All posts by Stephen Michael Brown

I've reviewed films for more than 30 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

Movie Review: Smile (2022)

New from Paramount.

Put on your brave face because Parker Finn’s supernatural movie Smile (B) is one of the year’s most terrifying horror films. The plot follows a therapist, gracefully played by Sosie Bacon, who appears to be losing her mind after witnessing a bizarre tragedy involving a troubled patient, portrayed so well by Caitlin Stasey that the audience is spoiled by amazing acting early in the story. The film effectively unpacks the effects of trauma while supplying a steady stream of creepy visuals, jump scares and menacing mysteries. Bacon’s lead performance is consistently engaging, as is Robin Weigert as a tightly wound psychiatrist. Finn keeps the tension high and the emotions raw but relies a bit too often on unnecessarily fancy camera angles and cellphone calls as deus ex machina. The director keeps his grip and grimace so taut for so long that the narrative hardly has any pearly white fight left in it for the final showdowns. This movie is undoubtedly a good time for horror lovers and a solid entry into the genre.

Movie Review: Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Now playing in theatres.

After a season of publicity junkets that could charitably be dubbed Cast Behaving Badly, the question lingers if the movie itself is actually any good. It’s not. Olivia Wilde’s psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling (D) contains two virtues: lovely Midcentury Modern Americana imagery and a sometimes interesting performance by the talented Florence Pugh. The plucky actress does her damnedest emoting fiercely in the surreal Ibsen-by-way-of Twilight Zone dollhouse she inhabits, but when it’s not a bore, it’s a chore. The story is maddeningly stale, and no amount of twists can redeem it. Harry Styles and Chris Pine are one-note in their dashing stock performances. Wilde can neither pull the audience into suspense nor intrigue; the story is simply dud on arrival. Luckily this cast has a good future ahead.

Movie Review: The Woman King (2022)

Now playing in theatres.

The high-flying Navy heroes of a certain blockbuster sequel have competition in this year’s crowd-pleasing movie department in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s handsomely produced epic The Woman King (A). Against the backdrop of the bygone besieged West African nation of Dahomey (modern-day Benin) in the 1820s, Viola Davis plays a fictional general from a real group of all-female warriors called the Agojie and must train the next generation of women to fight an enemy who wants to destroy their way of life. Davis is an absolute force of nature in the role, alternately executing elaborate fight choreography and exposing the emotion behind her stoic soldier stance. Thusu Mbedu is magnificent as a maverick up-and-comer in the brilliant brigade, and Lashana Lynch and Sheila Latim are superb standouts in the squad. John Boyega is wonderful as well playing the reigning monarch with a rousing final act battle speech. Prince-Bythewood depicts the crucibles and counteroffenses of the film’s women with stunning agility; this is clearly the work of women on a mission and offers strong storytelling and spectacle. Without missing a beat of the action, the story also confronts the immorality of the kingdom’s leaders selling Dahomey slaves to the Portuguese; it’s fascinating in the way it fills in some blanks from the history books. Also distinguished by Terence Blanchard’s score and frankly every element of Hollywood crafts, this film promises to be a word of mouth sensation and will please those who enjoyed adventures such as Last of the Mohicans or Gladiator. All hail the arrival of this fine film!

Movie Review: Pearl (2022)

Pearl movie by A24
In theatres September 15, 2022 from A24.

When making this year’s ‘70s set horror film X, director Ti West also filmed a secret WWI era prequel, Pearl: An X-traordinary Origin Story (B-), and it’s the eerie crackup tale of the titular killer set amidst a corn pone maze of vintage Technicolor trappings. The handsome Hollywood production design on an isolated farm and an old-fashioned nearby town blended with Grand Guignol grotesquerie is consistently fascinating to watch even though the total package feels a bit obligatory. Mia Goth is brilliant in the central role, showcasing mania simmering slightly below and very highly above the surface in a series of escalating, campy and terrifying sequences. You truly can’t take your eyes off her. Tandi Wright is delightfully icy as her controlling mom; there are definitely Carrie vibes here. West’s stylized hues and horrors are largely a wonder to behold, although the color tones get more consistent attention than the themes and story beats. Some prescient subplots involving the Spanish Flu pandemic and an adjacent alligator are given short shrift, and one curious theatrical monologue doesn’t quite stick the cinematic landing. The film’s crafts including its score are roundly impressive, making the movie a triumph of style over substance. This is a slasher flick for the indie film set; but when you strip away the sparkling artifice, it’s sometimes not quite as special as its glamorous aspirations might imagine.

Movie Review: Barbarian (2022)

September 9 in theatres from 20th Century Studios.

The infamous Bates Motel has nothing on the vacation rental home at the center of Zach Cregger’s creative horror movie Barbarian (B), where two intriguing perfect strangers played by Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård (“Pennywise” of It himself, a kind of Everyman without clown makeup) find they are mysteriously both booked the same night. Somehow there’s a feeling they may stay a while. It would be a Meet Cute if it weren’t so immediately creepy. Add in some toxic masculinity in the form of a crafty performance by Justin Long and some uneasy subplots which could make you wish for another infant formula shortage, and you have the strange elements of one of the most twisty terror fests of the year. Campbell is very committed to the protagonist role even though her mistake-prone character makes some outrageous decisions. Sometimes it feels she is playing into the audience’s delight at watching her make a decathlon of debacles, with parts of the plot clearly leaning into laughs. Cregger’s series of magic tricks, played so well in the first acts, sags a bit in the prestige. There are also a series of elevated horror concepts not sufficiently fleshed out. But overall it’s a bonkers good time with high production values (talk about a trap house!) and genuine psychological suspense. If you enjoyed last year’s Malignant or this year’s X, this feisty fright flick should be your jam.

Movie Review: Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

Now playing in theatres.

A picturesque peculiarity worthy of finding a cultish niche audience, George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing (B+) is the Turkey-set tale of a bespectacled, pragmatic academic (Tilda Swinton) who awakens a kindhearted Djinn, or genie (Idris Elba) eager to grant his solitary liberator her obligatory trio of wishes, but only those she desires deeply. He arrives, Istanbul in a China shop, via a curious bottle as a giant misty creature in her hotel room and seeps into her soul as he shares storytelling flashbacks tracing his personal ancient history up to this moment in time. Miller’s asymmetrical structure interpolating fantastical past loves and battles in the Ottoman Empire and beyond with talky terrycloth musings about the cautionary qualities of their large-scale proposal is both confounding and rewarding. The callbacks serve to enrich the push-pull and burgeoning relationship between the unlikely protagonists. Miller maestros a master class of ornate visual effects, visceral cinematography and bright costumes as his two-hander unfolds and opens up to the syncopation of a lush score. Swinton and Elba are perfectly cast and prove quite believable embedded in the opus of the director’s glorious and sometimes goofy grandeur. Several plot elements could have benefitted from a few more foreshadowing breadcrumbs, but a film with this many ideas about patience, mysticism and science is a bit of a delicate soufflé. You’ll likely know if you’re the adventurous audience for this creative think piece; and if you are, it’s a sumptuous big screen experience.

Movie Review: Breaking (2022)

Coming to theatres Aug. 26, 2022.

The tension remains high for at least half of Abi Damaris Corbin’s taut real-life drama Breaking (B), but there’s literally not a lot of payoff in a story about a jilted veteran who holds up a bank as a last desperate attempt at getting noticed. John Boyega disappears into the central role of a very specifically well mannered vigilante opposite a stellar Nicole Beharie as the steely bank manager turned primary hostage. Connie Britton is engaging as always as a broadcast news reporter; and, in his final screen performance, the late Michael K. Williams is superb as a wily mastermind negotiator. It’s a competent procedural thriller with some illuminating moments about how America abandons promising people on the fringes, but its tenacity to the dogma of chronicling a true story deprives the film of the wrinkles and ridges most crackling narratives possess. Corbin is very skilled at the helm, and it will be interesting to see what she tackles next.

Movie Review: Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)

Now in theatres from A24.

Texting is vexing, words are blunt instruments and smartphones illuminate the unexpected in Halina Reijn’s dark comic horror movie Bodies Bodies Bodies (C+). This meta whodunit featuring a quintet of Gen Z actresses playing wealthy semi-strangers engaged in hardcore house-partying trades magnifying glasses for digital devices to examine a killing spree. The film, with its land grab of lewd lexicon and triggering aplenty, feels oddly hatched in a sassy sociology class. Reijn is fixated on allegory over actual scares while uncovering the carapace and contradiction among women of gentle demeanor becoming merciless in an Insta. Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalava seize some of the best acting moments, and Pete Davidson is a riot as a slacker and truth teller. The film’s most distinctive features are its lighting and cinematography, exploring a gleefully glowing aesthetic in the increasingly dark domicile. Whether the ensemble is intended to be the object of affection or ridicule, the group is fairly unlikable, which can distance the viewers from caring deeply. Despite some occasionally curious satirical ideas, this movie is hardly more frightening than a wi-fi outage.

Movie Review: Prey (2022)

Now streaming on Hulu.

Don’t doubt the mind and might of an 18th century Comanche tribe healing woman or the power of the seventh installment in the Predator movie franchise – a prequel, no less – to surprise with dexterity and delight. Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey (B+) turns out to be a corker of an action film set in the Northern Great Plains with fierce actress Amber Midthunder making an indelible impression as Naru, a skilled medic, warrior and tracker protecting her tribe against a highly evolved alien. Although the menace of the sometimes transparent antagonist is absurd as ever, Midthunder (accompanied by an incredibly cute dog) is wholly convincing in her oneupmanship. Trachtenberg skillfully plays with pace and suspense and keeps his eyes squarely on the central clash of Naru and the Predator, a heat-seeking hot pursuit. His tight plotting and action sequences pay off again and again, as grizzly bears and fur trappers emerge in the great wide open of the film’s gorgeous landscape. The film boils to a stunning denouement and closes the chapter of what could easily be just a great self-contained movie for those who haven’t followed the series. This installment is also notable for its representation of Indigenous Americans, with insightful themes about how a close-knit community intersects with a hearty helping of sci-fi horror on the side.

Movie Review: Bullet Train (2022)

Now in theatres.

Director David Leitch builds a better mousetrap out of the snatch-and-grab genre on a modern-day Orient express in the Tokyo-set anything-goes action yarn Bullet Train (B). Fond homages to Kill Bill and The Warriors abound as a rogues’ gallery of antiheroes assembles aboard a speeding locomotive with vengeance embedded in its steam-pipe ethos. With unusual chronology and flashes of back story, it becomes clearer why the ensemble is aboard the vehicle. Brad Pitt is the zen protagonist imbued with super-chill talents of snark and imaginative stunt choreography in equal doses; it’s fun to watch a reformed assassin in progress as he quietly observes the folly of his ways to Sandra Bullock in an earpiece while clashing with the cavalcade of obstacles in his way. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Bryan Tyree Henry are among the most amusing denizens of the whistle-stop whirling dervish, a droll duo with killer banter. As an elder with manga and martial arts magnetism, Hiroyuki Sanada is another effective standout in the star-studded cast. Leitch unleashes a blood splattered bubblegum hued environment with endless invention, the kind that surprises, delights and sometimes wears out its welcome. Overall it’s gonzo action-packed fun, though, with surprises around every turn.

Movie Review: Thirteen Lives (2022)

Now streaming on Prime Video.

Spelunk-tacular! Ron Howard’s real-life survival film Thirteen Lives (B) chronicles the daring 2018 rescue of a dozen young soccer players and their assistant coach trapped for 18 days in Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang Non cave after heavy rainfall flooded the structure and blocked their way out. It’s sometimes an uneven match of the endlessly optimistic director and the sometimes mundane mechanics of the procedural plot, but once the expert divers played by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell discover the trapped entourage and enlist Joel Edgerton who also dives and offers additional medical skills, it’s a battle of brains and brawn to get everyone out safe and sound. The narrow passageways and the deluge of water compound the scope and scale of the disaster film, with some rather remarkable underwater cinematography. The familiar actors bring notable realism to the screen, and Teeradon Supapunpinyo is an underused gem as the empowering coach who keeps his players’ hope alive during the grueling ordeal. The first hour is sluggish but the second and third acts pick up the pace. Howard ultimately wrings a heartfelt message from the global story of cooperation between 17 countries to complete the miraculous mission. It’s a noble and inspiring work with takeaways for nearly every family viewer.

Movie Review: They/Them (2022)

Now streaming on Peacock.

Those harboring horror film history will have a sixth sense of what you get when it’s Kevin Bacon plus sleepaway camp: it’s not a lucky day for the teen participants. John Logan’s new film They/Them (B) is pronounced “they slash them,” and although it’s sometimes more effective as social commentary than horror movie, it’s often a riveting and surprisingly sensitive psychological adventure. Theo Germaine is absorbing as the non-binary protagonist in a talented LGBTQ ensemble, with Anna Chlumsky and Carrie Preston among the standout counselors at an outdoor conversion camp further complicated by the presence of a masked killer. Kevin Bacon is solid as the seemingly mild mannered but possibly sadistic camp leader; the actor clearly liked the concept enough to be a behind the scenes producer as well. The body count is punctuated by sterling doses of intimate drama and even a jubilant singalong to a Pink anthem. Just when folks thought it was safe to be out of the closet, this twisty tale provides refreshing riffs by the queer and loathing, especially when the usual roles occupied by damsels in distress are  magnificently reversed and empowered. This is unexpected fare in the streaming wilderness of late summer.