“American Sniper” is political propaganda through and through, in the same way “Zero Dark Thirty” was and every Michael Moore documentary is. It’s essentially Neocon porn, with a vaguely seedy undercurrent of Islamaphobia in the massive box-office turnout (fueled, no doubt, by the tragedy in France) and conservative social media ecstasy, and director Clint Eastwood’s patriotic fingerprints all over every frame. Unfortunately, all of this political subterfuge is masking the fact that “American Sniper” is kind of a terrible movie.  What we have here is Bradley Cooper, as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, playing first-person shooter game for two hours with no motivation behind his obsessionRead More →

As I sat watching Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus,” I kept thinking back to Brotman’s Law of Film, which states that if nothing happens by the end of the first reel, nothing is going to happen.  That bit of wisdom, coined by Chicago movie exhibitor Oscar Brotman as a barometer to tell you when you’re in for a bomb of a flick, was first introduced to me through the writings of the late Roger Ebert many years ago.  Unfortunately, Ebert never told me what to expect when nothing happens by the end of the final reel.  Here we have what is essentially a film built on anRead More →

James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the rarest sort of achievement, a spectacular summer entertainment that’s as exciting as “Stars Wars,” as subversive as “Heavy Metal,” and as goofy as countless Roger Corman space romps.  It also happens to be smart, wickedly funny, sweet in a way that seems new to the Marvel movie universe, and just about the best example of family entertainment to come along in some time. A prologue informs us that young Peter Quill was snatched unceremoniously from the jaws of earth by a giant spaceship in the year 1988, a time when cassette mix tapes could still be foundRead More →

It’s an accepted fact in the cinema world that sequels are rarely better than their predecessors.  The case has been argued for everything from “The Godfather Part II” and “Aliens,” to “Scream 2,” but. despite all the heated debate, no consensus has ever been reached that any of those movies is better than the first.  So, it gives me a certain amount of pleasure to believe that “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the first truly authentic example of this rarest of phenomenons I’ve ever seen.  Not only does “Dawn” blow “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” out of the water inRead More →

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho tale of post-apocalyptic insurrection, “Snowpiercer,” arrives in the states on the heels of a minor controversy, after domestic distributor and notable meddler Harvey Weinstein famously attempted to wrestle final cut of the film away from Bong and edit it down for purposes of length and pacing.  Bong fought back in a public dispute and won, maintaining final cut of the film.  Much has been made of Bong’s bravery for going head-to-head with one of Hollywood’s most ruthless titans.  But having seen the film for myself, I wonder if maybe Weinstein was right to interfere: “Snowpiercer” is a glorious mess, aRead More →

I really like the “Transformers” movies.  There, I said it.  I’m sure it won’t be long before some figurative hit has been put on my movie life for saying such a thing, so I’ll consider a cinema version of the witness protection program before I find myself floating at the bottom of the Hudson wearing nothing but a smile and cement film reels for shoes. It feels dangerous, and a little thrilling, to come to terms with the idea that maybe Michael Bay isn’t quite the devil I once thought he was.  There was a day when I sided vociferously with the more literate filmRead More →

Let’s get this out of the way: “The Rover” isn’t going to sit well with many people.  It’s a tough, brutal, violent piece of work that wears its nihilism on its sleeve, proudly and unflinchingly.  By the end of the movie, many people will have died, and all but one of them will have had it coming.  In lieu of the traditional antagonists and protagonists locked in a battle of good and evil, the movie relies on people who are in the process of losing their humanity, or who have already lost it entirely.  When I think back on my film experiences, few titles haveRead More →

[With deepest apologies to my kind and lovely friend, Gus, who loves the musical theater almost as much as he loves summer camp slashers.] Jerome Sable’s satirical slasher movie, “Stage Fright” (not to be confused with Michele Soavi’s superior 1987 giallo of the same name), wants desperately to be all things to all people, but, ironically, ends up being not much of anything at all.  It starts out as a sharp and hilarious satire of everything from “Meatballs” to “Glee” to “Psycho Beach Party,” before abruptly deciding to throw in the Phantoms of both the Opera and the Paradise, a little bit of “Rock ’n’Read More →