Air Wolf

Wolf Hound

by Rachel Willis

Three American fighter jets are shot down in France by Nazi pilots flying British Royal Air Force planes. One pilot, Captain David Holden (James Maslow) sets off on a mission to save his fellow soldiers.

Director Michael B. Chait, working from a screenplay by Timothy Ritchey, starts with an interesting hook, but fails to hit the right mood with World War II action-adventure, Wolf Hound.

The most exciting and tense moment of the film happens right in the beginning, as our American heroes face off in the air against the Nazis. Amazing stunt work and great visual effects set up a promising film. Unfortunately, the air battle gives way to a one-man rescue mission à la Rambo.

Captain Holden’s foil comes in the form of Nazi Captain Rolf Werner (Michael Wayne Foster). Each pilot has a vendetta against the other, but where Werner is obsessed with Holden, the American is focused on the rescue.

Films sometimes fail to strike the right tone, and that’s the case with Wolf Hound. At times, the movie wants to tackle serious subject matter, but it often embraces high action-adventure. The score emphasizes tension in one moment, then shifts rapidly to melodrama. It leaves you wondering whether to laugh or scoff. A particularly strange scene that sets torture to the sounds of a recorder had me doing both.

Lending to the high-adventure feel is the stereotypical characterization of Nazis. These soldiers are villains, with no shades of grey, no sense of camaraderie, and no qualms about their many war crimes. One even uses his fellow soldier as a shield during a shootout. Villainous, indeed. But also pretty dull with nothing to distinguish one from another.

Much of the action is admittedly exciting, which distracts from the recycled story elements. With little downtime between action sequences, the film moves, even with a runtime of over two hours.

If Chait had managed to strike a better balance or had fully embraced the adventurous elements, Wolf Hound might have been more compelling. Instead, it’s an uneven mix that relegates the one component that sets it apart to little more than a gimmick.

Screening Room: Top Gun: Maverick, The Bob’s Burgers Movie, Dinner in America, Montana Story & More

Delicious and Nutritious

Dinner in America

by Hope Madden

It’s not often you watch a film about a fire starting, drug dealing, lying man on the run from police and his romance with a woman with special needs and think, this is delightful.

But it is. Dinner in America is a delight.

Writer/director Adam Rehmeier delivers an unexpected comedy, sometimes dark, sometimes broad, but never aimless. Simon (Kyle Gallner, remarkable) is a punk rocker hiding from the cops. Patty (Emily Skeggs) is a 20-year-old punk rock fan who lives at home and isn’t allowed to run appliances when she’s alone.

Their stories collide, but by that time Rehmeier and his cast have crafted memorable, believable characters with their own fascinating worlds. Where they go together becomes a little unnerving at times, but Dinner in America surprises with warmth as often as it does with profanity-laced edginess.

Rehmeier’s film calls to mind other misfit romances — Buffalo 66, Eagle v Shark — but sidesteps cliché at every turn. More importantly, or at least delightfully, it embraces the punk rock ethos rather than seeing a coming-of-age opportunity to grow out of it.

Gallner’s magnetic. Whether stalking through suburbia or surrendering to love, he delivers buzzing vitality and surprising depth. Skeggs offers a brilliantly unselfconscious counterpoint. Her awkward, endearing performance is an absolute blessing.

A top-to-bottom impressive ensemble including Pat Healy, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Lea Thompson buoy the central performances. Rehmeier’s sharp yet somehow tender script doesn’t hurt, offering startling opportunities for castmates to shine.

By the time the film digs into its musical numbers, you’re already hooked. In a nice turn of events, the songs are absolutely worth the wait.

Rarely does a film feel as genuinely subversive and darling as Dinner in America, the punk rock rom-com you never knew you needed.

Mission Accomplished

Top Gun: Maverick

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Sentimental, button-pushing and formulaic, as predictable as it is visceral, Top Gun: Maverick stays laser-focused on its objective.

Attract crowd. Thrill crowd. Please crowd.

Expect bullseyes on all three fronts, as star Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski take a couple cues from the Star Wars franchise in reconnecting with friends and re-packaging feelings.

After all these years in the Navy, Pete Mitchell’s “Maverick” tendencies have kept him from advancing past the rank of Captain. And when Pete blatantly shows up Admiral Cain (Ed Harris), he’s in danger of being grounded until Admiral “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) rescues him with orders to return to Top Gun and whip some new flyboys and girls into shape for a secret mission.

One of those young guns is “Rooster” (Miles Teller), son of “Goose,” who resents Maverick for more than just coming home alive when his father did not.

Against the wishes of Admiral “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm), it is Maverick who will train the 12 Top Gun pilots, and then pick 6 to take out a newly discovered uranium plant that poses a clear and present threat to the U.S.

Who’s doing the threatening? We never know. Does it matter?

Not in Maverick‘s world.

The screenplay-by-commitee doesn’t stretch anybody’s imagination or talent, with early hotshot dialog so phony it feels like a spoof. But nobody came for banter. We came for nostalgia, flight action, and – god help us – Tom Cruise.

He delivers, in his inimitable movie star way. He cries on cue, runs like his hair’s on fire, and burns charisma. What more do you want?

Romance? Here’s old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who now runs that famous San Diego beachfront bar and just happens to be a single mother who might be looking for someone as ridiculously good-looking as she is. As both characters and actors, they click.

Cruise’s chemistry with a mainly underused Teller – who really looks like a chip off the old Goose – finally gets to show itself late in the film, exposing both tenderness and humor in its wake.

And once we’re in the air, get in front of the biggest screen you can and hang on. Kosinski’s airborne action sequences are often downright breathtaking, every moment in the danger zone moving us closer to that Goose/Rooster/Maverick moment that has no business working as well as it does.

It’s emotional manipulation, but not nearly as garish an act as Val Kilmer’s thankless role. Still, Cruise and Kosinski know it’s nostalgia that flies this plane, and Iceman is part of the plan that starts right from that original Kenny Loggins tune heard in the opening minutes.

From manufactured rivalries to shirtless team building to the entrance of a surprise Top Gun instructor from last night at the bar, Maverick sells us back what we first bought back in 1986.

And dammit, it feels even better this time.

Thunderdome Straight Ahead


by Hope Madden

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, The Girl with All the Gifts, The Girl with No Mouth, Tigers Are Not Afraid — world cinema is littered with post-apocalyptic tales focused on how children will survive and determine the trajectory of humanity.

Is it wish fulfillment? I mean, presumably, adults caused the apocalypse, so maybe the kids can do better. Or is it just that putting kids in jeopardy automatically increases tensions?

Either way, it’s a proven vehicle for heart-tugging action and adventure, something co-writer/director Alessandro Celli drives quite well in his first feature, Mondocane (Dogworld).

We follow two boys, Dogworld (Dennis Protopapa) and Pissypants (Giuliano Soprano), through their trials to impress the Ants, a gang of orphaned children led by an enigmatic adult named Hothead (Alessandro Borghi, remarkable). Pissypants earned his name due to the unfortunate side effect of seizures. Dogworld got his name as a result of what he was willing to do to be accepted by the Ants.

Once they’re in, though, there’s no going back.

Borghi makes a stunning central figure. A cross between Dickens’s Bill Sikes and Fagin, Hothead leads this band of mercenary children because he was once one of them. He plays and caresses like a caring father, punishes — even kills — without malice for the good of the clan. Borghi finds the zealot, parent and child in the character and leaves quite an impression on the screen.

Celli’s dystopian world only borders on science fiction. This is honestly what the apocalypse is likely to resemble: more and more people living lawless, filthy existences while a handful chug along as they always have and even fewer continue to live the high life. The unnerving nearness to modern reality sets Mondocane apart from the earlier, clearly futuristic fables.

It’s a fierce first feature from Celli, much aided by Guiseppe Maio’s cinematography. Maio can veer from paradise to post-apocalypse in a single shot. His camera straddles the edge of the unmanageable fantasy of prosperity, hideous reality poisoning the edges of the frame. In the next moment, they infuse every moment straight out of Thunderdome with youthful hope.

Like maybe, without adult interference, the kids can do it right next time.

Patty All the Time

The Bob’s Burgers Movie

by George Wolf

Some fifteen years ago (!), at a critics screening for the movie version of Strangers With Candy, I laughed early and often. I was a fan of the TV show and its particular brand of humor, and I thought the film was hilarious. And then I realized something.

I was the only one laughing.

At the recent critics screening for The Bob’s Burgers Movie, a similar thing happened. Only one person was laughing.

It wasn’t me.

Series creator Loren Bouchard brings his baby to the big screen as co-writer and co-director, and he promptly puts the Belcher burger joint in jeopardy.

The family has just seven days to make a loan payment to the bank, and business isn’t exactly booming. And that was before a big sinkhole formed directly outside the front entrance! Meanwhile, the Belcher kids stumble onto a mystery involving the obnoxiously rich Calvin and Felix Fischoeder (voiced by Kevin Kline and Zach Galifianakis) that could reveal a way out of the whole mess.

Bouchard and his regular cast of voice actors (including H. Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman and John Roberts) have been at this for over a decade, and their move to the multiplex shows no signs of re-inventing a formula that has clearly worked for years.

It just doesn’t work for me.

The songs are spirited, the animation well-crafted, and the dialogue often rapid fire. But it leans on a style of humor that’s often obvious and repetitive, in a cartoon world where nearly every single business has to have a corny name like “It’s Your Funeral Home,” “Sprain Sprain Go Away” and “Weight Weight Don’t Tell Me.”

But to its credit, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is here to super serve the regulars. There may be too much fatty in the patty to attract many new converts, but if you’ve already memorized the specials, belly up for a deluxe portion.

Bloody Water Everywhere

A Taste of Whale

by George Wolf

Filmmaker Vincent Kelner knows you don’t want to see what he has for you.

But while his documentary A Taste of Whale doesn’t shy away from blood in the water, his ultimate goal lies beyond the killing grounds.

In his feature debut, Kelner takes us to Europe’s Faroe Islands, where every year some 700 pilot whales die in a traditional slaughter known to locals as the “Grind” (pronounced like “grinned”). Though the Faroes is a constituent country of Denmark, the people live under their own constitution, just one of the reasons many natives believe it’s a privilege to call the Faroes home.

And Kelner lets many Faroese defend the Grind with conviction, pointing to mischaracterizations and misunderstandings, while labeling visiting activists as “tourists.”

But there are some on the island that are willing to admit their hunting methods have strayed far beyond the traditional, and that maybe some of the protesters have a point.

Kelner does an admirable job tackling the issue from opposing sides, even drawing a subtle parallel between pragmatic approaches to behavioral change and recent pandemic mandates here at home.

But Kelner’s understated hand begins to apply more pressure once someone comments on the disconnect between not wanting to see things die, but still wanting to eat things that are dead.

If you turn away in horror at Kelner’s graphic footage from the Grind – and later, from slaughterhouses – A Taste of Whale stresses that this bloodshed will always exist “wherever you have meat for food.”

It is a bit of rope-a-dope from Kelner, but he wants you to be horrified. And when you are, he’s waiting to challenge your convictions with a lifestyle change that’s framed as the only logical choice.

Think It Through


by George Wolf

Take two longtime friends on the verge of going their separate ways, and throw in one night of epic partying before they graduate. There will be hijinks, conflict, feelings expressed, and resolution.

We know this formula, right?

Not so fast. Expanding their Emergency short from 2018, director Carey Williams and writer K.D. Dávila run those familiar tropes through a tense, in-the-moment lens that upends convention while still delivering a consistent layer of laughter.

Sean (RJ Cyler from Power Rangers and The Harder They Fall) and Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins, Black Box and The Underground Railroad) have two months until they graduate Buchanan college. Their plan is to make history by becoming the first Black men to complete Buchanan’s Legendary Party Tour. They’ve managed to score all seven necessary invites, but a complication arises.

There’s a passed-out underage white girl in their living room.

Kunle’s instinct is to call 911, but Sean quickly reminds him that Black folks have been shot for far less than what it might appear is going on.

And so the two friends decide to deal with the situation themselves, adding their pal Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) to the plan while the unconscious girl’s sister (Sabrina Carpenter) and two of her friends stay in pursuit via phone tracking.

Williams does a masterful job juggling tones. Early on, the terrific performances from Cyler and Watkins get us invested in the friendship before Williams increases the pressure. He’s able to blend some terrifying dread into the ridiculous nature of the situation with a quiet confidence that deepens the real-world stakes.

Dávila, fresh off writing the Oscar-nominated short Please Hold, again mines law enforcement anxieties with deft precision. Her transition to a feature-length screenplay is seamless, sharpening the narrative with clever, organic plot turns and the characters with authentically grounded humor.

From clueless white allies to the distance between “Black excellence” and “thug,” Emergency covers plenty of socially conscious ground. And though a beat or two may seem less than subtle, the film never panders.

So we get the two friends ready to explore the future, searching for their place in the world. But this wild night of partying holds more sobering lessons than we’re used to seeing.

For these young men, it’s about how quickly their perception of the world can change forever, and the unrelenting weight of navigating how the world sees them.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Downton Abbey: A New Era

by Hope Madden

The Crawleys exit the roaring 20s a bit cash-strapped (can’t fix the roof but can holiday en masse, butlers in tow). Fans of the long-running series, now unleashing its second feature film, can rest easy. Heads held high, the family is ready to face a new decade with new leadership and the same old posh spirit.

Elegant escapism of the breeziest order, Downton Abbey: A New Era follows the idle rich through the travails of trying to remain both idle and rich. Now about that attic.

It seems a film producer hopes to shoot a movie in Downton. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) wants no part of it, but Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is running the show now. She hates to seem common, but the fee will fix those leaks.

Of course, the servants are thrilled to have real-life movie stars in the building. All except Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), who can’t bear to see the family stoop so low. Why, the Queen of England sat right at that table!

Meanwhile, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith, scene-stealing, as is her way) is surprised to have inherited a French villa from a man she knew many wistful years ago. Mysterious? Or is it scandalous?!

So, off half the family goes to investigate, leaving Lady Mary and the servants to contend with the handsome director (Hugh Dancy), charming actor (Dominic West) and dour actress (Laura Haddock).

The old gang has fun stretching their familiar characters a bit for the big screen, although director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) has a tough time staging the interior conversations as anything more than expensive TV set pieces.

Still, the expansive grounds are gorgeous and Nice is gorgeous, and it can be restful to spend a full two hours where the stakes are no higher than whether or not the world will remember granny as a tramp.

Downton Abbey is a really well-dressed, well-acted, well-produced, uptight soap opera. Droll dialog, stunning locales and exquisite costuming elevate each scene to something more than a guilty pleasure, but the film’s sites never veer from its target audience.