Movie Review: “Inferno”

Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ana Ularu
Ron Howard

It’s been seven years since the world last saw a film based on author Dan Brown’s renowned symbologist Robert Langdon. The last installment, “Angels & Demons,” had a worldwide box office gross nearly $300 million less than its predecessor, “The Da Vinci Code.” That sounds bad, but to be fair, “Angels” still took in nearly half a billion dollars, so even if the idea of a Langdon film in 2016 seems unthinkable for a number of reasons (time, diminishing returns), money clearly did most of the talking when it came to green lighting the latest film, “Inferno.” And for a while, the movie distances itself from the first two films thanks to a breakneck opening pace, only to turn into the Dan Browniest Dan Brown adaptation to date halfway through and grind to a screeching halt.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up dazed in a hospital, suffering from head trauma and trying to put together the missing pieces between the present and his previous memory from three days earlier. Almost immediately after he wakes up, there is an attempt on his life by a policewoman, but Robert’s attending physician, Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), helps him escape and brings him to her apartment, where Robert discovers that in the pocket of his coat is a vial used to transport lethal pathogens.

Inside the tube is a clue left for Robert by billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who’s known for his incendiary speeches warning against the overpopulation of the planet and the need for a correction in order to prevent the complete extinction of the human race. Robert concludes that Bertrand, who committed suicide two days earlier, has created and hidden a deadly virus designed to “solve” the overpopulation problem, but in his search for the clues to find the virus, Robert has the police, a compromised World Health Organization and a third party of questionable intent hunting him at the same time.

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Blu Tuesday: Lights Out, Nerve and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Lights Out”

WHAT: When her little brother (Gabriel Bateman) begins experiencing the same visions that haunted her as a kid – a terrifying, supernatural entity with a connection to their mentally unstable mother (Maria Bello) – Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) attempts to unlock the mystery behind its existence in order to rid their family of the demonic spirit for good.

WHY: Based on David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name, “Lights Out” is a fresh take on an age-old phobia – specifically, being afraid of the dark – that boasts some effective scares throughout its well-paced 81-minute runtime. (New rule: no horror movie should be more than 90 minutes long). Where the movie falters is with its mythology, which creates an entire backstory for the spirit that’s not only absurd but never really fleshed out beyond one scene. Sandberg also fails to introduce a fixed set of rules for his villain, which are constantly evolving as it becomes necessary or convenient to the story. The acting is about as good as you’d expect from the genre, though Teresa Palmer and newcomer Alexander DiPersia are both solid in their roles, while the creature effects are pretty cool for a character that spends most of the film bathed in darkness. There have been better horror movies released this year, but “Lights Out” is a decent addition to the genre that will please a certain subset of fans.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes some deleted scenes, but that’s all.


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Missing Reels: “The Frighteners” (1996)

Missing Reels examines overlooked, unappreciated or unfairly maligned movies. Sometimes these films haven’t been seen by anyone, and sometimes they’ve been seen by everyone… who loathed them. Sometimes they’ve simply been forgotten. But in any case, Missing Reels argues that they deserve to be seen and admired by more people.


When most moviegoers hear the name Peter Jackson, they think of a sprawling fantasy adventure like he delivered with “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies. However, Jackson got his start with low budget works, first with the independently made horror comedy “Bad Taste” (1987) and then with the deeply profane Muppets send-up “Meet the Feebles” (1989). While popular in New Zealand, these were mainly cult films for international audiences who had to purposefully seek out these quirky and raunchy examples of genre by the then-little known Kiwi auteur. His first real brush with international acclaim came with “Dead Alive” in 1992 (also known as “Braindead”), which was a gory zombie flick that included some of the most gruesome, outlandish and hilarious effects seen on film since Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2.” Gorehounds and horror fiends had found a new sensation with Jackson and reveled in the madness he was bringing to their screens and VHS rental stores.

The filmmaker really broke out internationally with “Heavenly Creatures,” his poetic tale of magical realism that centered on the dangerous romance between two (ultimately) murderous teen girls played by a young Kate Winslet and a young Melanie Lynskey. The film garnered acclaim outside of the genre crowd and proved that Jackson was a versatile filmmaker capable not just of incredible sequences (usually involving gore) but also of truly understanding the emotional depths of his characters.

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Movie Review: “In a Valley of Violence”

Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, James Ransone, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan
Ti West

Filmmaker Ti West has made his most conventionally enjoyable movie to date. Best known for horror films like “The House of the Devil,” “The Innkeepers” and “The Sacrament,” West tackles a new genre with “In a Valley of Violence,” a western starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. While West’s previous films get you squirming, his latest effort may have you cheering thanks to its sparse, enigmatic storytelling.

Paul (Hawke) isn’t exactly a loner. Although he’s tortured and on a path to nowhere, he has Abby at his side. Abby is his dog, and she sometimes looks after him just as much as he looks after her. When Paul enters the rundown town of Denton, nicknamed the “valley of violence,” he crosses paths with the hotheaded Gilly (James Ransone), the son of local sheriff, The Marshal (Travolta). Gilly thinks he’s the most dangerous man in town and challenges any man who questions his power. But when Paul leaves him bloodied, bruised and embarrassed after a beating that in no way constitues as a fight, Gilly and his men go after Paul’s dog for revenge, unaware that they’re dealing with one seriously flawed, dangerous military man who’s trained to kill. As Paul puts it, Gilly and his men left him with nothing, and he’s going to leave them with even less.

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Movie Review: “Moonlight”

Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, André Holland, Janelle Monáe
Barry Jenkins

A24 is without a doubt one of the most creatively exciting players in Hollywood today. They’ve made it their mission to champion less marketable films such as “Swiss Army Man,” “The Lobster” and “American Honey,” just to name a few from this year alone, opening up a whole new avenue for projects that don’t conform to the traditional studio system. It’s hard to imagine a movie like “Moonlight” developing into the festival sensation (and potential Oscar contender) that it’s become without the studio’s support, even if it might be slightly overrated. Adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” writer/director Barry Jenkins’ sophomore effort is a powerful but flawed rumination on identity that chronicles the life of a young, gay black man across three different time periods as he struggles to find his place in the world.

The film opens in the late ‘90s as a soft-spoken boy named Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is chased by a group of bigger kids through his poor, crime-ridden neighborhood in Miami. Chiron comes from a broken home with no father figure and an abusive, crack addict mother (Naomie Harris), so when local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes a sudden interest in the runaway, Chiron immediately looks up to him as a mentor, despite Juan’s involvement in his mother’s drug habit. Several years later, Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) has grown into a lanky, introverted high school student who’s become the target of bullying as he tries to come to terms with his sexuality. Chiron finds some solace in his casual friendship with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), but after a sexual encounter between them leads to a startling act of violence, Chiron’s life is changed forever. In the movie’s final chapter, a completely transformed Chiron – now a muscular, drug-dealing adult (Trevante Rhodes) who hides behind a thuggish facade – must confront his past when he’s reunited with an older, wiser Kevin (played by André Holland) at a Miami diner.

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