Film Review - Poltergeist


1982’s “Poltergeist” was a rare event in horror filmmaking. Unleashed during an especially virile year for movie releases, the picture was a diamond in a particularly frustrating genre, with producer/co-writer (some say he directed as well) Steven Spielberg conjuring an epic haunted house tale, complete with ghoulish visions of death and decomposition, backed by substantial special effects wizardry. It was weird, darkly humorous, and terrifying. Although Hollywood took its time, the “Poltergeist” remake is finally here, but instead of creating a new generation of suburban fears, the reheat simply mimics the original in a stunningly lifeless manner. That the 2015 version isn’t as riveting as the 1982 feature isn’t really a problem. But the new “Poltergeist” doesn’t even best 1988’s “Poltergeist III.” That’s cause for concern. Read the rest at

Film Review - In the Name of My Daughter


“In the Name of My Daughter” is deceptive in the way it concocts an intimate family drama concerning power plays and psychological unraveling, only to gradually emerge as a true crime saga. It’s the latest work from writer/director Andre Techine (“Wild Reeds,” “The Girl on the Train,” and “Thieves”), who provides a taste of disorder to help backdrop what eventually becomes a case of possible murder, paying close attention to moments of betrayal and discomfort that gradually funnel into accusation. Although it’s disjointed, “In the Name of My Daughter” is gripping, with enough troubling turns of plot to help forgive its awkward conclusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tomorrowland


There’s a call to arms concerning the future of the planet buried within the surprisingly leaden “Tomorrowland.” Director Brad Bird has his heart in the right place with this sci-fi adventure, hoping to stimulate minds with a story that celebrates imagination, intelligence, and effort, working to build an appropriately exciting blockbuster to ease concentration on all the homework. “Tomorrowland” is a curious creation with a bold visual design that’s erected with care. However, as pure drama, it’s inert, struggling to shift smoothly between wonder and enlightenment, offering manic performances that fail to inspire screen velocity. It’s certainly an interesting picture when it wants to be. Unfortunately, Bird doesn’t always want it to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - Slow West


“Slow West” isn’t a traditional western. Sure, outlaws appear, six-guns are brandished, and the long crawl of horse-based travel is felt. Writer/director John Maclean embraces important elements of the genre, but he’s after a more intimate space of dark comedy and conflicted men. “Slow West” is a special film, eschewing a more grandstanding show of force to cherry pick strange and sincere moments, carrying an idiosyncratic vibe that Maclean’s manages well, even when he can’t fill up an already brief movie. It’s not a hard-charging effort, but something softly strange, which is quite an achievement in this day and age of cinematic sameness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Kill


After making his directorial debut with 1997’s “Gattaca,” Andrew Niccol embarked on a troubling career of interesting failures (“Lord of War”) and outright disasters (“In Time,” “The Host,” “Simone”). Each film attempted to articulate the human experience, with attention paid to the manipulation of body and soul, but, more often than not, Niccol was caught delivering speeches when suspense was needed. “Good Kill” is an unexpected return to form for the helmer, who finds a sophisticated subject in drone warfare, with its troubling moral questions and military demands. Guided by a strong performance from Ethan Hawke, “Good Kill” manages to find a balance between demonstration and debate, allowing Niccol to indulge his beloved sermonizing while providing substantive characterization. Read the rest at

Film Review - Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman


As an actor, Paul Newman tried to lead a normal life, finding the big spotlight of fame uncomfortable when it couldn’t be used to his advantage. Building an iconic career in film and television, Newman had difficulty finding balance to his life, with soulful clarity found in a most unlikely place: car racing. “Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman” is a highly informative and loving tribute to the star’s “secret” life, striving to indentify a thirst for competition and speed that drove him to seek pleasure on the race track, where his marquee name couldn’t provide an advantage when strapped in behind a wheel. Read the rest at


Film Review - Pound of Flesh


“Pound of Flesh” has an encouraging premise, essentially pitting Jean-Claude Van Damme against an underground network of organ thieves. The very thought of the famous action star setting out to retrieve his kidney on the streets of Manila is enticing. Unfortunately, viewer imagination is far more compelling than anything “Pound of Flesh” has to offer. Dreary, underlit, and straining for meaning with a stilted script by Joshua James, the feature goes through the motions in terms of Van Damme and action, but director Ernie Barbarash doesn’t bother with momentum, often stopping the film entirely to tend to worthless dramatics and tedious performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Every Secret Thing


Documentarian Amy L. Berg makes fiction filmmaking debut with “Every Secret Thing.” After taking on the Catholic Church in “Deliver Us From Evil,” the West Memphis Three in “West of Memphis,” and Hollywood’s history of sexual abuse in “An Open Secret,” it should come as no surprise to find Berg drawn to the themes of “Every Secret Thing,” which touches on criminal activity and psychological erosion, exploring the lives of broken people. Adapted from the 2004 novel by Laura Lippman, the picture retains powerful examinations of denial, but it seldom pieces together smoothly, often resembling four features running at the same time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Secret Invasion


While working on his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, director Roger Corman found time to make his first major studio feature with 1964's "The Secret Invasion," a WWII men-on-a-mission film that took the helmer out of literary fantasy and stuck him in the middle of history. Boasting a diverse cast that includes Stewart Granger, Mickey Rooney, and Edd Byrnes, "The Secret Invasion" attempts to marry the cold realities of life with excitable conflicts, making an effort to ground matinee adventure with a certain level of emotional gravity. Most of the picture feels like filler, yet Corman deserves credit for stretching, struggling to craft a movie that can play as a distraction and still land a few psychological gut-punches along the way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Madman


Created during a fertile period in slasher film distribution, 1982's "Madman" takes a slightly different route than the average kill-all-the-campers genre offering. Rooted in urban legend idolatry and executed with the slow-burn build of a campfire tale, the feature hopes to creep out audiences with prolonged silences and extended stalking sequences. Patience levels are periodically tested during the run time, but as the effort unfolds, there's an appreciation for frights and atmosphere that keeps the picture interesting when it stops being engaging. Perhaps it doesn't reach the iconic highs of "Friday the 13th," but "Madman" has its simple pleasures, including attention to character and an unusual interest in music to help secure its creepy intent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo


Keeping the celebration going, "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" made its theatrical debut only seven months after the release of the original film. Not that a breakdance movie is particularly difficult to piece together in a short amount of time, but during an era of three-year-long waits between franchise chapters, the speed of this release was alarming, clearly signaling that Cannon Films wasn't about to leave money on the table. If the kids wanted a second helping of Kelly, Turbo, and Ozone, Yoram Globus and Manahem Golan were more than happy to provide it, once again stymieing the competition during the curiously dance-feature-heavy year of 1984. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Breakin'


Never one to let a trend slip through his fingers, producer Menahem Golan quickly jumped on the opportunity to make a movie based on the breakdancing craze that swept across the nation in the 1980s. Golan's Cannon Films sprinted to the finish line with 1984's "Breakin'" with hopes to beat the competition, "Beat Street" (which took a more sobering look at hip hop culture), to the punch. Cannon won the war, transforming the feature into a sizable hit (keep in mind that the movie outgrossed "The Terminator" that year). While such production determination is interesting, "Breakin'" certainly has its issues, struggling with dramatic concerns as it spends most of its energy on musical numbers and street dance choreography. However, technical and emotional limitations aside, the picture has a certain spirit that's hard to deny, providing a look at bodies in motion as they quake, roll, and spin their way around the frame, keeping the feature's batteries charged long enough to make the effort easily digestible and, at times, terrific escapism. Read the rest at

Film Review - Area 51

AREA 51 Oren Peli

After experiencing distribution rejection around Hollywood, 2007’s “Paranormal Activity” finally found a home with Paramount Pictures. Electing to experiment with a word-of-mouth publicity campaign, the studio carefully expanded the feature into theaters during the 2009 Halloween season, creating a low-budget, slow-burn blockbuster out of next to nothing, transforming director Oren Peli into the next big thing. “Area 51” is his long-awaited follow-up to “Paranormal Activity,” though its road to the big screen has been bumpy. Shot in 2009, the film is finally seeing the light of day, finally offering fans a chance to catch what Peli has been up to for the last six years. Turns out, he’s been fine-tuning a clunker, with “Area 51” a shameless rehash of the found-footage formula that gifted him a helming career. Read the rest at

Film Review - Felix and Meira


As understated romances go, “Felix and Meira” has the advantage of religious divide. An unusual story of hesitation and self-expression, the French-Canadian production manages to preserve a sense of restraint, delivering characterization through looks instead of melodrama. While it features a few bizarre touches, “Felix and Meira” is strongly detailed by co-writer/director Maxime Giroux, who uses the limited space he’s created to examine intimacy that rarely carries over to demonstration. It’s a refreshing change of pace in a measured movie, with emotion pushing through silences as the plot seeks to understand personal need, not itemize the high and lows of human connection. Read the rest at

Film Review - Absolution


It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Steven Seagal take on a starring role in a feature film. There’s was a supporting turn in 2010’s “Machete,” but little of his output receives much attention these days, sticking to the DTV market to pump out actioners with nondescript titles such as “Urban Justice” and “A Dangerous Man.” He was once an excitingly intimidating screen presence in the early 1990s, but Seagal isn’t interested in making an effort anymore. “Absolution” is his latest thriller, a sequel to 2013’s “Force of Execution” and 2014’s “A Good Man,” though one could hardly tell from the general programmed feel of the picture. Returning to his comfort zone of bulky costuming and easily defeated baddies, the new Seagal production is much like the other Seagal productions, with the mumbly, iron-fisted star barely paying attention while the movie carries on around him. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mad Max: Fury Road


It’s been 30 years since the release of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” the last installment of the George Miller franchise to star Mel Gibson as a titular post-apocalyptic survivor. Having gone on to create some memorable cinema (“The Witches of Eastwick,” “Lorenzo’s Oil”) and a few creative question marks (“Babe: Pig in the City,” “Happy Feet Two”), it seems Miller is itching to return to the open road, craving some automobile mayhem. Fitting star Tom Hardy for the famous boots and protective gear, Miller revs up a new generation of hero for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which pumps the core battle between man and machine up to an epic size, while losing none of the delightful idiosyncrasy the helmer has turned into a fingerprint. It’s enormous, destructive, and largely indescribable. It’s also a gleefully barnstorming actioner that’s going to be difficult to top this year. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story


Following in the footsteps of “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story” tells the tale of an icon underneath an icon. Spinney is the performer of characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street,” dividing his time between two of the most popular puppets in the history of the globally revered public television program. Spinney is also one of the few left who was there at the very beginning, spending over 40 years entertaining children with puppetry that places tremendous demand on his body. It seems appropriate that Spinney should have a moment in spotlight, with directors Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker securing the performer’s legacy with this fascinating documentary. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pitch Perfect 2


2012’s “Pitch Perfect” was a type of sleeper hit Hollywood doesn’t experience much anymore. Without stars to sell, the featured used music as a way to entice its audience, and once those ticket-buyers where lassoed into the theater, they were sold a smorgasbord of stereotype humor and vomit jokes. But the music remained, helping the picture score big with its primary demographic, spawning a hit single in Anna Kendrick’s “Cups.” Of course a sequel was ordered, only little thought has been put into the continuing adventures of the Barden Bellas, with director Elizabeth Banks returning to the comfort of songs and broad performances, declining to do anything original with chapter two. Read the rest at

Film Review - Iris


Iris Apfel is an original. Sharp, funny, and in possession of a worldly knowledge of fashion and art, Iris has made a name for herself through collecting, filling an apartment and storage units with diverse clothing, accessories, and tchotchkes. It’s no wonder director Albert Maysles elected to make a documentary about her life and philosophy. In fact, Maysels, a legendary documentarian (“Gimme Shelter,” “Grey Gardens”), almost becomes a part of the feature, joining Iris as she visits her favorite places, displays her authority and instinct, and carries on with everyday business, leaving the filmmaker to create his own moments of cinematic focus. Read the rest at