All posts by Stephen Michael Brown

I've reviewed films for more than 20 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: Rocketman (2019)

Rocketman is the musical biopic of Sir Elton John

Dexter Fletcher is the director who finished filming Bohemian Rhapsody after Its filmmaker was dismissed and further flexes his love of musical storytelling in the Elton John biopic Rocketman (B-), a motion picture whose blissed-out protagonist is rather hard to get to know, even after a whole film about his life has unspooled. Taron Egerton is convincing and charismatic in the lead role, and Jamie Bell is also enjoyable as Bernie Taupin, the musician’s longtime lyricist and friend. The story, told in both the musical style of characters breaking out into song and sequences reenacting live performances, gets glowing support in terms of flamboyant costumes, buoyant choreography and Bryce Dallas Howard in a juicy role as the musician’s mum. Unfortunately the plot is inert, and stock characters like the agent/love interest played by Richard Madden are crocodiles who fail to rock. Many of the jukebox musical numbers come to brilliant life with delightful orchestrations, especially “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Your Song.” However, some favorites from the catalogue are oddly missing or marginalized, and John’s character choices are mainly muddled in a drug and alcohol fog. Much more bittersweet than celebratory, the film is crying out for a drying out, and the ultimate detoxifying denouement is begging for an audience still standing by the end, but sorry seems to be the prevailing word.

Movie Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures present a new film in the monster franchise.

The kaijū film genre, marked by fantastical creatures storming world cities, gets epic treatment in Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters (B-), the third in a proposed quartet of “Legendary MonsterVerse” films (preceded by 2014’s Godzillaand 2017’s Kong: Skull Island). This movie is wall to wall action around the globe featuring a clash of spectacular Titans – the titular beast, the flying Rodan, the multi-headed King Ghidorah and the exotic Mothra. Grounded in a domestic drama at its core but absolutely unleashed in terms of glorious effects, set pieces and apex predator showdowns, this is as exciting and thrilling as a Hollywood disaster and destruction blockbuster gets. Kyle Chandler sinks his teeth into the monster-hunting leading man role in psychological battle with Vera Farmiga, who harbors a belief that the colossal creatures may help restore the earth from mankind’s foibles. Exploring all the strangest things firsthand, Millie Bobby Brown is solid as their conflicted offspring. Bradley Whitford provides coy comfort in the situation room, and Ken Watanabe steals the show a scientist turned soldier hellbent on maintaining the balance and safety of all living things. There may actually be too much packed into this creature feature as the momentum rages on a bit too long. Sometimes the sheer spectacle crowds out promised characterizations, but this film delivers the goods in terms of action and intrigue.

Movie Review: Booksmart (2019)

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut gets a “B” for recommended.

Imagine finding out that single-minded discipline in high school yielded no more success than that of the the cool kids who also partied all four years. That’s the premise of first time director Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart (B), one of those very sweet films wrapped in the package of a vulgar comedy, in which its central duo endeavors to make up for lost time with a free-spirited romp on graduation eve. This irreverent movie has plenty of great laughs and gags and is notable for its central friendship between a lesbian character (Kaitlyn Dever) and her loving but controlling straight best friend (Beanie Feldstein). Feldstein steals the show with her potent mix of feisty friendliness and devious directness (for those who don’t know, she’s Jonah Hill’s sister and equally super-badass). The film is largely a series of episodic moments through misbegotten parties with its ladies getting into maiden voyages of mischief, but the film’s characters are generally good-spirited and it never gets too dark. Jason Sudeikis, Jessica Williams, Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow are enjoyable in small roles. Wilde demonstrates command of the medium and brings a fresh female perspective to the notion that all hard work and no play is no fun for anyone.

Movie Review: Aladdin (2019)


Aladdin scores a marginal recommendation at B-.

While the studio that pioneered 2-D animation has evidently put that art form on ice, Disney has adapted its golden age cartoon musicals into Broadway shows and transformed them back into hybrid “revisal” live action movies to  mixed effect. What was vintage or even moribund is now cryogenically reawakened as both blatant cash grab and opportunity to amend already sterling properties with new flourishes. Macho action film helmer Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin (B-) mines his man cave of wonders and faithfully recreates many of the nostalgic beats of the madcap magic lamp comedy, but here’s the rub: it doesn’t add enough new invention to distinctively better its predecessor in many remarkable categories. This live action lark is clearly bringing something borrowed and something blue: the latter, Will Smith’s cyan-hued comic Genie, is the surprise here and literally saves the movie at mid-point from an odd gloominess, the megawatt star nailing the iconic wish-granting role by simply being himself in fresh-prince mode as if the RuPaul’s Drag Race team had whispered him some funny shade to throw. He almost has to slow his droll to avoid eclipsing the rest of the ensemble, but his bromantic bond with the title character is shining, shimmering and sometimes a little splendid. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are attractive and in good voice in underwritten but appealing roles as Aladdin and Jasmine; Marwan Kenzari is less effective as villainous Jafar who comes across, well, too cartoonish. Lavish craftsmanship of handsome sets, vivid spectacle, eye-popping costumes, whimsical effects and fairly woke casting fill every frame in this entertaining bazaar, with rooftop parkour, a girl power anthem and Bollywood style dance moves adding spice to the pixel dust. Overlong and under-cooked, Ritchie’s romp finally gives Genie and company their wish to be real humans and gets a mild ride into recommended territory.

Preview: Summer Movies 2019

Tarantino takes on Hollywood circa 1969 with a couple of “newcomers.” His new film got a 6-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival.

Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story? The Russo Brothers have the top-secret answers to the world’s biggest superhero cliffhanger as summer movie season unofficially opened in late April with their epic Avengers: Endgame. Expect variety to be a spice of life more potent than popcorn salt at the multiplex this summer with superheroes, talking plush toys, remakes of animated films, hot rod hijinks, glimpses at bygone eras, girl power extravaganzas and whimsical musicals coming to a theatre near you.

This month’s Marvel multiverse ensemble adventure is just the beginning of a summer superhero season also touting a globetrotting Spider-Man: Far From Home, in which Tom Holland’s arachni-teen faces off against Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. The X-Men spinoff, June’s Dark Phoenix with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, will strive to keep the long-running series afloat longer than a Cher farewell tour.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes as Ryan Reynolds voices the title character of the film noir comedy adventure Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. In fact, every doll will have its day this season as Kelly Clarkson and a bunch of misfit toys sing their way through the animated UglyDolls, and “Chucky” returns for a new terror-filled round of Child’s Play.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, featuring Kyle “Coach Taylor” Chandler, and John Wick: Chapter 3, with Keanu Reeves still on the run, promise to give moviegoers the action they crave. But summer isn’t summer without the “Will Smith effect,” and this movie star’s presence or lack thereof can make or break a summer tentpole (Did you see the Smith-free Independence Day sequel? Neither did we!). Despite no Will in a title role, Men in Black: International marches on with Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth as the central alien-fighting duo. Smith’s actual summer movie is Aladdin, a live-action film of the hit Disney cartoon, and typically macho director Guy Ritchie (Snatch) is betting you ain’t never had a friend like “Blue Genie” Will Smith, and a whole new world of profits are sure to stimulate the economy of Agrabah.

Family films are center stage with another live-action Disney remake, Lion King (Beyoncé and Donald Glover are part of the crooning pride), plus Woody and Buzz are back for Toy Story 4. Even Dora the Explorer is making her primero trip to the big-screen in The Lost City of Gold.

Car buffs will revel in the action of Hobbs and Shaw, the movie spinoff of the Fast and Furious franchise with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Christian Bale and Matt Damon also star in Ford v. Ferrari, the true story of the battle between racecar rivals to win Le Mans in 1966.

Set in the Golden Age of filmmaking in 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s much-anticipated Once Upon a Time in Hollywood features Leo DiCaprio as a fading TV star, Brad Pitt as his stunt double and general retro craziness. Other prestige pics include Nicholas Hault as Middle Earth maker Tolkien, hallucinogenic horror movie Midsommar (some are calling it Wizard of Oz for adults-only, from the director of Hereditary) and the hypnotic The Last Black Man in San Francisco with Jimmie Fails as a man refurbishing his grandfather’s Victorian home in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left him behind.

Woman take center stage in The Kitchen, as in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen, starring Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Hadish as women with a score to settle. Director Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart features a sassy duo of straight-A women letting loose in epic fashion.

Summer is also a great time for movies with music. Yesterday is a drama by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle in which the catalogue of The Beatles is mysteriously erased from memory in modern day, and the one guy on earth who remembers the Fab Four’s songs embarks on a mission to make bank by introducing the world to these catchy originals. Folks rhapsodic for musical biopics will be over the moon to watch the story of Elton John in Rocketman, embodied by The Kingsman’s Taron Egerton.

Get ready to binge screen!

Movie Review: Long Shot (2019)

Long Shot is a comedic success. B+

Jonathan Levine’s comedy set in the high stakes world of international diplomacy, Long Shot (B+), is equal parts shock and aw-shucks. Its central odd couple pairing is a meeting of hive minds and makes a wry statement about not always playing it safe, even in love and politics. Charlize Theron’s character is living in the bubble of a secretary of state role with eyes on the presidency when she encounters Seth Rogen’s schlubby ex-journalist turned speechwriter, and it’s a burst of unexpected laughs and chemistry as they embark on a world tour to save the planet, boost her likability polling and dodge a few unexpected hazards of the job. June Diane Raphael and O’Shea Jackson Jr. are supporting delights as the central duo’s witty advisors. If you’re not easily offended by vulgar sex and drug references, par for the course on the Rogen milieu, you’re in for one of the snappiest rom coms in quite a while. Theron steals the show as she reveals the vulnerability behind the statuesque veneer, especially in a sequence when she diffuses a global crisis while recovering from a night of particularly hardcore partying. Rogen enjoys his best role in years and gets to demonstrate his earnest side. The state of this union is quite satisfying.

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

John Wick 3 gives viewers more of the action they crave.

Bring on the ballet of bombast! Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (B-) delivers more of what fans desire – the stoic Keanu Reeves as the titular retired hit man now with quite a bounty on his head, brutally graphic action sequences and elaborate fights and stunts staged against epic and ultra-cool set pieces. A few Oscar winners and nominees are thrown in the mix – Halle Barry, Laurence Fishburne and Angelica Huston chief among them – and none should expect a repeat nomination from this outing. Barry is particularly hit or miss. But for sheer propulsive action and energy, this flick brings the goods. Front-loaded with some of its best sequences including a fight in a library with books as weapons and a more straightforward showdown in an actual weapons store, the film ultimately gets a bit campy with elaborate lairs resembling Bond villain hideaways re-imagined by Max Headroom’s electronica DJ nephew. Following the rules and lore of the assassin underground becomes a bit puzzling, but by the time the travelogue has taken viewers from NYC to Casablanca and back, you realize it’s all just a big canvas for grotesquerie, kung fu and bloodsport.  Nothing seems to slow down this earnest and absurd series.

Movie Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu

The dud of a film is based on a popular international video game.

The bar is set low for movies based on video games, and Rob Letterman’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu (D+) lurks right below that threshold. Justice Smith is a bit adrift as an insurance agent who lost his estranged father in a mysterious accident near a lab on the outskirts of a utopia where humans and Pokémon (plural!) live mostly in harmony (like humans and toons in Roger Rabbit‘s milieu). Smith’s reluctant hero is joined by the spry voice of Ryan Reynolds as the titular adorable yellow creature at the heart of the story. The film fails to take full advantage of its film noir set-up nor does it add many compelling layers to chase and action sequences, so it basically isn’t interesting, funny or exciting enough to justify all the average special effects bouncing around its screen. Because Pikachu’s dialogue can only be heard by his human friend, there could have been something wry or subversive here, but alas it’s all aimed at a very young audience. And to that end, it doesn’t really set much of a life lesson or warm the heart either. Perhaps there’s a demographic to whom this will have exact appeal, but Letterman and his intrepid detectives didn’t make the case to many new fans with this one.


Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame

This is the fourth of the Avengers movies including nearly all Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.

Joe and Anthony Russo’s sprawling and satisfying superhero ensemble Avengers: Endgame (B+) is likely the most emotional of the Marvel series. It comes after the previous film’s conceit of killing off half the world’s population, and much of this installment addresses how people grieve and marshal the will to move forward. Two favorite characters have some stunning physical transformations which are subjects of consistent humor. Characters’ witty jabs at each other are a franchise hallmark, and these too are in ample supply. Action sequences are rare but quite CGI heavy and almost seem perfunctory in a film more centered on human bonds. Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth get many of the highlights in a sometimes overstuffed narrative. Come for the action; stay for the interaction.

Movie Review: Shazam!

Shazam! stars Zachary Levi.

A fun hybrid of Big and The Goonies, the DC Universe gets a lively dose of life and levity with the introduction of David Sandberg’s Shazam! (B). The film’s teen protagonist is grappling with new powers which cause him to toggle back and forth between awkward adolescence and transforming into a full-fledged adult superhero just as he joins a foster family with a bunch of precocious step-siblings. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are superb and funny as the boy and his adult alter ego, respectively, and the film’s family includes Jack Dylan Graser as a cunning sidekick and Cooper Andrews as a lovable lug of a foster dad. The movie is aimed squarely at a family audience, despite a few early scares courtesy of Mark Strong’s viciously one-note villain and a bunch of beguiling CGI monsters. It’s a touch overlong, but the comedy, action and surprises pile high with fairly consistent success, and there are even a few moments of genuinely moving domestic drama. The movie creates characters for whom the audience can truly cheer in an environment largely well imagined. Expect the origin stories explored here to bring further marvels to DC.

In the Spotlight: 2019 Atlanta Film Festival Trailer

The event is April 4-14, 2019, with festival passes and single tickets available here: https://www.atlantafilmfestival.com/

Movie Review: Dumbo (2019)

Dumbo by Tim Burton

Nearly eight decades after the animated original, Tim Burton’s live action Dumbo (C+) has flown onto the scene again, and the pachyderm protagonist remains a charming silent star, no matter what’s going on in the peanut galleries around him. Disney executives appear to operate under the premise that, unlike elephants, moviegoers sometimes forget, so there’s liberty to color in some detail around the original 64-minute cartoon’s plot for those with only a hint of familiarity about the circus-set story. Burton adds generous dollops of fussiness around what was formerly a pretty simple storyline about a misfit animal who finds his big ears actually enable him to fly and become a sensational performer. The human actors including Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton and Eva Green have very little to do in underwritten roles. Characteristic of all but about a half dozen of Burton’s films is his propensity to deliver style over substance or story, and this entry comes up short on all of those metrics. The art direction and costumes are quite lovely, and there are some nice homage and heartstrings moments, but largely it’s a mediocre show at the multiplex.