Blu-ray Review - Rock-a-Doodle


In the 1980s, everything was golden for director Don Bluth. Sure, a few creative setbacks, compromises, and challenges were encountered by the animation helmer, but he enjoyed a string of box office successes and industry triumphs along the way. Commanding "An American Tail," "The Land Before Time" (a picture that inspired 13 sequels), "The Secret of NIMH," and the "Dragon's Lair" saga, Bluth certainly found his particular corner of artistry and worked like crazy to maintain some momentum to a career that, at one point, threatened Disney's animated film dominance. The 1990s, however, were not very kind to Bluth and his vision, with 1991's "Rock-A-Doodle" providing a taste of disasters and disappointments to come. While Bluth has some vision for this loose adaption of a turn-of-the-century play by Edmond Rostand, the production quickly slips out of his control, showcasing rather extreme storytelling disruptions and choppy editing, which overwhelms was appears to have been a fully conceived animation adventure with interesting live-action elements at one point during its development. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jack the Giant Killer


1962's "Jack the Giant Killer" was apparently created to cash-in on a monster movie trend, utilizing the rise of stop-motion animation to help create a storybook vision of a princess in peril, a young man becoming a hero, and the monsters conjured to stop him. Directed by Nathan Juran, "Jack the Giant Killer" doesn't pretend to be anything besides spirited matinee entertainment, offering family audiences a series of exciting beastly encounters, pronounced performances, and bold acts of courage, summoning the fantasy film vibe with relative ease. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - How Do I Love Thee?


Jackie Gleeson made his fair share of duds, but as he aged, he lost his star power, growing increasingly reliant on his established persona to connect with potential audiences. 1970's "How Do I Love Thee?" finds Gleeson navigating the changing tides of American society and entertainment interests, starring in a dramedy that's meant to play to both older and younger audiences, trying to build a bridge between the counterculture and senior citizens. It's a big time whiff from the icon, who looks lost (and quite inebriated) during his performance, unsure how seriously he should take a movie where Shelly Winters is cast as a sex object. "How Do I Love Thee?" is a brutal sit at times, with nobody in the production particularly confident in the film they want to make, going soft in every direction. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Tea with the Dames


I can’t think of a movie more perfectly suited for a Sunday afternoon matinee than “Tea with the Dames.” It’s a film about friendship, camaraderie, and memory, taking viewers to the English countryside to spend 80 minutes with Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and Eileen Atkins as they discuss themselves and others for director Roger Michell. While not without some moments of gravity, “Tea with the Dames” is as delicious as its sounds, breezing through easy banter that’s been in play for decades, with cameras capturing a friendship among actresses that’s developed with care and respect. Michell knows what he’s doing here, wisely getting out of the way as the Dames feel around for topics, digging up personal history as they discuss their lives, offering fascinating perspectives and triggering unexpected bellylaughs along the way. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Love, Gilda


There’s a lot of information out there concerning the life and times of Gilda Radner, including her years on “Saturday Night Live” and her 1989 autobiography, “It’s Always Something.” The challenge for director Lisa Dapolito is to reach beyond established evidence and create a more intimate study of Radner, and “Love, Gilda” manages to do just that. Utilizing home movies and diary pages, Dapolito embarks on a psychological odyssey with Radner’s own thoughts driving the documentary, examining her fears and frustrations as the picture surveys numerous successes where the comedian’s own brightness of spirit was the very thing that defined her stage appeal. “Love, Gilda” is missing a few key perspectives here and there, but it’s a rounded understanding of Radner’s experience and her headspace as she tried to navigate the demands of fame, the quest for love, and hope for inner-peace. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Life Itself


While writer/director Dan Fogelman has made other movies (2015’s “Danny Collins”), one would never know that by simply watching his latest endeavor, “Life Itself.” Best known as the creator of the NBC show, “This is Us,” Fogelman’s small screen addiction to melodrama doesn’t sit well in multiplexes, attempting to replicate the smashing fates formula that’s served him well on network television. Playing like a T.V. pilot that badly wants to be taken seriously as an R-rated inspection of human connections, “Life Itself” makes the crazy creative decision to be completely unlikable. Downright odious at times. It’s enough for Fogelman to be manipulative, which every frame of this picture is, but it’s another to be completely tone-deaf with characterization, turning the film into a twisted game where the audience is actively rooting for death to win in the end.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Land of Steady Habits


Writer/director Nicole Holofcener is known as a filmmaker capable of quality work. The architect of “Friends with Money,” “Please Give,” and her last effort, 2013’s “Enough Said,” Holofcener is one of the few helmers left with a distinct interest in the lives of adults, giving maturing concerns screen time to bloom into near-disasters. For “The Land of Steady Habits,” Holofcener finds inspiration from a book by Ted Thompson, but she makes the material her own in many ways, guiding a gifted cast through an obstacle course of setbacks, poor decisions, and lost hope, all the while infusing the screenplay with dry wit and understated emotion. “The Land of Steady Habits” isn’t going to satisfy those in need of hospital corners from their dramedies, but the few familiar with Holofcener’s world view are going to find plenty to enjoy here.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The House with a Clock in Its Walls


Trying to produce something on the spooky side for the whole family to help usher in the Halloween season, Universal Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment turn to Eli Roth to entertain the kiddies with an adaptation of the 1973 John Bellairs novel, “The House with a Clock in Its Walls.” Roth is, of course, not known for making PG-rated movies, having spent his career orchestrating extraordinary torture for his characters (and the paying audience) with horror films that focused on bloodshed and agony. Even as recently as this year too, with the spring bomb “Death Wish” once again reinforcing Roth’s inability to hold a picture together. “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” poses a unique challenge for the helmer, who’s forced to mute his splattery instincts, playing reasonably nice with playfully creepy material. Roth’s not prepared in full, creating a feature that’s tonally off-balance, making delight with the dark side a chore to experience.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Lizzie


The strange saga of Lizzie Borden has inspired countless dramatic interpretations, crossing all types of media. The magnetic pull to the accused murderer is easy to understand, as Lizzie’s tale hits on social position and domestic abuse, and culminates with the bloody, brutal death of two people utterly destroyed by an ax. It’s the stuff of pulp fiction, and the true story of the woman’s fight for identity returns to screens in “Lizzie,” with Chloe Sevigny taking a producer credit, giving herself the lead role, which provides a dramatic challenge not normally associated with the actress. “Lizzie” has its aggressive moments, but they’re largely saved for the midsection of the movie, with director Craig William Macneill keeping to intense atmospherics, not actual incident, to support the feature.  Read the rest at

Film Review - American Dresser


“American Dresser” initially wants to be a biker movie, following characters as they take off across the country on two wheels, embracing the romantic notion of daily tourism at top speed, taking in national grandeur and local color along the way. Writer/director/co-star Carmine Cangialosi achieves this feeling of freedom for about ten minutes, with the rest of picture sent in several different directions during its run time, and few of them come together in any meaningful way. “American Dresser” is scattered and ill-conceived, but there’s the saving grace of seniority, with stars Tom Berenger and especially Keith David turning in expressive performances as older men on a quest for one last perfect ride, getting the material halfway to competency while Cangialosi employs a blindfold and a dart board to select where the writing goes next.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Spetters


Paul Verhoeven is known as a cinematic provocateur. He's a filmmaker with a defined taste for the extreme, using sex and violence as mere building blocks in his features, which typically amplify the human experience into big screen opera, making a mess of emotions and body parts. 1980's "Spetters" comes before Verhoeven's incredible American run of "RoboCop," "Total Recall," and "Basic Instinct," returning to a time when he was a burgeoning Dutch helmer with plenty of spunk to spray on audiences, funneling his enthusiasm for untamed characters into a story of youthful energy, tragedy, and bad behavior. Imagine if Verhoeven directed "Porky's," and that's close to the viewing experience of "Spetters," which highlights the youth of Rotterdam as they try to make their way in the world, landing on the worst possible personal decisions imaginable along the way. Overkill is a big deal to Verhoeven, and the feature tries to inflate common problems into major incidents of horror, retaining the unmistakable vision of a helmer who excels at creating screen danger, but often doesn't know when to quit. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Josie


"Josie" emerges from the mind of screenwriter Anthony Ragnone, who makes his feature-length debut with the movie. Apparently, the writing attracted a lot of attention on the screenplay scene a few years ago, even reaching the dubious "Black List," a self-congratulatory Hollywood system that's helped many projects reach the screen, while only a few of them have been as extraordinary as their reputations. "Josie" has the seductive curves of the picture that plays terrific on paper, but as a film, limitations are highlighted in a major way, with the plot more suited for a short story than a big screen endeavor, finding Ragnone working on a puzzle that's not particularly worth solving, while director Eric England doesn't provide much of a reason to remain with the unfolding drama, forgoing narrative drive to linger on lukewarm encounters between banal characters.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Reincarnation of Peter Proud


"The Reincarnation of Peter Proud" is based on a 1973 book by Max Ehrlich (who also scripts), which became a best seller during a decade that freely experimented with the other side, with numerous productions trying to stimulate ticket sales by visiting the unknown, almost as a way to prove the unbelievable exists. While the movies are miles apart, it's hard to think that the massive success of "The Exorcist" didn't play a part in the feature's creation, as both tales concern a seemingly innocent person slowly exposed to something wicked that resides inside. "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud" doesn't dance with the Devil, but it does investigate a certain level of evil, with director J. Lee Thompson ("The Guns of Navarone," "Happy Birthday to Me," "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes") committed to inspecting every square foot of the developing intrigue, even if it means bringing the picture to a full stop, which he does on multiple occasions.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Little Women


There has been no shortage of media adaptations of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel, "Little Women," which has been brought to the stage, radio, and screens big and small. It's a timeless tale of sisterhood and maturity, and it makes sense that every few years there seems to be a production taking a stab at bringing Alcott's vivid characters to life in one way or another. There have been a few masterpieces along the way (the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder is a particular triumph), giving this take on "Little Women" from writer Heidi Thomas some sense of perspective as it strives to respect the source material but ultimately become its own thing, emerging as an inspection of empowerment and individual evolution while still sustaining Alcott's way with tragedies of all shapes and sizes. This BBC production ultimately paints itself into a corner, but the three episodes that make up the series (Run times: Ep #1 - 61:23, Ep #2 - 60:23, Ep #3 - 62:02) offers periodic clarity of spirit, giving Alcott's world a brightness of personality that carries the best of what the original book has to offer.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Keep the Change


Writer/director Rachel Israel has made a film about autism that's unlike many pictures about the subject. Instead of creating a mournful endeavor or a shallow quirkfest, she finds the heart and soul of everyday people trying to find their way in the big city. "Keep the Change" has its serious side, but it's mostly a comedy about building confidence and communication, featuring a cast of autistic people to secure authenticity and celebrate a unique perspective on traditionally neurotic characters. "Keep the Change" is also hilarious and warm, finding its own voice as Israel creates a special space for her cast to shine, preserving idiosyncrasies and timing to best reinforce the unusual atmosphere of pure personality on display. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Simple Favor


I’m sure Paul Feig wanted a change of scenery. This is the man who tried to reboot “Ghostbusters” a few years ago with a new cast, treading on sacred ground armed with a massive visual effects budget and a threadbare screenplay, trying to make his brand of make-em-up comedy fit into a fantasy spectacular. The experiment didn’t quite work for audiences, and Feig took a lot of heat for his creative choices, leading him to step away from blockbuster ambitions and tackle the beach read mystery of “A Simple Favor.” Smaller in scale and lighter with improvisations (the riffing remains to a smaller degree), the picture tries to make sense of Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel, which strived to get in on “Gone Girl” mania and deliver its own swirling storm of low impulse control and abrasive personalities, while twists are meant to tie the whole thing together. I’m all for Feig getting out of the funny business, but “A Simple Favor” remains a very broad creation, which doesn’t inspire secretive business this type of entertainment requires to remain surprising and seductive. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Slice


Writer/director Austin Vesley has a lot of influences and interests he’d like to put on the screen with “Slice,” but no particular game plan on how to do it. A horror comedy with its heart in the right place, the movie is a messy presentation of genre imagination and production realities, with the low-budget endeavor struggling to make sense of itself. It only runs 79 minutes, which may help to understand what happened between the feature’s 2016 shoot and its 2018 release date, with Vesley’s vision subjected to severe editing, finding the brutal cutting shaving down “Slice” to the bare essentials of world building and monster making. I’m sure it was a fine screenplay at one point, but in its finished form, the picture is a jumble of ideas that never gels.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Mandy


Eight years ago, Panos Cosmatos made his directorial debut with “Beyond the Black Rainbow.” The film was a brain-bleeder of the highest order, oozing with style and soaking in the juices of psychedelia, with Cosmatos bending cinema to aid in his mission to disturb audiences with unusual visions and atypical screen intensity. He’s back with “Mandy,” which is a slightly more linear tale of a mental breakdown, but Cosmatos doubles down on wild imagery and extreme violence, taking the audience on a ride into Hell in a manner that’s greatly unsettling and massively thrilling, especially for those who embraced the outer limits of “Beyond the Black Rainbow.” “Mandy” is specialized work, but it’s a doozy, cutting through the cosmic cream with nightmare realms, monstrous encounters, and a path of revenge that literally tears people apart. Maybe Cosmatos doesn’t know when to quit, but he’s making movies on a whole other level of consciousness. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Predator


“The Predator” is the fourth installment of the “Predator” saga (technically sixth if one includes the dismal “Alien vs. Predator” films), and it’s the one production that carries the greatest sense of hope. It’s co-written and directed by Shane Black, who appeared in the original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, and a guy who generally knows his way around action screenplays, with credits such as “Lethal Weapon” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight” maintaining the shine on his industry medals. It’s a match made in geek heaven, but Black turns out to be one of the worst things ever unleashed on the franchise. Unfocused and obnoxious, “The Predator” takes a hardcore sci-fi/action premise and transforms it into a comedy for this latest brand reawakening, with Black running around with no sense of editing or performance, trying to turn an inherently gruesome concept into blood-drenched wackiness just to smudge his greasy fingerprints all over something that didn’t need such a drastic reworking.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Destination Wedding


Every now and then, Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves are involved in a film project together, with some endeavors more intimate then others. They’ve appeared in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “A Scanner Darkly,” but “Destination Wedding” isn’t just a case of co-starring in distinctly separate roles. Here, the entire feature rests on their shoulders, with Reeves and Ryder tasked with carrying all the dialogue and physical discomfort the material requires, finding writer/director Victor Levin giving his work over to the actors, who feast on all the misanthropy. “Destination Wedding” is simple and speedy, watching Ryder and Reeves rise to the challenge of characterization, having a ball with a consistently amusing, periodically hilarious effort that brings out the best in the leads.  Read the rest at