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THE COURIER (2021) review

March 21, 2021

 

written by: Tom O’Connor
produced by: Adam Ackland, Ben Browning, Ben Pugh & Rory Aitken
directed by: Dominic Cooke
rated: PG-13 (for violence, partial nudity, brief strong language, and smoking throughout)
runtime: 111 minutes
U.S. release date: March 19, 2021 (theaters)

 

Cold War spy thrillers can be for a target audience, but when specific elements are combined, they can have the ability to reach viewers that would otherwise overlook such films. Those specific elements would include obvious ingredients such as great performances and solid direction, but when a compelling story is based on actual events, it adds significant weight to it, asking viewers to lean in a little closer. Such is the case with “The Courier”, the latest film from director Dominic Cooke (“On Chesil Beach”) and screenwriter Tom O’Connor (“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”), that examines the part an British businessman had in preventing an outbreak of nuclear war in the early 1960s. Read more…

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021) review

March 18, 2021

 

written by: Chris Terrio, Zack Snyder, and Will Beall
produced by: Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven
directed by: Zack Snyder
rated: R (for violence and some language)
runtime: 242 min.
U.S. release date: March 18, 2021 (HBO Max)

 

It doesn’t take much to say that “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a better movie than the debacle Warner Brothers Pictures released in 2017, since the bar was quite low to begin with. Despite being credited as director on “Justice League”, Snyder had to understandably bow out (along with his co-producer wife, Deborah Snyder) during post-production after the tragic death of his daughter, and the studio hired two-time “Avengers” writer/director Joss Whedon to finish the feature. The result was a creative and aesthetic mess and a financial flop, hurting any chances of expanding the DC Extended Universe on the big screen. Now, after much outcry and online petitions from disappointed Snyder fans (along with members of the cast and crew), for the studio to release the “Snyder Cut”, we have a course-correcting 4-hour/6-part endeavor (including an epilogue) for DC Comics fans. While it is entertaining and slightly more fulfilling, it also showcases the best and worst of a stylistic filmmaker. Read more…

STRAY (2020) review

March 15, 2021

 

written by: Deborah Lo
produced by: Deborah Lo
directed by: Deborah Lo
rated: not rated
runtime: 72 min..
U. S. release date: March 5, 2021 (Music Box Theatre & Siskel Film Center; also available on YouTube, Google Play, VUDU & Amazon Prime)

 

“If dogs run free, then why not we/Across the swooping plain?” is how Bob Dylan opens his poetic beat jazz tune from “New Morning” his album from 1970 and that line surfaced from my subconscious while watching “Stray”. It’s a documentary revolving around just that: dogs that run free. Just how free and how humans respond to such freedom is touched on throughout the course of the immersive film. Even if you’re not a “dog person”, there is something to be gleaned here on an anthropological level, something to be said about homo sapiens. Read more…

THE VIGIL (2021) review

March 3, 2021

 

written by: Keith Thomas
produced by: J.D. Lifshitz, Adam Margules, Raphael Margules & Jamie Buckner
directed by: Keith Thomas
rated PG-13 (for terror, some disturbing/violent images, thematic elements and brief strong language)
runtime: 89 min.
U.S. release date: February 26, 2021 (avail. to rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV+ and Google Play)

 

There have been horror films steeped in religion from different cultures, but it’s rare to find one like “The Vigil”, which incorporates Orthodex Jewish rituals and lore into an atmospheric ghost story. The feature-length directorial debut from writer/director Keith Thomas focuses on an emotionally plagued young man who takes a very unique job for one specific night which will set into motion an unsettling turn of events. While the central performance is noteworthy and underlying themes of guilt and shame accentuate the elements of fear, “The Vigil” is weirdly usurped by obnoxious sound design and a distractingly blaring score by composer Michael Yezerski. Read more…

LAND (2021) review

February 15, 2021

 

written by: Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam
produced by: Allyn Stewart, Lora Kennedy, Peter Saraf & Leah Holzer
directed by: Robin Wright
rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, brief strong language, and partial nudity)
runtime: 89 min.
U.S. release date: February 12, 2021

 

Having directed ten episodes of Netlix’s “House of Cards”, Robin Wright makes her feature-length directorial debut with “Land”, an emotional and contemplative drama that deals with themes such as loss, grief, and isolation. The actress not only helms this picture, she also stars in it, giving her an opportunity to delve into some weighty material and in turn delivering her best performance in years, possibly her career. The screenplay from Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam is understandably light on dialogue since it predominately requires an internal struggle from the protagonist. There is real beauty and poignant reflection in “Land”, and even if the third act tends to wrap things up in a rapid manner, it is nevertheless an impressive debut from Wright. Read more…

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021) review

February 12, 2021

 

written by: Will Berson and Shaka King
produced by: Charles D. King, Ryan Coogler and Shaka King
directed by: Shaka King
rating: R (for violence and pervasive language)
runtime: 126 min.
U.S. release date: February 12, 2021 (theaters and HBO Max)

 

Fred Hampton was portrayed by Kelvin Harrison Jr. in a small role last year in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of Chicago 7”, but now the one-time leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party is front and center in “Judas and the Black Messiah”, a sweeping and absorbing drama from writer/director Shaka King. Feeling far less like a typical biopic and more like an homage to something from Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee, and while a movie focused on Hampton has been in development for years, the timing seems right for Warner Bros. Pictures to release it now considering the ongoing dialogue about civil unrest and racial injustice within the past year. Read more…

PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME (2020) review

February 1, 2021

 

written by: Lili Horvát
produced by: Dóra Csernátony, Lili Horvát and Péter Miskolczi
directed by: Lili Horvát
rating: not rated
runtime:
U.S. release date: January 29, 2021 (virtual cinema & Music Box Direct)

 

No matter what, I kept forgetting the name of the film I was watching. That’s not reflection of the quality of writer/director Lili Horvát’s film, but considering the title, “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period”, can you blame me? The poetic title is just as curious and enigmatic as this mystery from Hungary and it comes across as one of the more unique submissions for this year’s Best International Feature category at the Oscars. Reminiscent of amnesiac love stories or psychological dramas of the noir variety, “Preparations” is admirable for its moody (and at times sultry) tone and alluring lead performance, even if the end scene gives us a possible answer we could’ve been fine without. Read more…

MY LITTLE SISTER (2020) review

January 30, 2021

 

written by: Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond
produced by: Ruth Waldburger
directed by: Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond
rating: not rated
runtime: 99 min.
U.S. release date: January 15, 2021 (virtual cinema) & January 29, 2021 (Music Box Direct)

 

At times, “My Little Sister” is quite an emotional watch, as the writing/directing duo of Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond offer a strenuous, honest, and raw family drama, but when it ended I found myself wanting to watch again due to the two phenomenal lead performances. As written and performed they feel like such real characters, flaws and all, often feeling frustrated and helpless and often trying to push on with those feelings. The story follows a pair of somewhat estranged adult twin siblings, one of which has cancer, so those feelings are understood and anyone who’s gone through struggles with a sibling should appreciate the relatable characterization and portrayals here. Read more…

SUPERNOVA (2020) review

January 28, 2021

 

written by: Harry Macqueen
produced by: Tristan Goligher and Emily Morgan
directed by: Harry Macqueen
rating: R (for language)
runtime: 93 min.
U.S. release date: January 29, 2021 (theaters)

 

Anyone who has ever admired and appreciated performances from Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth will admire and appreciate “Supernova”, which co-stars both great actors in heartfelt and touching lead roles. Their work here will remind you that when great actors are given great characters to work with and live in, it’s a reminder not to take them for granted. This wonderful drama looks at love and impending loss in a gentle and restrained manner is written and directed by Peter Macqueen, an English stage and screen actor who made his directing debut with his last film “Hinterland” in 2014. I haven’t seen that one, but after watching “Supernova”, I immediately want to seek it out. Read more…

THE LITTLE THINGS (2021) review

January 26, 2021

 

written by: John Hancock
produced by: Mark Johnson and John Lee Hancock
directed by: John Lee Hancock
rating: R (for violent/disturbing images, language and full nudity)
runtime: 127 min.
U.S. release date: January 29, 2021 (select theaters & HBO Max)

 

Back in 1993 director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side” and “The Founder”) wrote an original screenplay for his latest movie, “The Little Things”, a somewhat pulpy serial killer thriller set in 1990. That’s not surprising, since watching it will conjure the kinds of suspenseful yarns that typically came out in the 90s. That’s not a slight in the least, but it does give an indication what Hancock is aiming for here. It’s hard to believe some viewers (self included) will have a certain nostalgia for movies that came out not that long ago (at least, that’s what we think) while watching the story unfold. At one point, Spielberg was offered the script, but deemed it “too dark” (that year he released “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List”, so he had already hit his threshold for dark) and turned it down and then it was rumored the likes of Clint Eastwood (who lensed to Hancock screenplays with “A Perfect World” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”), Warren Beatty and Danny DeVito were attached, but it was tucked away until Hancock was ready to bring his to the big-screen with his own personal stamp. Read more…