Blu-ray Review - The Dressmaker


While westerns were surprisingly active during the 2016 film year, welcoming the releases of "The Magnificent Seven" and "In a Valley of Violence," "The Dressmaker" proves itself to be a superior genre effort without even encountering a single cowboy. It's a clever picture (an adaptation of a Rosalie Ham novel) that imagines small town hostilities as western entanglements, with Kate Winslet starring as most unusual gunslinger, wielding thread and fabric instead of cold steel. While "The Dressmaker" contains a restless, borderline crazed Australian energy, director Jocelyn Moorhouse manages the insanity with skill, conjuring a beguiling mystery with rich characterization, dark humor, and a cheeky love for Leone-esque theatrics while sorting through domestic problems. It's a strange film, but memorably so. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lodger


1944's "The Lodger" is often regarded as one of the greatest takes on the Jack the Ripper case, exploring the wrath of a famous serial killer with a semi-compassionate look at mental illness. Granted, the competition isn't all that impressive (including 2001's "From Hell"), but "The Lodger" taps into a psychological stream that's often riveting to watch, backed beautifully by director John Brahm's atmospheric take on 19th century London and its tight-jawed slide into chaos. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dracula vs. Frankenstein


It's a horror showdown that should've snapped fandom to complete attention, but 1971's "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" isn't anything to get excited for. It's schlock, directed by Al Adamson ("The Naughty Stewardesses," "Blazing Stewardesses"), and it wasn't even originally intended to be an epic genre beat down, beginning life in 1969 as a creature feature and biker movie before someone had the bright idea to pit public domain icons against each other while disparate subplots wander aimlessly around. The title sounds tempting, and poster art promises a violent throwdown between dark forces, but this is not a production that values the rare opportunity to see monsters brawl. Instead, Adamson barely commands a confusing mix of sleuthing, countercultural commentary, and B-movie grotesqueries, only interrupting the action periodically to allow the titular threats to go about their evil business. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Read the rest at

Film Review - Logan


Since 2000, Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine, and he’s played him wonderfully. The movies haven’t always been great, but Jackman has been consistent in his dedication to the “X-Men” universe, portraying the adamantium-clawed killer throughout sequels and spin-offs, maintaining Wolverine’s trademarked gruffness and meaty, cigar-sucking presence. After making a strange cameo in last year’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” Jackman returns to primary focus in “Logan,” which is meant to be the actor’s swan song to his most famous role. Gifted an R-rating to unleash the mutant’s full widescreen potential, director James Mangold (returning to duty after 2013’s “The Wolverine”) goes bananas with “Logan,” transforming a once relatively peaceful PG-13 playground into a war zone, keeping Jackman in feral mode for what becomes an interesting meditation on life and death, periodically interrupted by excessive, skin-slashing, bone-snapping ultraviolence. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Great Wall


Matt Damon never looked like an action hero, but he managed to become one in the Jason Bourne film series, transforming himself into a killing machine for four pictures. Now, Damon is tasked with becoming a Western hero in a Chinese production, suiting up for the fantasy “The Great Wall,” which pits the actor against large CGI creatures, giving close quarters combat a rest. This is no ordinary production using a big Hollywood name to entice audiences, it’s the latest from director Zhang Yimou, helmer of “Hero,” “Raise the Red Lantern,” and “House of Flying Daggers.” There’s creative power and a sizable budget keeping “The Great Wall” going, and it shows onscreen, with the feature delivering impressive stunts, visuals, and sheer scale for least an hour before the seams start to split and Damon is left to Blue Steel himself through an overcooked effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fist Fight


“Fist Fight” is the latest assembly line comedy to be released by Warner Brothers that features odd couple starring roles, crude humor, and silly violence. After recent movies such as “Get Hard,” “Central Intelligence,” and “Hot Pursuit,” the formula has now been extended to “Fist Fight,” with pairs Charlie Day and Ice Cube in a battle of attitudes and improvisation, working to find a level of wackiness to appeal to the mass audience. It’s R-rated jesting and quite lethargic, with directorial control handed to Richard Keen, a television helmer making his feature film debut, and it shows. Thin, insincere, and weirdly aggressive with raunchy humor, “Fist Fight” is many things, but amusing isn’t one of them, delivering little effort when it comes to the invention of killer punchlines and considered performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Salesman


Slowly but surely, writer/director Asghar Farhadi has become a top voice in international cinema. The Iranian filmmaker has dedicated himself to intimate tales of personal woe, using his camera to explore universal concerns about family and self while picking at specific cultural issues and intimidations from his homeland. With efforts such as “About Elly,” “A Separation,” and “Fireworks Wednesday,” Farhadi has created a window to Iran, allowing outsiders to understand its people and atmosphere. His latest is “The Salesman,” and it immediately positions itself as one of his finest features, digging deep into acts of frustration and stunted communication, emerging with a richly defined sense of character and caution. “The Salesman” is modest in design, but its dramatic grip is tight, constantly surprising with its evolving sense of confusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don't Hang Up


The YouTube generation has inspired a rise in prank comedy, partaking in a longstanding tradition with vigor, passing the needs of comedy to satisfying cravings for cruelty. “Don’t Hang Up” initially sets out to spotlight such a mindset, highlighting the daily adventures of teenagers who live to make other lives miserable. Sadly, the screenplay (written by Joe Johnson, “The Skulls III”) doesn’t follow through on juicy material, instead sliding into slasher film formula with a distinct plan to resurrect fright feature moves from the “Saw” series to inspire grim events. “Don’t Hang Up” isn’t a heartbreaking misfire, but it’s not a picture that’s thinking clear enough, giving up on the potential for condemnation and satire to play with basic genre elements, while a heavy fog of stupidity hangs over the production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Youth in Oregon


It’s not easy to make a comedy about assisted suicide. It’s a taboo topic, and one that doesn’t lend itself to sunny side of the street screenwriting, riding a fine line between tastelessness and horror that requires exquisite directorial control. “Youth in Oregon” doesn’t have that level of tonal precision, but it gets halfway there in the care of helmer Joel David Moore, a one-note actor (“Avatar,” “Grandma’s Boy”) transitioning to production leadership (“Spiral”). Teaming with writer Andrew Eisen, the pair tries to create a face for the assisted suicide movement, hoping a road trip plot and plenty of quirk will soften the impact of a terribly depressing movie. “Youth in Oregon” is powerfully acted by select cast members, but the production bites off more than it can chew when balancing a desire for emotional authenticity and the comfort of dramatic formula. Read the rest at

Film Review - 1 Night


“1 Night” doesn’t have the star power or budget to compete with other romantic films. It has oddity instead, delivering the ups and downs of two relationships with emphasis on the unknown, playing with enigmatic plotting and cautious performances. It’s actually more of a mystery than a warm, insightful viewing experience, with writer/director Minhal Baig working hard toward an ending that explains everything, but he forgets that the journey should be just as compelling. “1 Night” allows its cast to get dirty with deep-seated issues during a particularly eventful evening, but decent performances and extended dialogue exchanges permitting an exploration of motivation doesn’t sharpen the feature. Baig is marching toward something, it’s just debatable if the mission is worth the time invested. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Closet Monster


"Closet Monster" embarks on a coming-of-age journey that includes pit stops at parental frustration, sexuality, and friendship. Writer/director Stephen Dunn strives to transform the woes of teendom into a surreal odyssey of personal awakening, and the feature achieves a level of understanding that keeps it involving, but never illuminating. Dunn makes an effort to avoid routine, but as "Closet Monster" labors to retain an intimate perspective, it's easy to see that many filmmakers have covered the same dramatic ground, only here there's the addition of a talking hamster and a few moments of white-hot rage to give the material a boost in originality. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Concrete Night


Most American productions concerning teenagers and their personal problems tend to turn to comedy to help sort through aches and pain, making it easier to process the blueness of adolescence. The Finnish production "Concrete Night" dives straight into the abyss, approaching juvenile years as a time of doom, with the lead character a sponge soaking up every drop of depression he can find. This isn't an uplifting film, but it's not an unrewarding sit, as "Concrete Night" is exceptionally made, with technical achievements to focus on as the story sets out to depict life as a slow walk into Hell. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Internecine Project


"The Internecine Project" offers a great premise that's trapped inside an underwhelming film. The curiously titled 1974 thriller endeavors to arrange an evening of multiple murders overseen by a single, grandly manipulative man, but director Ken Hughes (working from a script co-written by Barry Levinson and Jonathan Lynn) generally downplays tension in a futile quest to transform simplicity into a labyrinth of motivations and second thoughts. "The Internecine Project" isn't without effective scenes, but when one considers how bizarre the plot is, the effort should really be livelier. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bad Girl


1931's "Bad Girl" is all about wit and speed, approaching the battle of the sexes with an acidic take on relationship woes. An adaptation of a Brian Marlow play, the feature preserves all theatrical interests, but, cinematically, it trusts in the power of timing and performance, delivering an electric jolt of a picture that largely does away with precious displays of romance, and there's certainly no meet cute in this biting domestic drama. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Cure for Wellness


Director Gore Verbinski is known for his craftsmanship, making a meal out of trifle such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, paying close attention to richly cinematic details. His track record with actual storytelling is less impressive, often so caught up in moviemaking machinery, critical elements such as dramatic conflict and resolution are sacrificed. He's a helmer forever obsessed with cinematographic mathematics, and his latest, “A Cure for Wellness,” is cruel reminder of Verbinski's preference for style over substance. There's a terrific, haunting 75 minute long chiller here for the taking, but it's buried deep inside 145 minutes of repetition, flaccid sleuthing, and visual excess. Verbinski can fashion a pretty picture, but there's little in “A Cure for Wellness” that slips under the skin. Read the rest at


Film Review - The LEGO Batman Movie


After making an appearance in 2014’s “The LEGO Movie,” Batman has now been gifted his first solo big screen adventure, at least in LEGO form. “The LEGO Batman Movie” endeavors to transform the DC Comics character and his universe of heroes and villains into its own blockbuster comedy, merging the punchline fury of “The LEGO Movie” with decades of Batman history, creating a picture that’s meant for a family audience, but may be a little too hip for the room. Inside references and cinema history cameos dominate “The LEGO Batman Movie,” with the screenplay (credited to five writers) working very hard to pack as much material as possible into every frame of the effort. It’s an exhausting feature, and while it builds a colorful world with an often sly sense of humor, it doesn’t really have much to offer Batman besides the basics in irreverent humor and superhero mayhem. Read the rest at

Film Review - John Wick: Chapter 2


The biggest surprise of the 2014 film year was the release of “John Wick.” Instead of submitting to the action cinema norm, “John Wick” established its own show of force, with directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch working to redefine gun fights and hand-to-hand combat with a sensational reworking of genre cinematography, visual effects, and pure adrenaline. It was one of the best pictures of the year, shaking big screen roughhousing out of its slumber. For “John Wick: Chapter 2,” Stahelski returns to oversee the title’s transition into a franchise, and boy howdy, does he ever get it right. A true continuation with an invigorating sense of escalation, “John Wick: Chapter 2” maintains the delicious vibration of the original film, keeping the titular character on the prowl while choreography gets harder, bullets are faster, and star Keanu Reeves is even more committed to overall brawling, presenting the follow-up with all the brutality it requires. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Red Turtle


To best understand what type of viewing experience “The Red Turtle” provides, it’s important to note that the picture is co-produced by Studio Ghibli, the famous Japanese animation house that’s given birth to numerous classics that traffic in elaborate fantasy realms, populated with complex characters experiencing sophisticated emotions. Director Michael Dudok de Wit follows this lead for “The Red Turtle,” which combines the power of pure behavior with the possibilities of visual poetry, taking viewers on a riveting journey that bends reality and touches the soul with unsettling precision. It’s a gorgeously animated adventure without dialogue to support it, and it’s incredibly artful, sincere work that rewards patience with an achingly human story of life and death as it tours the vast recesses of the mind. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fifty Shades Darker


It’s hard to argue with a phenomenon, but 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” was a terrible film. Based on the best seller by E.L. James, the picture hoped to bring viewers into a realm of BDSM via a romantic entanglement between two damaged souls, playing up the kink factor to entice those looking for a little moviegoing spice. The feature was an enormous box office success, powered primarily by curiosity, with actual creative achievements few and far between, including a troubling idea to remove any sort of ending that could provide closure to the saga. “Fifty Shades Darker” is the follow-up, and it does offer something of a climax. Multiple ones if close attention is paid. However, a story isn’t invited to this round of pained lives and saucy bedroom antics, generating a decidedly limp viewing experience as bland characters work out easily solvable problems, with the occasional bout of furious intercourse interrupting what’s basically a staring contest between two creeps. Read the rest at

Film Review - Running Wild


Scripted by Christina Moore and Brian Rudnick, “Running Wild” has the advantage of originality, being the only movie in recent memory to explore the plight of wild horses. It’s not a romantic approach either, at least not initially, constructing a story about equine rehabilitation with creatures near death due to starvation and disease, attempting to shine a spotlight on an overpopulation situation few understand outside horse appreciation circles. Oddity keeps “Running Wild” compelling, with Moore and Rudnick cooking up passable conflict for human endeavors, while director Alex Ranarivelo glazes the whole thing with a big country feel, bringing out soft hearts and wide open spaces to best keep the effort endearing. It’s an unusual feature, and one that pits dramatic formula against message specificity, but intriguingly so. Read the rest at