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: The Black Phone (2022)

Now in theatres from Universal Pictures.

Ethan Hawke has made some of the seminal movies about growing up and coming of age, and his casting against type as a terrifying child abductor and serial murderer in Scott Derrickson’s ‘70s-set scary movie The Black Phone (B+) is one of the project’s genius original flourishes. But the child actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw playing the lead siblings in this extremely entertaining film are the revelations that hold the puzzle pieces together. These charming teens are a delight, and their characters make way fewer novice mistakes in facing down their adversaries than those in typical slasher flicks. The grounded direction is taut and the story satisfying as the voices of past kidnapping victims lend the protagonist the courage to face his captor via the titular device. Some of the supernatural elements could have used a bit more explaining, but superb character work and period detail help propel the movie into the top-tier of recent elevated horror films. For its genuine performances and highly competent story beats alone, this film is a thrilling callback.

Movie Review: Lightyear (2022)

Now on Disney+ from Disney Pixar.

The outer space curse plaguing Disney from infinity to The Black Hole, Treasure Planet, John Carter, Mars Needs Moms and beyond has not yet been lifted. Director /co-writer Angus MacLane’s Toy Story prequel/ spinoff Lightyear (C+) stays largely grounded on an uninspiring planet and surrounds its bland titular space ranger protagonist with dubious sidekicks. It’s a missed opportunity given the daffy high jinks and emotional arcs present among Buzz’s creative fellow playthings, and the ingenuity just doesn’t carry through in this cosmos-set adventure. The story surrounds the famed space hero making amends for an unforced error, and alas the series of action set pieces and encounters with vapid villains following his fall from grace simply don’t rise to the occasion. There are several clever bursts, a cute cat from outer space and a few requisite Pixar moments of melodrama. But the film largely feels like a moribund money grab and missed opportunity never approaching the operatic canvas or ambition possible with the great wide yonder at its fingertips. Nobody’s getting a Woody over this one.

Movie Review: Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)

In limited theatres and streaming on Apple+.

The central character is a whirling dervish of a “party starter” who, behind the scenes of his admittedly small-time New Jersey public persona, is experiencing his own struggles to launch his personal life at the beginning of his twenties in a sweet, thoughtful and unpredictable movie. The second feature film written by, starring and directed by Cooper Raiff, Cha Cha Real Smooth (B+) is a cerebral and celebratory triumph of emotion and characters; and even when some of the plot strands coalesce as awkwardly as the protagonist’s philosophical search for career, romance and meaning, the journey is a winning and watchable high-wire act. Raiff is captivating and charismatic as the extremely talky lead whose so-called motivational dancing is the least of his charms, but it’s two women who steal the show: Dakota Johnson as a mysterious mother who attends a series of bar and bat mitzvahs where Raiff is holding court and Vanessa Burghardt as her autistic daughter whose droll deadpans are a welcome yin to Raiff’s yangs. Johnson in particular has rarely been better as she plays shy vulnerability and gets to open up in some very engaging scenes including one signature discussion over vintage blue raspberry and lemon-lime popsicles. Among the many pleasures of the film is the intermingling of generations: Raiff riffs with the likes of his curious teen younger brother (Evan Assante), his supportive mom (an excellent Leslie Mann) and a variety of characters his junior and senior with plain spoken and plaintive exchanges about the nature of happiness and romance. The music is also a propulsive, delight ranging from the title party tune and familiar works by the likes of Lupe Fiasco to gems by bands such as Homeschool and Harmony House. This isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy nor is it a conventional romcom, but it will reward those who enjoy a tug at the heartstrings and a good “I’m still coming of age” film. Sometimes no matter the station or season in life, a little bit of party pep can put a spring in one’s step.

Movie Review: Crimes of the Future (2022)

Now in limited theatres.

Movies tug at heartstrings, provoke belly laughs, stimulate the mind and evoke physical reactions, so it’s a bit nerve-racking how “body horror” maestro David Cronenberg has fabricated such an inventive but ultimately soulless and anticlimactic work in Crimes of the Future (C). The veteran director undoubtedly engages in fascinating sci-fi world building with his near dystopian society in which humans feel no pain, but the film is largely bogged down in tedious exposition, rendering inert its mystery and momentum. The movie does no favors to its cast including Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux, who play performance artists conducting surgery for audiences and extracting newly harvested organs against a backdrop of bureaucracy (embodied in an idiosyncratic Kristen Stewart) and would-be revolutionaries (Scott Speedman’s underdeveloped character). Cronenberg skims the surface of human transformation, examines peoples’ fetishizing of pain and pleasure and crams in tortured metaphors about inner beauty. What could have been a quintessential grotesquerie turns out to be merely an obtuse lecture. This trauma drama lethargically asks more questions about morality and mortality than it has the ability to answer. It has the bones of a really peculiar and provocative saga and rarely manifests into its most evolved form.

Movie Review: The Automat (2021)

Now available on demand, via select streaming services and in limited theatrical release.

Phone booths, penny arcades and locomotive cabooses may all be things of the past, but the safe space to rhapsodize about bygone icons is the stuff of immortality. Director Lisa Hurwitz deftly turns her attention to the most democratic of U.S. food chains in her sweet and sentimental documentary The Automat (B+), and in creating this nostalgic work, she traces nearly a century of imagination, immigration, wartime, fluctuating finances plus transformations in American tastes and temperaments. Horn & Hardart was the venerable “lemon meringue” phenomenon with the novel approach to quality fast food, home to the slot-machine lunch served in Art Deco cathedrals. In its heyday these restaurants were as universally accessible as the NYC subways and nourished nearly ten percent of Philadelphia’s population; everyone from bums to billionaires shared the same elegant communal tables, with newcomers marveling at the marble, crooning over the chrome, wistfully wondering at the windows how this magic gets made. Hurwitz rounds up an auspicious cast of eyewitnesses to the eatery, lunching with the stars including consummate entertainer Mel Brooks and Starbucks’ enterprising Howard Schultz as well as late greats Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell and Carl Reiner. It’s a treat to crack open the multimedia archives and learn from people involved in the heart of house at the business; it would have been additionally insightful to hear from nickel throwers and commissary craftspeople, but presumably many of these company men and women are also lost to history. The director’s bento box of treasures includes a look at the origins of the European technology, the silver dolphin-head coffee spouts, the prescient retail shops and even the TV and movie tie-ins associated with the chain. Her requiem for the brass, the pillars, the cuisine and the chatter earns its place among the Edward Hopper paintings and Audrey Hepburn movies immortalizing the institution. In lionizing the American automat, Hurwitz helps viewers re-live a simpler epoch when meatloaf, cream spinach, strawberry rhubarb or coconut custard pies were just a token away and when a melting pot of consumers could intersect and simply savor timeless moments together.

Movie Review: Fire Island (2022)

Now streaming on Hulu.

Andrew Ahn’s Fire Island (B) is a new take on Pride and Prejudice centered on a group of D-list friends and their encounters with an elite household in the titular famed gay vacation destination. Joel Kim Booster, who also wrote the screenplay, and SNL comedian Bowen Yang are authentic and witty in the lead roles (based on Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Jane Bennet characters, respectively) supported by a warm, winning and understated Margaret Cho in the Mrs. Bennet role. Conrad Ricamora and James Scully are the Darcy and Charles updates of the literary reimagining and are also committed to their performances. It’s actually uncanny how well the Austen archetypes translate to the LGBTQIA+ milieu, and the update is also a coup for Asian representation. The film has fun with remixing both literary and romcom conventions while sending up the devil-may-care attitudes of the inlet getaway, including some cautionary subplots in the statuesque form of Zane Phillips as a charming rogue in the ensemble. The melodrama is a bit uneven at times but the repartee between the co-leads is consistently strong and appropriately sentimental. There are also some pop confections on the soundtrack including covers of Wonka tune “Pure Imagination” and “Sometimes” by Britney Spears. It’s an elevated escape.

Movie Review: RRR: Rise Roar Revolt (2022)

Now available on Netflix.

Suspend your disbelief and strap yourself in for an unexpected stunt spectacular with equally epic heart. S.S. Rajamouli’s go-for-broke bromantic adventure RRR: Rise Roar Revolt (A-) is the breakneck tale of two intertwined freedom fighters on a mission to save a little girl and discover the bounds of brotherhood and loyalty before ultimately liberating the nation of India from British Raj rule in the 1920s. Viewers must excuse some goofy special effects and cartoonish performances from some of the imperial villains and perhaps learn to relish a touch of tonal shifting and delirious dance breaks while exploring this wonderland of spicy cinematic bonbons. It’s an imaginary account of two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, played with absolute relish by Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. respectively, and a deliriously inventive gonzo action showcase with parkour and pull-ups, a truckful of wild animals attacking a crowd, a defiant mid-flogging song that incites a riot and so much spectacular more. The fictional friendship between two superheroes has hints of Hindu mythology and fervent nationalism, underscored with rousing M.M. Keeravani music. The kinetic emotional arch as the protagonists emerge from strangers to brothers-in-arms ushers in an elaborate series of escapades with shades of Braveheart, Ben-Hur, Face/Off and Indiana Jones (there’s even a role for that series’ Allison Doody as a bloodthirsty baddie). Chances are you won’t see a more joyful set of performances, more delirious derring-do and a more exciting parade of panache on the screen anytime soon. 

Movie Review: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

Now streaming on Hulu.

This is a movie in which a very small cast rises to the occasion. Sophie Hyde’s dramedy Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (B) tells the story of a retired school teacher and widow (Emma Thompson) who hires a twentysomething sex worker (Daryl McCormack) to help her catch up on what she’s been missing during years of the marriage and motherhood routine. Most of the story take place in one single hotel room, which sometimes feels like a two-hander stage play, but the themes and acting elevate the material considerably. Thompson is superb, all nerves while striving to be proper amidst a situation she didn’t imagine herself engaging. In the thankless role opposite such an acting titan, McCormack holds his own and gets a chance to open up as well. There are some dubious choices adding tension to the final act, but ultimately this talky film is a delight. The movie does a good job exploring what it’s like to achieve intimacy, even when everything one has learned up to this point builds up walls around close relationships. It’s a poignant and often funny tale and tackles issues which aren’t often addressed onscreen.

Movie Review: Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

In theatres from Paramount Pictures.

Brace your favorite wing-mates for some breathtaking ground-hugging film flights in Joseph Kosinski’s precision-guided Top Gun: Maverick (A-). The long-awaited sequel works as both a nifty nostalgia trip and also as a fully developed story in its own right, with vivid visual and emotional appeal. Set nearly four decades after the original film, this follow-up traces the arc of Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” as he returns to the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, where the brash captain must confront his past as he trains a group of younger fighter pilots, among them the son of his deceased best friend Goose. The movie is emotionally grounded with fine performances by the fully-committed Cruise, a tormented Miles Teller, an appealing Jennifer Connelly and a charismatic Glen Powell. The film soars most in its action sequences with spectacularly rendered flight maneuvers, aerial dogfights and surprise stunts deepening the adventure elements. More than the original movie, this follow-up is buoyed by clear-eyed storytelling with less reliance on catchphrases, montages and stylistic cover-ups to a sometimes simplistic core. It builds on the franchise’s might and mythology and further cements Cruise’s power as the stuff of legend. A little overstuffed with underdeveloped characters, the film still hits its dramatic beats with dexterity. As far as Hollywood blockbusters go, viewers will be hard-pressed to find a more cohesive combination of high-flying and heart. 

Industry News: Town at Trilith to Host Summer 2022 “Reel Tuesday” Family Film Series

Film series includes Sing 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, Luca and Jungle Cruise

For its inaugural summer season, the “Big Screen” at Central Plaza in the Town at Trilith south of Atlanta will showcase the REEL Tuesday at Trilith Summer Movie Series on select weeknights in June and July. Family-friendly films will be the featured attraction on the 25-foot permanent screen with a powerful sound and projection system. Bring a chair or blanket, kick back, and relax to watch these fun, upbeat movies:

Tuesday, June 14: Sing 2
Tuesday, June 28: Captain America: The First Avenger
Tuesday, July 12: Luca
Tuesday, July 26: Jungle Cruise

Movies will start at 7:00 p.m., weather permitting. Admission is complimentary and open to the general public. Participants may park for free in the retail parking lot on Trilith Parkway and at Piedmont Wellness Center.

Before and after the movie, attendees can enjoy the evening strolling the Town at Trilith, shopping at charming boutiques, enjoying dinner at one of the variety of restaurants and topping off dinner with a delicious dessert. Honeysuckle Gelato’s ice cream cart will be on site, and additional activities will be available.

The Town at Trilith is located at 305 Trilith Parkway, Fayetteville, Ga. To stay informed of activities throughout the year at Trilith, follow @TownatTrilith on social media.

Along with the ever-expanding retail and restaurant district, Trilith’s 235-acre master-planned residential and mixed-use development is known for balancing small town community charm with big city creativity and storytelling for its residents, many with ties to the film industry. The award-winning new urbanist community includes nearly 1,400 residential homes, ranging from micro homes and treehouses to gated custom estates and Provencal cottages, all within walking distance of retail, restaurants and parks.

The Town at Trilith is located in south metro Atlanta, Georgia, adjacent to Trilith Studios. Envisioned as a gathering place for creatives, artists, storytellers and makers, this European-inspired community will include 750 single family homes, 600 multi-family lofts, 300 hotel rooms and 270,000 square feet of remarkable restaurants, retail, office, and commercial space. The residential neighborhoods at Trilith comprise one of the largest geothermal communities in the United States, with 51% of the development dedicated to green space that is currently home to more than 1,000 trees. Upon completion, residents will have access to 15 miles of nature trails, 54 acres of forest, 19 superbly landscaped parks and one of the most sophisticated and welcoming dog parks in the world.

Click here for more information about Trilith.

Movie Review: Men (2022)

In theatres.

It’s possible for an elevated horror film to be so contemplative that it floats right above rational headspace. Alex Garland’s ambitious but only partially successful Men (C+) centers on Jessie Buckley as a widowed London woman who goes on a solo holiday in the English countryside but becomes disturbed by the men in the community. There’s sledgehammer allegory aplenty (sometimes as obvious as a big bite from the fruit of the courtyard apple tree) but ultimately lots of Garland’s creative visual flourishes including some “body horror” conceits haven’t been seen before. Viewers will soon know and appreciate why ensemble player Rory Kinnear is creepy menace personified. The film’s standout star though is Buckley, fresh off an Oscar nomination, who communicates bravery and dread in both plausible and outlandish parts of the story. Garland’s vision mostly exceeds his grasp in this outing, but he brings genuine characterization and suspense to the first two acts before the plot gets more toxic and off the rails than anyone expected.

Movie Review: Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers (2022)

Now on Disney+ streaming service.

It’s “who framed ribald rodents” as a slew of Hollywood’s top comics provide an often uproarious tribute to the cartoons of their youth in a new Disney+ live-action/animated action comedy film. Akiva Schaffer’s Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (B) is a throwback thrill with funny friends John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the odd couple Disney duo most prominently featured in a ‘90s TV adventure. The movie is chock-full of unexpected cameos as the estranged pint-sized pair reunites three decades after their heyday to solve a co-star’s disappearance in a human and toon filled modern L.A. From the central conceit that one of the hand-drawn chipmunks has received a CGI glow-up to a hilarious sin city of animated bootleggers, the film throws inspired madcap mayhem at every corner. It’s a dad joke paradise with animated Will Arnett getting in the action as a child actor turned villainous adult and Keegan-Michael Key as part of a Muppet-inspired crime syndicate. Alas the film short shrifts both KiKi Layne as the perfunctory human character, a fangirl policewoman, and the west coast metropolis itself, which could have provided some cleverer sites for high-profile gags. The film’s novelty runs out a bit in the final act, but it’s hard to fault a film so crammed with such singular hilarity and homage. This film is fun for all ages with nuttiness and cheekiness galore.