Super Troopers 2 - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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‘Super Troopers 2’ is worth the wait


Directed by:  Jay Chandrasekhar

Written by:  Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Kevin Heffernan

Starring:  Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Kevin Heffernan, Brian Cox, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rob Lowe, Will Sasso, and Lynda Carter


“Super Troopers 2” – More often than not, comedy sequels are not as funny as the originals, and one can point to many, many examples.  This is not a universal law, like the inevitability of death, taxes and hitting every red light when running late, but the list of films is lengthy. 


“Airplane II: The Sequel” (1982), “Ghostbusters II” (1989), “Grumpier Old Men” (1995), “Meet the Fockers” (2004), and “The Hangover Part II” (2011) are just a few that semi-infamously stand out.


Regardless of the script, movie audiences can still give these films a chance, because they offer golden opportunities to experience additional adventures of beloved celluloid characters, like Ted Striker, Dr. Peter Venkman, Max Goldman, John Gustafson, Jack Byrnes, and Alan, respectively.   Then again, if the actors – who play these characters – don’t return for a second appearance, disaster can strike.  “Caddyshack II” (1988) – minus Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray - is one of the best-known fiascos.    


“Super Troopers 2” is no fiasco, and in fact, quite the opposite.  Seventeen years after “Super Troopers” (2001), these five slacker Vermont Highway Patrol officers – Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar), Mac (Steve Lemme), Foster (Paul Soter), Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), and Farva (Kevin Heffernan) – and their misadventures are back with “Super Troopers 2”.  Yes, the gang, including Captain O’Hagan (Brian Cox), Governor Jessman (Lynda Carter), and Ursula (Marisa Coughlan), return to the big screen, and yes, their sequel is funnier than the first movie.


Even though almost two decades have come and gone in real time, the film takes place only a few years after “Super Troopers”.   We discover that the boys have collectively found a very different career after a “forced retirement”…due to an unfortunate off-screen incident.  Their time away from law enforcement, however, is short-lived, because Governor Jessman asks them to help manage a border dispute between Vermont and the Province of Quebec.


Naturally, the five and Chief O’Hagan clash with a rival police force, the Canadian Mounties, and comedic mayhem and mischief ensues. 


Since the Troopers enjoy a built-in audience, Chandrasekhar’s, Lemme’s, Soter’s, Stolhanske’s, and Heffernan’s challenge was to write a funny script while also balancing the familiar quirks of their characters without the gags becoming overly repetitive.  Four of the five officers – Thorny, Mac, Foster, and Rabbit – still banter like close high school buddies, who look for the next prank or bout with foolishness. 


The fifth, Farva, continues his lone irritant persona, like a porcupine on speed. 


His rapid-fire – but sometimes strangely innocent – social commentary pokes and pricks everyone in his path, and he delivers the most quotable lines in both movies.  As much as Farva aggravates his colleagues, his chief and Canadians in general, Heffernan’s seminal character and his associated adolescent buffoonery are comedic joys to watch.  When he is not on-screen, you might find yourself anticipating and hoping for Farva’s latest analysis on dating, Canadian culture and liters of cola.  Chandrasekhar – who also directed the film –  includes enough of Heffernan’s antics without making it “The Farva Show”.   Trooper fans will leave the theatre more than satisfied with Farvaisms and not overwhelmed by them.  What is that old saying?  Leave them wanting more. 


Speaking of more, the U.S. vs. Canada ethos entanglement truly is the new and key element that delivers a freshness to the sequel.  Complaints about the metric system, pronunciation of basic words, debates about universal healthcare, and obsessions with hockey are constant sources for humor.  The five Vermont Highway Patrol officers plus Chief O’Hagan dive headfirst into the lowbrow fun, but they absolutely meet their matches with a local Canadian mayor (Rob Lowe) and three Mounties hilariously played by Hayes MacArthur, Tyler Labine and Will Sasso. 


The laughs are not exclusively reserved for American law enforcement, as the Canadian Mounties deliver equal amounts of funny barbs and insults towards the Troopers.  In the first film, the rival police officers from Spurbury were a faceless collection of jerks, sans Ursula (Coughlan), of course.  Here, the Mounties are petulant, but also deliver entertaining one liners, including a bit about Danny DeVito that will leave television aficionados very amused. 


No, “Super Troopers 2” will not win any Academy Awards.  It will not please your grandparents and has no aims to split the atom, but that’s not the intention here.  The Broken Lizard comedy troupe (Chandrasekhar, Lemme, Foster, Stolhanske, and Heffernan) – who met in college in the 1980s – stay within their lanes and deliver a sidesplitting adventure for their fans and/or anyone who enjoys movie experiences like the “Jackass” films, “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) and “Airplane” (1980).   This film is the best effort from the Broken Lizard team yet, with “Beerfest” (2006) and the original “Super Troopers” (2001) rounding out the top three.   Although Heffernan’s Farva does mow down the audience with the biggest belly laughs, all of the guys certainly get their moments in the sun too. 


These old friends are also friendly faces for their fans (full disclosure: including this film critic), and “Super Trooper 2” offers an aforementioned golden opportunity to see your favorite Vermont Highway Patrol officers wrapped in 1 hour and 40 minutes of American and Canadian flags and beautiful absurdity.   This movie is worth the wait, but here’s hoping that “Super Troopers 3” arrives sooner than 2035.  No pressure.  

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


Final Portrait - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Final Portrait


Directed by Stanley Tucci

Written by Stanley Tucci

Starring Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clemence Posey, Tony Shalhoub, James Faulkner, Slyvie Testud


Searching for the meaning in life affects us all, especially artists who are always trying to capture something at its best. For famed painter Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), it is about finding just the right stroke of the paintbrush. No better place exists to do that than in Paris where in 1964, Giacometti convinces his old friend, American critic James Lord (Armie Hammer) to delay his return to the United States to model for Giacometti’s latest portrait.

Stanley Tucci’s touching story of friendship, love and most of all, art, sees an audience exercising as much patience as Lord must have exerted while he modeled for Giacometti in 1964. Or Hammer for this film. The beauty is in the humanity between two old friends, as we explore Giacometti’s idiosyncracies and his drab, slate grey surroundings. This is perhaps the starkest, yet calming reminder of the chaos and patience each friend had to express during the creation of the artist’s last masterpieces.

Even those in his life, his wife Caroline (Clemence Poesy) have trouble working through Giacometti’s chaos. His biggest champion and biggest disappointment is his brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub). Yet, they share a common humor; they see the world for what it is, not what they want it to be, ultimately causing Lord to see the painful beauty of the chaos.

I got the sense that Stanley Tucci enjoyed torturing Armie during the production. I’ve seen Mr. Hammer speak publicly and he is very poised; the perfect subject for an extended painting. Where I think Mr. Hammer delivers on his performance is in his roguish humor or cheekiness. As Giacometti constantly utters profanities when he messes up, Mr. Rush and Mr. Hammer have glints of humor in each of their eyes: each is enjoying the others idiosyncratic nature.

There’s a scene early in the film where they are dining together and, Mr. Rush plays an ‘older character’, rough around the edges. As such, he plays “rough-around-the-edges” so very well, while he imbibes exceptionally fast while shunning his meal. All the while, Mr. Hammer is enjoying is bottle of Coca Cola. Through this interaction, we get a sense of where each of the friends stands; the level of commitment each has to the other. They find one another frustrating, but they realize they need each other.

There is a purpose in the flow of the film, adding a layer of frustration while watching the film. Like a fine painting or a glass of wine, it takes time to come to mature. I actually enjoyed seeing two friends enjoy one another’s company, a family that cares for one another even if they cannot stand one another as they use humor to diffuse the frustration; Geoffrey Rush is a genius at swearing at the right tempo. It’s not enough to distract you, but it will make you laugh.

I saw this at SXSW and it played to a sold-out crowd at the recently-concluded Phoenix Film Festival. It isn’t for everyone, but the cast, the deliberate pace and the comradery caught me up in the films’ charm.

3.5 out of 4


Interview with the cast of Super Troopers 2 by Jeff Mitchell

Interview with the “Super Troopers 2” cast



Your five favorite Vermont Highway Patrol officers are back!  Yes, Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar), Mac (Steve Lemme), Foster (Paul Soter), Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), and Farva (Kevin Heffernan) return to the big screen in “Super Troopers 2”, the sequel to the 2001 cult comedy hit. 


In this film, Governor Jessman (Lynda Carter) pulls the guys out of their “forced retirement” to help manage a border dispute between Vermont and the Province of Quebec, and they inevitably clash with three Canadian Mounties. 

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The Troopers stopped in the Valley for a “Super Troopers 2” screening, and the next day Lemme, Soter, Stolhanske, and Heffernan sat down with the Phoenix Film Festival and two other movie critics for a fun and lively group interview. 


These personable comedians – who met in college and formed the Broken Lizard comedy troupe - talked about American/Canadian banter, wanting to make a great sequel, their writing process, and Heffernan’s law degree.  Yes, the man who plays Farva is a lawyer!


“Super Troopers 2” also stars Brian Cox, Will Sasso, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Rob Lowe, and the film arrives in theatres on Friday, April 20.



Q:  Do you believe that “Super Troopers” fans have a stake in wanting the sequel to be great?


KH:  There’s a lot of pressure.  Are people going to like this movie or not?  There are so many fans of the first one, (they don’t want us) to screw it up.  It’s like a wedding toast situation.  They want you to succeed.  They are on your side.  They are like family, so we can (put ourselves out there) and hopefully not screw it up. 


PS:  Our fans have never been shy about saying what they feel.  We’ve shown (this) movie a few times, and people are so positive, so I really believe that they (are/will be) satisfied. 


SL:  You feel a sense of relief.  (Our fans) say this across the board: “I just didn’t want it to suck.”  Thankfully, it doesn’t.  A lot of people are saying that it’s as good as the first one, maybe better. 


PS:  Certainly, we spent a lot of time on both scripts, but what I like here is we spent more time thinking about what makes a good story.  You look at the first (film), and I think that we all admit, it was an excuse (to create) set piece after set piece, but we really wanted (the sequel) to be an interesting story.  We have this cool hook about a chunk of Canada (involved in a border dispute).  


SL: Let’s face it, we made a great movie!



Q:  Canadian culture is a predominant topic in the film.  Did you research what it means to be Canadian?  


KH:  There are times we’d go (to Canada) to have fun, like Montreal for the Just for Laughs Festival and (observe) the funny (cultural) elements.  French Canadians don’t want to speak English to you.  There are (others) who are gruff, and you think of Canadians as nice people.  So, we thought it would be a cool area to (explore) and have some fun.


SL:  Plus, (The U.S. and Canada) are neighbors, and we know nothing about each other, truthfully.  We were in Calgary and met a Canadian guy.  We asked him, “How many states do we have, and he responded, ‘I don’t know, 48?’” 


We thought, “That’s a ridiculous answer, and he asked, ‘How many provinces are in Canada?’” 


I said, “I don’t know.  What’s a province?”


In the movie, we are the ones who come over the border and make fun of them, but (the script) gets flipped immediately, and we become the bad guys.   Our philosophy is (to) never be mean-spirited.  So, we joke about how silly Canada is, but we set ourselves up intentionally to have Canadians smear us all over the place. 



Q:  What do you enjoy about playing these characters?


KH:  A lot of our (work) is based on being friends first.  (Our) philosophy is:  we are going to (tap into) this world, and you (will) hang out and be happy.  We’re having a good time and so (will you).    


SL:  We’ll write a scene where (our characters) are joking around and having fun with each other, and then there’s the one assh*le who everybody has in their workplace.  (The person who will) ruin everyone’s time.  That’s this guy (Steve points to Kevin).  So, (if we have) any obnoxious, non-PC lines, we just pop them into Farva’s mouth.


KH:  But you still like me!


SL:  But we still like you.


PS:  You’re loveable.


SL:  And now we (also) have a French-Canadian version of Farva!  (Paul Walter Hauser - who played Shawn Eckardt in “I, Tonya” (2017) - appears in “Super Trooper 2”.)


KH:  I did a live comedy show with (Paul), and we were trying to cast a Canadian Farva.  (Paul) is fantastic and (put him in contact) with our casting director.  We did “Super Troopers 2”, and then “I, Tonya” was casting their movie.  We had the same casting director, and he got the part!



Q:  So, Rabbit gets a love interest in “Super Troopers 2”. 


ES:  It’s about time, right?



Q:  Did you all draw straws to determine who gets a movie-girlfriend?


ES:  No, I demanded it!


SL:  You know, when we made our first movie, all of the guys wanted to do a love scene.   Now, it’s the last thing that I want to do. 



Q:  Is there a girl out there for Farva?


KH:  I don’t know, we talked about that.  Maybe in “Super Troopers 3”, Farva finds love.  In this movie, I locked lips with Lemme, so I’ll stay with Mac.


PS:  If you are going to (be) romantic, sure, why not with a guy who you know?



Q:  How does the writing process work?  How do you bring it all together?


PS:  In “Super Troopers 2”, the world was already built.  In every phase of the writing, (we) are always throwing out bits or comedy that (are kept) off to the side.  When we build the structure of the storytelling, then we (add) as much comedy as we can.


SL:  The French-Canadian Farva is a good example.  He first existed in dialogue, but we wanted to actually see this guy, (so) we wrote him into one scene.  We loved (Paul’s) audition tape so much, we (thought that) American Farva and Canadian Farva should (also) meet up at some point.  Each draft, you come up with three, five, ten new jokes that make the script better.


ES:  You have to form an alliance, because you (need) “three of the five” on your side to get a joke approved.  Sometimes, you have to act it out.  If you are really passionate about a joke, you have to (perform it) and sell it.  


PS:  You can also sabotage a joke, by reading it in a sh*tty voice. 


(Paul then recites a line in a whinny voice for us.) 


Then the (writer) will say, “Well, when you read it like that, Assh*le, of course it’s not funny.” 


ES:  That’s the best way to sabotage!


SL:  When you get into these creative disputes, you (sometimes) just want to win a fight.  (Two guys) get (their) heels dug in and go toe-to-toe, while the (other) three will just sit back, watch and smirk.


PS:  There’s nothing more fun than watching two guys fight (over a bit).  You don’t want to get involved.  Just sit back and eat popcorn. 



Q:  Now, Kevin, you have a law degree and passed the bar in two states.


KH:  I did!  Yea, two states.



Q:  If you pursued a legal career full-time and never joined Broken Lizard, how would you feel about watching the other guys in these movies?


KH:  I’d feel like they needed a Farva!


PS:  Everybody needs a Farva!



Q:  Did you guys think about other careers before joining Broken Lizard?


SL:  I don’t know what else I’d do.  I had a desk job for one month.


ES:  I’m not qualified for anything else.


PH:  You guys could come work for me at the law firm, if you want.  Make some copies!



Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Journey's End - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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‘Journey’s End’ delivers an affecting, timeless war story


Directed by:  Saul Dibb

Written by:  Simon Reade, based on the novel by R.C. Sherriff and Vernon Bartlett

Starring:  Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany, and Toby Jones


“Journey’s End” – “Most war films tend to be about men, and this, I think, is about how men deal with fear.” – Saul Dibb


Since “Journey’s End” is a war film, the title implies that the on-screen soldiers’ story will most likely conclude on the battlefield.  They might rise in victory or suffer agony (or worse) in defeat, and judging from the first few minutes of director Saul Dibb’s movie, an ominous silent drumbeat points to the latter.   


Set in 1918 France, World War I will soon end, although the British soldiers - dug into trenches on their distinct border of No man’s land – do not own a crystal ball or deal tarot cards, so the future resolution is currently unknown. 


Their job is to wait for orders.  Wait in the mud.  Wait in the cold.  Wait in a dank wooden bunker.


The soldiers, however, are not wooden.  Far from it.  They are filled with emotion, but unfortunately, their foundations are composed of fear.   Led by a discouraged and bitter Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) - and yes, his name is soaked in irony – no good news has blessed this particular company in recent weeks and months.  Under gray skies, too many of his men have stepped foot into the abyss and cruelly died via bullets, bombs or poison gas, or survived and now reliving the horrors in safe quarters.  


Today, this affliction is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but in 1918, there was no name for it.  Dibb, however, shines a light on PTSD in full view within tight spaces. 


“Journey’s End” was also a play and the movie-version feels like one as well, as large set pieces and epic battle scenes are void from view.  Instead, the men mostly engage in intricate exchanges during the movie’s 1-hour 47-minute runtime.  At times, the tired, battle weary soldiers just avoid discussing the war in order to feel normal under abnormal circumstances.  Ones in which German artillery – sitting 60 yards away - could rip through them in a second.   Stanhope knows this all too well.  All of the men do, but they handle the trauma in different ways. 


Osborne (Paul Bettany) - Stanhope’s best friend – attempts to conceal his emotional turmoil like a business professional managing a crisis.  He projects good-natured optimism but - nonetheless – remains completely aware of the dire predicament.  Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), on the other hand, newly arrives, and this fresh-faced kid has not experienced a lick of combat.


Raleigh’s eager-to-serve persona serves as a stark contrast between the other glum, shell-shocked men who occasionally enter and exit the screen.  Although a kid like Raleigh exists in just about every war film, since the picture works as a close-knit character study, the before/after disparity between this said rookie and the weary soldiers smashes the audience with emotional gut punches.  These blows deliver the message that war can wear down one’s humanity and bliss over repeated episodes or immediately strip it in an instant of chaos.  


Dibb and writer Simon Reade only give us small glimpses of this chaos, but do so very effectively.  Other than a lone – and very short - drone shot, Dibb keeps his camera only a few feet from the bedlam.  Without a clear view of the actions on the battlefield, the audience feels the soldiers’ confusion, and this bitter taste of war helps clarify the lingering, miserable atmosphere within the trenches.   The only reprieve that we receive is from a cook named Mason (Toby Jones), who usually explains the latest bland meal with deadpan wit.  For instance, Stanhope asks Mason about today’s soup, and he responds, “Yellow.”


Mason is a most-welcome gift as the sole provider of the movie’s very, very few light moments.   


“Journey’s End” is a grim, affecting picture that does not shy away from the colorless life of trench warfare: waiting for horribly long stretches and then suddenly stepping into suicide missions composed of mud and gunfire.  The movie is set exactly 100 years in the past, and this particular critic wondered if these men could imagine war in 2018.  Can we imagine war in 2118?  Well, today’s drone technology would make 1918 trench warfare tactics completely obsolete.  Then again, war is war, and soldiers coping with fear and emotional scars unfortunately remain timeless tragedies.

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


Ready Player One - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Ready Player One


Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, and Mark Rylance



In the corner of my 10-year-old bedroom was an autographed picture of Freddy Krueger, a die cast metal Voltron, and an overused Nintendo that could only be started when the right combination of maneuvers was conducted. That connection to the past continues to engage my participation in old school video arcades, museums that recreate the mom and pop video stores of my childhood, and retro toy companies that reconstruct the characters I had epic battles with in the sand box. Nostalgia is a powerful tool.


Steven Spielberg is solely responsible for many childhood memories for numerous film fans. It’s undeniable how much influence the director had on novelist Ernest Cline, who fashioned the book “Ready Player One” as an ode to popular culture and ultimately an ode to nostalgia.


The film adaptation of “Ready Player One” is composed to the edges with pop culture everything, literally everything you might possible imagine from the video games and movies you remember from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Flying DeLorean’s, King Kong, Freddy Krueger, the Iron Giant, and many more populate the cinematic frame. Leave it to Steven Spielberg to add his distinguishable design to make this visual chaos have a narrative purpose, one that underneath all the flash and bang offers social commentary concerning technology’s ever expanding grasp on our lives.


Game designer James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) changed the world with a revolutionary program called The Oasis, a virtual reality world where imagination has no limits. In The Oasis the player can craft their character however they want and play a variety of games to attain coins that give them in-game perks. When Halliday dies, he unleashes a competition in The Oasis that will give the winner ownership of the trillion dollar business to whoever can find the hidden golden “easter egg”.


The style and structure of “Ready Player One” is pure Spielberg, which makes sense considering novelist Ernest Cline references the director’s catalog throughout the novel. Mr. Spielberg has been redefining the action scene since the car chase in “Duel”. Every single action sequence in “Ready Player One” is amazing, breathtaking, and inspiring. A racing scene that feels like Super Mario Kart, an ode to a Stanley Kubrick classic, and a battle scene reminiscent of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”; it’s complete chaos in the best way possible because of the director’s seasoned skill.


While the action and adventure elements are sure to be enough for some fans, the film is also trying to get across a message concerning the advancement and abuse of technology. At the center of the story is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young man who admires James Halliday and is trying to win the prize hidden in The Oasis. Wade, also known as Parzival, meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and the two team up. But a company, that encourages gameplay then enslaves gamers to work within The Oasis when they can’t pay the debt they build within the game, has motives of their own. The story at its basic function feels similar to “The Goonies” or “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”, Spielberg and writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline infuse so many different commentaries that it becomes somewhat distracting and ultimately takes away from the development of the characters in the film. With this kind of epic adventure amongst a slew of iconic characters featured throughout the film, Parzival and Art3mis should stand firmly in charge of the emotional tone of the film, unfortunately that doesn’t happen.


“Ready Player One” has its moments of greatness, scenes that will have pop culture fans swooning in admiration of the visual indulgence happening on screen. With themes of capitalism, insights into the negative aspects of gamer culture, and warnings of technology’s stranglehold on our attention, the film has message to impart but forgets to connect it to strong characters that we are meant to root for along the path. Still, this film is pure nostalgia for fans of pop culture and it never hides that fact.


Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Isle of Dogs - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Isle of Dogs


Directed by Wes Anderson

Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura

Starring Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Koyu Rankin, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono, F. Murray Abraham


In the first of two dystopic releases this week, Wes Anderson’s animated tale, “Isle of Dogs” expands to Phoenix. The story is set in a near future where dogs have become ill with a ‘canine flu’ and are quarantined to a garbage island off the coast of Megasaki City. In an attempt to retrieve his lost dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), Atari Kobayashi searches the island garbage dump, enlisting the aid of other abandoned dogs.

The story by Mr. Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura, screenplay by Mr. Anderson is infused with heart, soul, honor and is a strong tip of the hat to famed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. The top-notch voice cast includes Bryan Cranston as Chief, Edward Norton as Rex, Bob Balaban as King, Bill Murray as Boss, Jeff Goldblum as Duke, Koyu Rankin as Atari Kobayashi, Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg and Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker.

The film is so much a product of the techniques used to create the film. It is also a testament of the films that were presented at SXSW, where “Isle of Dogs” had its North American premiere to close the 25th annual fest. “Isle of Dogs” is very much about passion, and it can be seen in every animated frame across its 101 – minute run time. The use of color was extremely limited, conveying the sense of loss. There are a few scenes on the garbage island that were full of color. During the Q & A that followed the screening, Mr. Anderson said that “the color scheme was ‘garbage’,” implying a monochromatic look.

The emotion and humor that permeates every character is only enhanced by the look and feel of their environment. Who wouldn’t love to have a dog who was voiced by Bryan Cranston, or a dog who could make you laugh with Bill Murray’s voice? Each actor was chosen for not only their distinctive voices, but their inflections and their emotions. More importantly is our guide, voiced by Courtney B. Vance. His voice over is welcomed and never intrusive as the story unfolds, easing us through the humor and the more difficult times. Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham and Yoko Ono also make cameo voice appearances.

All of these layers build a story that is more than being an adventure about “a boy and his dog.” Mr. Anderson’s collaboration with Kunichi Nomura ensures that traditional Japanese heritage and culture are respected and honored. There are elements in the story which are predictable, something that has not been a part of his prior films. The story uses several flashbacks to convey pertinent information, and though it is an Achilles Heel, it is a necessary element. My initial reaction to its inclusion was not positive, but on a second viewing, it strengthens the story.

Music has long been a staple of Mr. Anderson’s films, more specifically pop music. An extended version of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s song “I Won’t Hurt You” is heard in the film. Its use explores the main themes of the story. Alexandre Desplat’s use of Taiko Drums is symbolic of the courage and adventurous spirit of the film, creating a lush, rhythmic score.

“Isle of Dogs” is another winner in Mr. Anderson’s already strong catalog of films. The story is very adult-oriented, but it’s PG-13 rating should not put families with older kids out. There are many life lessons to be learned and enjoyed.

3.8 out of 4 stars


Finding Your Feet - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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Despite a great cast and message, ‘Finding Your Feet’ trips


Directed by:  Richard Loncraine

Written by:  Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft

Starring:  Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Timothy Spall, Joana Lumley, and David Hayman


“Finding Your Feet” – “You make feel like dancing.  I’m gonna dance the night away.”  - Leo Sayer, October 1976


Sandra (Imelda Staunton) has not felt like dancing in decades.  Thirty-five years to be exact.  Now, she has enjoyed her marriage to Mike (John Sessions) for that said amount of time, but dancing was never a priority for him and therefore, not a priority for her.  Dancing – her childhood passion – just tucked itself away into a distant place in her brain, sitting next to her belief in Santa Claus and the joy of Saturday night drive-in movies.  Her time, instead, became consumed with keeping Mike happy, maintaining their huge home and socializing with his colleagues and their friends.  On the surface, they have a successful marriage, but looks can be deceiving.  Sandra unexpectedly discovers that Mike is having an affair with her friend, Pamela (Josie Lawrence). 


Mike and Pamela immediately shack up, and Sandra moves in with her sister, Bif (Celia Imrie). 


This, of course, begs the question:  Since Mike cheated on Sandra, why should she leave their gorgeous estate?     


Well, in director Richard Loncraine’s (and writers Meg Leonard’s and Nick Moorcroft’s) world, Sandra no longer lives in the house, because the narrative illogically calls for it.  This is just one example of lazy writing that unfortunately becomes a recurring theme for 1 hour and 51 minutes in “Finding Your Feet”, a film with good intentions and a very likable cast. 


Timothy Spall, Joanna Lumley and David Hayman join Staunton and Imrie, as they play 60 and 70-somethings who relish their local dance group and prove that age is never a limit to have fun and embrace life.   Charlie (Spall), Jackie (Lumley), Ted (Hayman), and Bif already possess this enlightenment, but Sandra needs lots of convincing.  Living with her sister will lay the groundwork, while they foster their roles as an “Odd Couple”, a female Felix-Oscar duo.  


The film embodies dual roles too.  It volleys between light comedy and troubling drama about reaching the third trimester of life.  For instance, Jackie brings down the house with a hilarious reason for her fifth marriage’s failure, but then Charlie desperately struggles with his wife’s illness.  Loncraine devotes generous screen time to his supporting players, and these moments are well-spent in helping tap into the audience’s emotions.  Sandra bears the longest journey to redefine the rest of her life and cope with wasted decades but puts her best foot forward (pardon the pun) with Bif’s help.


With very capable actors and dance as a backdrop, “Finding Your Feet” has all the ingredients of a warm, cathartic and relatable picture, but it excels in isolated moments.  We get flashes of what the movie strives to be, but it is missing connective tissue.  Sure, we care about these characters, but the vehicle for reaching their nirvana – the dance team itself – ironically becomes an afterthought.


What is the name of their dance group?  That’s a great question. 


What is the cute and bubbly dance instructor’s name?  According to, her name is Corrina. 


The dance group receives two opportunities to perform in front of live audiences, but – organically – how do these chances materialize?   Well, Corrina (if that is her name) walks into the dance hall and announces their upcoming performances to the class, like a director stepping on a set and saying, “Okay people, quickly, let’s get ready for the next scene.  Isn’t this exciting?” 


How often do the students practice for the big events, and are they ever stressed about performing?   Hardly ever and no. 


Although, Sandra (spoiler alert) oversleeps for the grand finale and rushes around town to arrive on time.   This, of course, raises concern for everyone on-screen, but meanwhile, the movie audience might wonder why this particular dance recital begins at 8 a.m. or so.  Your guess is as good as mine. 


It is not terribly difficult to guess the number of ensemble films that tackle significant life changes during a lead character’s golden years.  They are somewhat rare, so this critic appreciates Loncraine’s attempt with “Finding Your Feet”.  The picture is a harmless time at the movies, even though the film trips along the way, but “Unfinished Song” (2012) – starring Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton – is a story about a widower joining his late wife’s choir group.  That 2012 film works much, much better and is everything that “Finding Your Feet” wants to be.  I don’t know if “Finding Your Feet” will make you feel like dancing, but I am nearly certain that “Unfinished Song” will make you feel like singing.  Just a thought and a light suggestion.

(2/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


The Death of Stalin - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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‘The Death of Stalin’ brings comedic life to the screen


Directed by:  Armando Iannucci

Written by:  Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows

Starring:  Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Tom Brooke, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, and Adrian McLoughlin


“The Death of Stalin” –  Meddling in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, hacking into U.S. infrastructure systems and poisoning a former double agent and his daughter in Great Britain, Russia has not exactly won many friends over the last couple years.  Rightfully, Western democracies have looked at Russia with disdain, void of warm feelings.  


With writer/director Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin”, perhaps that might somewhat change, because in his new film, he covers the events of 1953 Soviet Union in a very comedic and sarcastic way.  Actually, after watching this movie, one will not look at the U.S.S.R. with genial regards.  Blood was spilled as a result of Stalin’s (Adrian McLoughlin) passing, but this 1-hour and 47-minute satire will make you laugh.  With a sharp script and several comedic actors’ well-placed timing and delivery, the film captures the absurdity of it all.  


Now, the material certainly is timely in today’s political climate, but Iannucci did not create his movie as a response to Donald Trump winning the U.S. Presidency and the United Kingdom voting for Brexit.  The cast and crew filmed this movie prior to both events, as he states in a 2017 interview.


“(The film) was made in the spirit of ‘My God, this happened,’ and it is now released in the spirit of, ‘God help us, please don’t let this happen again,’” Iannucci said.


Iannucci directed and co-wrote the hysterical ensemble comedy “In the Loop” (2009), about the lead up to the Iraq War.   “The Death of Stalin” is not as strong as Iannucci’s 2009 creation, but it is carries similar pacing and heartbeats.


The picture begins with a beautiful orchestra concert in Moscow, and two men in the sound booth – Andreyev (Paddy Considine) and Sergei (Tom Brooke) - receive a call.  A call from Josef Stalin himself!  Stalin wants to listen to a recording of the performance, but alas, he asks too late, as the concert is just ending.  Andreyev and Sergei then attempt to move mountains to garner an encore performance straight away, and their actions are caused by fear. 


Fear of being shot.


Two important components of “The Death of Stalin” immediately jump off the screen during this opening scene. 


First, no one attempts to speak with a Russian accent.   Considine and Brooke are both born in England, and they speak every word of dialogue with their native tongues, as if they are performing in a play at London’s West End.  It does take a minute or two to realize that the film transpires in Moscow, and no, the characters are not British, even though no one hides their accents.  Second, individual actions are ruled by fear, in which double-crosses and gunplay could always transpire. 


The movie feels like a blend between the historical, political and horrible stress of “To Be or Not to Be” (1983) (albeit, that film occurs in Poland during WWII) and – of course - the rapid fire comedic exchanges of “In the Loop”.  


With Stalin passing away, a collection of Soviet underlings must fill a massive void, and a power grab is well…up for grabs.  Well-known actors jump into the fray including Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Steve Buscemi, and Simon Russell Beale, as their characters wind through verbal minefields and plot against one another.  One of the actors (who will not be named in this review) plays Nikita Khrushchev, the most prominent name that this critic recognized, but the other monikers are less important, and quite frankly difficult to sort out without a trusty history book by your side. 


The fact that Stalin’s cabinet fumbles with these sudden affairs, just like ordinary people, but simultaneously plot and scheme to raise their own political advantages is the film’s hook.  (By the way, as a fair warning, executions usually fall into the mix of the plots and schemes.) Most of the exchanges between the four aforementioned actors, the opening orchestra concert conundrum and actually dealing with Stalin’s body are the best moments in the picture, but admittedly, it is difficult not to follow your eyes at Khrushchev’s every move, because of his place in history.  


Well, let the record show that the movie’s third act loses some momentum, but there is no denying that this film about the former Soviet Union will deliver plenty of laughs, and in 2018, that is certainly a welcome change.  Although, not really…and oh, watch your back.

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.



Midnight Sun - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Midnight Sun


Directed by Scott Speer

Written by Eric Kirsten based on “Midnight Sun” by Kenji Bando.

Starring Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard


We live in a world full of boundaries. Some of them are artificial while others are real. Scott Speer’s romantic melodrama, “Midnight Sun” touches on both. For Katie Price (Bella Thorne), she suffers from a rare, life-threatening genetic condition, xeroderma pigmentosum. For Katie, exposure to the sun would literally kill her.

The story by Eric Kirsten does not make Katie feel as if she is trapped. Her dad, Jack (Rob Riggle) supports her through every step, making sure to protect her from exposure. Though she has physical boundaries, she is as well-adjusted as any of her peers, thanks to her amazing friend Morgan (Quinn Shephard). It is Katie’s quest to find the poet in herself though that she falls in love with the boy-next-door, Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), watching him pass by throughout the years. A chance encounter allows them to finally meet.

Patrick is the consummate jock, though that role has changed since I was in high school. Every girl wants him and every guy wants to be him. Through their chance meeting, the story has a chance to flourish, giving our characters’ obstacles both real and artificial to overcome.

Mr. Speer’s (Step Up: Revolution) direction is assured as our two betwixt lovers learn about each other. The story doesn’t waste time avoiding its destiny and it makes great use of its characters. I swore several times throughout the movie that I was looking at a newer version of “Somwhere in Time” without the time travel. Ms. Thorne manages to belt out several original songs throughout the film, while Mr. Schwarzenegger carries his father’s build and his mother’s grace. I swear, looking at them together, I felt like I was looking at his father and in her, I felt like I was looking at a young Annette O’Toole, footloose and fancy-free.

The real highlight of the film is Mr. Riggle. He continues to surprise me with a tender, dramatic prose which I do not expect as an audience member, given that his natural inclination is humor. It’s a nice against-type casting choice for him to take on. He absolutely glows next to Ms. Thorne and they both know it.

Ms. Thorne’s career began in music and in Mr. Speer’s expert hands as a music video director, the scenes where she sings are absolute dynamite as her voice just leaps off the screen.

The story does have some challenges, namely with how Katie chooses to deal with her condition as it relates to her relationship with Patrick. Yes, it leads to the crux of the film, and gets us to that cursed destiny thing I mentioned. Yet, as many problems as I have with its function in the story, the payoff in the end is sweeter because of it. In many ways, this is a better version of “The Space Between Us,” and we all know how badly that one turned out.

Is the film for everyone? No. But the audience I saw the film with reacted positively to the film’s morals and the story. It is a good vehicle for Mr. Speer to continue build his dramatic story telling. For the cast, these smaller films allow them to play against type.

2.75 out of 4

Unsane - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell


‘Unsane’ bends the rules but effectively gives us the creeps


Directed by:  Steven Soderbergh

Written by:  Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer

Starring:  Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, and Amy Irving



“Unsane” – The title of director Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky” (2017) is self-explanatory.  In his hilarious, extremely clever heist film, the Logan family wishes to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and they not only need airtight, solid plans in place but a bit of luck too.  


The title of Soderbergh’s new film, however, is a little perplexing.


“Unsane”.  Is unsane a word? 


Per review of The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, it is not listed, nor does it appear in Webster’s Pocket Dictionary.  Well, according to Google, unsane means lacking in sanity, a synonym of insane.  Since we live on Planet Earth in 2018, one can only assume that unsane’s legitimacy is now established in the English language via the wisdom of Google.


Regardless of this film’s title, the crux of the story centers on a problem infinitely more serious:  Is Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) imagining her on-screen experiences or are they 100 percent authentic?   The difference could cost Sawyer her life.  


Sawyer, a 20-something, very capable office professional, has recently moved 450 miles from Boston to an unknown city (supposedly in Pennsylvania).  She lives alone, keeps her coworkers at arm’s length and dates occasionally but struggles with anxiety, because an unrelenting stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard), turned her life upside down in Massachusetts.  Changing her phone number, changing jobs and changing cities helped the immediacy of the circumstances, but echoes linger. 


She decides to speak with a counselor, and does so for a 30-minute appointment, but after signing a form filled with fine print, the Highland Creek Behavioral Center forces her to stay overnight. 


A new nightmare begins in a new city.


Soderbergh leads Sawyer and the audience into a claustrophobic, invasive trap that truly feels like a bad dream, as the Highland Creek staff methodically snares our heroine from the freedom of the outside world and into its clutches.  Sawyer is no dummy, as she realizes that simply walking out of the facility under her own volition is no longer an option, but she has zero choice.


To make matters much, much worse, Sawyer sees her stalker.  David works here!  How can that be?  Hence, the film layers a true environmental ploy with a potentially fictitious one.  Is David - the man who spurned massive changes to her entire life - just in her head or does he really slither around the dark hallways and peak into rooms within Highland Creek?


“Unsane” surely sets an unsettling tone with the previously-mentioned shadowy corridors.  Many of the walls are painted with a dank yellow, and Soderbergh seems to spread a thin layer of mustard on his iPhone camera lens to muddy up Sawyer’s experience and perception.  (Yes, Soderbergh filmed his movie with an iPhone.)  He also places his phone at creative angles, such as near a ticking wall clock that loudly counts the seconds or at Sawyer’s eye level, as the big screen images express distorted views that selfies – taken too closely - can sometimes can give.  


Even though Highland Creek is a mental institution, it is – visually - a polar opposite to the big, bright rooms and vast, “open” campus in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975).  Although there is no escape from either hospital, with Highland Creek, one would have to dart around obscure corners and hide in the never-ending dusk of poor industrial lighting.


“Unsane” works as an effective thriller, although not necessarily an enlightened or groundbreaking one.  Between Sawyer’s confusion and the purposely murky visuals, this 97-minute film hits the right off-putting notes.  The various patients – including a particularly disturbed Violet (Juno Tempe) – raise our angst, but thankfully, Sawyer finds relief with levelheaded Nate (Jay Pharoah), who appears to be the only one matching her lucidity…if she is, indeed, lucid. 


With the condiment-colored background, distorted atmosphere and mostly unpleasant company, David (if he does actually exist) is the ultimate villain, and Leonard’s portrayal of this middle-aged loner with outdated glasses and a mundane persona successfully offends and repulses both Sawyer and the audience.  In a battle of wits or a fair fight, Sawyer would easily outsmart and outlast this maladjusted adversary, but inside this hospital, the rules are bent, and not in her favor. 


Screenwriters Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer bend the rules, as they sometimes ignore basic logic and after the film ends, one might feel a bit manipulated.  Additionally, Sawyer’s reveal of her reality comes too soon that begs for a partial script rewrite.  At the same time, Soderbergh’s masterful command of time and space and Foy’s and Leonard’s memorable performances make “Unsane” a worthwhile and ultimately disturbing trip to the movies. 


Hey, after catching the film, you can wind down and bend the rules yourself.  Use unsane for a triple word score during your next Scrabble match!  Then again, maybe that’s a bad idea.  The less reminders of David Strine, the better.

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


7 Days in Entebbe - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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7 Days in Entebbe


Directed by Jose Padilha

Written by Gregory Burke

Starring Rosamund Pike, Daniel Bruhl, Eddie Marsan, Ben Schnetzer, Lior Ashkenazi, Denis Menochet


There is a propensity in the human condition to stop and reflect every once in a while so that we can, hopefully make better decisions in the future. In doing so, we want to coax as much as possible out of the event in question.

Jose Padilha chose to explore Operation Entebbe in his latest film “7 Days in Entebbe”. The story uses the hijacking of an Air France airliner in 1976 as its background while focusing on the two members of the German Revolutionary Cell as the dramatic prose. In the background is Israel, a country that had a staunch policy of not negotiating with hostages. Gregory Burke’s script frames the story through two sets of opposing characters – Rosamund Pike’s Brigitte Kuhlmann and Daniel Bruhl’s Wilfried Bose as the German revolutionaries as our protagonists and Lior Ashkenazi’s Yitzhak Rabin and Eddie Marsan’s Shimon Peres fighting as our antagonists fighting for the right political reaction while the plane and its hostages were the ‘guests’ of Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie).

While the event had been covered by three telefilms previously, this is the first to focus on the two German revolutionaries. Ms. Pike’s and Mr. Bruhl’s performances are admirable, given the smaller scale that this film focuses on. Unfortunately, the way the story flows, their characters are ultimately reduced to pastiches of what could have been truly dramatic cinema. Instead, the film focuses on Mr. Ashkenazi and Mr. Marsan, both who deliver powerhouse performances in their own right.

The issue is that because the story chose to focus on this situation, and the actual raid, the drama was reduced to a point where their dialog became a table tennis match: “who can land their point of view into the winning square first.” 42 years later, we see the various results of their operations, which were a success. The story does paint the positive results of the operation in a quickly edited fashion, but it became secondary as the story didn’t know what to do by the time the attack happened.

There are two interesting aspects in Mr. Padilha’s film that I think need to be stated. The first is his use of mimes in brilliantly colored set. The operatic and balletic use of this structure is meant to wordlessly convey the actions in the film; to give it a grander scale. The interpretation was not lost on this reviewer, but it doesn’t functionally fit the film’s narrative either. The second is the closing moments of the film where the title cards outline the continuing effects on the world stage that this event had and its interconnectedness.

I was born a few months before these events happened, so I don’t remember them very well, if at all. What’s interested is that we would choose to make a movie about this subject, especially now, and given that there have been three previous telefilms covering the subject. I give kudos to the cast, their dramatic sides all showed in a film where the story just crushed their ability to rise above their principles.

Rating 1 out of 4

Love, Simon - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Love, Simon


Director: Greg Berlanti

Starring: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Logan Miller, Josh Duhamel, and Jennifer Garner


Teenage romantic comedies are formulaic; two young people in high school find themselves thrust into some kind of situation that ends with the two smooching amidst swelling pop music, it’s been done many times in many ways. What makes Greg Berlanti’s, the mind behind the recent DC Comics explosion on television, “Love, Simon” different is something that seems so obviously aware that it might be surprising that it hasn’t happened yet. The titular lead Simon, played by Nick Robinson, is a well-liked high school senior who leads a typical, normal life except for the fact that he is gay.


Simon has a group of great friends, one of which is his best friend Leah (Katherine Langford) who he has known nearly his entire life. Simon has great parents (Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner) who are still together in a loving relationship, they even sit around the television to watch movies together. Simon lives a life some might only expect to see in the movies, but Simon has a secret that he hasn’t told anyone.


Berlanti tackles “Love, Simon” with a nice blend of humor and a fair amount of heart. Simon is a likable main character but he is far from perfect, he’s a teenage student trying to traverse the already tumultuous terrain of the high school hallways while trying to determine how, when, and if he will reveal his true feelings to those around him. This creates a struggle as high school bullying and a gossip website place Simon in a difficult situation where his choices hurt and manipulate those close to him. Still, even when Simon isn’t making the best decisions it’s hard to blame the character for his selfishness.


Berlanti does a great job of composing the characters within the film, never over emphasizing the narrative themes and keeping everything simplistic while always remaining fun. In most stories that have gay protagonists things don’t always have the best outcomes; these characters don’t always have such good lives, and in the end of these tales it often feels like life is still going to be a struggle compared to the struggles of people who aren’t in gay relationships. Film manipulates expectations, and in the case of gay cinema the results are often disheartening and sometimes tragic for the characters wanting to express how they feel to people they love. The fact that Berlanti takes the all too common formula of a teenage romantic comedy and places a gay male character in the lead role without succumbing to the manipulations of hatred that force people into places of fear and shame for their choice of relationship is refreshing and necessary in the world we live in today.


“Love, Simon” is a heartfelt, familiar tale of first love. Greg Berlanti does a exceptional job of creating engaging characters and placing them in a situation that doesn’t exploit the topic of sexuality or oversimplify the aspect of youth. “Love, Simon” is a enjoyable film that demonstrates that stories and experiences, though they may seem different from different populations, are the same when stripped down to its most basic emotion.


Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00

Tomb Raider - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Tomb Raider


Director: Roar Uthaug

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Derek Jacobi


Lara Croft has been running through jungles, caves, and ancient ruins, solving all manner of puzzles and problems since 1996 when the character made her first appearance for avid gamers. More than twenty years later and Lara Croft is making her third appearance on the silver screen, this time replacing Angelina Jolie with Alicia Vikander in the second franchise building film simply called “Tomb Raider”.


Director Roar Uthaug, director of somber-toned disaster film “The Wave” in 2015, takes Lara Croft back to the beginning, establishing an introduction to the character before she becomes the double-gun toting character gamers identify. This adventure film plays just like a video game during action scenes and functions narratively like a film eager to start production on the sequel.


Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a bicycle riding food delivery courier who refuses to give up hope concerning her father’s (Dominic West) mysterious disappearance. Lara is scrappy and tough, an attitude that has her taking a beating while refusing to tap out during a training scene and outsmarting a group of male bicyclists during a city chase scene. Lara is being coerced into taking over the Croft fortune and when a puzzle box reveals a secret about her father’s final adventure, the young adventurer is taken to an isolated island populated by a dangerous organization.


Alicia Vikander is working overtime here, providing Lara Croft with a charisma that makes the character work better than the script gives her opportunity. Still, Ms. Vikander makes the character likable while also displaying the physical toughness that allows her to do a majority of the action scene stunt work. It’s also refreshing to see the character, which has become an over-sexualized avatar throughout the years, stand on her own without a forced romantic relationship or the dependency of men to solve her problems.


Unfortunately, much of what transpires narratively in “Tomb Raider” falls all over itself in an attempt to push the character towards the next movie. This leaves much of the emotional core of the film, which exists between Lara and her father’s relationship, to be surmised through sloppy flashbacks. The villain here, played by Walton Goggins, doesn’t have much of a purpose in the second act beyond getting to hidden tomb before Lara does. This is the point in the film when “Tomb Raider” turns into a video game, providing missions for Lara to accomplish in order to get to the next dangerous level of the movie. It works in small amounts but quickly loses its effectiveness.


“Tomb Raider” is a decent action film, which unfortunately isn’t saying much in today’s superhero heavy cinemas, but Alicia Vikander is good enough to keep everything moving from scene to scene. “Tomb Raider” is clearly a launching platform for a bigger franchise, and this obvious emphasis leaves the film void of the qualities that would have established a better hero to journey into future adventures with.


Monte’s Rating

2.00 out of 5.00

Loveless - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell


Difficult not to love ‘Loveless’, a stunning and equally bleak film


Directed by:  Andrey Zvyagintsev

Written by:  Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin

Starring:  Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin and Matvey Novikov


“Loveless” – One of the more common statistics floating “out there” – spoken at happy hours, bake sales and around water coolers - is that half of marriages end in divorce.  The collective “they” might be right, because according to Google, the U.S. divorce rate is 41 and 60 percent for first and second marriages, respectively.    


Looking at divorce globally, an Oct. 18, 2017 article in The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, states that Maldives has the highest such rate in the world.  The United States?  We rank fifth. 


Well, Russia is second in the said study, and in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (“Leviathan” (2014)) “Loveless”, he explores the turmoil of one particular broken marriage during his anxiety-driven 2-hour 7-minute big screen experience, one that rightfully earned a Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar nomination.        


Actually, Boris’s (Aleksey Rozin) and Zhenya’s (Maryana Spivak) marriage has not officially dissolved on paper.  They are not divorced just yet, but their permanent, legal split will come soon. 


They hate each other. 


They loathe the sight of one another, live in a loveless household and share it with their 12-year-old son, Alyosha (Matvey Novikov).  When mired within the same daily living space, the parents’ mutual abhorrence boils into a constant, toxic ecosystem for all three individuals.  For Alyosha, he suffers the most emotional damage, as kids often do under the circumstances.        


Zvyagintsev paints icy circumstances for this family and the physical surroundings.  Filmed in a woodsy suburb of Moscow called the Yuzhnoye Tushino District, the setting is not under a siege of brutal blizzards in the dead of winter, but the air and the associated environment feel frigid.  


For instance, as the local children exit their concrete school – which could double as a faceless post office - Alyosha walks on the cold, stony slabs of the courtyard and into a lightly forested trail with leafless trees.  The trees won’t blossom for months.  They stand tall, but are dormant and brace for future snowstorms and below zero temps.


Boris, in his 40s, works a typical office job and braces for the latest policy that politely nudges him towards corporate conformity.  His 9 to 5 does not offer much joy, but at least his daytime hours act as a temporary reprieve from the misery of his marriage.  Well, that and his 20-something girlfriend, who he will cohabitate with, once his divorce papers are printed and signed. 


Zhenya, in her early 30s, is strikingly beautiful, and if not caught up in years of a dead marriage and the regret of becoming a mother, one could easily see her traveling the world as a model or designer and embracing the fruits of life.  In some parallel universe, she probably is.


In this universe, however, Zhenya, Boris and Aloysha are lost.  Lost souls, and Zvyagintsev explores the roots that manifested the present-day dysfunction and also the current patterns that allow it to fester.  He does so in eye-opening and cringe worthy ways, specifically by revealing how words can hurt and misguided actions are just blindly repeated.  Although Boris and Zhenya toil through several arguments, their first one sets the picture’s dark tone.  As their screams reach a fever pitch, the film seems to reach out, grab your neck and choke off your air supply. 


It might leave you a bit breathless, but rather than only wade through this family’s complicated living situation, the film takes a sudden left turn into a confounding mystery with no easy answers.  In fact, finding a needle in a haystack does not even begin to describe the struggle, as the picture’s foundation of doom is now topped with desperation.


Director Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation” (2011), “The Past” (2013), “The Salesman” (2016)) is a master a weaving complex family turmoil, as his players constantly grapple with shifting kinship challenges in very close, indoor spaces.  In Zvyagintsev’s picture, he introduces this family in a close, indoor space but – instead - drops a sledgehammer on our heads us and leaves us staggering for the duration.  Many times, we stagger in bleak but simultaneously stunning outdoor spaces, with visuals that will linger as long as our new memories of this family’s hopeless journey.  Zhenya, Boris and Aloysha certainly have a story, a difficult one, but no, they are not just a gloomy statistic.

(4/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

A Wrinkle in Time - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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A Wrinkle in Time


Directed by Ava DuVernay

Written by Jennifer Lee based on “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle

Starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Pena, Storm Reid, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Pine


I’m learning that the emotional baggage we bring to a movie, reflects what we get out of it. This is true of any interaction we have with each other as well as the art we appreciate. One of the most unique aspects of Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” which opens this weekend, is how relatable it is to everyday people even if you bring the most negative of impressions towards it.

Based on Madeline L’Engle’s children’s novel of the same name, Ms. DuVernay taps into her inner child as Meg Murry (Storm Reid) and her younger brother, Charles Wallce (Deric McCabe) search for their long lost father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) who gets lost after an experiment goes wrong. Dr. Kate Murry is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Helping the kids on their journey are Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling). Bringing balance to the universe is The Happy Medium played by Zach Galafianakis, while Michael Pena plays Red.

The screenplay by Jennifer Lee taps into very Disney-esque elements while Ms. Duvernay brings her own sensibilities to the story. As happens when a book is translated into a script, sequences get left out while other sequences might be tightened up to develop a strong character. As someone who hasn’t read the book, I can’t tell you what they carried over, or left behind.

What I can share is that the story is uneven. We do get Meg’s full arc and it’s a lovely one filled with a solid life lesson. Deric McCabe is stellar as Charles Wallace, with his innocence acting as a cover for a deep rooted intellect along with compassion. The supporting cast of Ms. Winfrey, Ms. Witherspoon and Mr. Galifianakis is exceptional. Yet, their presence in the film drifts off towards the end of the second act. This is a natural place for that send-off, yet it makes their presence in the film feel incomplete. At the same time, they are the best parts of who Meg is; she just chose not to accept them.

Another misstep is in the character of Red. I liked Mr. Pena’s take on the character, but he is on screen for such a small amount of time that I almost wish we had gotten something akin to The Nothing from “The Never Ending Story”.

Despite the danger to our characters and their adventures, I didn’t feel like the consequences of their journey or actions were presented as well as they could have been. Again, this is not the fault of Ms. DuVernay or the script. It is more a function of what elements they took from a rich, detailed novel that so many generations have come to love. The visual effects carried most of the danger effectively, though there were certain effects that became jarring, taking me out of the film.

In the end, “A Wrinkle in Time” will appeal to families with older children. There are some dark elements that might affect younger children. The messages in the film hit me front and center and made me realize that I have potential on my own journey. Perhaps you’ll choose to share in the journey and maybe even discover something about yourself. I know I did.

Rating 2 out of 4 stars

Vazante - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell


‘Vazante’ is an impactful, bleak 19th century story


Directed by:  Daniela Thomas

Written by:  Daniela Thomas and Beto Amaral

Starring:  Adriano Carvalho, Luana Nastas, Roberto Audio, Sandra Corveloni, and Fabricio Boliveira


“Vazante” – Looking back at history, one could claim that 1821 was a celebratory year.  


Greece gains independence from Turkey. 

The Saturday Evening Post prints its first edition.

Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua declare their independence from the Spanish Empire.

James Boyd patents the rubber fire hose.


These events are worthy enough to applaud and cheer, but in the same year, there is no merriment on Antonio’s (Adriano Carvalho) farm, located in the Diamantina Mountains, Brazil. 


In “Vazante”, he owns a massive parcel of land, complete with 20 or 30 slaves, but Antonio was in the diamond business.  Most unfortunately, the diamond mines have literally and figuratively lost their sparkle, and future prospects look grim. 


The mines are empty.  With one look at Antonio, the word grim best describes him. 


With a thick tuft of curly hair accompanied by a lengthy beard, his eyes - almost always - are spilled wide-open and alert, like he is itching for a gunfight, and his lips are tightly pressed, seemingly on the verge of opening for a primal scream.


Antonio, though, may not possess the vitality for such a scream.  His spirit is tired, worn-out and defeated, especially after a brutal personal tragedy.  Enter his brother Bartholomeu (Robert Audio) and his family, and they stay with Antonio on the farm.  The brothers are not exactly friendly.  They are not sworn enemies either, so this new sibling dynamic does not dramatically change the narrative, except in one respect:  Bartholomeu’s daughter, Beatriz (Luana Nastas).  


Director/co-writer Daniela Thomas spins a purposely bleak family tale and under a backdrop of glorious black and white, and her visual choice underscores the specific period and the regressive decisions made by the film’s characters.  She certainly sets a tone.  For instance, while Antonio and his slaves march through a tree-filled countryside under steady rain, one can almost imagine the lush colors that these men are experiencing all around them, but Thomas wipes these flushes of green, blue and yellow away.  The audience is left with a muffled – but also a crystal clear – window that dampens the mood both on-screen and in the theatre, not unlike Michael Haneke’s haunting German drama “The White Ribbon” (2009) or Nicolas Pesce’s horror film “The Eyes of My Mother” (2016).     


“Vazante” is not a horror film, but Thomas gives moviegoers barely anything to smile about during 1 hour and 56 minutes of agonizing, but also fascinating, screen time.  From an agonizing perspective, Antonio and his foreman, Jeremias (Fabricio Boliveira), utter curt commands to the homemakers and field hands, as these orders are met with assured, quiet obedience and zero serenity. 


No one wants to live or work there. 


It’s not just the slaves, but Bartholomeu’s wife, Dona Ondina (Sandra Corveloni), refers to Antonio’s farm as hell.  Hell might be a stretch, but the onsite oppression, hours and hours of work and other moments of complete boredom certainly are heated in misery.


This miserable, cringe worthy experience is balanced by Thomas’s filmmaking gifts.  She completely transports her actors and audience to a desolate, desperate otherworld of grey emotional tones:  simpleminded thinking, oppression, racism, and sexism, but not through much dialogue, because spoken words are sparse. 


Thomas channels Werner Herzog and hustles through hilly terrain and reveals difficult horseback journeys.  Other times, she simply plants her camera and holds specific shots for a few more seconds than is comfortable to repeatedly raise unease.  For instance, an ordinary – supposedly friendly - dinner between Antonio and Bartholomeu becomes a distressing experience with blank stares and silence filling the dining room and the big screen.  


For Beatriz, she faces a most distressing experience too.  For this poor girl, her choices are extremely limited which provide her very little reason to celebrate.  I predict that audiences will not celebrate this picture either, but that’s not the point.    

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


The Leisure Seeker - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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Mirren and Sutherland work hard in ‘The Leisure Seeker’


Directed by:  Paolo Virzi

Written by:  Paolo Virzi, Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, and Francesco Piccolo, and based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian

Starring:  Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland


“The Leisure Seeker” – “I am so happy when you come back to me.”


About 20 minutes into “The Leisure Seeker”, Ella (Helen Mirren) almost-tearfully declares the aforementioned statement to her husband, John (Donald Sutherland).   Now, John did not physically disappear from Ella’s sight and then reappear, but his mind did.  John, a retired history teacher, suffers from Alzheimer’s, and although his condition does not currently and completely debilitate him (and his relationship with Ella), his sporadic fades obviously create serious problems. 


Ella and John decide to set aside their problems and take a road trip from Massachusetts to Key West in their 1975 Winnebago, affectionately named The Leisure Seeker in Italian director Paolo Virzi’s (“Human Capital” (2013)) first American film. 


And it’s a good one.


Although the picture does wrap itself in familiar road trip storylines, led by two strong performances from two very likable acting-legends, “The Leisure Seeker” resonates with humor, nuance and angst over the course of 1 hour and 52 minutes.


The screenplay – co-written by Virzi and three others – has Ella and John spending their minutes, hours and days in an RV that captured decades of fond memories for the two, while they reminisce about their marriage, their loving family and the good old days on their way to Florida.  At least they attempt to remember, but John falls into distressing traps because of his condition.  This frustrates Ella, and even though they enjoy a strong marriage, their 40-plus years of cohabitation have not been completely full of bliss. 


Ella frequently loses her patience with John, while his lapses double the angst for the audience.  First, the couple’s sunny, positive vibes suddenly become stymied, because Ella needs to stop and grapple with John’s disorientation or fleeting memory, whether in a restaurant when he repeats and repeats his hunger for a burger or wonders where their little children are.  Meanwhile, their kids, Jane (Janel Moloney) and Will (Christian McKay), are 40-something adults.  Second, Ella simply wishes for a pleasant drive down the east coast free of incident, free of reminders of their advancing ages and the freedom to just embrace the moment, but her frustration tends to boil over into snipes and gripes. 


It certainly is easy for a movie audience to have sympathy for John, but Ella bears the burden of knowing decades of better times, while also coping with a completely separate issue of her own.   Her outbursts certainly ring with understanding, even if they do bruise our eardrums. 


Ella’s and John’s emotional beats should resonate for most, as this couple could be any elderly couple from Anywhere, U.S.A.  Mirren, Sutherland and Virzi create a relatable environment within the confines of The Leisure Seeker and every step outside it.  The three take great care in embracing the pair’s history through a specific and wonderful routine that Ella and John enjoy at every campground during their 1,600-mile journey.  It’s funny, because their particular evening practice (which will not be revealed in this review) can be a painful one for friends and relatives – in our own lives - to endure, but in this case, it is very sweet and loving and gives ample chances for moviegoers to learn about these two seniors with rich histories.


Accompanied by a rich, contextual soundtrack - from the 60s counterculture and the decade after – Mirren and Sutherland seem to effortlessly gel as husband and wife with a lifetime of memories.  Their moments of complaint, love and anticipating the others’ tendencies flow off the screen, while they also juggle their characters’ emotional diagonals with ease.  Sutherland’s work here is not as dynamic as Julianne Moore’s in 2014’s “Still Alice”, however, the narrative does not call for it.  Here, this simply is a weeklong trip, so the dramatic memory loss in Moore’s performance never comes into play.  Through this film’s subtle emotional touches, however, the pain of John’s loss certainly is no less heart-wrenching, and this critic certainly felt happy when John occasionally comes back to Ella too. 

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Monte Yazzie's Oscar Predictions

Monte Yazzie’s Oscar Predictions




The Super Bowl for the movie industry, the 90th Annual Academy Awards, is this Sunday night. It’s Hollywood’s big night filled with ball gowns, tuxedos, uncomfortable interviews, and more than likely a political charged acceptance speech or ten. Viewers, however, treat this event as an opportunity to contribute their two cents into the race of who is going to win when the ballot is opened. Still, even though countless film websites, historians, and Oscar super-fans have written extensive articles detailing every major category and who they think is going to win based on every other awards show that has come before, it’s still difficult to separate the head from the heart for me when picking the winners. And while sometimes it may be obvious who might be scribbled into the ballot for the win, sometimes it’s still difficult to accept.


So, for the Phoenix Film Festival Oscar predications this year, I’ve decided to provide both of my picks, the one from the head and the one from the heart. For all I know they may both be wrong. Watch the Academy Awards this Sunday and make sure to pick your winners.



Best Picture


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•   Call Me By Your Name

•   Darkest Hour

•   Dunkirk

•   Get Out

•   Lady Bird

•   Phantom Thread

•   The Post

•   The Shape of Water

•   Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


HEAD: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

HEART: The Shape of Water



Actor In A Leading Role

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•   Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

•   Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

•   Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

•   Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

•   Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.


HEAD: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

HEART: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out


Actor In A Supporting Role


Three Billboards.jpg

•   Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

•   Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

•   Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

•   Christopher Plummer, All The Money In The World

•   Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


HEAD: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

HEART: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project


Actress In A Leading Role


Shape of Water.jpg

•   Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

•   Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

•   Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

•   Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

•   Meryl Streep, The Post


HEAD: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

HEART: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water


Actress In A Supporting Role


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•   Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

•   Allison Janney, I, Tonya

•   Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

•   Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

•   Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water


HEAD: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

HEART: Mary J. Blige, Mudbound


Best Director


Shape of Water.jpg

•   Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

•   Jordan Peele, Get Out

•   Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

•   Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

•   Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water


HEAD: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

HEART: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water


Animated Feature Film



•   The Boss Baby

•   Breadwinner

•   Coco

•   Ferdinand

•   Loving Vincent


HEAD: Coco



Documentary Feature


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•   Abacus, Small Enough to Jail

•   Faces Places

•   Icarus

•   Last Men in Aleppo

•   Strong Island


HEAD: Faces Places

HEART: Faces Places





Foreign Language Film



•   A Fantastic Woman

•   The Insult

•   Loveless

•   On Body and Soul

•   The Square


HEAD: A Fantastic Woman

HEART: The Square




Blade Runner 2049.jpg

•   Blade Runner 2049

•   Darkest Hour

•   Dunkirk

•   Mudbound

•   The Shape of Water


HEAD: Blade Runner 2049

HEART: Blade Runner 2049

Red Sparrow - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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The spy film ‘Red Sparrow’ flies in some twisty, some meandering directions


Directed by:  Francis Lawrence

Written by:  Justin Haythe, based on the book by Jason Matthews

Starring:  Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthew Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, and Jeremy Irons


“Red Sparrow” – After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many Western Europeans and Americans - hoped for a less adversarial relationship with their/our former communist foe, Russia.  Sure, Russia technically is a democracy, but a sketchy one, and after recent shenanigans in 2016, this aforementioned “former-enemy” certainly is not behaving like a nation wanting to cozy up as best friends with the West.  Far from it.


As Bob Dylan preached in his 1964 song “With God on Our Side”:


“I’ve learned to hate the Russians, all through my whole life. If another war starts, it’s them we must fight. To hate them and fear them, to run and to hide. And accept it all bravely with God on my side.”


In 2018, hating and fearing Russians are probably not necessary prerequisites for U.S. citizens, but with a different kind of war hitting our cyber-doorstep, developing healthy skepticism and raising our guards seem like prudent judgments, don’t you think?


In “Red Sparrow” - director Francis Lawrence’s spy vs. spy film – CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) needs to develop healthy skepticism with (and raise his guard against) Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence).  She is a Russian spy.  Actually, Dominika is a Sparrow, a siren who possesses both deadly intentions and powers of seduction. 


Nash blew his cover trying to protect a Russian mole, and Dominika needs to discover this person’s identity for Mother Russia and another relative, her real-life uncle, SVR Deputy Director Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts).   Nash and Dominika duel – but also cooperate - in a battle of wits and sexual tension in various spots like Budapest and Vienna.   Although the picture looks fantastic (as it shows off some gorgeous (and moody) indoor venues that leap off the screen), carries an intriguing premise and Lawrence takes some risky chances, the film’s more introspective focus and sluggish pacing may leave audiences with lukewarm feelings rather than its intended red hot and icy cold endgame responses.


Lawrence works hard and steps out of her comfort zone throughout the picture, to her character’s intended detriment.  Justin Haythe’s script – several times - leaves Dominika and us very uncomfortable, especially during Sparrow training when her lead instructor, Matron (Charlotte Rampling), delivers emotionless, stony demands that attempt to strip our heroine’s humanity and her clothes.  Incidentally, Rampling is perfectly cast as Matron, whose character proudly carries decades of authoritarian, behind-the-Iron Curtain rhetoric like a second skin, graying out her pigment and erasing every grain of humor or joy from her being.  Rampling’s accent may not always ring true-Soviet, but Matron’s voice usually does not rise louder than a polite and poisonous conversational tone, making every uttered syllable a potentially harmful one.  Dominika’s anxious exchanges with Matron, her uncle and General Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) are the best moments in the movie, as these focused players debate protocol and allegiance, with the mission and associated Russian prominence being the only two motivating factors in every decision.


Well, except for Dominika.  She is new to this cloak-and-dagger routine, and the movie’s fulcrum rests upon her ultimate loyalty or betrayal to the State.  The will-she or won’t-she thread successfully harnesses our attention, but Edgerton and Lawrence do not capture enough on-screen sparks, and the film does not help itself with long – and sometimes mundane - stretches between a few visceral, violent sequences. 


“Red Sparrow” feels like a “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011)/“Mission Impossible” (1996) hybrid but with its own odd beats, including a couple strange choices.  For instance, one character suffers a horrific leg injury and sports a cane early on in the movie, but then - suddenly - is free of the aforementioned aide and appears to walk perfectly fine, which makes one wonder when he or she squeezed in the needed hours of physical therapy.  Second, during a specific operation, Dominika transfers data from a PC to a series of 3.5 inch disks, but wasn’t this technology last seen in the late 1990s?  Everything else in the picture looks like 2018, except for the absence of a simple thumb drive.  


Oh well, maybe the movie is set in 1996, but who knows.  Love or hate Russia, perhaps all that this critic knows is: it’s an awfully complicated place, as evidenced by my comment to my friend, two seconds after the movie ended.


“Well, I am never moving to Russia.” 


Admittedly, that is an icy cold response, amid some lukewarm feelings too.

(2.5/4 stars) 


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Death Wish - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Death Wish (2018)


Directed by Eli Roth

Written by Joe Carnahan, based on the 1974 screenplay by Wendell Mayes and the novel “Death Wish” by Brian Garfield

Starring Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, Camilla Morrone, Beau Knapp


It didn’t occur to me until I started really thinking about Eli Roth’s “Death Wish” how exacting the phrase “Revenge is a dish best served cold” would serve his film. It isn’t so much that the remake of the 1974 classic by the same name, which hits theater screens tomorrow, takes its time to exact the revenge our bereaved seeks.


No. In this version, written by Joe Carnahan (the “Smoking Aces” series, “A-Team”), the film takes its time to explore the slow build-up towards vengeance that Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) experiences following the death of his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and his comatose daughter, Jordan (Camilla Morrone).


Mr. Roth uses modern day social media and talk-radio to guide a part of his narrative, in an effort to modernize this tale. Mr. Willis plays a passable ER surgeon and when he is called in to play his requisite hero role, the story loses its luster. 


Yes, you feel sympathy for what the character is going through, but a number of the plot points feel contrived, if not convenient. Where the original film featured the main character as an architect, here making the character a doctor gives the film an easy way out: the skills a doctor learns to save people, can very easily be used to turn against people.


To balance that aspect out, Mr. Roth surrounded Mr. Willis with a somewhat strong supporting cast, namely Vincent D’Onofrio, who seems to have faded into the background. He’s actually a nice foil for the successful Dr. Kersey as someone who understands the need to exact revenge: he is the audiences’ conscience. Dean Norris, who usually plays a heavy is pretty light as Detective Rains. In an era where the majority of this country don’t believe that cops do their jobs well, the Rains character depicts the struggle that the police go through to solve cases. His partner, Detective Jackson (Kimberly Elise) is adept at standing by Rains’s side.


For a protagonist to truly be effective, there needs to be an antagonist of equal intelligence. When they wrote the character of Knox, played by Beau Knapp, they intended the intelligence part, but they really got brawn. I could claim the same about every other lowlife scum that inhabits this film as Dr. Kersey goes through his warpath of vengeance. It makes the Kersey character that much more formidable, and yet, with Bruce Willis in the role, Mr. Roth didn’t need to make the path so easy.


You have to wonder if this is a comment on society-at-large, where we are all driven to the point where we feel the need to take action. The story fails because of the swiftness with which Dr. Kersey was able to take action. Yes, time passed by, something the story does get right. Society questions the need for his actions. Yet, the film justifies the means to an end.


Is it logical? No. Dr. Kersey, as well as Mr. Roth are on slippery slopes. Just because you have the knowledge and the instruments to take life, doesn’t mean that you should. Even if it means “an eye for an eye.”


Rating: 2 out of 4