Blu-ray Review - Force Five


1981's "Force: Five" combines the two things every fan wants out of action cinema: fists of fury and a chilling reminder of a mass murder. Using the Jonestown Massacre as inspiration, writer/director Robert Clouse ("Enter the Dragon," but also "Gymkata") finds a way to remake 1976's "Hot Potato," sending a team of heroes into an island compound, where a religious cult keeps order through manipulation and violence, occasionally carried out by a rampaging bull. I'll give "Force: Five" this much: it's never dull, with Clouse making sure to fill his feature with all types of stunts and showdowns, keeping his B-movie speeding along as it showcases questionable taste. Read the rest at

Film Review - Storks


When one thinks of animated family entertainment featuring a cast of kind, cuddly creatures, director Nicholas Stoller isn’t the first name that comes to mind. The helmer of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “The Five-Year Engagement,” and “Neighbors” (and its sequel), Stoller has built a career on crude humor and acts of humiliation, making him an unlikely mastermind behind a comical tale of birds in charge of distributing newborns to the world. Sharing a newfound interest in the PG crowd, Stoller goes full cartoon with “Storks,” but often seems confused about what he really wants from the picture, unable to decide if he’s creating something heartwarming or something obnoxious. He’s good with big and bright, but Stoller’s sense of humor is too slack to trigger laughs, which there are precious few of in this routine effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Magnificent Seven


Sometime over the last decade, director Antoine Fuqua got angry. Always a middling director with a love of action, Fuqua sampled excessive violence with 2007’s “Shooter,” but lost his mind with 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” which showed absolute glee in depicting mass murder. The reign of terror continued in 2014’s “The Equalizer,” which took a simple television program about revenge and transformed it into a bloodbath. Fuqua enjoys senseless brutality, which surely helps to distract from storytelling deficiencies, but now he’s walking on hallowed ground with “The Magnificent Seven,” which is largely regarded as one of the finest westerns ever made. The helmer meets the challenge of remake cinema with both fists clenched, ordering up an extended bruiser that revels in brutality, doing away with the restraint of the 1960 classic, replacing widescreen majesty with meaningless savagery. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Blind Brother


In the screenplay for “My Blind Brother, writer Sophie Goodhart (who also makes her directorial debut) challenges the delicate nature of physical disabilities, crafting a comedy that portrays everyone with the same amount of anxieties and flaws, only the able-bodied are a little more sensitive to personal issues. It’s a smart script, resulting in a funny but fascinating study of people trying to be kind and considerate, but somehow losing themselves in the process, which is more of universal feeling than perhaps Goodhart understands. While modest work, “My Blind Brother” shows depth and courage when it comes to darkly comic scenes, with the helmer doing a skilled job of juggling tone while she encourages laughs from unexpected places. Read the rest at

Film Review - For the Love of Spock


In terms of pop culture history and general geekdom, there are few actors as globally recognized as Leonard Nimoy. Portraying Spock on “Star Trek,” Nimoy’s three-year-long tour of duty on primetime television turned into a lifetime of professional opportunities, giving the actor a flavorful life even while inhabiting a single character for decades. “For the Love of Spock” doesn’t attempt to dissect Nimoy’s life in full, but it does provide a fascinating overview of the man’s rise to stardom and his struggles to keep his career interesting. The documentary’s POV is unique, with Leonard’s son Adam Nimoy stepping up to identify his father as a man and an icon, asking friends and family to help assess an extraordinary existence filled with art, fame, pointy ears, and love. Read the rest at

Film Review - Goat


“Goat” is the nickname for a fraternity pledge -- a subservient, humiliated young man forced to participate in the worst hazing collegiate minds can conjure just for a chance to fit in and belong to a brotherhood. Co-writer/director Andrew Neel doesn’t skimp on the ghoulish details of fraternity pledging, trying to make “Goat” a powerful document of abuse and privilege while still itemizing all the horrors that go along with the process. It’s often ugly and eye-opening, but what Neel is missing is soulfulness, lacking a human touch in a picture that frequently goes for shock value under the guise of authenticity. “Goat” isn’t a powerful feature, and while details of the crime stick to the senses, little dramatic muscle is flexed, keeping the effort frustratingly distant when it clearly aims for the heart. Read the rest at

Film Review - Demon


In recent years, Hollywood has shown an interest in the terror potential of the dybbuk, a malicious spirit often associated with the unfinished business of the dead. With “The Unborn” and “The Possession,” the wrath of the dybbuk was cranked up to spook PG-13 audiences, playing with fantasy and fear to give the demonic presence a cinematic edge. It’s up to a Polish film like “Demon” to set the record straight. Co-writer/director Marcin Wrona strips away visual effects and noise to play a possession rather straightforwardly, depending on the actors to make up for a lack of screen anarchy. Considering the picture is about a supernatural event, “Demon” plays things with a degree of subtlety, embracing the oddity of the event instead of the intensity. It isn’t always out a frighten audiences, but Wrona has some strong ideas about the hollowing out of a man’s soul that keeps the effort engrossing. Read the rest at 

Film Review - I.T.

IT 1

The question isn’t if “I.T.” is one of the worst films of the year (it most certainly is), but why does John Moore continue to receive directing assignments? The helmer of “Behind Enemy Lines,” “Flight of the Phoenix” (remake), “The Omen” (remake), “Max Payne,” and the soul-crushing “A Good Day to Die Hard,” Moore hasn’t delivered anything remotely close to a suspenseful moment, original image, or dramatic movement for as long as he’s been working in Hollywood. It’s shocking that he still finds work, and “I.T.” represents his lowest creative point yet. An abysmal, trashy thriller that has no concept of character, escalation, or resolution, the picture simply meanders from scene to scene, picking up whatever sleazy bit of business it can hold in its greasy hands. Moore may think he’s making a provocative statement on the ubiquity of hackable tech, but he’s merely spinning clichés and guiding cringe-inducing performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Best Fake Friends


For reasons not clearly understood, “Best Fake Friends” is receiving a modest theatrical release, presumably fulfilling the big screen dreams of director Paul Kampf, who’s been toiling away with homegrown productions for a few years now, perhaps following the Tyler Perry business model of backyard filmmaking. What’s strange here is why Kampf is bothering putting the picture into theaters when it’s obviously best suited for home viewing, with the entire effort assembled with distinct Lifetime Original craftsmanship. “Best Fake Friends” isn’t a good movie, but there are elements that work. Perhaps most damaging to the feature is its lack of cinematic heft, with so much of its “Desperate Housewives” mimicry registering flat and dull. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beauty and the Beast


Since 1991, the “Beauty and the Beast” brand name has been owned by Disney, who turned their animated picture into a box office smash and an Oscar contender. There was a Broadway show and spin-offs, and the company is preparing to renew their pop culture lease with a 2017 live-action adaptation starring Emma Watson as Belle. For director Christophe Gans, the “tale as old as time” demands a return to its fairy tale roots, mounting a semi-traditional take on Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 1740 story. The helmer behind “Brotherhood of the Wolf” and “Silent Hill,” Gans excels with visuals, and he doesn’t disappoint with his reclamation of “Beauty and the Beast,” which builds a specific world of the unreal to help inspect a core tale of burgeoning passion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - August Winds


"August Winds" is not a film that one can fight. Director Gabriel Mascaro crafts a meditative look at the ways of life in Brazil, and he's going to take his time doing it, taking in every stare, storm, day of labor, and rolling wave for as long as he can get away with. There's a story in here somewhere, but "August Winds" isn't concerned with capturing an audience through drama. It trusts in natural beauty, sending the movie on a long journey of observation where frame details are more valued than the narrative. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Grandview, U.S.A.


1984's "Grandview, U.S.A." should've been a sure thing. Coming off massive teen-centric hits in "Grease" and "The Blue Lagoon," director Randal Kleiser was ready to return to the woes of adolescents and unknown futures, inspired by classic coming-of-age formula and the video revolution of MTV, a channel in its infancy during production. But something, somewhere went wrong with the picture, which aims to be a heart-swelling study of maturity and romantic devotion, but ends up a mess of ideas in search of consistency. Kleiser is all over the place with the feature, and while he's successful with certain ideas and performances, there isn't an overriding feeling of leadership carrying the viewing experience along, leaving the movie episodic and periodically ridiculous. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?


Maintaining his unique fascination with movie titles punctuated with question marks, director Curtis Harrington follows-up 1971's "What's the Matter with Helen?" with "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?" A period chiller that reteams the helmer with star Shelley Winters, the effort is a largely successful slice of nastiness that merges mystery with fairy tale motivations, watching Harrington search for a way to make the tenderness of Christmastime spent with orphans in need terrifying to the general audience. The feature isn't entirely successful with big scares, but it carries superb atmosphere and a few surprises, with Winters unleashing her traditional instability to make the film memorable, locating and molesting scripted beats of maternal agony and wide-eyed madness. "Auntie Roo" is unusual in the sense that it highlights children participating in violence and extremity, but Harrington keeps it all tasteful and well-paced, working his way to a third-act payoff that actually delivers intended shock. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Daddy Long Legs


Most movies don't blink when creating a romantic pairing between an older man and a younger woman. 1955's "Daddy Long Legs" actually has the bravery to call itself out on the practice, with the screenplay identifying the uneasy union between characters played by Fred Astaire (then 56 years old) and Leslie Caron (24 years old), who embark on a strange relationship that begins with financial charity and concludes as something more heartfelt. A gorgeously widescreen musical, "Daddy Long Legs" smartly calls out it most problematic element, helping to relax the picture as it spotlights song and dance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mr. Church


We know about “Mr. Church” because of Eddie Murphy. He’s the star of the picture, emerging from a brief hiatus from film acting (last appearing in 2012’s “A Thousand Words”) to participate in a low-key melodrama about a tender relationship between a complicated cook and his young charge. While Murphy has played it straight before (in “Dreamgirls” and parts of “Life”), “Mr. Church” demands the star mute his natural charisma and comedic timing, going bloodless to portray a loyal guardian. Without Murphy, the feature probably wouldn’t see the inside of multiplexes, and he’s easily the best part of the effort, with his stoicism actually refreshing while director Bruce Beresford strives to soak the endeavor in syrup, smothering whatever scope and sincerity the screenplay originally possessed. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bridget Jones's Baby


It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from Bridget Jones. 2004’s much-maligned-but-not-that-bad sequel, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” tried to amplify the appeal of 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” overreaching where the original endeavor was effortlessly charming and warmly silly. 12 years is a long time to wait around for the next chapter in the series, and while “Bridget Jones’s Baby” isn’t the perfect sequel, it’s an entertaining one, with returning director Sharon Maguire (who sat out “Edge of Reason”) restoring some character to the slapstick comedy, working hard to make sure Bridget has a little more to do this time than bounce around the frame in a klutzy blur. Timing isn’t quite there, but laughs are plentiful. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blair Witch


In 1999, “The Blair Witch Project” came out of nowhere, conquering the box office and almost managing to out-buzz “The Phantom Menace” that summer. It was the indie film that could, becoming a sensation that, for a moment, blurred the line between cinema and reality, convincing some that its verite-style haunting in the woods had actually occurred, and we were all watching a snuff movie. With success came a sequel, 2000’s “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” which wisely avoided rehashing the original effort, going deeply self-referential, but also amazingly stupid. The Blair Witch phenomenon immediately cooled afterwards, placed on a pop culture display shelf, but it was clear that the lucrative premise wasn’t going to stay dead. And now there’s “Blair Witch,” which is established as a sequel to the 1999 megahit, but is actually a remake, with director Adam Wingard once again entering the deep woods with curious characters, tempting the evil that resides in the dark. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brother Nature


Osmany Rodriguez and Matt Villines (often billed as “Matt and Oz”) built their reputation creating digital shorts on “Saturday Night Live,” constructing oddball music videos and conjuring ideas that often poked fun at dark emotions. Sadly, Villines passed away last July, leaving “Brother Nature,” the pair’s feature-length directorial debut, their final collaboration. Committed to the pursuit of silliness and comedic escalation, Matt and Oz generate an agreeable sense of lunacy with the picture, which shakes up formula through funky characters and strange disasters, doing what they can to disturb expectations with this take on a family vacation nightmare. “Brother Nature” does enough to keep itself alert, and it’s consistently funny, with the helmers wisely populating the cast with “SNL” vets and charming actors to help lubricate the madcap antics. Read the rest at

Film Review - Snowden


“Snowden” plays to director Oliver Stone’s strengths, offering the man who gave the world “Platoon,” “Wall Street,” and “Natural Born Killers” another opportunity to cinematically vivisect American policy and people, continuing his quest to inspire a popcorn-dusted uprising. The saga of Edward Snowden is an obvious match to Stone’s eyes-wide-open worldview, and he brings his helming swagger to the feature, which carefully dramatizes a decade in the life of America’s most famous whistleblower. However, as passionate as Stone is about the material and the man, he doesn’t know what type of film he’s making, keeping “Snowden” trapped somewhere between an intricate bio-pic and the least interesting “Mission: Impossible” sequel ever. Stone has the smarts to make this picture ignite, but he fumbles the tone, which often teeters between terrifying and ridiculous. Read the rest at