movie reviews February 2018


Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

  Visit the Reel Reviews ArchivesVisit the Video/DVD Reviews

For more reviews,
go to

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy, the latest release from writer/director Alex Garland begins with an interrogation. An unnamed authority figure obscured by a Hazmat suit aims a barrage of seemingly simple questions at a shell-shocked young woman, portrayed by Natalie Portman. We don't yet know her name or the circumstances that have put her in a guilty quarantine, but the way she answers each question — with a discouraged "I don't know" —leads her peeved inquisitor to finally ask, "What is it you know?"

What then follows in the rest of the film is, presumably, what our battered protagonist knows. Her name is Lena and she teaches, based on the sample lesson, what appears to be high school sophomore-level biology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. (Lena, the script warns us, specializes in the genetically programmed life cycle of cells, especially, the triggers built into them that cause mutation and death.)

Lena isn't just some elite living in aseptic gray interiors; she's a secret warrior, having served seven years in the Army, where she met her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac). It's been a year since she last saw him, so when he reappears, zombie-like and resembling an Andrei Tarkovsky-inspired doppelganger, on the weekend, she's resolved to repaint their bedroom as a symbol of her moving on, she's both elated and angry.

But before Lena can get any answers from the Kane-like being, they're whisked off to a secret government stronghold charged with the study of Area X, a portion of the Gulf Coast enclosed by a mysterious energy force called "The Shimmer." Although penetrable, the variegated oily aura conceals a Wonka-like puzzle; many go into the area but none come back out, that is, until Kane, whose dire condition inspires Lena to consider acting out a reversal of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth; venturing into hell to get her husband back.

Luckily, having exhausted its crack teams of male soldiers the government is now willing to send in a voluntary team of women scientists. In a world in which creation runs amok, shouldn't those most tempted to eat the fruit of knowledge be the first choice? Led by Dr. Ventress, played by an anesthetic Jennifer Jason Leigh, and made up of a recovering drug addict and medic (Gina Rodriguez); self-harmer and physicist (Tessa Thompson) and anthropologist Cass (Tuva Novotny), Lena bivouacs with them but doesn't bond. The other members of the squad are defined by their broadest characteristics and dispatched with relative ease (minus a disturbing encounter with a local bear that gives the one batting Leonard DiCaprio around like a ragdoll in The Revenant a run for its money).

These characters — more like paper dolls — practice only the most elemental science. They aren't going to inspire little girls. In fact, instead of the awe and grit exhibited by the likes of Laura Dern's Dr. Ellie Sattler and Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley or even the outright clumsy joy of the most recent Ghostbusters, they give way to hysteria and heebie-jeebies too soon and too often. This film may pass the Bechdel test, but it's only statistically feminist. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted on 02/28/18)

Reviewed by Mike Ireland

Emerging in the sixties, a darker strain of Western attempted to replace the simplistic "Cowboys & Indians" narrative with one in which good guys and bad guys were less clearly defined and the realities of America's brutal expansion into western territories were more honestly portrayed. Films such as The Wild Bunch, Little Big Man, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and later, Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven suggested the Cavalry wasn't always going to save the day and that Native Americans weren't savages lurking in the unknown territories like horror movie bogeymen.

Written and directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), based on a story fragment by Donald E. Stewart, Hostiles adopts this revisionist perspective to tell the story of a rag-tag Cavalry unit assigned to escort a dying Cheyenne chief and his family from the New Mexico Territory where they have been imprisoned to their tribal homeland in Montana. Yet in its earnest attempt to de-romanticize the myths promulgated by the classic American Western, Hostiles merely winds up replacing one set of clichés with another.

Heading up the mission is Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), a veteran of the Indian Wars; the dying Cheyenne chief he is to escort is Yellow Hawk, a long-time adversary. Blocker initially refuses his orders, but his retirement is leveraged to coerce him into this one last job.

Behind a Sam Elliott-worthy mustache, Bale plays Blocker as grim and pitiless while Wes Studi portrays Yellow Hawk with all the stoic nobility we have come to expect in revisionist Westerns. The chief's son and daughter-in-law are, likewise, gentle and gracious in spite of their harsh treatment.

Given this diametrical opposition, cynical viewers might predict a redemptive transition for the grizzled Blocker, and, unfortunately, they would be right.

Cynical viewers might also be able to fill in the familiar types that make up this fractious party. Rory Cochrane (Dazed and Confused, Argo) plays a veteran who bemoans the blood on his hands from years of warfare. Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Hell of High Water) plays a former soldier being executed for the gratuitous slaughter of a Native American family who reminds Blocker (and us) that his hands are no cleaner.

They're joined by Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), whom they find squatting among the burned remains of an isolated homestead, her husband and children having been massacred in the film's Searchers-style opening.

As the motley crew makes its way to Montana, the film alternates between brutal attacks (from Native American and white miscreants, alike) and ponderous, “Important” reflections on the effects of bigotry, vengeance, and injustice on both perpetrators and victims.

By the time Blocker finally becomes “woke,” most viewers will have given up on the mission and the movie. (R) 2 stars (Posted 02/21/18)

Dan Lybarger can be contacted at
Beck Ireland can be contacted at
Mike Ireland can be contacted at


Click here to buy movie posters!
Click here to buy movie posters!