Blu-ray Review - Neon Bull


Neon Bull" is the second film I've seen this year from director Gabriel Mascaro ("August Winds" was recently issued on Blu-ray), and it appears he's already settled on a style, favoring stories that permit him screentime to take in settings and character behavior, gently pushing away any interest in drama. Mascaro is obviously gifted, but not inclusionary, keeping viewers at arm's length, serving them a feast for the eyes, but unable to find passion that would elevate his work to the feeling of soulful vibration he's clearly pursuing. Read the rest a

Blu-ray Review - Chosen Survivors


The 1970s was a gold mine for sci-fi/horror hybrids that played into the darkening sky ambiance of a nation experiencing a never-ending war and political deception. Paranoia was mixed with doomsday, permitting filmmakers to address world ills on a grand scale, delivering warning signs while still playing into genre demands for suspense and terror. "Chosen Survivors" is a prime example of apocalyptic concern, but instead of depicting the end of the world above ground, it plunges 1000 feet below, taking inspiration from other claustrophobic chillers. Director Sutton Roley and screenwriters H.B. Cross and Joe Reb Moffly have a terrific idea here, putting human behavior under the microscope as strangers are forced to rely on one another, building a new dawn as the world outside burns to the ground. And yet, "Chosen Survivors" doesn't end up a psychological study. It's a bat attack movie, setting aside provocative ideas on the status of humanity to focus on the wrath of flying mammals wiggling their way through tight spaces on the hunt for human blood. Read the rest a

Blu-ray Review - The Enemy Below


World War II action heads into the open sea in 1957's "The Enemy Below," an adaptation of a best-selling novel by Denys Rayner, and directed by respected actor Dick Powell. While the production captures the intensity of conflict between a U.S. destroyer and a German U-boat, it plays up psychological warfare, using a battle of strategy and experience to generate most of its thrills. Powell has an eye for extravaganza, but he's better with characterization, making sure to dazzle viewers while preserving motivations, creating a more satisfying WWII movie that remains invested in the lives of enemies. Read the rest a

Blu-ray Review - China and Silk


For an adult movie, 1984's "China and Silk" would much rather be a cop drama, having more fun on the prowl with police than in the bedroom with eager partners. Likely inspired by drug smuggling television escapism of the day, "China and Silk" has only a tentative interest in sexual relations, showing more enthusiasm for procedural steps and stakeouts, weirdly cooling the obvious appeal of the picture. Read the rest a

Film Review - Jack Reacher: Never Go Back


2012’s “Jack Reacher” was an unusual film. An adaptation of the Lee Child book “One Shot,” the feature brought the bulky character of Jack Reacher to the big screen, providing star Tom Cruise with a specific acting challenge of toughness, which he pulled off well for writer/director Christopher McQuarrie. It was an actioner with a unique rhythm, exploding with crunching metal and heavy fists before dealing with an unsatisfying story. The picture did okay at the box office, nothing outrageous, but Cruise has elected to try his luck the character again, returning to avenger duty in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” but this time without the guidance of McQuarrie. His absence is strangely felt throughout the follow-up, which takes the pure intimidation and smarts of the titular character and sets him loose in a shockingly lumpy, lobotomized thriller, which often resembles a television pilot rather than a major movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boo! A Madea Halloween


It’s surprising to note that “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is the first Tyler Perry feature to hit screens in over two years, with the prolific filmmaker (who averaged two productions per year at one point) taking a break from cinematic pursuits to build a television empire. He wasn’t missed, but time has come to return Madea to multiplexes, and she’s bringing more holiday mischief, with “Boo! A Madea Halloween” following up “A Madea Christmas.” The abrasive character seems like a true fit for the spooky season, and the potential is unexpectedly there to showcase Madea as a next-gen ghostbuster, taking on urban troublemakers with her unique brand of yelling and slapping. Instead of invention, Perry makes the same old movie, recycling his once powerful formula (box office grosses are trending downward) to give the target audience exactly what they expect. The effort has no tricks, and it’s definitely not a treat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fear, Inc.


“Fear, Inc.” began life as a short film, and it’s easy to tell such narrative limitation while watching its feature-length expansion. Screenwriter Luke Barnett has a wonderful idea to help twist the horror genre, crafting a tale where terror and murder are requested by individuals searching for a fresh kick in their dreary lives. It’s like “Saw” in a way, only the victims demand the utmost in intimidation. However, stretching the plot to 90 minutes proves too difficult for Barnett, who tries to massage the material by introducing a self-referential approach, making “Fear, Inc.” a “Scream” knockoff, and an easily fatigued one at that. Big frights and laughs are in short supply here, keeping the viewing experience strangely deflated, especially when the central concept of doomsday participation is primed for a robust exploration. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ouija: Origin of Evil


That “Ouija: Origin of Evil” manages to top its predecessor, 2014’s “Ouija,” isn’t a particularly astonishing achievement. While inoffensive, the original wasn’t made with care, churned out to fill a Halloween release slot, offering PG-13 thrills and chills to younger audiences in need of a distraction. Instead of sequelizing the profitable movie, the producers head back to the beginning, kind of, taking the prequel route to unearth a fresh round of scares tied to the demonic wonders of a Hasbro board game. The change in scenery and period is welcome, but more important is the talent involved, with co-writer/director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus,” “Hush”) putting in substantial labor to make sure his take on the “Ouija” world is exciting, nightmarish, and overall menacing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four


The saga of 1994’s “The Fantastic Four” is no Hollywood secret. Over the last two decades, details have leaked about the film’s quickie production and aborted release, with the picture eventually discarded altogether after some promotional work was already underway. It’s one of those industry black eyes, and while journalistic endeavors have explored the creation and disintegration of “The Fantastic Four,” director Marty Langford looks to dig deeper with “Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four,” constructing a documentary that collects stories from those on the front lines. It’s not a cheery tale of creative and financial success, but it delivers a wider appreciation of what was attempted in the 1990s, with B-movie imagination eclipsing the blockbuster intentions later iterations of the property attempted. Read the rest at

Film Review - In a Valley of Violence


While he hasn’t exclusively worked in the genre, writer/director Ti West is usually labeled a horror filmmaker, building his reputation with interesting efforts (“The Innkeepers” and “House of the Devil”), while his last picture, “The Sacrament,” replicated real-world agony with its take on the Jonestown Massacre. Changing up the career view, West embarks on a western showdown tale with “In a Valley of Violence,” challenging his helming skills with a homage to spaghetti westerns, having a ball highlighting all the evil men are capable of. It’s a doozy of a movie, refreshingly spare and focused on the essentials of the tradition, showcasing West’s continued development into a memorable creative force. It’s raw work, but “In a Valley of Violence” snowballs into superbly suspenseful cinema. Read the rest at

Film Review - Keeping Up with the Joneses


Spy comedies are all the rage these days, recently explored in the aptly titled “Spy” and last spring’s disaster, “The Brothers Grimsby.” “Keeping Up with the Joneses” is the PG-13 take on broad adventuring, and its gentleness almost feels like a straitjacket, watching director Greg Mottola figure out a way to make hackneyed writing moderately interesting. He fails, as there aren’t any real jokes in the picture, just pratfalls and tedious encounters with improvisation. “Keeping Up with the Joneses” is safe, borderline cuddly, but this subgenre deserves a more aggressive take on bumbling characters and violent situations. The feature has cast members capable of doing anything, but they master next to nothing, keeping the movie passive and unimaginative. Read the rest at

Film Review - Girl Asleep


The trials of adolescence are taken for a surreal joyride in “Girl Asleep.” An Australian production, the picture already has a healthy sense of humor, but Matthew Whittet’s screenplay yearns for something more when dealing with the anxiety of a 14-year-old girl taking a grand birthday leap to a new year of development and socialization. The film is frequently hilarious, boasting a sense of humor that’s a blend of Jared Hess and Wes Anderson, but there’s a dramatic aspect to the effort that’s presented in a theatrical manner, taking viewers into a fantasy world that pinpoints the battle of personal growth in a more literal manner. “Girl Asleep” is highly creative work from Rosemary Myers (making her directorial debut), and while she hasn’t mastered tonal changes, she’s beginning a promising career with this endearingly oddball movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Whole Truth


In 2008, director Courtney Hunt collected critical acclaim for her debut feature, “Frozen River.” She excelled with the intimate character study, establishing nuance and vividness of location, promising a bright career to come. Momentum stopped, or at least slowed with work on television, but Hunt finally returns to screens with “The Whole Truth,” losing her indie spirit in the intervening years. Reviving the legal drama, once so popular in the 1970s and ‘80s, Hunt and screenwriter Rafael Jackson hope to recapture the thrill of sketchy testimony shared by shady witnesses, while touching on the iffy moral core of a lawyer in charge of shaping a version of reality to benefit his case. “The Whole Truth” is compelling, supported by an unusual cast, but Hunt doesn’t bring grit to this mainstream event, which gradually evolves into Grisham-esque nonsense. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Pastoral


“American Pastoral” is a good reminder that not every book needs a cinematic adaptation. The film is based on a 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth novel, which intricately stitched together emotional wreckage and culture shock, using the passage of time to detail political and social cancers coming after the post-WWII generation. First time director Ewan McGregor mostly does away with Roth’s details, reimagining the story as a soap opera featuring a dysfunctional family hit with extraordinary changes during the 1960s and ‘70s. “American Pastoral” is ambitious but it’s also a mess, a colossal one at times, spotlighting McGregor’s tone-deaf way with drama and the feature’s inability to find order in Roth’s plotting, jumping from scene to scene without cohesion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Kids


“Good Kids” was included on the 2011 Black List, an annual Hollywood guide to the “most liked” screenplays. It’s a strange bit of trivia for the film, as it features a scene where the lead character tries to speed up the healing process of a yeast infection by submerging his penis in a cup of yogurt. I wouldn’t trust the Black List. The ghost of “American Pie” haunts “Good Kids,” which aims to provide a bawdy time at the movies, tracking a coming-of-age summer for a group of overachievers, who experience all the sex, drugs, and stupidity they can handle. While a comedy, the picture offers few laughs, generally avoiding any basis in reality to become a cartoon with the occasional blip of sensitivity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Autumn Lights


It’s brave of writer/director Angad Aulakh to make a movie like “Autumn Lights,” which defies modern editorial requirements by playing out as slowly as possible, even making a few full stops during its run time. Calling this film slow-burn doesn’t even describe the picture’s movement -- it’s defiantly glacial, almost to a point of parody. Aulakh (making his feature-length helming debut) is paying tribute to the gods of European cinema with his tale of disturbance and seduction, trying his luck with an old-fashioned Bergman effort in 2016. “Autumn Lights” benefits from impressive digital cinematography and glorious Icelandic locations, but it’s such a specific viewing experience, demanding those sitting down with it to completely relax expectations and possibly hope as well. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Earth Dies Screaming


1964's "The Earth Dies Screaming" is fascinating in the way it uses silence as its primary weapon. It takes about eight minutes before the first line is uttered in the picture, with director Terence Fisher preferring to observe the end of the world through action, studying various horrors and the introduction of the lead character, an apocalypse survivor played by Willard Parker. "The Earth Dies Screaming" eventually gives in to traditional character interplay, but for a moment, it bravely trusts in pure visual storytelling, which is a refreshing way to commence this spare thriller. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Rift


What was it about the years 1989 and 1990 and movies concerning unknown threats from the deep blue sea? "The Rift" (also titled "Endless Descent") is a graduate from the genre class, joining fellow chillers "Leviathan," "Lords of the Deep," "The Abyss," "The Evil Below," and "DeepStar Six" in an attempt to find wonders and worries associated with initially unexplained oceanic events hitting a group of disparate, anxious personalities. "The Rift" follows the suspense routine, but it doesn't bring much in the way of cash to pay for visual highlights, emerging as a low-budget effort that tries to do much with very little. Monstrous activity and submarine voyaging are reduced to semi-silliness in the picture, but director J.P. Simon doesn't completely give up, managing to cough up an entertaining horror endeavor that's competently cast and intermittently exciting with lowered expectations, delivering a satisfying but unremarkable "Aliens" knock-off that's big on gore and panic once limited production expanse is established. Read the rest at