Blu-ray Review - The Cemetery Club


It's hard to argue with the thespian skill on display in 1993's "The Cemetery Club." The combination of Ellen Burstyn, Olympia Dukakis, and Diane Ladd offers a level of professionalism that would aid any production, and it just so happens that this picture needs all the help it can get. Writer Ivan Menchell brings his play to the screen, but there's not much of a translation, finding the staginess of the material creating a stiff, dry feature. Director Bill Duke takes a breather from violent escapades (including "A Rage in Harlem" and "Deep Cover") to helm this soft take on grief and friendship, but he's not interested in challenging Menchell's work, preserving the theatrical experience for the movie. "The Cemetery Club" is notable for its casting and attention to the needs of fiftysomething women, but it's rarely amusing and seldom profound, providing flavorless conflicts for its intended demographic, who deserve a little more intensity when dealing with matters of a broken heart.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Fahrenheit 451


There have been many attempts to bring “Fahrenheit 451” to the screen over the last decade (Mel Gibson came awfully close on the few occasions), but now seems like the perfect time to revisit author Ray Bradbury’s iconic tale of government authority and the death of knowledge in America. The producers of the new adaptation are certainly careful not to assign the material to any specific presidential rule, which is a smart move, but the atmosphere of “Fahrenheit 451” is recognizable and its themes timely. It’s only a shame it’s not a better picture, with writer/director Ramin Bahrani generally fumbling the futureworld horror of the premise, which demands a more intricate touch than the problematic helmer is capable of offering. Read the rest at 

Film Review - In Darkness


“In Darkness” attempts to pay homage to the work of iconic director Alfred Hitchcock, and, to a lesser degree, similar cinematic tributes arranged by Brian De Palma. However, to bring out the best Hitchcockian elements from any story, some sense of pacing and a gradual tightening of suspense is required, and “In Darkness,” which arrives with the best of intentions, doesn’t have the same nail-biting interests. Co-writer/director Anthony Byrne doesn’t generate much tension in the feature, which is nicely mounted but lacks a great amount of oomph, playing everything carefully to a point of inertia. Games of murder, betrayal, revenge, and torment are played, but Byrne doesn’t bring anything to a boil.  Read the rest at

Film Review - The Misandrists


“The Misandrists” is not a movie built for a casual viewing. It’s the latest from writer/director Bruce LaBruce (“Hustler White”), and he’s not known for his careful way with onscreen elements, often using forward sexuality and heightened personalities to keep viewers on their toes. With “The Misandrists,” LaBruce explores the beginnings of an uprising, using black comedy to detail the happenings at a female-centric revolutionary group as they’re infiltrated by a man and confront rising doubts about their mission. It’s a very strange picture but also a fascinating one, and while the helmer doesn’t have a significant budget to bring many of ideas to life, he has his interests in odd events orchestrated by unbalanced characters, which gives the film a pleasingly off-kilter vibe, going a long way to cover certain limitations LaBruce can’t avoid.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Angie


1994 represents a period of stumbling in the career of Geena Davis. After reaching critical and box office highs with "Thelma and Louise" and "A League of Their Own" in the early 1990s, Davis had trouble keeping up the pace, with 1994 hurting her momentum with the release of "Speechless" and "Angie," a feature which offers a leading role most actresses would kill for, tasked with portraying a complicated woman who quests for independence while smothered by tradition. Davis is up for the task, taking the part seriously with a strong lead performance that hits all the emotional bullet points, but "Angie" has problems with focus, with director Martha Coolidge struggling like mad to keep the titular character on a defined journey of self as dozens of subplots and supporting characters compete for attention. It's a dramatic juggling act Coolidge has difficulty mastering, sending the final cut smashing across melodramatic extremes that dilute the intense character odyssey promised in the opening act. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Aviator


After experiencing the critical and commercial disappointment of 1983's "Superman III," Christopher Reeve returns to the skies in 1985's "The Aviator," though he's no longer in superhero mode. Trading blue and red tights for a leather jumpsuit, Reeve plays an emotionally and physically wounded pilot for the burgeoning air mail industry in this period piece, which pairs the star with Rosanna Arquette for maximum discomfort. The novelty of seeing Reeve in the air again wears off fairly fast, as "The Aviator" quickly reveals itself to be a leaden melodrama with mismatched stars and clunky screenwriting trying to marry mountainside survival activity with a postmortem analysis on wounded war pilots. The movie goes everywhere but up, failing to generate interest in the longevity of two annoying characters who insist on making a bad situation worse for themselves, with the production insisting it's creating something of a romance when it's actually inspiring a headache with this achingly insipid effort. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend


For their third release, Touchstone Pictures (Disney's PG-and-over distribution label) elected to make a movie about a baby dinosaur that wasn't appropriate for little kids to see. 1985's "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" makes a lot of odd creative and tonal choices as it assembles a jungle adventure, caught somewhere between trying to be cute and cuddly for family audiences and remaining surprisingly violent to keep adults interested in the survival of animatronic creatures (the tale open with a character getting knifed in the gut). Director B.W.L. Norton (who previously helmed the fascinating failure, "More American Graffiti") finds himself overwhelmed with the job at hand throughout the feature, struggling to find storytelling clarity. "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" has a retro appeal to it, especially for those who enjoy displays of rubber suit-based antics, along with miniature work and puppetry, but the film as a whole spends so much time juggling light and dark material, it never has a chance to enjoy itself, becoming laborious and behaviorally confusion rather than engrossing, with touches of awkward Disneyfied adorableness.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Wilby Conspiracy


Reuniting with his "Lilies of the Field" and "Duel at Diablo" director, Ralph Nelson, Sidney Poitier attempts to revive one of his major successes with "The Wilby Conspiracy," which plays like a minor version of "The Defiant Ones," only with political and racial chains keeping the main characters bound together, not literal metal. Joined by Michael Caine, Poitier delves into the heart of South African hatred with this thriller, which is interested in providing excitement for viewers, but also ready to deliver a potent message on apartheid, hoping to give those who've arrived to watch an extended chase some time with real-world ills, opening their eyes to the destruction of spirit in a remote land. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Dark Crimes


Jim Carrey’s list of dramatic performances is short, but he’s been here before. Usually, such trips to the grim side of his personality are seasoned slightly with comedy, but much like 2007’s “The Number 23,” the actor’s work in “Dark Crimes” is intentionally free of any sort of sunshine. This is Carrey purging a few demons and showcasing his serious side, but in this film, he flings himself down an abyss of perverse behavior and murder, remaining as bloodless as humanly possible. If only the picture was as committed to something specific as Carrey, with this detective tale (“Inspired by a true story”) from screenwriter Jeremy Brock (“The Last King of Scotland”) endeavoring to be more of a moody odyssey than a detailed one, offering a central whodunit that’s not interesting, while characterization doesn’t pop as significantly as Brock intends. “Dark Crimes” has Carrey, who seems like he’s auditioning for an HBO procedural, but the rest of the movie is motionless when it isn’t baffling. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Cold November


“Cold November” is a coming of age tale where maturity occurs over the course of a few days. Writer/director Karl Jacob speeds up a normal period of growth for dramatic purposes, creating a tale of awareness within a young girl who suddenly realizes that things in her life will never be the same. It’s a story of family, tradition, consciousness, and location, with Jacob making smart use of rural Minnesota to help isolate his characters, strengthening their bonds in the process. While its pace can be somewhat trying at times, “Cold November” captures specific lives superbly, while examining the universal truths of burgeoning adolescence, where the comfort of childhood is rudely interrupted by responsibility and bodily changes that are impossible to stop. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Escape


A few weeks ago there was “Tully,” which explored depression emerging from the pains of motherhood and chemical imbalance. It was meant to be a dark comedy with particular sensitivity to the demands of parenthood. “The Escape” handles basically the same idea, but writer/director Dominic Savage goes down a much bleaker route with the material, which is delivered with complete sobriety. “The Escape” offers a personal journey of mental erosion and domestic suffocation, and while Savage tends to the pressure points of household responsibility, he also provides a commentary on gender roles and marital enslavement, giving the screenplay some grit to go along with its study of self-destruction. It’s not a cheery picture, but its level of melancholy is haunting, especially when interpreted by star Gemma Arterton, who delivers career-best work in the challenging feature.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Book Club


“Book Club” is a specific feature for a specific audience. Those who know about it will want to see it. Those who’ve heard about it will likely tolerate it. And those who show no interest in the film won’t go near it. It’s a direct shot of humor, heart, and sassy business for an older demographic, and while there’s no reason for its alleged charms to remain strictly for the senior crowd, it’s unlikely that the movie will appeal to all, mostly due to the softball screenplay by Bill Holderman (who also makes his directorial debut) and Erin Simms. “Book Club” is not an endeavor that takes chances or goes for bellylaughs. It’s mild work that offers comfort food storytelling with a side of fairy tale plotting, and while it’s not impossible to find the appealing ways of the cast, the picture doesn’t strive to be anything more than instantly forgettable.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Cargo


There’s a lot of competition for the zombie-fan’s dollar, inspiring a few productions that explore the world of the undead to try for something a little different than the usual shuffle-and-snack routine. “Cargo” is a severe picture and an original take on the subgenre, blending rural survivor unease with horror developments, finding directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke trying to make something meaningful and cultural as they figure out ways to inspire dread. “Cargo” has its issues with length and good taste, but it maintains suspense, especially when the helmers pay attention to the fallout from mistakes, especially ones made during the end of the world. It’s certainly not a lively effort, but Howling and Ramke actually achieve a sense of pathos, which is not traditionally found with this type of nightmare.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Bye Bye Germany


I’ve seen “Bye Bye German” described as a comedy by some publications (even the poster). There are elements of humor to be found in the picture, and the central crisis concerns the very act of telling a joke, but the film is far more sobering than it initially appears to be. It’s a post-war drama, and a literal one, with the tale taking place in Germany during 1946, where the country was shattered after being toppled in WWII, leaving remnants of unimaginable hatred and guilt to live within the populace as the world worked to piece the nation back together. Co-writer/director Sam Garbarski digs into an important moment in history, isolating unexpected emotions and defense mechanisms as he mounts a drama about a group of men coming to terms with the trauma they experienced in a land they can’t bring themselves to leave.  Read the rest at

Film Review - Carter & June


Twisted tales of criminal mischief are common, forcing the makers of “Carter & June” to dream up something grand to help separate the picture from the competition. Co-writer/director Nicholas Kalikow certainly has interest in outrageousness, endeavoring to create a community of crooks, creeps, police, and manipulators, setting them loose inside New Orleans to watch them try to outwit one another, preferably doing so with a strong sense of humor. “Carter & June” almost gets there with help from certain performances and a first act that’s relatively strong with set-ups, getting these combustible personalities into position. Sadly, there’s not much of a payoff to the feature, with Kalikow heading in the wrong direction, eventually trying to soften material that should be played as ruthlessly as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Solo: A Star Wars Story


In the quickest turnaround time the franchise has ever experienced, “Star Wars” is back on the big screen a mere six months after “The Last Jedi” dominated multiplexes with a Skywalker Saga installment. Now it’s time for a spin-off, and following 2016’s “Rogue One” comes “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which moves from grander arcs of rebellion and sacrifice to reunite with everyone’s favorite scoundrel, with the movie exploring how Han Solo developed from a man of talk into a man of action. Directed by Ron Howard and scripted by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, the mission of “Solo” is to explore a previously walled-off character and maybe add a little Original Trilogy excitement as old friends join the fight. A few quibbles are triggered along the way, but the adventure remains exciting and the performances satisfy immensely, giving the side mission some real charisma and “Star Wars”-style hustle. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Deadpool 2


Normally, this type of foolishness only works once. 2016’s “Deadpool” was a big surprise, both financially and critically, using salty wit and furious action to pave the way for R-rated comic book extravaganzas, which usually remain in a PG-13 bubble to help encourage mass consumption. “Deadpool” was wily and refreshingly absurd, giving star Ryan Reynolds a chance to show off his natural gifts with deadpan comedy, helping to bring a difficult character to the screen in a movie few were expecting to work. Where the first film slipped through the system as something of an experiment, “Deadpool 2” now carries the weight of expectations, putting pressure on Reynolds and the production to revive the blood-spattered magic for another round of quips and beheadings. The lesson learned before applies here: never underestimate Reynolds and his determination to pull off the impossible. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 1 (1964-1966)


The character of The Pink Panther was created to give the Inspector Clouseau movies a special lift during the main titles, establishing a silly, cartoon mood to help the audience get settled into the viewing experience to come. The big cat's popularity was noted by the suits in charge, soon featured in a series of theatrical shorts that attempted to turn a lark into a legend. It worked, with director Friz Freleng and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises masterminding 124 shorts over a 14-year-long period, with the first 20 selections collected on "The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 1 (1964-1966)," detailing the producers attempt to establish the mood of the endeavors and The Pink Panther's endless appetite for mischief.  Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Seven Blood-Stained Orchids


Umberto Lenzi managed a varied career for himself, achieving notoriety with his jungle adventures, such as "Man from Deep River" and "Cannibal Ferox." His forays into giallo-style chillers are less celebrated, but he managed to make his mark with select crime thrillers, finding 1972's "Seven Blood-Stained Orchids" one of his more successful efforts. However, the picture isn't exactly big on shock value, taking its sleuthing seriously, leaving extremity to select moments of punishment. "Seven Blood-Stained Orchids" is an atmospheric feature with occasional inspiration, but it's also surprisingly talky for the genre, with Lenzi strangely sensitive to dramatic needs, dialing down most potential for chaos. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Breaking In


If there’s a rollicking, nail-biting B-movie inside “Breaking In,” nobody told director James McTeigue. The “V for Vendetta” and “Ninja Assassin” helmer is put in charge of the home invasion thriller, which tries to master the simplicity of a mother defending her children and dwelling from a pack of criminals, but doesn’t possess the imagination to do something remarkable with the premise. McTeigue orders up repetitive chase sequences and oversees abysmal acting, desperately trying to fill 85 minutes of screen time that could go anywhere it wants. Instead of a roller coaster ride, the production offers the chance to watch paint dry while it figures out how to take a familiar but potentially ruthless plot and do next to nothing with it. Read the rest at