Blu-ray Review - The White Buffalo


After the blockbuster release of 1975's "Jaws," the global film industry was eager to cash in on its success, scrambling to find material that played with haunted characters and monster animal attacks. In 1977, producer Dino De Laurentiis developed a few of his own entries in the sudden subgenre, with "Orca" and "The White Buffalo" emerging with stories of bloodshed and revenge, pitting man against an unstoppable enemy. While "The White Buffalo" teases exploitation elements, especially with Charles Bronson in the lead role, the western, directed by J. Lee Thompson, is actually more of a meditation on wild west reputation and aging obsession, more interested in exploring personalities and fragmented communication between recognized foes than dealing with visceral horror. Of course, a gigantic white buffalo does appear in the picture, using its strength and size to mow down and harpoon seemingly innocent humans, but at the feature's core is a quest to capture the ragged edges of Wild Bill Hickok and Crazy Horse, working to understand clouded headspaces as their vivid and violent legends work to stunt their growth as men. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night


"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" isn't really a narrative-driven picture, it's a collection of influences filtered through writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour. Collecting everything she loves about horror, surrealism, and westerns, the helmer attempts to mold a genre tale that doesn't bother to drop anchor. It's dreamlike and stylized, but "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" isn't cohesive, frequently caught up in cinematic references when it should be concentrated on characters. Mix Tape filmmaking is undeniably appealing, but only when there's a sense of leadership behind the production. This is Amirpour's debut feature, and it feels like the work of somebody who's excited to make a movie, but doesn't have the discipline to unify her love of the arts. More Robert Rodriguez than Quentin Tarantino, Amirpour's effort has select moments of striking beauty and originality, but as a whole, the endeavor is more obsessed with obsession than building a steady nightmare. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Aquamarine


When praising a film like "Aquamarine," it's never about creative innovation or shocking turns of fate. Here's a picture that's clichéd up the wazoo, playing directly to a target demographic of young teen girls with its fantasy of mermaid contact and BFF separation. It's not the details that make the movie an engaging sit, it's the way director Elizabeth Allen manages to keep the endeavor spirited and kind, allowing "Aquamarine" to be an offering of wish-fulfillment with restraint, refusing to corrode the effort with unnecessary behavior. It's warmly acted and brightly made, and while it doesn't exactly providing a challenging sit, it comes together quite nicely, managing to tell a bubbly story in a clear way. For this level of PG-intense sleepover entertainment, to remain appealing is no small feat. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Age of Adaline


It’s important to remember that “The Age of Adaline” is a fantasy that plays by its own rules, avoiding hard science to depict a singular event in history that’s primarily played for all its romantic possibilities. It’s “Highlander” with a heart, and while the premise is fairly bizarre, director Lee Toland Krieger does a fine job keeping the picture grounded with true emotion and an enticing mournful quality that rightfully shadows a character who cannot age. Warmly crafted, with a satisfactory sense of mystery, “The Age of Adaline” resembles a Harlequin novel, but offers more spirit than simple forbidden love escapism. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ex Machina


Alex Garland is an accomplished screenwriter, creating such works as “Dredd” and “Never Let Me Go.” He makes his directorial debut with “Ex Machina,” and the premise continues his fascination with isolation and doomsday events, only here the threat, or perhaps the cure-all, emerges in the form of artificial intelligence. A.I. is certainly familiar terrain for cinematic exploration, but Garland constructs something fascinating and unnerving with “Ex Machina,” feeling out numerous acts of manipulation with full attention to mood. While slowly paced, the feature isn’t dull, emerging as a potent study of power and corruption, setting a sinister, tech-heavy atmosphere that almost seems achievable in our day and age. Read the rest at

Film Review - After the Ball


“After the Ball” is constantly threatening to be undone by a case of the cutes. A blend of “Twelfth Night,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” and “Cinderella,” there’s no shortage of preciousness about the work. Mercifully, there’s a significant amount of charm too, helping the movie dilute its sitcom tendencies and come together a perfectly pleasant play on fashion world insecurities. Retaining a handful of laughs and guiding a winning lead performance from Portia Doubleday, director Sean Garrity (“My Awkward Sexual Adventure”) keeps “After the Ball” on target, preserving mischief and romance, providing a charming viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Adult Beginners


A basic cable stalwart and occasional supporting player in studio comedies, Nick Kroll aims for the big leagues with “Adult Beginners,” cooking up starring role for himself that demands a full display of his dramatic range. It’s a test Kroll doesn’t necessarily pass, but he’s smart enough to surround himself with more capable actors who can transform the screenplay’s addiction to cliché into convincing emotion. “Adult Beginners” has a lot of laughs and sharp understanding of the demands of parenthood, but every time it steps outside of its comfort zone to address more sophisticated feelings concerning maturation and grief, it loses its personality, resembling any other effort that takes on the pressures of man-child development. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Forger


“The Forger” has every invitation to become a run-of-the-mill heist picture. It’s set in Boston, features a cast of tough guys and interested cops, and details the art of duplicating art, and necessitates a museum break-in to secure the con. Giving these hoary elements a spin is screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio (“Thirteen Ghosts,” “The Call”), who delves more into shattered lives than double crosses, trying to keep the effort grounded, even while it indulges a few bloody-knuckled pursuits. While it doesn’t register as a remarkable example of writing, “The Forger” is mostly successful when it comes to articulating character pain and pressure, finding ways to sneak away from outright cliché and discover human needs and curiosities. Read the rest at

Film Review - 5 to 7

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“5 to 7” seems perfectly comfortable as a light romantic comedy. Toying with culture clash particulars and age differences, the feature maintains a relaxed air of dating anxiety and individual awakening, delivering passable character beats as it explores an unusual situation of infidelity. Writer/director Victor Levin openly flashes his influences throughout the effort, but true balance between the light and dark side of the affair presented here is elusive. Opening with a case of the cutes and concluding with unnervingly oppressive obsession, “5 to 7” is all over the map in terms of tonality and screenwriting, with Levin trying to stuff his favorite elements from French cinema into a movie that can’t handle the weight. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Water Diviner


Russell Crowe has enjoyed an acting career filled with varied dramatic demands, yet “The Water Diviner” marks the first time the star has stepped behind the camera. While retaining leading actor duties, Crowe finds the inspiration to create a heartfelt historical drama that investigates a crisis of anonymity when it comes to the slain soldiers of World War I. It’s powerful work when locked in investigative mode, showcasing Crowe’s strengths as a performer and helmer, selecting an unusual but evocative mystery of fatherly desperation, and one that’s especially aware of the sensitivity surrounding its subject matter. “The Water Diviner” can’t help itself with unnecessarily romantic pursuits, but fringe interests fail to implode this sturdily constructed film. Read the rest at

Film Review - While We're Young


Noah Baumbach is known for making polarizing films, but his last effort, 2013’s “Frances Ha” offered the writer/director a chance to play it safe, eschewing combative moviemaking to focus on pure neuroses. Baumbach has frequently been compared to Woody Allen, but never has the accusation fit as snugly as now, with his latest, “While We’re Young” a Allen-esque riff on the challenges of aging and the perfume of youth, captured with all forms of fussy behavior and unspoken resentments. And much like Baumbauch’s output, it’s frustratingly uneven, razor sharp at times, but mostly scattered and unclear, out to comment on a generational divide without much of a game plan to guide the feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - Laugh Killer Laugh


Kamal Ahmed is best known to the public as one half of The Jerky Boys, a telephone prank comedy team that achieved fame in the early 1990s, even taking their act to Hollywood in a 1995 feature film. After leaving the brand name, Ahmed graduated to making movies, crafting horror pictures and gangster sagas, with “Laugh Killer Laugh” perhaps his most personal project. An uneasy mix of childhood trauma, creative expression, and mob enforcer clichés, “Laugh Killer Laugh” wins points for ambition, but doesn’t survive Ahmed’s stiff execution. It’s dark but never profound, while the rest of the effort struggles to achieve consistency, leaving laughs and emotion in short supply. Read the rest at

Film Review - Helicopter Mom


To enjoy the new comedy “Helicopter Mom,” one must get used to its broadness. It’s not an easy task, with star Nia Vardalos attempting to power the picture’s funny business all by herself, delivering intensely obvious work in the lead role. Her goofiness quickly overwhelms the feature, which fights to introduce its theme of sexual identity and land a few Vardalos-less laughs. Director Salome Breziner (“Fast Sofa,” “The Secret Lives of Dorks”) is too permissive with her star, but “Helicopter Mom” retains some heart and meaning as it struggles to breathe. Perhaps it’s not the most cohesive statement on manipulative parenting, but select moments do shine. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - David and Lisa


Filmmakers are often tempted to treat mental illness as a golden ticket to melodrama, orchestrating extremes of behavior in the name of manipulation, giving actors free reign to create the experience of psychological torture in the broadest manner imaginable. When a rare feature comes along that doesn't indulge overkill, it's cause for celebration. 1962's "David and Lisa" has its share of heated moments, but writer Eleanor Perry and director Frank Perry are careful to treat the characters with respect, searching motivation and instinct with sensitivity and a great degree of understanding. Far from a crude movie of the week, "David and Lisa" manages to isolate internal frustration and troubling interactions, emerging as a story of tentative endearment, but also one of rare comprehension (at least for its time), portraying schizophrenia and obsessive actions with attention to detail, not outbursts. It's an emotionally satisfying picture with limited manipulation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Wicked Lady


Cannon Films gives the director of "Death Wish II" a chance to make a period piece, and this is the result. 1983's "The Wicked Lady" should rightfully challenge helmer Michael Winner's base sensibilities, tasked with bringing a costume drama to the screen, yet his blunt ways with cinematic craftsmanship bend the material towards a routine of sex and violence. While not without a few scenes of beguiling madness, the movie spends more time struggling than soaring, grounded by a bizarre lead performance from Faye Dunaway and Winner's dedication to transforming a bawdy story into a Penthouse Letter, with a few softcore scenes breaking up the action. While never intended to be a Merchant/Ivory production, "The Wicked Lady" could use a blast of dignity, often caught trying too hard to be raunchy and ridiculous, lacking proper creative lubrication to carry this semi-farce, kinda-melodrama all the way to the finish line without encouraging a few pained reactions from the viewer. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Long Weekend


Maybe you thought your last vacation was bad? 1978's "Long Weekend" is an unnerving reminder that hotels and resorts are perhaps the only way to truly relax in the big, bad world. A horror effort that invests almost completely in atmosphere, "Long Weekend" is a highly effective exercise in slow-burn terror, putting the entirety of its focus on two characters as their extraordinarily troubling camping trip to a remote Australian beach turns into a prolonged test of survival. However, it's not poor planning that comes back to haunt the couple in question, but a karmic explosion of animal retaliation in response to human savagery, allowing the screenplay to explore a different type of suspense. The feature takes time to get where it's going, but the reward is superb tension and unpredictable surges of intensity, with stars John Hargreaves and Briony Behets capturing utter distress as director Colin Eggleston orchestrates an unforgettable downward spiral of sanity, with villainy agreeably dimensional and the great outdoors ruined forever. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Just My Luck


In 2005, actress Lindsay Lohan was at a crossroads in her career. Building a fanbase with Disney fare such as "The Parent Trap," "Freaky Friday," and "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," while nurturing a career as a pop star during MTV's last stand as a music-oriented cable channel, Lohan was running out of time, stuck with a starring role in "Herbie Fully Loaded" that played to children while she was breaking into adulthood. Resisting the lure to keep playing young, Lohan elected to make a few grown-up films that reflected her maturity, using 2006 to appear in "A Prairie Home Companion" and "Bobby," while returning to starring duties with "Just My Luck." Positioned as a hip romantic comedy with a heavy lean toward slapstick, the effort provided Lohan with an opportunity to play a savvy businesswoman in the NYC fast lane, take on a more pronounced sexual identity, and mingle with other adults. What "Just My Luck" failed to supply was a sense of humor and a director capable of turning a dreadful script into adequate escapism. Read the rest at

Film Review - Child 44

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To sit through “Child 44” takes special moviegoing patience. It’s not an especially bad film, but the subject matter concerns a serial killer targeting little boys, murdering them in an especially gruesome manner. The story also takes place in the Soviet Union during the 1950s, creating a sense of gloom and doom with everyday life, finding happiness forbidden and paranoia the national sport. It’s grim work, and taking in the world director Daniel Espinosa is aiming to create requires the ability to withstand the picture’s dedication to punishment. What began as a novel by Tom Rob Smith probably should’ve stayed there, but for those with especially iron-like constitutions, “Child 44” does provide some terrific performances and a full sense of Soviet immersion. Read the rest at