful film of their Renaissance era. To go back to Dumbo, duplicated enjoyment may have been the goal, but that makes one question a tangible purpose for truly needing any such update. Luckily, the shininess, so to speak, is an undeniably impressive redeeming feature to a lack of implemented originality.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Always Be My Maybe

Far rarer than they used to be twenty-plus years ago, easy and breezy flicks like Always Be My Maybe from Netflix remind us the traditional romantic comedy is alive and well. Best of all, the nostalgia present in today’s artists from growing up during that 1990s heyday are now making their own movies with their own lens. Smash hit stand-up comedienne Ali Wong and the ever-affable Randall Park of Fresh Off the Boat fame are clearly two of those people. Affectionately blending their own societal zest from their place in America’s Melting Pot, Wong and Park bring new voices as a genius comic pairing. Much of the method of Always Be My Maybe may be routine, but the resulting charm is unfailingly welcome.

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MOVIE REVIEW: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

War set to a rate-of-fire beat of melee lead and breaking bones is indeed what you’re getting with John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. Springboarding from its increasing success, one could say the movie stylishly assaults your senses with its own creative focus, commitment, and will behind the camera to match the stoic Keanu Reeves protagonist in front if it. Swelling enough from its redundancies, this symphony of gunpowder and gumption will satiate your summer thrills just fine.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Penguins

Penguins represents the combined work of over a dozen cinematographers documenting the miraculous and treacherous annual life cycle of the Adelie penguins of Antarctica. The two directors sought to give this circle of life character. That’s where the affable Ed Helms comes in as a narrator. He provides color commentary as “Steve,” one such Adelie penguin who is a first-time father for this annual journey. High and low, dry and wet, close and far, and through every blizzard in between, Penguins presents this apprehensive newbie with education and entertainment combined together.

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SHORT FILM REVIEW: Trained

The opening scene of filmmaker Yuri Rutman’s spare yet sizzling short film tantalizingly begs many questions. What kind of couple are we witnessing? What triggers provoke this passion? A montage follows to show that this wild escapade is not the first time the hearts and loins of these two people have been electrified around the rails of public transportation. This is Jake and Emma, and they are tragically intoxicated by two different things at the expense of each other.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Breakthrough

Too often nowadays in our headline-seeking and attention-starved society, that first definition of “miracle” is stretched and overused to the point of hyperbole, right there next to other words like “epic” and “masterpiece.” There are places where effectiveness has been lost. That second definition calling for divine intervention is a doozy. It calls for higher piety. Well, good believers love divine challenges and so does this Breakthrough starring Chrissy Metz.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Public

The number of debated points in The Public outnumber the aisles and stacks. On one hand, that crowding creates an involving and intriguing machine of tied fates and a roundtable forum sampler for the viewer. On the other, that same populated weight does make the film saturated with many bouncing tangents of rhetoric, not all of which mesh fluidly. Nevertheless, the debate balance of this brouhaha of hubris and sentiment favors the rightly idealized and positive. The Public makes a worthy stump speech for its checklist of modest societal issues.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Dumbo

During this continuing trend of Disney live-action “reimaginings,” one that shows no sign of stopping, fulfillment is an adulation not often realized by these newfangled and amplified tentpoles.  Improvement is another lost reward. Audiences constantly question the values of duplicated enjoyment or tangible purpose for needing anything new and shiny made from something that worked just that way it was intended decades ago.  With Tim Burton’s ambitious Dumbo, we fortunately get both.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Finding Steve McQueen

Finding Steve McQueen carries the boasting superlatives of the detailing the “largest bank heist in U.S. history” and, according to director Mark Steven Johnson, one of “the greatest stories never told.” Don’t expect a film of that kind of scope and size. This is a big crime orchestrated by small people who think they are bigger than they really are. The year is 1972 and the illegal act is the United California Bank Robbery.

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